I got some weird messages about Jesus when I was growing up that have continued to impact me in my adult life. I was told that Jesus loved me so much (even though I was a terrible, no good, horrible, very bad person) that he was willing to undergo horrific torture and abuse and die painfully in order to save me from burning forever and ever and ever in Hell.
Because of the horrific stuff Jesus went through to save my sorry ass, I should be willing to go through whatever is required of me cheerfully and with great joy. I couldn’t quite tell why, though. Maybe to pay Jesus back? So Jesus saving me became kind of a guilt transaction. I was left to feel like I owed my life. And the church fed into that. We were told that we needed to be willing to give up whatever was asked of us. We needed to be willing to give up the partner we wanted to date or marry, the job we wanted to have, the gifts we were given. We were told that our life is not our own for we were bought with a price.
I have a different understanding of Jesus’ death now. I know that Jesus was fighting against oppressive and unjust systems trying to bring about liberation for the poor and the marginalized and that sometimes when you stand up and speak truth to power you get killed for it. But even when I walked away from the theology of guilt and shame around my life and soul, I still held on to the thought that I owed my life.
This manifested in all sorts of icky ways throughout my life: I told my- self I shouldn’t do this thing that I loved and was good at because it might make me “prideful”. I didn’t advocate for myself in situations where I was mistreated because I felt like suffering was noble.
Owing my life has generally trans- lated into a self-flagellating denial of my own needs and desires. If I really wanted to do X, chances are God wanted me to give it up. I am not allowed to make money. I am not allowed to be comfortable. I am not allowed to be happy because if I do those things I am not being a
And it’s not just in the church world that we get these messages. If you spend time in activist circles there is also a sense that we are only “okay” if we are suffering. We are only a good activist if we are getting arrested at protests. We are only good if we are working low paying jobs because to work anything else is to buy into the lie that is capitalism. We are only good if we are protesting every single issue and working until we are exhausted and then working more.
All of these messages and ideas lodge in my soul and I spend so much of my time feeling like I am not enough. Not brave enough, not strong enough, not devoted enough, not poor enough, not committed enough. I am simply not enough. And that feeling sucks.
Lately my life has been about try- ing to deprogram those unhealthy messages.
Here are some things that have helped me:
- Realizing that often when Jesus was addressing money and power he was addressing the people who had it and who were using it in oppressive ways. Now, there is a fine line here: as a white man I have privilege and need to be aware of that and be careful of it. But I am also marginalized as a queer transgender man. I need to learn to be generous with my money, but I also can work a job that pays me a livable wage.
- Many of the activists who are out there getting arrested are white, straight, cisgender men. While prison is terrible for everyone, the people getting arrested at protests have a certain amount of safety and privilege because of their race, gender, and being cis. I don’t have to feel badly about the fact that I don’t feel safe getting arrested. I should be able to make my own choices about the limits I have around protesting.
- My suffering doesn’t actually help other people. Me not being able to pay my rent or working myself to exhaustion or giving up things that I love and am good at doesn’t actually make the world a better place. In fact, it might make the world worse.
- Following Jesus does involve risk and could mean suffering.
But that’s because when you speak truth to power, power doesn’t like that and will try to silence you. There is a difference between being willing to follow Jesus anyway and making your own life miserable for no reason.
Maybe following Jesus as a marginalized queer person looks like trying to work for justice in whatever ways we can and having as much fun as possible doing it.
This article was published by Fr. Shannon Kearns
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