Friday, February 20, 2015

Daniel Helminiak on the Lesson of Jesus: "We Will Be True to God by Being True to Our Deepest and Best Selves"

I have no doubt that there will come a time – hopefully sooner rather than later – when the clerical leadership of the Roman church, realizing that their understanding of issues relating to gender and sexuality is so far behind the insights and wisdom of the Catholic people, will call for a special gathering so as to make matters right. And what a joyous day that will be!

Unfortunately, last year's Synod on the Family, along with the one scheduled for later this year, don't really count. Why? Because it's been made very clear that the hierarchy's actual teaching is not up for negotiation, let alone change. Rather, the way this teaching is articulated seems to be the only thing under consideration and review. What a killjoy of an agenda that is!

Of course, part of the problem is that those in positions of clerical leadership have forgotten that in Catholic thinking they're just one of three sources of wisdom or, if we want to be grandiose about it, "truth." The other two sources are the insights of theologians and the experiences and wisdom of the Catholic people.

The journey to ever-deepening understanding and, yes, truth, about complex human realities such as gender and sexuality requires all of us to be at the table – or at least informed and respected representatives from the above three identified groups or magisteria: bishops, theologians, and the people.

If such a gathering is shepherded into being by our bishops any time soon, than I have no doubt that among the theologians represented will be Daniel Helminiak, whom I had the honor of meeting and interviewing in 2006. (He even gifted me with his own winter cap, after observing that I wasn't wearing one and instructing me on how best to stylishly wear it!)

Today I share an excerpt from Daniel's excellent and, to my mind, essential book, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth. This particular excerpt deals with Jesus as a model for all types of "coming out" to our deepest and truest selves. Why is this important? Because as Daniel reminds us, "As Jesus' experience shows, we know God and God's will only in probing our own hearts; we will be true to God by being true to our deepest and best selves. [And] our being ourselves is our best possible contribution to others."


Thinking about Jesus, we are led to think also about ourselves. Jesus and us, we go together. We live in unknowing, as he did. Our lives follow a mysterious path, as his did. For him and for us, good living takes courage, faith, honesty, and love. For all of us, life holds misunderstanding and uncertainty. For some, life may even bring outright persecution. For all, life inevitably brings death in one form or another, and similar to Jesus, most of us will know that death is coming, and we will have to come to grips with it.

If we really identify with Jesus, the unfolding of life also brings increased light. If we live with honesty and goodwill, the challenges of life give way to victories. Death brings resurrection.

Anyone who has faced a crisis in life knows that pain is the cost of the growth. Anyone who has gone through any coming out knows how much better things are after that step – the teenage (or middle-aged person) who names his or her homosexuality before self, family, and friends; the beleaguered wife and mother who finally says, "No more," and files for divorce; the spiritually repressed congregant who joins another church or another religion or, for salvation's sake, gives up on religion altogether; the graduate student who drops out of medical school and breaks the family tradition to pursue a career in art, business, education, or whatever; the American who finds that life in the States is simply insane and pulls up roots to become an expatriate in some far-off land; the university professor who gives up tenure to become an Albert Schweitzer. Life is always better after a daunting coming out. Materially and financially one may be worse off, but overall life is always better.

The image of Jesus that Mark's gospel portrays is that of the suffering Messiah, and Jesus suffered precisely because he dared to be true to himself: In his own soul he found authority. Mark portrayed Jesus in this way to encourage the early Christians in Rome who were just then beginning to face persecution. Though suffering is an inevitable part of life, especially when we are determined to make our unique contribution, the achievement is worth the cost. Even death gives way to new life. Such is the courageous lesson that Mark sees in Jesus and commends to us.

Mark wrote specifically for the disciples of Jesus, but what Mark and Jesus have to teach is wisdom for anyone, believer and non-believer alike. The lesson of Jesus is a lesson about human living. The lesson is that fulfillment in life must come from our being ourselves. Whether "being ourselves" is understood in the religious sense of being what God made us to be or in the secular sense of merely being ourselves, if the project is honest and genuine, the practical result must be the same. As Jesus' experience shows, we know God and God's will only in probing our own hearts; we will be true to God by being true to our deepest and best selves.

The lesson is also that our being ourselves is our best possible contribution to others. Jesus "saved us" precisely by his fidelity to himself (and thereby to God) even in the face of death on the cross. In the flow of the universe, in which we are truly ourselves and in which the creative work of God is advanced, the affirmation of self and the salvation of others coincide. In authentic humanity and accurate theology, self and others are opposite sides of the same coin. The religious advice that we sacrifice our genuine selves for the sake of others is misguided and dangerous and, simplistically formulated, is diabolical. Lacking in faith, suspicious of creation, mistrusting the flow of the universe expressed in our guts, this advice deserves the response that Jesus gave Peter at Caesarea Philippi: "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mark 8:33). As Jesus resisted social pressure toward corrupt conformity, so must all of us who would be whole. We do our best for others by being our own very best.

If acceptance of religion could ever bring salvation, this religious lesson from Mark and Jesus surely presents one instance. It tells us to be ourselves. To follow it is to follow ourselves. In our common humanity, commitment to Jesus is commitment to ourselves. Being truly Christian, being a true disciple of Jesus, is a matter of being a genuine human being – and being genuinely human always requires some kind of coming out.

– Daniel Helminiak
Excerpted from chapter 9, "Jesus: A Model for Coming Out"
in Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth
Harrington Park Press, 2006
pp. 126-128

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Challenge to Become Ourselves
David Whyte: "To Be Courageous is to Stay Close to the Way We Are Made"
The Gifts of Homosexuality
Why Jesus is My Man
Jesus: Path-blazer of Radical Transformation
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
"Who is This Man?
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Good News on the Road to Emmaus
On the Feast of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, Thoughts on Marriage Equality in the U.S. and the Vatican's Synod on the Family

For more of Daniel Helminiak's insights at The Wild Reed, see:
Spirituality and the Gay Experience
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Daniel Helminiak on the Vatican's Natural Law Mistake
Quote of the Day – May 16, 2012
Beyond the Hierarchy (Part 1)
In the Garden of Spirituality – Daniel Helminiak

Opening Image: "Behold the Joy of Jesus" by Lindena Robb.

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