Most people have seen the classic movie The Wizard of Oz. It’s been a while for me, but I guess the gist of it is, Dorothy gets swept away in a tornado and needs to get home. She appeals to the Wizard of Oz, who requires the broom of Wicked Witch of the West in exchange for his help. After a series of testing adventures, Dorothy and her crew finally make it to the Emerald City and eventually have a meeting with the Wizard of Oz. Upon further investigation, it turns out that the Wizard of Oz is just a man behind a curtain, pulling levers and pushing buttons to control the visible manifestation of the Wizard of Oz.
Dorothy and the new friends she met along the way are devastated. The cowardly lion needed his courage, the scarecrow needed his brain, and the tin man needed his heart. There’s no way a man behind a curtain could provide all that. Had their journey been in vain?
If I could draw a comparison, I would say this is pretty close to the result of following religion.
If I think back to when I was 15 years old, when I wholeheartedly and genuinely devoted my life to following Jesus, I never expected what followed- and I had no way of even knowing what to expect. I remember accepting Jesus at a point when I really didn’t care what all it entailed, which I think is the point. And like I said, I really meant, and it really was genuine.
In the years that followed, I followed the yellow brick road laid out before me, and I was more than happy to do so, because it added value to my life and I genuinely believed I was doing the best to my human ability to follow God’s plan for my life- and I still believe that. I believed 100% absolutely everything The Bible, pastors, friends and Christians told me about God’s unconditional love and acceptance, and I have always been grateful that God- God!- could work through me- me!- the chief of all sinners.
I would say that I’ve always tried my best, and that my best has always fallen short. I would say that I have always done my best to research not only what I believe but why I believe it, and tried to remain open to differing opinions without casting judgment or even speaking up when I have felt like something’s not quite right but ultimately inconsequential to the overall message of the gospel.
The me that knocked on The Church’s door eleven years ago was in a much different place than the me that knocked on The Church’s door eight months ago. Eleven years ago, I dove in head first to that water that one can drink and never thirst for again, and it satisfied me completely. I was eager to start the journey and learn all I could. When I came out, it was hard to understand why I felt like I wasn’t trying to prove what I believe was true, but rather I was trying to prove what they believe is true (and by they I mean most Christians). I had always been taught that everyone is equal; that no one is better or worse in God’s eyes; that it is only by grace that we are saved; that none are worthy, not even one; that God chooses the least of these to shame the strong; that Christ’s judgement is final; that we’re called to follow Jesus and not religion. It was kind of like a tipping point for me. Ok, Church, I have believed every single word, I have studied it for myself, God has worked through me to do things I would never be able to do by own power, and here I am, asking if everything you taught me is true.
If The Church were the Wizard of Oz, I would say whatever I did, and didn’t do, at least earned got me to the point of catching a glimpse behind the curtain, whether I deserved it or not. Upon further inspection of, I just saw people- pulling levers and pushing buttons, controlling the visible manifestation of God on earth. We have taped together the veil to the Holy of Holies that was torn in two when Christ died on a cross to release the Shakina glory and presence of God to everyone on earth. Now we stand behind that veil as people who dress and don’t dress certain ways, speak and don’t speak certain ways, and do and don’t do certain things at certain times, pulling levers and pushing buttons. If you think about it, what else can we do? If we didn’t, then maybe everyone would actually have the opportunity to understand the presence behind our veil, because we have made it ours. We have to tape up the veil, because if everyone is allowed, then what makes us special?
If you make it to the point of peering behind that curtain, which requires a journey, you will never get what you hope for. Even the best organizations and institutions are led by people behind curtains, not by the God they represent. That is absolutely unavoidable, and it also nobody’s fault. In fact, it’s the truth that we so love to teach- the root of sin is the desire to make ourselves our own God, and it’s as unavoidable as our human nature, simply because even our most sincere efforts can never result in displaying the fullness of God’s character. That’s just real life.
Faith is combination of things hoped for and things expected. I hoped for the best, and I expected reality. I would say I got both, and that’s actually probably the best case scenario.
I’ve mentioned before that most of the gay people I’ve met and talked with have some sort of religious background. If you’re wondering, the amount of gay people I’ve actually had legitimate conversations with is still less than ten, so still a relatively small sample size. Most of them fled the Emerald City as soon as they got a peak behind that curtain. Gay Christians flee The Church for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s literally unhealthy to stick around; the message that we are unnatural, sinful, less than, dangerous, etc. is psychologically damaging, which causes physical side effects. Some are hurt by what is easily understood as hypocrisy. Some think if the most important aspects like unconditional love, support and acceptance aren’t real than none of it is real. Most people mistake the people behind the curtains for God. As soon as the people realize their best efforts of warning “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” have failed, that’s when all hell breaks loose as they try to repair it once again. And they genuinely, wholeheartedly, sincerely, 100% believe that that’s what the God they represent would want. That’s enough to make anyone want to stay far, far away.
For whatever reason, I’ve never gotten there, and I don’t think I ever will. I never worshiped people behind curtains. The unconditional love, acceptance and support I have always received from God has always enable me to trust Him unconditionally, however hard that is for me. I have always been “different” and never sacrificed personal identity to identify with any particular group. I do believe everything I have learned from The Bible, through a combination of people, personal study and personal relationship with God. That is what I was always taught to do, so I don’t feel bad about doing it in any way.
My relationship with God has always been deeply personal, and it has never been swayed by anything people do or don’t do. It has been strong enough to enable me to recognize that people are people, and even our best efforts to represent God can’t even come close. I don’t ever want to sound like, “Woe is me, people suck, blah, blah, blah.” That’s not my point. That’s just a reality that is often taught and rarely fully believed. When the theory is actually tested, it will prove itself true every time. When God Himself is tested, he proves Himself even truer.
In The Wizard of Oz, the lion does find his courage; the scarecrow does get a brain; the tin man does get his heart. It was the journey that earned them their reward- not a man behind a curtain, or whatever he represented. Dorothy got to go back where she came from, but I’m still convinced there’s more to see.