Another year of Vacation Bible School is complete. I have to say that my favorite part of it, when I can get it to happen, is not helping with it. I did music for a few years when my daughter was tiny, and between totally trashing my fingers (playing guitar loudly for three hours with no mic, and one day with no pick), my educational ideals, and my introversion, I was always completely wiped out when the week was over. God bless those who love doing that kind of stuff. I had a hard time just being in a church full of kids for the closing Mass. The cacophony of it all!
But thanks be to God for moments during the Mass when, despite a billion distractions, meditation is still possible. As a communion song, we sang this:
Now, it's not so much that I love this song musically (though it is all right). It is more that this song takes me way back. When it first came out in the late 80s, friends of mine gave me the album it was on, along with a songbook with all the chords and lyrics. Also on this recording was some of the artist's testimony, which includes him talking about God delivering him from homosexuality. He gives a brief synopsis of his testimony on his website, here.
This song is now relatively popular in the contemporary music Mass circles where I live, so I hear it a few times a year. But somehow, singing it today amidst all of these children was striking.
Even children experience on some level questions and turbulence about their identity, although I doubt that many think explicitly in those terms. And blessed are those children who experience a sort of natural emergence of questions about their sexual identity, and a mature, loving, grounded, Christian environment in which they can figure out what it all means. I wonder, though, how many children are that blessed.
But then I hear the lyrics to this song, and I think of the innocence of children, and all that transpires in between childhood and adulthood to confuse and cloud our sense of identity. What is the answer to all the confusion in our lives and our culture?
Well, I can tell you what it ain't. It ain't a religious veneer that we use to make our self-directed lives look socially acceptable. No one particularly cares about religious veneer anymore, anyway. That is the definition of secular, is it not? Not only is religion not necessary to be socially accepted as "good," it actually is a hindrance. Religion makes an otherwise "good," socially-acceptable person look intolerant, narrow-minded, and just wrong. Socially, a religious veneer serves a very limited purpose, mostly to keep other religiously-veneered people from getting upset.
But sometimes people need to be upset.
Another way to put it is people need conversion.
Conversion happens when Jesus Christ gets access to deeper and deeper areas of our lives. Listening to Dennis Jernigan's testimony afresh reminds me of how this is the key to everything for us. Is there anything deeper within us than our own sense of who we are, and especially in our modern culture, who we are as sexual beings? When there is something about this that disturbs us, as Dennis was deeply disturbed by unwanted same-sex attraction to the point of being suicidal, that's a darn effective way for Jesus to get our attention. And what does He do when He gets our attention? He calls us to union with Him. He calls us to walk with Him on a path that we cannot see ahead of time; He calls us to His life, His death, His cross, His resurrection. And as we walk, we see ourselves as we truly are. We get a clear sense of identity because of our union with the One who made us, the only One who understands us fully.
Calling others to conversion tends to just happen by experiencing conversion ourselves, because it is not our own thing but God's thing alive in us that does the calling. It seems to work the best when one is not even aware of God's grace at work. But there is an active surrender that the Lord calls us to, as well. An obedience. A penance. A giving. A belonging. When we are there, when we practice that kind of giving, our identity is in the Blessed Trinity, who made us and gives everything for us. Without that on-going conversion to Christ, our identity is either shifting all over the place in some kind of an anesthesia cloud that keeps us numb to reality, or it gets locked into a lie.
Discovering our identity in God through Christ is the only answer left for our lives and our culture. Thanks be to God for the pain that makes us ask the really hard questions.