When I was about eight or nine years old we read at church the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac because God called him to. Later, at home, I asked my dad, “Dad, what would you do if God told you to sacrifice me?” I don’t know if he realized what an important question it was for me. I loved God, and our church, and the stories we read in the Bible. When I was three I had prayed for Jesus to come into my heart. But this story scared me. I knew God had provided Abraham with a ram so he didn’t have to sacrifice his son. I don’t remember if I understood at the time that it was an analogy to Jesus, to God the Father providing us with His only son as a sacrifice so we didn’t have to die. I do remember knowing it was supposed to be a good story, with a happy ending. But the meantime part, when Abraham tied his son to the pyre, fully expecting and intending to kill him out of obedience to his God — that part scared me. Looking back, it was very brave of me to ask my dad the question. If he had said yes, it would have devastated me, and probably destroyed my young faith.
“Dad, what would you do if God told you to sacrifice me?” With tears welling up in his eyes, my father said, “I wouldn’t do it, Jessica. I would say no.” And my young heart understood that my dad LOVED me, and did not love God one whit less. He was not choosing his daughter over God. He made a choice that showed us both God’s deeper broader love. My heart chose God at that moment because my dad chose me.
Yesterday, when Glennon Doyle Melton shared part of a letter she’d written to a young transgender person who had been kicked out of church, it reminded me of that moment. She wrote:
You need to remember that being rejected by church is not the same as being rejected by God. God did not kick you out of church, honey. The church kicked God out of church. Listen—I love the church, J. I spend every extra minute I have in mine. But I am here to tell you that the church is not God. You are more God than the church is, J—because you are made in God’s image: while the church is an institution. God loves you more than any institution He/She made for you, J. When folks decide they love any institution more than the individual souls inside them—they’re missing the mark. I love the church, J—but I love you more. If I’m forced to choose, I choose you and your heart every day and twice on Sundays. Just as God made you. Just as God made you.
(You can read the rest of her post here.)
Let me first say that this is the best use of the expression, “and twice on Sundays” that I have ever seen. G, if I had a Best Turn of Phrase award to give out, you would get it this week.
When I read Glennon’s post, this post came to me, almost full-fledged. That happens sometimes. I suddenly feel the push against my belly and realize there is something in there that needs to be born, and I rush to the computer and type it up, fingers stumbling over each other in my haste. I typed it as a Facebook status. And then, I have a confession: I paused. I thought, Do I really want to go there? Just 29 days ago I hit publish on a post about Jesus and gay weddings, and things got crazy. Good things happened, and are still happening, but it was big and scary and overwhelming. I got my first negative comment in over seven years of blogging, and I got my next five hundred negative comments the same week. Friends wrote praising me, and friends wrote rebuking me. My beloved little blog became something different than it was before. In good ways but in some hard ways, too.
So I looked at what I had written on Facebook, the story about my dad, the paragraph-long quote from Glennon’s blog, and the link to her blog, and I thought, Do I really want to bring up transgender people? Shouldn’t I take some time to let the LGB part settle in? Take some time myself to come to grips with the new Ten Thousand Places, my new readers, my new critics? And take some time to let the Christians I was writing to get used to the thought of baking for gay weddings, before I started in with, “And another thing…” The little girl I nanny was sleeping and would wake any minute, and I hesitated, the cursor hovering over the post button, my finger hovering over the track pad.
And then I thought about my eight year old self again. I thought about how scared I was, how much I loved God and my father and wanted to understand. I thought about my twelve year old self, feeling lost and rejected by my peers, and how boys were just starting to be on my mind, but I already felt there was something wrong with me that would keep me from having a normal life and normal relationship. I was a straight cis girl who would grow into a straight cis woman — all of society was in my corner, and still it was so hard to grow up, to understand myself, my family, my faith, my gender identity, my sexuality. “Sex is difficult,” Rainer Marie Rilke wrote to his young poet friend, “yes. But they are difficult things with which we have been charged; almost everything serious is difficult and everything is serious.”
I thought, as I had many times before, about how integral my gender and my sexuality are to who I am, and how that has very little to do with the sex act itself. I have been celibate most of my life by choice, first because I was waiting to be married, and now because I don’t think I necessarily will get married — and I’m content with that. But the lack of sexual activity in my life has not made me any less of a woman or any less straight — I am a woman oriented towards the opposite sex. I was born that way. I grew up that way. It is as a straight woman that I understand and interact with the world. It is as a straight woman that I worship God.
If it was hard for me to grow up, to accept myself, to understand God’s love for me, I can’t imagine how hard it is for young people whose gender identity or sexual orientation isn’t as widely accepted by society, by their family, by their church. What if my dad had not chosen me? What if my parents had told me that they chose the church over me, that they chose society’s norms over me?
So I took a deep breath, and lowered my finger, and clicked “post.”
And I’m going to click “publish” here in a few minutes, if the little girl naps long enough for me to finish writing. Because I have a one more thing to say:
Maybe your parents, or your church, or society in general were not able to speak those words that you needed to hear. Maybe they chose their interpretation of the Bible or their view of the world over you, overtly or in subtle ways that hurt just as much. Maybe it was because of your sexuality or the gender you identified with. Maybe it was because you struggled with mental illness or addiction, and they didn’t know how to handle it. Maybe you were abused and they chose your abuser or the family or church’s reputation over you. Maybe there was nothing in particular but you just were never sure where you stood. Maybe you worked day and night to dot every i and cross every t so that you would never have to find out whether they would choose you.
If this is you: Listen. You are not alone, and you are not unchosen.
I choose you.
My dad chooses you.
Sarah chooses you.
We love the Bible, and we love God, and we love church, even though we sometimes have a rocky relationship with it. But if we had to choose, we would make the same choice that Jesus made, when he carried his cross, forgave his killers, and died for me and for you.
Jesus chose you. And so do we.
We choose you. Every day, and twice on Sundays.
Please check out Faithfully LGBT and their wonderful photo series of LGBT people of faith.