To paraphrase a famous Jewish proverb, when you reach the next world, God will not ask you, “Why were you not like Moses?” Instead the question will be, “Why were you not more yourself?”
The way to be all that you can be is to be more yourself. I mean you right now, not after some spiritual makeover; but as you are now, without any pretence and with the layers of conditioned thinking stripped bare. When you hear an inner voice say, “Yes, I am fully myself and authentic in this moment”, then follow that voice. I’m talking about the sort of moments when your skin tingles with the goodness of life and your place in it.
When you are boldly and confidently yourself, you are offering your highest good to the world. Is that something you aspire to in your life?
Who are you to question the greatness that is the image of God in you and who are you to hide your light under a bushel? In the words of Marianne Williamson, “Who are you not to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. You are meant to shine, as children do. You were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within you. It’s not just in some; it’s in everyone. And as you let your own light shine, you unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As you are liberated from your own fear, your presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles)
There are some wonderful examples of those who have lived with this level of authenticity. The recent film Milk did a nice job of portraying authenticity. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California in the 1970s. He lived the authentic path that Jesus described as “not hiding your light under a bushel”. Milk felt that keeping his sexuality secret gave power to those who denied basic human rights. He went public and urged others to go public so that they could manifest their own God given light.
The day after his election in 1977, Harvey Milk said this, “If I turned around every time somebody called me a faggot, I’d be walking backward – and I don’t want to walk backward.”
Milk is an inspiration to all of us, gay or straight, to live more authentically and passionately. How does it relate to you at this time? In what area of your life are you being called by an inner voice to be boldly and confidently yourself? If you turn around every time someone criticizes you or judges you, you will be walking backwards, and you don’t want to walk backwards, do you?
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
We have another phrase to describe walking backwards. It is “Don’t Ask. Don’t tell.” This is code for “you must suppress and compromise an essential aspect of who you are.”
Sure, there are times in life when “don’t ask, don’t tell” seems appropriate. For example you should never ask the following questions-
* “Do I look fat in this outfit?”
* “Is that guy over there better looking than me?”
* “Would you remarry after I die?”
These are not questions. They are traps. Here is what can happen if you pursue these questions.
The woman asked her husband, “Would you remarry if I died?”
“No, of course not, dear” said the husband after a long pause.
“Why, don’t you like being married?” said the wife.
“Of course I do” he said.
“Then why wouldn’t you remarry?”
“Alright,” said the husband, “I’d remarry.”
“You would?” said the wife, looking vaguely hurt.
“Yes” said the husband.
“I see,” said the wife indignantly. “And would you let her wear my old clothes?”
“I suppose, if she wanted to.” said the husband.
“Really,” said the wife icily. “And would you take down the pictures of me and replace them with pictures of her?”
“Yes. I think that would be the correct thing to do.”
“Is that so?” said the wife, leaping to her feet. “And I suppose you’d let her play with my golf clubs, too.”
“Of course not, dear,” said the husband. “She’s left-handed.”
Some topics are better left alone. However, when it comes to an essential part of who you are, “don’t ask don’t tell” is conflict avoidance and a recipe for mediocrity. You were made for so much more than mediocrity. Your life purpose is to be more fully who you are. The rest is detail.
The United States Military has a problem with authenticity. First Lieutenant Dan Choi, an Arabic-speaking linguist, is a West Point graduate and a veteran of the Iraq War. He was discharged from the Army for admitting to being gay. He has joined the 13,000 plus men and women who have been discharged from the military under the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that has cost nearly $400 million dollars in investigation, recruitment, retraining and separation costs. It’s the same policy that Bill Clinton described as “dumbass” when he implemented it, but he said it was just an interim measure. Now 16 years later, it is still in place.
Here is the incredible moral irony of this policy. Our morality is flexible enough to include torture in war time, but not homosexuality. Presumably in some people’s minds homosexuality is a greater evil than torture. As Jon Stewart said, “The one line that America won’t cross is the chorus line.” So let me get this straight. It is okay to waterboard an enemy multiple times but it’s unthinkable that the guy in the military who can translate his enemy intelligence loves a man!
Discharging men such as Dan Choi is a matter of national security and should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
To understand homophobia in the military, you need to listen to some talk back radio. I heard a Marine call in and describe in great detail how he couldn’t accept gays in the military because he might be attacked in bed one night. As he lay in bed innocently in the dark of the night, he imagined feeling a warm breath on his neck…… He described the situation with such vivid detail, that I thought to myself, “This isn’t a fear. It’s a fantasy.”
