Monday, November 14, 2005

Closeted Away

I watched the proverbial sunrise
Coming up over the Pacific and
You might think I'm losing my mind,
But I will shy away from the specifics.

'Cause I don't want you to know where I am
'Cause then you'll see my heart
In the saddest state it's ever been.

This is no place to try and live my life.

Stop right there - that's exactly where I lost it.
See that line - well, I never should have crossed it.
Stop right there - well, I never should have said
That it's the very moment that
I wish that I could take back.

I'm sorry for the person I became.
I'm sorry that it took so long for me to change.
I'm ready to try and never become that way again
'Cause who I am hates who I've been.
Who I am hates who I've been.

I talk to absolutely no one.
Couldn't keep to myself enough.
And the things bottled inside have finally begun
To create so much pressure that I’ll soon blow up.

I heard the reverberating footsteps
Syncing up to the beating of my heart,
And I was positive that unless I got myself together,
I would watch me fall apart.

And I can’t let that happen again
‘Cause then you’ll see my heart
In the saddest state it’s ever been.

This is no place to try and live my life.

-Relient K, "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been"

I know Relient K probably didn't have gay and lesbian individuals in mind when they wrote this song, but it works pretty well as a theme song for anyone coming out of the closet. There's simply nothing healthy about spending your time and energy putting on a false front in order to protect yourself from a hostile world - and yet that's exactly what the church requires of many of us, lest we come under the condemnation of our "brothers and sisters in Christ."

Why? Because we've allowed our faith to become straitjacketed by a rules-based system. Our churches have become so focused on codes of conduct that grace is more a Christianese buzzword than it is a reality in our day to day lives, and the real rule that most people live by is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Bury your problems as deep as possible, learn how to say the right things at church and otherwise give the appearance that everything in your life is perfect because you've got Jesus, or else.

That's slowly changing in some churches as more people begin to openly address such widespread problems as pornography addiction and substance abuse, but even so there's still a heavy focus on external behavior and conformity. And really, that's the best that a legalistic system can hope to offer.

The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes that we are no longer under the oppression of the Law, and that all of its requirements can be summed up in two simple commands: Love God and love others. A lot of lip service gets paid to this idea, but it never lasts long. "Ah yes," our leaders say, "but you mustn't overlook all of the commands the New Testament gives us to illustrate what loving God and others looks like." And from that otherwise valid point they proceed to rebuild that lengthy list of rules and regulations and place us right back under a system of legalism.

Why? Because it's dangerous to allow individual believers to live their lives guided by the Spirit without a detailed set of regulations to govern their every step. Church isn't quite as tidy when people are allowed to freely disagree. It's messy and scary. Kind of like real life.

But returning to legalism always leads us back into the "don't ask, don't tell" trap. Being human, we will inevitably fall no matter how hard the church tries to micromanage our behavior. The real question is, who will be there to pick up the pieces afterward?

Legalism brings with it a feeling of safety. But ultimately it's a false security; however comfortable the closet may feel now, it eventually suffocates you. True security flows out of the knowledge that you're loved unconditionally, no matter how many times you fail, no matter what you disagree on, no matter how poorly you conform to the majority.

Legalism is rooted in fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of losing your salvation. Perfect love casts out fear.

Imagine how a church that truly loved could turn the world upside down...

1 comment:

Liadan said...

Brilliant. BRILLIANT.

I just have nothing else to say, except that I wish I'd said it first, 'cause then I'd have something to brag about.

(Though I must admit I was afraid for a moment you were going to peg the Relient K song as an ex-gay anthem.)