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Resurrection

02/21/2012


I have a good friend who’s a second year Master of Divinity student at Vanderbilt University. We talk often about God and theology and the realities of being both gay and Christian in today’s world. Recently he suggested the idea of resurrection as a metaphor for coming out. It sort of stopped me in my tracks, and I’ve been thinking about it – grappling with it, really – ever since.

It took me a while to think this through and be able to write about it, but I think I’ve gotten to a coherent point.

There’s no question that my intense reaction to my friend’s use of the word is due largely to my own Christian faith, which blossomed, after 40 years of indifference and at times outright hostility, as a part of the process of coming out to myself. But, faith isn’t the central topic of this blog. (I’ve included a few words about my own faith at the end of this post.) I want to consider the word – resurrection –  not in the religious sense, but in light of the power of the concept, and how it relates to the life of late bloomers.

Even though my dictionary and thesaurus present it as more-or-less synonymous with concepts like rebirth, renaissance and new beginnings, for me resurrection goes farther and deeper. It goes to death and new life. To transformation.

Again, this isn’t a blog about Christianity or about faith in the general sense, but the resurrection story in the Christian scriptures is instructive. Follow me on this thought line for a minute. As the story goes, Jesus, a popular preacher in ancient Palestine, was seen as a threat to the existing political structure – both Jewish and Roman – and was executed by the Romans. Three days later he rose from the dead and began appearing to his friends and followers.

The key concept in my mind is this: He was still Jesus, but he was different, transformed. He was so different that in some cases his old friends didn’t even recognize him at first. But there he was. Jesus. Back from the dead. Better and more powerful than ever.

That’s what coming out feels like to me. I’m certainly not Jesus! I’m just David. But the old David, the false, or maybe incompletely authentic, David is dead and gone. He was a nice guy, and I remember him with affection, but he’s over. In his place the new David has risen. Certainly not perfect, but truer, more powerful, more at peace.

The death of old David didn’t happen all at once, like dropping dead of a heart attack, or being executed. It took time. And it took work – not in the sense of having to kill my old self, but to recognize that the old David was finally ready to die, and to get out of my own way and let the death occur as naturally and peacefully as possible.

The death of the old David had to be complete and final for the new David to rise. There was no way to keep one foot in both worlds. When I came out, I came all the way out. And I try to live that way every day, to engage the world as an openly gay man – content, proud of who I am. Five years down this road, the resulting sense of personal power and absence of fear continue to amaze and motivate me. Truly transforming.

Which gets me to the late bloomer thing. Coming out at mid-life is not something to be taken lightly, or done without clarity of thought, a sense of purpose and dedicated effort. You can’t just back into it. You have to be prepared to let your old self die and to rise again as a new you. Focus on transformation and you’ll get there.

Of course, some of us get outed – thrown into the deep end without water wings – which makes clarity and dedication all the more important if one is to avoid drowning and rise from the waves at all, much less as a new man.

And, isn’t that what this is all about? Resurrection. Rising into a new life, transformed.

A couple of things about my faith –

One: I am a church-going Episcopalian. I read the Bible, believe in its divine truth and look to it for guidance in my life. I do not necessarily believe in the literal, historical reality of the events I read about. For me, that sort of belief limits the power of God’s message and brings it down to a much smaller, human scale. Frankly, I have trouble with literal interpretation of almost all the stories in the Bible, and that includes the physical resurrection of a man named Jesus. But I do believe in the saving power and the fundamental truths revealed in this story, and try to live by them.

Two: I am a Christian, but not a triumphalist, exclusionary Christian. The God I believe in reaches out to each of us wherever we are. I cannot and do not assert that God’s grace and redemption are limited to practitioners of Christianity. Death and resurrection stories are central to many current belief systems, as well as others known only to archaeologists. These stories are as valid as the one I know and believe, and are equally good as metaphor for the new life available to us in coming out.

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