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