There is a place – a family farm – that means so much to me. One hundred acres of trees, water, tall grass, and rocks. But getting there is the best part. The road to the farm is breathtaking: winding, full of dips and curves, bumpy in parts with stretches canopied by trees. Driving along that road, I can sense new possibilities, opportunities to explore. Life.
Which reminds me of a story. One night, not so long ago, I was preparing for an event for the organization where I was serving. I had been selected to lead in the formation and building up of the community through activities and intentional times of togetherness. As I was walking from my office to the room where we had planned the event for that evening, I was stopped by one of the executives of the organization.
“Hey, when you get a minute, I would like to talk to you. Are you going to be around?”
I told her I’d be free in another ten to fifteen minutes, and I went on about my business. I began to plate the desserts on their trays. I started brewing the coffee in the employee kitchen. I made my way back to my office to collect more supplies. The executive knocked on my door, walked in, grabbed a chair and pulled it over to my desk. She invited me to sit down and join her in a conversation. I sat down and grabbed a pen and notepad. I thought we were heading into a quick organizational meeting.
The executive smiled and asked me how I was doing. I admitted that the previous week had been rough. I’d stepped down from a pastoral position, but overall I was doing OK. She asked how my family was. She was curious about how many siblings I had. She inquired about my parents’ employment. Then we got to the reason for the meeting: “I’ve noticed that you have updated your information on Facebook saying that you are gay,” the executive said. “Are you affirming?”
I explained that, at the time, I was not out of line with my faith tradition but that I felt that it was important to put a face to the “debate” about LGBTQIA+ persons and their lives. I expressed that sometimes it seems the church clings to a disembodied ideal rather than actually seeing human beings made in the image of God, people who are harmed by our beliefs.
She looked at me and said, “We have had some donors calling the organization upset with you.”
At the time, I had shared about being gay with my community, both on Facebook and in conversations.
She continued, “They have asked me to direct you to stop sharing. I am going to need you to delete the things you have posted and stop sharing. I don’t care what you do after you leave here, but while you are here you do not need to share anything else about this. If you are unable to do this, we will need to reevaluate your leadership positions with us.”
I didn’t know where to begin. I reiterated that I continued to be in step with my faith tradition and that I had verbally supported its position.
“I hear what you are saying, but we aren’t there yet,” she said. “If you could, make sure all of that is taken down as soon as possible. If you should have any questions please reach out to me. I don’t want to police your life, but if you have questions about what should be posted, I ask that you speak with me before you share it. Does that sound good?”
I was stuck. If I kept sharing, I would lose my position, not to mention the other opportunities that I was pursuing at the time. She left my office, and I went back to preparing for the event. In the dead space of preparing, I went online and hid everything that I had posted on my social media outlets. I let her know, and she smiled, saying, “Oh, that was fast. Bless you.”
This is what happens. Sharing who I am is a risk. I may face harm. I might lose opportunities. My relationships could rupture.
Have you ever found yourself walking down a road alone?
A lawyer stands up to test Jesus, asking him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies with a question, “What is written in the law?”
The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer then asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied with a story, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The roads we take have a lot to say about the realities we are living in. We can travel on these roads without thinking. We might not notice our surroundings. This is not only true for the literal roads we travel on, but also for the roads or systems that are a part of our everyday lives. Society and culture ingrain in us automatic responses to countless situations. We are programmed to fit in, to keep going the way we’ve always gone.
Could it be that because of the positions they held and the systems they were a part of, the Priest and Levite “knew” not to stop to help the battered man who was lying in the ditch? Could it be that because of the roads they traveled every day, that the Priest and Levite felt trapped or fearful of what might happen to them or their institution if they stopped?
Here’s why this matters. In scripture we have a God who seemed far off and separate, but who comes near. Immanuel. God with us. God faces the blind man, the bleeding woman, Peter’s mother-in-law, a paralyzed man. God sees them. God hears them. God touches them. God identifies with them.
All of us, every day, find ourselves on the roads we’ve inherited: cultural norms, expectations from an organization, oppressive ideologies. We walk the same roads that those who went before us also walked.
I was told, “We aren’t there yet.” And if we stay on the road we’ve always walked, we won’t ever get there.
Are we willing to stop walking? Are we able to identify with those on the side of the road? Do we hear Jesus’ call to build a better road.
Think about what we might experience, driving along that new road together. It might be difficult, winding, full of dips and curves, bumpy in parts. It might also be beautiful, canopied by trees, and I can sense new possibilities, opportunities to explore. Life. Because getting there is the best part.