Monday, November 5, 2012

“Unbind Him” and the Days of Awe

I told my spiritual director when I last met with her that I believe I am living in what might be considered my own personal Days of Awe.  My Jewish friends are familiar with this idea.  It’s that period between the exuberance of Rosh Hashanah and the penitence of Yom Kippur, a very deeply-reflective period for those willing to “go there” with their faith.   

As I’ve noted, this year is the fifth year since my dad’s passing which is also the fifth year of what I refer to as my “wake up call” (hence the name of this blog).   As we were preparing for our All Saints’ Sunday service at St. John’s, I was reflecting on the state of my mind at that same service five years ago.  I was there because my mother asked me to be there.  St. John’s, at that time, created “saint banners” to remember the family members who had died during the previous year.  Mom had wanted me to carry my dad’s banner in the processional at the service, which I did.  This was going to be my last official activity with the church, and then I could go back to coffee and crossword puzzles on Sunday mornings.  Aside from the very familiar hymns, nothing in the service particularly caught my attention.  But it would be that interim period between that Sunday and the next, and the ever-present jukebox of hymns, that would disquiet my soul and ultimately make me return for redemption and reconciliation with a tradition I had long since declared dead to me.

Which brings us to this recent All Saints service amidst my Days of Awe.  It was the story from John of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Many of us gay Christians love this story for the line, “Lazarus, come out!” and queer liberation theologians will find great meaning in that notion of “coming out” and Lazarus being restored from the dead.  But what I heard in that gospel lesson was, “Unbind him and let him go.”  And tears began forming in my eyes as I absorbed that phrase and let it reverberate in my ears. Just as powerful as the idea of “coming out” might be for a queer Christian to hear, the command from Christ to “unbind him and let him go,” speaks to an important piece in my own journey toward oneness with God.

The Christ I have come to know is a radical liberator of those held hostage by prisons that are imposed from inside and outside of a person.  There is the prison of self-doubt or self-consciousness that keeps us from stepping outside of ourselves to attempt to do something new or touch someone who we don’t know that well.  There is the prison of self-absorption that keeps us ignorant or unaware of the world around us and what impact we are making on it.  And there is the prison of self-reliance, that false sense that we somehow hung the moon and the stars and can do everything on our own, thank you very much.  These prisons are bad enough dwelling places, but with some willingness to do an honest self-examination, they are also ones that can become unbound.

When the prison is one imposed from the outside, that’s a stickier wicket.  In those cases, the only answer I think the prisoner can give is to refuse to be locked up by those forces that wish to contain the person.  Such is the place I found myself in on Sunday as I kept hearing the phrase, “Unbind him and let him go” repeat itself in my ears.  If I believe, as I do, that Christ is the great emancipator, then it is through Christ and faith in God that I can see my way past those attempts to keep me shackled and wrapped in the bandages of death.  When Christ uttered those words to the Jews, it was also a message being passed along for all future generations that would insist on binding people and leaving them for dead.

This includes the Church.  Still, in some parts, there is a refusal to acknowledge the gifts and full baptism of us gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender ones.  We are welcome to make beautiful music, arrange pretty flowers at the altar, and absolutely, we are to be pledging members of a congregation.  But there are limits to our full participation.  There are boundaries, and we are to be bounded.

Unfortunately for those sectors of the Church, this will not do for Jesus Christ.   Jesus keeps uttering those words, “Unbind him and let him go.”  Jesus keeps insisting that through him comes peace and perfect freedom and this includes deliverance from the fear that has bound the LGBT people who remain faithful to God, but must endure the short-sightedness of the Church around them that fears letting them be free to grow.

 In these Days of Awe I am reminded of the cynicism that once bound me and kept me from knowing Christ’s liberating ways.  But having been freed from this level of captivity, I still see my great emancipator at work to take my hand and lead me where I may not want to be led, but where I need to go, passing through the gates of fear.    

 God is working God’s purpose out as five years come to pass… 



Phoebe McFarlin said...

Very thought provoking. Someday I will share my experience of being Lazarus.

SCG said...

I'll be interested to hear it whenever you wish to share, Phoebe.

Anonymous said...

Just saw this piece. We read it in church this past Sunday.