I wasn’t listening to my body. I was trying to ignore the anxiety building up in my chest as my stomach turned in knots. My palms were sweaty. My neck was tense. I took a deep breathe in. I held onto it for a few seconds. Then, I let it go slowly. I had forgotten what it felt like to breathe. I had forgotten what it felt like for my heart to beat, holding onto both excitement and fear. I had forgotten what it felt like to be alive.
About one year ago, I found myself feeling the most depressed that I have felt in a while. I had to force myself to get out of bed and I don’t mean that I had to push snooze on my alarm three times. Rather, I slept through my alarm and other important tasks that needed to get done. I ate because I knew I needed to, not because I felt hungry or wanted to. I felt that my mind was eroding. I was numb. I was breathing because I had to survive, not because I was living. I felt like a half functioning machine.
It was around that same time that I decided to become more vocal about my experience with my sexuality. I had come out to my family and close friends over seven years ago. I held a sexual ethic that allowed me to live a life that my context would deem as the best or most holy way of living as an LGBTQIA+ Christian. But in these moments, my outer self was not aligned with my inner self, my true self and way of being. As I studied more about God and the historical Christian faith, while also growing in my relationship with Christ at the same time, I felt the Holy Spirit challenging even my own biases against loving God, my neighbor, and most certainly myself. I felt the Holy Spirit whisper that it was okay to breathe. I didn’t have to hide.
Becoming more vocal about my sexuality was, in essence, an attempt for me to exhale the breath that I felt like I had been holding in for years. Becoming more vocal about my sexuality was an attempt to be heard. It was an attempt to be seen and known for who I truly was, not for who I was pretending to be. but before becoming vocal, I had to measure the risks that would be involved in my doing so.
When I think about risk I think about being authentic within a community. I think being authentic within a community to oneself, to one's neighbors, and to God is a direct flipping of the bird to the machine and this idea that says you have to be just like us to be a part of us. The machine and its systems don’t desire for us to become more of ourselves. When we become our true authentic selves, owning all of who we are and who we have been created to be, the machine seeks to erase not only the potential of becoming but also any potential of belonging.
A particular story from the narrative of scripture comes to mind. It is the story of the hemorrhaging woman (found in Matthew Chapter 9, Mark Chapter 5, & Luke Chapter 8). I resonate most with the story found in Luke. The book of Luke is saturated most with the stories of women out of all the gospels. This is important, not only because it articulates the entrusting of the ministry of Jesus to women, but it also gives us more of a glimpse into the gospel narrative that may have been left out by other authors, which speaks to the context of the time and the patriarchal systems that were in place. AND, it just so happens that I have also always resonated most with the women found in the narrative of scripture.
I will be using Luke 8: 42b-48 NRSV.
The scene opens shortly after Jesus has done many healings and miracles, and right before the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus is on his way to the house of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue because his daughter was dying. While on his way, Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people following him. We are not told exactly the number of those who are following Jesus at this time. However, we are told that from the perspective of one the disciples, “The crowds were pressing in on him because there were so many.”
As Jesus makes his way through the cramped streets, a woman who has been bleeding makes her way into the crowd, hoping to touch the fringe of his clothing so that she may be healed. In the story, since we are not told much about this woman other than she has “an issue of blood”. If she indeed had an issue of blood, this would have made her ceremonially unclean to the Jewish people. According to the law, this woman would not have been allowed in the city. She would’ve been cast out of the city gates, and if by chance she did enter into the city, she was to yell unclean so that those around her would be alerted to keep their distance. Instead, she remained silent, she remained in hiding, in an effort to not upset the machine. As soon as the woman got close enough to graze the fringe of Jesus’ garment with her fingers, the crowd fell silent, not because they saw the woman for she was still hiding, but because Jesus broke the commotion with his words. He asked, “Who touched me?” but no one in the crowd responded. As I stated earlier, one of the disciples was describing to Jesus, as if Jesus was unaware, that the crowds were probably pressing in on him as they were walking together to the home of Jairus. The people were shoulder to shoulder. It only makes sense that rubbing shoulders or stepping on someone’s tailcoat would take place! Still, Jesus insisted, “Someone touched me; I noticed the power going out of me.” When he said this, the woman who was once bleeding fell to her knees in front of Jesus. She was probably trying to ignore the anxiety building up in her chest as her stomach turned in knots. The woman's palms were most likely sweaty. Her neck probably tense. She took a deep breathe in. No longer could she remain hidden. Jesus saw her. He heard her. He knew her. Instead of giving into the power and systems of the machine that would’ve condemned her, Jesus gave up his power to invite her into God’s story of becoming and belonging.
