This week’s Advent theme: Overcoming Our Fear of God’s “Disruptions”
My thoughts (Brent Walsh):
I woke up in a Memphis economy hotel with nothing but my wallet, a pack of cigarettes, and the clothes that were tossed carelessly over a chair. The morning sun peeked through the crack in the curtain and specks of dust hovered in the glow. I looked at my watch, pulled myself up and let my legs drop to the side of the bed. I stared at the dancing specks for a long moment as my mind replayed the recent events of my life.
Two weeks prior I had enrolled in an ex-gay ministry called Love in Action. This was my last resort. I thought maybe the experts could figure out what was wrong with me. The emotional hoops they put me through, however, were far more traumatic than helpful. It was supposed to be a two-year residential program, but last night, with little planning or forethought, I silently slipped out the door of the residence home and slid into my baby blue Olds Cutlass Supreme. The car was almost twenty years old, but it was my only friend that night.
The first place I went was a gas station where I bought a pack of Marlboro Menthols. I was planning my trip back home, back to Illinois where my family lived. It made sense. I didn’t know anyone in Memphis. I didn’t have a job or a place to live, so I might as well hit the highway that night and head north.
But there was uneasiness in my gut when I thought about going back to Illinois. I wanted to go back home — my heart was hurt and no one could fix a broken heart like my mother. I pushed myself off the hood of the car, flicked the butt of the cigarette, and slid back in the driver’s seat. Instead of the highway, I went in search for a motel.
Leaving the ex-gay ministry was terrifying because my departure was more than a personal decision about my sexual orientation; it was a statement about my religious beliefs concerning homosexuality. I had consciously switched sides from anti-gay to pro-gay. In the war between “us and them,” I had left “us” and joined “them.”
I called my father from the motel room in Memphis to tell him I had left the program, but I wasn’t coming home. My hands shook and my heart thumped like a tennis shoe in a dryer as I hung up the phone.
“Fine.” I stabbed the word in the air, my sacrifice of submission. It wasn’t pretty, but it was all God was getting. I stepped into the shower and peeled the paper wrapper off the complimentary bar of soap. “I guess you’ll have to take care of me.”
“Do you trust me?” God seemed to say from the other side of the shower curtain.
“No,” I answered bitterly. Then I started to cry, my tears getting lost in the flow of hot water down my face. “I don’t know.”
I was scattered and disoriented, uprooted and uncertain about so many things. When I enrolled in the ex-gay program, my plan had been to go straight and relish the sense of belonging I would once again feel with my family and my religion. I wanted to snuggle comfortably under the blanket of “us” that I had always known. But God had different plans. God wanted ALL of me, unsuppressed and free. In order to accomplish that, God had to remove me from the comforts of familiar religion and send me off to the foreign land of self discovery. I had a choice: I could fight God and stubbornly keep banging my head against my sexuality or I could partner with God and do the hard work it would take to free myself for authentic ministry.
In our passage today, people who loved God deeply persecuted others who loved God deeply. Instead of being wiped out, however, those who were persecuted were scattered to the four winds and became all the more effective in their ministry. Likewise, those who tell us we cannot serve God because of who we are may effectively scatter us to the four winds, but they are not given the power to keep the Holy Spirit from moving in the ministry to which we are called.
Thought for the day: God, help me to fully embrace who I am and the persecution I have experienced. Equip me with the tools I need so that I may lead others to you.
We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.