They used to tell me to “guard my heart” when I was growing up. Protect it. Don’t give it to anyone who will hurt it, or not treat it carefully and gently.
Don’t throw it around recklessly, opening the doors to your inner life to just anyone who asks to go in.
Don’t share too much of yourself to people who can’t be trusted, because your heart is sensitive and easily bruised.
If you don’t guard your heart carefully, and keep up well maintained hedges around your solitude, then your heart gets worn down and scratched, and it will build up callouses. Fingers toughened up from playing guitar, knees scraped from falling off bikes. A heart scratchy and rough from too much battering.
A lot of LGBT folk were pretty cynical when Eugene Peterson came out a few days ago for LGBT equality in the church. A lot of queer folk reminded us not to put our own liberation in the hands of straight folk, and especially not establishment straight folk. People warned me not to care too much, because at the end of the day, we create our own liberation with our own two hands. If someone else can give you freedom, then they can take it away.
I didn’t listen.
Guys, I have really trusted Eugene Peterson for a long time.
Eugene has been a pastor to me on days when I felt deeply pastor-less.
From The Contemplative Pastor through A Long Obedience in the Same Direction through the Gospels in The Message, he always seemed to catch me just where I was and give me a hand up. His gentleness, his honest wrestling with the text, his careful word choice, and his heart for Jesus all helped with my questions about vocation and identity. I experienced Jesus a little more each time I picked up one of his books. I read A Long Obedience this spring in a woman’s Bible study at my non-affirming church, and the process of prayerfully reading the book was part of my journey to finally leave my church. He has been a pastor to me on days when I felt deeply pastor-less.
And hearing someone you have trusted and loved for years say yes, dear. You are OK.
It was so powerful, friends.
When I read the original interview with Eugene Peterson, in conjunction with my own personal spiritual journey with his book A Long Obedience and my decision to leave my faith community – guys. It was so good.
I opened all the doors – I unlocked bolts and swung open gates and let myself be filled up to the brim with joy.
Guard your heart, Laura Jean.
I didn’t guard my heart. I was so happy, felt so relieved and delighted that the movement of the Spirit was tangible and real in a way that was so personal to me. I wanted to hope.
And then he took it all back. The careful pastor that I trusted to thoughtfully and intentionally measure his words and actions took it all back. He was reckless with the LGBT community, and careless with our hope. And we suffered because of his carelessness. We suffered because we hoped, and he didn’t hold our hope with care.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
Hope deferred makes your heart calloused.
I don’t want my heart to be calloused.
It’s hard not to feel foolish today. It’s a bit silly, but I’ve been thinking about the heartbreaking scene at the end of Love, Actually, where Emma Thompson confronts Alan Rickman with his infidelity. He’s guilty and ashamed – “God, I am so in the wrong. A classic fool!”
“Yes,” Emma responds, “but you’ve also made a fool out of me. And you’ve made the life I lead foolish, too.”
Those of us committed to the work of the Spirit in the Church can feel foolish for hoping, and for having our hopes deferred again. And again.
The cynic in the back of my mind gathers up her weapons, and she’s just been begging to use them, because I told you so, Laura Jean. It happens again. And it happens again. And the money-machine of the white evangelical church will keep churning. Throw your middle fingers to the sky, and “let your heart be hardened,” because this sure isn’t worth it, and it will happen again.
You made us look foolish, Eugene. You made the lives of hope that we lead look foolish.
The funny thing about writing is that more often than not, you write your own way into truth.
I wanted to write to remind us all to keep our walls up. I wanted to remind all you beautiful, hopeful, Jesusy queers who are committed to the project of reconciliation in the larger Church to be careful who you let in. I wanted to remind us to play our cards close to our chest, to put a guard at the city gate. I wanted to tell us that the only way to keep our hearts from being cynical, battered, bruised up and ultimately calloused, is to refuse to let anyone in unless we know they’re safe. Until we’re sure that can be trusted.
But oh my dear Church. Oh my beautiful, terrible Church. I love you.
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” – C.S. Lewis
To love at all is to be vulnerable. I may be on my way out of the evangelical church, and I may be putting careful walls in place between my heart and the evangelical community – but the bigger Church, the larger body of Christ – I love you.
I love you so much.
Which means I will never quite be safe from the joys of a day like that Wednesday, or safe from days that are terrible like that Thursday.
We can and should guard our hearts, and decide who we will love. And it’s important to decide who is going to have the power to break our hearts. And I have no interest in telling my other LGBT folk how they should respond to this, and whether they are “allowed” to feel particular emotions or say particular things. We are all mourning and raging and encountering this wound in a different way, and no one has the right to tone-police our response to injustice.
But for me? For better or for worse – I am a Christian, and I am queer. I can’t stop being either one, although God knows I tried not to be either. And because I am a Christian, my life is tied up in the Church and the work that Christ is doing through her in the world. And because I am queer, it will always break my heart to love something like the Church so much.
I’m still pretty angry. I think that’s OK. I’m still pretty sad. I know that’s OK.
And I still love my Church. And I still love Eugene Peterson, heartbreak and frustration and all. He’s my brother in Christ, and we’re in this project of Church together. He still shows me Jesus. He still shows me that it’s worth it to choose love, even when love can look and feel like foolishness.
Loving the Church is a foolish and terrible and beautiful thing. It’s a lot of table flipping some days. But unless I am flipping tables because my heart breaks that something I love so much would do so much evil in the world – unless I’m flipping tables and driving out money changers because I want something so much better for this community that I love, unless I am angry because I love these people so much – I’m only a clanging gong and a resounding symbol.
God grant me the courage to not let my cynicism win. God grant me the courage to look foolish, again and again, because I haven’t stopped hoping.
Originally published at www.laurajeantruman.com. Reprinted with permission and love.