Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Triumph of Fear

I sat in my faovrite pizzeria on Sunday. It's become my usual stop after service and coffee hour at church. My Sunday mornings begin about 2 A.M., as I finish the final draft of my sermon and last minute bulletin changes. It's a good time for me to write. Anyway, somewhere around 12 hours later, I'm on my way home, hungry, and then ready for a Sunday nap.

As I waited, the normally genial pizza guy was in something of a tizzy, railing against the church to a customer, connecting his angst with an early childhood experience in which he was tossed out of church. It seems this priest of his childhood had made a comment about Jesus being lowered through the ceiling. Kids, being kids, took the image and converted it into an animated discussion about Jesus coming through their roof, in that church, right then and there!

As a teacher, I see it as a perfectly understandable, teachable moment. Back in the 50's, the humor wasn't so readily embraced. In this case, it was seen as being disrespectful, inattentive, and maybe even sacriligious. Fifty years later, sometimes, it seems as though not much has changed. Jesus is still foisted on many in narrow, overly-defined ways - in other words, as a hostage to particular beliefs or ideas. Jesus, not being used to inform beliefs or ideals, but used in the most unlikely of ways as ballast for individual or institutional agendas - many about as far away from Jesus as you can get. And it's become serious, too serious.

Ever wonder if we are missing the joy and even good time that Jesus had in his ministry, amidst his work. As his ministry grew and he matured, the wonder of the diversity and inclusiveness of those who were disenfranchised and found hospitality and welcome with him must have been a great source of joy and fulfillment. Those who were welcome no where else, were welcome with him. We keep missing that lesson, especially when we get close to the idea of a church, in particular the Presbyterian Church USA, embracing LGBT folk as we do, basically, all others.

What might it have been like if we had gotten the message sooner and took the same risks Jesus did in his hospitality and welcome? Imagine gay kids growing up and feeling perfectly comfortable and affirmed by their church; yes, their church, too. The world would be a different place.

But somewhere along the way, we gave up that invtation to prophetic sanctuary and shelter in favor of our own fears. And the fears are many: fear of "catching gay" (whatever that means), fear of losing a place in heaven, fear of children being in danger around gay people, fear, fear, fear.

Since fear cannot be acknowledged for what it is, it has to be renamed and framed in more acceptable terms. And so, bias and prejudice become disguised as things like righteousness, faithfulness, protectiveness, love (if only you would change, they say - we love you, but we hate your sin), and on and on.

What happened to the two greatest commandments of all? Since when did love one another bring with it a manifesto to change others to fit a mold? We love you, let us change you.

No, it's more like: "We're scared to death of you and what welcoming you means to our comfortable, well-planned out lives and after-lives. It's best we keep you out of this church, out of wedlock, and out of our sight - at least until things change."

Fear triumphs in ways that change otherwise good and kind hearts into calcified and cruel instruments that beat only with the blood that passes through them. The warmth, the love, the willingness to risk for the sake of others has gone and in its place self-centered fear has taken up residence, disguised in the most comfortable of ways.