I have something to admit... I like contemporary Christian music...
There. I said it. And I'm glad I did. We're talking Point of Grace, 4Him, Nichole Nordeman, Jennifer Knapp, PlusOne, Jars of Clay, Third Day, Big Daddy Weave, FFH, Al Denson, Twila Paris, Avalon, dcTalk, Casting Crowns, Newsboys, Rich Mullins, David Crowder, Sonic Flood, Kari Jobe, Bethany Dillon, Jeremy Camp, Hillsong, Ray Boltz, Sixpence, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Stephen Curtis Chapman, and several more. This doesn't include the slew of praise and worship groups present, or my list of Southern Gospel artists either.
I have my reasons though. Growing up, raised under the teaching of "in not of," I believed that music within this genre set me apart. In reality though, it just made me part of the in-crowd of Christianity. It made me part of the "us" group instead of the "them" group. Back then, this was something that made me proud. It made me feel like I belonged.
Additionally, this music provided a way for me to escape the reality of the self-hatred I've dealt with for so long. If my focus could be on the message of the music rather than the truth of who I was, then I would be alright. Everything would be okay. The pain would eventually disappear and fade into nothingness. I could hide behind the clichés and the platitudes. At least that's what I thought.
During the six years I spent away from a faith community after coming out, this brand of music was the last thread connecting me to my Christian belief system. I wasn't going to church. I wasn't reading my Bible (something I still struggle with). I wasn't talking to God. All I had left was the music, and in a fight against crippling, overwhelming depressive symptoms, I could not let go of it. I would not let go of it. I felt that it was keeping me alive. If I let go of the lyrics and the often shallow theology, I would be letting go of God for good. This scared the living hell out of me.
These days, I still have my picks that I can listen to and still find nourishment, and there are artists or songs that I can barely stomach, mostly because two years of seminary education and three years of attending a progressive United Methodist church have drastically changed how I perceive God and my relationship with God. Still, in the place of life that I'm in right now, one song recently came to mind.
One of my favorite CCM trios has always been Phillips, Craig, & Dean. This group of Evangelical pastors turned CCM staple has always had a way of putting music out there that speaks to me. Granted, some of the theology can be troublesome, but the song in question still has relevance. It's called "Blessing in the Thorn". The chorus goes as follows:
When does the thorn become a blessing When does the pain become a friend When does my weakness make me stronger When does my faith make me whole again I wanna feel your arms around me in the middle of my raging storm So that I can see the blessing in the thorn
When I first heard this song in middle school (which makes me feel old), I imagined it being sung with a tone of sadness, of longing, and of hopefulness. This morning when it came to mind, in light of my conversations with Blake recently about the hostility present in my life, something changed. It didn't come to me as it had in the past. Instead, I imagined singing or speaking these words with a tone of anger, of frustration, of questioning, and of despair. I imagined a sort of Psalm 13 conversation with God, yelling, maybe even cursing.
It's taken a long time for me to realize and accept that it's okay for me to get pissed off at my Creator, and to express that emotion authentically. I was raised to believe that whatever happens, God's will was never to be questioned or challenged. While I'm sure the village responsible for my upbringing had good intentions and sincere beliefs, I think they were mistaken. I think that, as children of the Creator, we're allowed to question. If the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 who tells Jesus that "... even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (Matt. 15:27, NRSV) can have her daughter healed after changing Jesus' mind, I think it's okay for the rest of us to question God and the ways in which God acts in our lives. It's alright for us to have doubts about what God's doing in, around, and through us. If prayer is meant to be a conversation between friends, then it makes sense for the occasional argument to be perfectly natural.
Recently, because of conversations with Blake and Audrey and others about my ordination process within the UMC, it's come to my attention that some of my hostility relates to a topic with which I thought I'd found peace: my sexuality. Turns out, I've still got an issue with it. Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of separating from my partner and re-entering the world of Exodus, Alan Chambers, reparative therapy, and excessive chauvinism. I've had a long, had battle in getting where I am. Apparently, there's still more work to be done and more healing to experience.
The short list: I'm hostile towards God for creating me this way (this is not an opening for a nature vs. nurture debate) and for doing so apparently with a very big purpose; I'm hostile towards those who raised me to believe that any sexuality other than hetero is wrong; I'm hostile toward my body for betraying me; I'm hostile towards all those who made me feel "less than" because I didn't have the perfect body, perfect smile, perfect wardrobe, perfect hair, or perfect _______; I'm hostile towards those who believe that who I am was in any way, shape, or form a "choice"; I'm hostile towards those who force me into a box of superficial descriptors simply because of who I am; and I'm hostile towards any who would make me feel shame for who I am. This isn't a comprehensive list by any means, but it's a starting point, a launch pad from which I can start to find peace and acceptance. It's a reality I must face if I'm ever going to live into the authenticity I so desire for my life and for my ministry. It's my thorn, and while I haven't found it yet, I know there's a blessing somewhere within it.