“Don’t ask don’t tell” is not just an issue that relates to sexuality. I have experienced the same attitude in the church. I was told more than once in the Anglican Church that as long as I wasn’t too outspoken about my views, no one would ask about my views. Liberal churches all around the world are held together by a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude. If I had a dollar for every clergy person who has told me that they can’t speak their mind honestly because it’s too great a risk to their career, I would be a wealthy man. That’s no way to live. Of all vocations, clergy should be modeling authenticity and openness.
A Bishop once privately told me that his daughter was gay. He asked me not to tell, and promised not to ask about my views on sexuality. Privately, he told me that he felt the church should be more open on this issue. A few weeks later, when some members of my church went to him to complain about my progressive theology and my desire to open the doors to celebrate the local GLBT community, he became very quiet. He suddenly had no opinion. It was conflict avoidance. Status quo!
In my humble opinion, “don’t ask don’t tell” is one reason that liberal churches around the world are dying while evangelical churches thrive. Evangelicals stand up for what they believe. Even if you don’t agree with their values, you can’t fault their authenticity. The same cant be said for the weak minded liberal movement that puts compromise and status quo ahead of justice and values.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Membership
It has always surprised me that marginalized groups would want to participate in the church. Women fought for years to be accepted in an institution that continues to function like a boy’s club. I appreciate their efforts, but don’t fully understand their desire.
Groucho Marx once sent a telegram to the exclusive Friar’s Club in Hollywood: “Please accept my resignation,” it read. “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” I see it the other way around. If I was a gay man or a woman or a free thinker (wait I am that!) I wouldn’t want to belong to any organization that would not accept me as an equal.
Here is the good news. There are emerging communities that put values before status quo. In these communities you are an equal, no matter what your beliefs, background or sexual orientation. You can speak your truth, and no one will ask you to recite any creeds or believe any dogma.
You can come as you are, no matter where you come from. Even if you have no church background, come and be part of life affirming community. You can transfer your membership, whether you are transferring from another church or from the local golf club.
Recently, I have gone soft on membership, instituting a type of “don’t ask don’t tell” policy around membership. With good intention, I wanted everyone to feel free to do their own thing. I was frightened of seeming like I was expecting some sort of doctrinal assent, that I deemphasized membership altogether. But now I see clearly that loose freedom is just thinly veiled mediocrity.
I want more than this. It is time for mature freedom. If you stand alongside others in affirming core values that include sexual equality then boldly declare your membership.
Community needs your highest commitment to a better world. If you want to be part of the healing of the world, then declare your membership.
Don’t get me wrong. Its not that any community has it all together. Don’t imagine that you are declaring your membership in a perfect community. It’s like the pastor who approached one of his lapsed congregants in the street and said, “How come I never see you in church anymore?”
The guy replied, “There are too many hypocrites there, Reverend.” To which the pastor replied, “Don’t worry, there’s always room for one more.”
If you are prepared to journey honestly and authentically alongside other human seekers, then declare your membership.
Letting Your Light Shine
The simple truth is that you have discovered such spiritual freedom that you are no longer compelled by guilt or obligation to participate in community. You participate because you long to be part of something larger than yourself, a community with a vision for healing that can make a difference in the world and it can make more of a difference because you are part of it.
Declare your membership in an authentic community. In this community you will be encouraged to be more of who you are. Dare to be your own person. Dare to stand out. People will like you or not, but they will be in no doubt as to who you are and what you stand for. Let your light shine and use your unique style to make a difference in the world.
As a community, dare to be authentic and refuse to let your light hide under a bushel. Dare to stand out. People will like us nor not, but they will be in doubt as to who we are and what we stand for. As we let our light shine, our presence will automatically liberate others.
For Further Reflection (Questions that can be used privately or in groups)
1. In what area(s) of your life are you being called by an inner voice to be more boldly and confidently yourself?
2. Who are the role models of authenticity that inspire you?
3. Why do you think more women than men have been negatively affected by the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy? What does the policy say about the culture in the military?
4. How does “don’t ask don’t tell” hinder your spiritual growth?
Ian Lawton is a TCPC board member. This and other articles and sermons can be found here: www.sbnr.org