choosing to be christian


    They had already sung two songs before he stepped out from the ensemble from the Durham Rescue Mission to sing a solo. The small group was made up of men who were clients of the mission rather than staff. They were dressed alike in white shirts and brown ties; most of them set their Bibles down on the front pew of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church as they climbed the steps to the platform to sing for the fundraiser that would help their mission. As the man moved to the front, a peaceful expression fell across his face and he began to sing, soulfully:

    Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
    pure and holy, tried and true
    with thanksgiving I’ll be a living
    sanctuary for you

    Sanctuary: a sacred place, a refuge from danger or hardship, a safe place.

    The six men, who were acquainted with grief and hardship and failure and shame, sang and prayed to be grateful harbors of hope for those around them, pure and holy, tried and true. Their words took me back to where my day had begun, standing for a Communion service in a small gazebo on Duke’s East Campus as a part of the North Carolina Pride Festival. Our church has hosted the service for the last couple of years in cooperation with a couple other congregations in the area; it helps to kick off the festivities of the day, which include some speakers, some music, and a parade through our neighborhood.

    Three of us had guitars and began playing and singing about fifteen minutes before the service was to begin. We had done a couple of songs when we began to sing

    we shall overcome
    we shall overcome
    we shall overcome someday
    deep in my heart I do believe
    we shall overcome someday

    The song was a musical magnet, galvanizing the group that had gathered and pulling more people inside the small stone structure as we all sang together

    we’ll walk hand in hand . . .
    we shall walk in peace . . .
    God will see us through . . .

    Someday. We shared Communion together, sang about the blessed tie that binds our hearts in Christian love, and then prepared to be a part of the parade. Our church was one of seven or eight that had groups walking or riding in the parade down Broad Street and then back up Ninth, which also meant riding past the group on the corner with the signs that said, “God Hates Fags,” and “Turn or Burn,” among other things.

    The people I rode with in the parade didn’t choose to be gay or lesbian anymore than I chose to be straight. They did however, choose to follow Jesus, even when many of those who call themselves Christian have excluded, berated, and even hated them. They have chosen to be true to their God and to themselves even as they continue to be told by those claiming to speak for God that they are damned. As I stood in the circle around the Table, Ginger read from Romans 8:

    For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Neither life nor death nor placards nor insults nor homelessness nor orientation nor anything else that might come our way. God’s love doesn’t let go of any one of us. Ever. Therefore, as one who didn’t choose to be white or male or straight, my choice was made clear by what I saw and heard today. I can choose to be a judge, who divides the world into those of us with a corner on the truth and everyone else; or I can choose to be a sanctuary, grateful, tried, and true, who greets the world with open arms.

    Deep in my heart I do believe the choice is that simple and that stark.

    In the parable of the Great Banquet, the king sent his servants out to compel anyone they could find to come to dinner, and to keep doing so until the room was filled. The church spent most of the years since Jesus told that story allowing institutional power and prejudice to build barriers to the banquet rather than feeding everyone. If we want the church to emerge as something other than what it has been for much of its history, then we need to begin by opening our doors and our eyes and our hearts to welcome all of humankind, with all the ways we are the same and all the ways we are different, in Jesus’ name. We will change our world when we choose to overcome our institutions and become sanctuaries, when we choose gratitude over judgment.

    “We shall overcome — someday,” the song says, calling us to commit to a resilient and fragile hope that says God’s love is worth our lives:

    we’ll walk hand in hand . . .
    we shall walk in peace . . .
    God will see us through . . .

    Someday. Deep in my heart I keep believing.



    1. I keep believing too, Milton. Though some days I feel like a complete patsy for doing so. Much like today.

      Blessings on you for being the sanctuary I needed to visit after escaping the Institutional excuse for a church I had to go to this morning.

    2. That’s beautiful, Brother. 🙂

      Thanks for the additional layer of meaning to the “Sanctuary” song; many of the youth of our church really love it, and I’ve been trying to for their sakes.

      You tell of beautiful “soul work” happening not just in you, but in your community, and it’s a profound witness. Thank you.

    3. “Neither life nor death nor placards nor insults nor homelessness nor orientation nor anything else that might come our way. God’s love doesn’t let go of any one of us.”

      Amen and amen…
      this is a beautiful post.

    4. Late to the party, (I’ve not been reading regularly, and now am wondering: why?) I’ll comment anyway on this stellar post that had me singing and believing the dream.
      It’s a beautiful October day here in the SF bay area – one that already feels fairly hopeful. Maybe it’s the npr pundits who are telling us that Obama has won (again) last night’s debate. Maybe it’s that I have a day off at home when, though I’ve got less in the bank than ever, I still have enough to eat and the rent is paid, and all I “have to” do is cultivate my flower garden and make a delicious dinner. Maybe it’s the sense I get that, if we were living in the same part of the world, you and I might be friends because we surely seem to believe in the same things about Justice and Jesus. Whatever the reason, I am having a great day, and you just became a part of that by blessing me with your words. I just wanted you to know that, and to say thank you.
      So thank you, Milton.

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