Tom Daley, The God In The Closet, and The Scandal of Coming Out…

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“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my  thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” – Psalm 139:1-14

The Psalm you’ve just read is entitled in my Bible ‘The Inescapable God’ – this Psalm has been at the forefront of my mind recently as at my three most recent Baptism’s here in Cardiff, they have been chosen by the parents and families. I’ve heard this Psalm many times before, it’s a Psalm that is well known and I am particularly fond of the phrase ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ as it is a phrase a great Superintendent of mine Rev’d Micky Youngson used to use often and it’s full of such meaning that I’m still trying to fathom precisely what it means if I’m honest!

I was caught out recently though; mid-worship twice in the same service, it was my first Baptism since arriving in August, and the Church was full of about two hundred people, mainly visitors who had come in coaches from West Wales and Devon to see a little ten month old receive her Baptism. As I went up into the pulpit to deliver a sermon I thought I was reasonably familiar with, I was almost stopped – completely by the biggest lump in my throat as I began to close with the words of Psalm 139…I had preached a sermon totally on God’s pre-given grace to us *all* – on how there is nothing we or anyone else can do to stop us from being loved by God, about how even though we don’t understand what God offers us, and even though we are imperfect and un-prepared and mess up all the time God *still* comes to us with His gifts of eternal life and forgiveness of sin…I could almost see chains/burdens/baggage falling off those listening, as though they’d never known, never heard, never imagined that the God who had created them could love them so much, or see them as beautiful and loveable. Now I had no idea who they all were, No idea what their faith background was, No idea whether I’d ever see them again…and then the same thing occured at the blessing when the service ended with the words:

‘Whoever you are,

Wherever you go,

Wherever you’ve come from,

Whatever your strengths,

Whatever your weaknesses,

God loves you, and God will be with you -

To Hold, To Heal, To Guide and To Bless.

And now may the blessing of God Almighty,

The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit be with you,

Those you love and those you ought to love,

Now and forevermore. Amen’. (partly by Nick Fawcett)

One of the most satisfying parts of what I do has to be those few experiences and encounters where I can see people’s stereotypes of the Church, or God or Priests being broken – those days when people get to see that the Church can be a place of welcome, when they hear about the God who loves them as they are, or have a chat with a Minister who is a human being (too many robot types out there) with emotions and desires just like them – those are the really good days…!

  Today’s headline is all about this: 

 video which was released yesterday by the Olympic Diver and Bronze Medal Winner, Tom Daley. I watched this on my phone whilst still in bed with one eye open on my day off (as you do..!) – I could tell exactly what it was going to be, as I suspect quite a few others did…! But, that said, I was impressed by how open and honest Tom was about the fact that he had found love (unexpectedly it seems) and was in a relationship with ‘a guy’ who he’d been dating since the Spring which he said makes him feel ‘so happy, so safe and [everything just feels] great’ – It’s wonderful, wonderful that finally he can be open about who he is and who he is in love with and how it all makes him feel. But that said, it’s also a huge scandal.

It’s a scandal that people who are not hetrosexual have to admit that to the world.

It’s a scandal that it’s an expected part of being gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender.

It’s a scandal that people assume the right to that personal information.

It’s a scandal that vulnerable boys and girls have to experience making themselves so vulnerable and open to all sorts of attack at such young and tender ages.

It’s a scandal that by virtue of their sexuality and the world’s expectations LGBT people are born by virtue of their nature into a “closet”.

It’s wrong on SO many levels and I believe deep down in the depths of my being that God’s heart is hurt by the fact that things are this way.

The fact that we as human beings almost have a psychological lottery on who is allowed to feel ‘happy, safe and great’ is an abomination.

When I think back to the God of the Psalms, the God of which the Psalmist writes, the God who knows us and all our ways, who formed our inward parts and knows the words we will speak before we say them – when I think of this God I smile, but I also weep. Because for every person confined to secrecy about their sexuality, every person that WE lock away in the closet of shame and oppression – we are locking a piece of God away in the closet too. And we add to the scandal – we add to it, because so many people young and old, live their lives day in, day out unable to say: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” because we have made them believe and feel that somehow it doesn’t apply to them, that they should be ashamed of who they are, that the very thing that let’s us know we are alive, the receiving and giving of love, is something which they should be denied.

God *is* in the closet – because God is *always* alongside the marginalised and outcast and chooses to be.

   There are many people, I’m sure, who would like to follow in Tom Daley’s footsteps – who’d like to come out, be themselves, share their long-felt feelings that they’ve had to suppress for so long…and yet, they can’t for a multitude of reasons…

To those people (many of whom are in our Churches) – I want to say this:

God loves you.

