This weekend a number of thing collided in my brain and spirit as I sat feeling a heavy weight of sadness in our church service. As I pondered and listened and prayed, I strained to integrate the various thoughts and impressions that swirled within me. I’ve been wrestling with this heavy sadness for a while. I’m guessing that it is a combination of several things – partly spiritual stuff, partly my own tiredness, partly my own vulnerability to depression, partly ‘par-for-the-course’ vocational stuff. Inevitably, when we encounter this kind of experience, we want to find some meaning and purpose in it. Sometimes, it is less about meaning and more about the simple message to slow down, find our rest in God, and allow him to replenish us in his time. Sometimes, it is a multi-layered message that is drawing us towards some kind of cross-road. And sometimes, I think, it is, at least in part, an assignment … something we are asked to carry in identification with the grief in the heart of God. I don’t claim to fully understand this kind of assignment and what its purpose is …. but a glimpse of resonance is found when Paul says, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” (2 Cor. 1: 5-6) My pastor mentioned that this past Friday as International Human Rights Day. He made some comment about how the church has failed to be the leading voice in the fight for human rights. And my mind returned to the article I’d read the day before about Cyndi Lauper. When I was a teen, Cyndi’s song, “True Colours” was played over and over again in my sony Walkman. In the article, Cyndi’s advocacy work on behalf of LBGT teens was profiled – and in particular, her catalytic role in the building of a safe residence in New York City for sexual minority teens who have been kicked out or run away from home. And I thought to myself, “Where is the church?” I’ve been to Cyndi’s “Give a Damn” website. I think many in the church would see it as another project of the gay agenda steam rolling through our culture to silence a traditional biblical sexual ethic. And, indeed, there may be many aspects to the site that some Christians would disagree with or find problematic. But I wonder, if we carte blanche write off a campaign like “Give a Damn” what message are we communicating? How are we demonstrating, as a Christian community, that we care about the reality of sexual minority youth? What residential housing are we building as a safe place to help keep LGBT kids off the streets? How are we advocating for their worth and value and dignity as fellow image-bearers of God? My pastor referenced an article in the Toronto Star. Helen Prejean, the nun who wrote the book, “Dead Man Walking”, had been in town. The article describes Prejean’s metamorphosis:
“Prejean, as a sheltered nun living in a convent in New Orleans, was oblivious not only to the fearsome death penalty rate in China (which executes more people annually than the rest of the world combined) but also to the race-based horrors of poverty a few blocks away in a low-income housing project, and the disproportionate ratio of young black men languishing on death row in the United States. Shielded by “class and culture,” she explains, she was “asleep” and had to be “awakened” to the realities of racism and deep poverty within her own city. One of the voices who roused Prejean was fellow Roman Catholic sister, sociologist Marie Augusta Neal (1921-2004). Neal taught Prejean that the Christian vocation was not simply to show charity toward the poor, but to strive for justice for the poor. It was a personal game changer, one that pulled Prejean out of her well-ordered convent down the street to the St. Thomas housing project, where she lived among the impoverished black residents.”
But do we extend the same vocational call to advocate for sexual minorities? What reservations or hesitations arise? Certainly, there is the question for some people of faith whether or not they would then be advocating for that which is sinful – if not the experience of a differing sexual identity, then the outworking of such minority identity in behaviour and relationships. Others wrestle with not wanting to reinforce an identity that they would see as an unhelpful and imposed social construct. Within these reservations, I wonder if we miss the point. The question of advocacy is not about who someone might be or should be – what they might do or should do. The question of advocacy is about that individual right where they are, right now. It is about stepping into that place, being present, sharing life, extending respect and dignity to that person as they are. It is about building a residence that may save and protect a vulnerable person from the streets, from prostitution, addiction or death. It is about saying, “You are worth it.” It is about justice. It is about taking on human flesh and moving into the neighbourhood. It is, in the holiest possible sense, giving a damn.