I took another breath in. I wanted to hold onto it. I was afraid. Have you ever had one of those moments where the adrenaline was rushing through your body because you were about to do something exhilarating and the past flashes before your eyes? It was surreal. For so long, I pretended that being gay was not part of my identity. I separated myself from anything that could make me look like I was gay. For so long, I let the false narrative championed by the machine that said, “Your sexuality makes you unclean. You can’t be gay, or else you’re going to hell” take hold of my life. I looked back over my past, and I remembered the turmoil and the pain that I carried. Yet again, I found my Spirit downtrodden and heavy laden. But this time, I decided I wanted to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, knowing that at some point, I was going to fall to my knees face down in front of him owning all of who I was, all of who I am.
I began to tell my story in a way that I had never done before. When it came up in conversation, I owned that I was gay. When I introduced myself in class, I would sometimes say, “Oh, by the way, I am also gay." I published it on facebook. I exhaled. I felt alive. No longer did I have to hide. While I most certainly found the embrace of God in a new way that day, the following days left me with a question. What happens to the person who is on a journey of becoming and belonging, when the machine chooses to react?
Over the next few months, after I came out publicly to my context and world, though God was indeed present with me, the machine employed its tactics to persuade me, or ceremonially cleanse me to make me acceptable to my larger context, mainly speaking to my religious community. I was given ultimatums. I was threatened. I was told that I shouldn’t have said I was gay. I was told I shouldn’t talk about it any longer. The same persons who extended these experiences to me are also the same persons who said they were praying for me while at the same time distancing themselves from a relationship with me. All of this was done in hopes of not causing a commotion. All of this was done in hopes of pleasing those individuals who feel a duty to protect the law of God. All of this was done in hopes of pleasing those financial investors who had stock in the communities I was a part of.
It is my understanding of scripture that when Christ came, Christ not only had the intentions to offer salvation to all of humanity but that Christ also hoped to share what salvation actually looks like on a day to day basis. Christ came to show humanity what it is to live as Christ. To be truly human is to be like Christ, or Christlike. This means that the practical ways in which we live must be ever changing into the likeness of Christ. This means any system we are a part of will be open to that change as well. This includes the lies of the machine that forces us all to run and hide in some way. This includes the tactics the machine employs to rupture the journey of becoming and belonging. Just like Christ, the machine is invited to give up its power, to give up its survival for the sake of those who are oppressed, marginalized, and deemed "ceremonially unclean."
Any system, any platform, any institution or organization that promises a seat at the table only to those who will not speak up and challenge the status quo is participating in the machine. The voice of the machine says, "You can exist. You just can’t be seen or heard. You can’t belong.” The voice of the machine was saying to me, “In order for you to be a Christian or part of our Christian community, you cannot be gay. You have to be exactly like us in every way. You must look, act, talk, and walk like us. Or else we will snuff you out.” The voice of the machine looks more like conformity than it does unity. It looks more like an assimilated homogenous experience than it does an experience that is open to perspective, interpretation, and nuance. With the machine, there is no room for curiosity.
For so long, the voice of the machine told the woman with the issue of blood that she was not worthy. The voice of the machine told the woman with the issue of blood that she was unclean, unwanted, and that God could not see her or know her for who she was. Then one day she decided to take the risk.
Just like the woman with the issue of blood, the narrative of the machine was causing me to die. Quite literally, I remember asking God, “Can I just die now?” I wrote it in my journal several times before I had shared my experience more fully. But when I took the risk, yes, shit did happen. It is still happening. I am still recovering from it. BUT, I can breathe. I am alive. AND, I will not go back into hiding because I believe that I belong and that you do too.