You are worthy of God’s love.

He knows the pain you feel.

He knows the heartache you endure.

He knows the weight of the secrets you hide.

He thinks you are perfect, and you are.

And He will be there with you, in the pain, in the secrets, in the mess, in the fear – until the time comes (which it will) when you can be who God has made you to be. So keep going. It’s the imperfect world around you that needs to change – not the perfect you, and it’s time the Church – in its entirety, lived and preached this message.

And there comes the lump in the throat again…!

Jx

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you’. – from Isaiah 43

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13 thoughts on “Tom Daley, The God In The Closet, and The Scandal of Coming Out…

  1. Reblogged this on The Mendip Nomad and commented:
    I’ll be honest, there have been times I’ve doubted my own call to ordination, and there are those who have been ordained who I truly wonder whether it was God they were hearing when they heard their call. But one person whose call I have never, ever doubted, since I first met him when we trained together as Local Preachers on the London District training course, is my dearly beloved brother in Christ, Jarel, whose nomadic wanderings and wonderings are even more varied than mine. It is words like those that follow that are part, just a small part, of the reason why. Thank you, my brother, for you say this so much better than I ever could (and I’ll be honest, I usually consider myself good with words!)

    • My Brother, what can I say? Thank you. Really. Those words are very touching.
      I appreciate all the encouragement you’ve given me over all these years! Just make sure you keep praying for me and my vocation whenever you remember ;) You know I need it.

  2. Thanks so much for this, Jarel.

    I can understand where you’re coming from in terms of the whole ‘coming out’ thing, but I also wonder whether it can be construed as sacramental in character (cf Chris Glaser’s great book). I remember my own traumatic process of coming out (and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone else) and I see a moment of grace as well as pain. The decision to live the truth you have discovered is a profound risk but also necessary – the invisible grace becomes embodied reality.

    I remain very sad that LGBT people feel it necessary to stay in the closet. Of course there is homophobia, bullying and heternormativity around, especially in the church. As an openly gay person, I have looked into the eyes of fellow Christians and seen hate. But there is also myth and misperception and at least some of the fears we carry are not borne out by reality.

    Within the churches, it is almost as if we have created parallel universes by our ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and we do an injustice to everyone. We have stopped listening to one another for fear of what might be said. The burden of secrets is indeed a heavy one …. and one that binds. Maybe we also need to hear the word of Jesus to Lazarus – ‘Come out!’

    • Thank you for taking the time to read, Sam!

      I haven’t read Glaser’s book – but I must try and get a copy. Yes, you’re totally right about what you say and I think there is definately alot to be said about the freedom and grace-realizing, life-giving aspects of being open and honest. I certainly don’t want to advocate someone keeping their sexuality a secret, but I think I’m working on the understanding that those who feel they actually can come out, do so at some point…but I also think that people can be led into a false sense of security by not always hearing the painful stories of loss and complete rejection experienced by some and the resulting damage done is sometimes simply left to ferment; leaving people unable to form relationships or find the help they need – I think I’d like to see something similiar to the response of some RC parishes to contraception in place in this field…i.e. if we are going to put a ban on contraception we need to support families who are left in difficult circumstances by this, in a similar vein, I think if as Church Leaders we want to encourage people to come out and be open, we need to be willing to walk alongside people in that journey.

      I think what saddens me slightly by the British LGBT conversation…is that so much of the conversation (as I see it) hasn’t quite taken into account those cultures which exist in Britain and in the Methodist Church but which are not where English culture, and I think do mean ‘English’ has reached. I don’t know if that makes sense…basically I think we are having a conversation in society (and hopefully in parts of the Church) but there are groups of society which are not where some might think they are…such as British Jamaican culture of which I am a part, for example! But I can think of many others too…

      Not sure if I’m making sense – so I’ll stop. But I do completely agree with what you say, and I think you make a great point with the words of Jesus to Lazarus! Much food for thought and reflection for me there. Thank you :)

    • I presume this response is as a result of taking a couple of verses from the bible and applying them out of total context of the whole gospel message!

  3. So good to hear this often muted viewpoint – and exactly what came to my mind when I heard the news. I wait for the day when we don’t feel we need to hear on national news bulletins about the sexuality of anybody.

    Thank you for amplifying this voice and sharing!

    Fiona
    X

  4. Have to disagree… God does NOT think we are perfect… we are all sinners who deserve hell apart from His amazing grace! The bible lists homosexuality as a sin alongside many others… thank God we are all forgiven but that does not mean we should make any one of these sins *ok* when God hates sin.

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