Brian Gee received an M.A. in Biblical Exegesis from Wheaton College. When he’s not working, Brian enjoys writing from his own experiences at the intersection of faith and sexuality. Originally from southern California, he lives in Chicago’s western suburbs with his wife and two kids. You can check out more about Brian, or get in contact with him, at http://briangee.me.
I was not planning on spending this week flat on my back and 2,000 miles from home. But thanks to a back injury I sustained while travelling for work, I’ve had ample time to contemplate each crevice of the spackled ceiling above me. Of course, it’s been inconvenient (and painful), but my forced convalescence has given me some rare time to reflect on the noise and tension that comes with living between the Christian and LGBT communities.
I trade in the currency of ideas. During the day, I develop product taglines, advertisements, positioning copy, and materials used to transmit ideas about products. Outside of work, I spend time reading, writing, and developing ideas that focus on reconciliation between the conservative church and the LGBT Christian community. As a quick glance through my Twitter feed reveals, I spend a good amount of time reading and interacting with people on both sides of the ideological divide called sexuality – Christian or otherwise.
Of course, the division is deep. Nowhere is this dissonance more evident than in the world of social media. Every day, there’s a new scandal, a new controversy, a new accusation or revelation or triumph that pops-up as a breaking headline from one side or the other. Someone says something shocking. Within an hour or two, responses are flying from all sides. The world is suspended in its orbit until all sides have had their last word. Sometimes a story lasts for a week; some stories last less than a day. But a year from now, almost none will be remembered.
It’s not that these conflicts are not important. Though we may not remember any specific exchange, each day’s stories slowly move the cultural needle one way or the other. But as I sat in my silent bedroom staring at my silent computer’s noisy Twitter feed, I started to feel the weight of living at the crux of two worlds. The weight that betrays a hidden truth: that each exchange is not simply about an issue. Each argument is personal.
The arguments I see everyday from the Christian community and the LGBT community feel very much like a slow divorce. Each side has its reasons for arguing with the other. Both have legitimate grievances that have brought them to this place of separation. The two sides debate ideologies, and they do so publicly with the hope that others will be swayed to their side. It’s a form of public discourse, and while it’s not pleasant, it does lead to change.
But for those reading, the arguments are not mere ideas; the ideas are people’s lives. Those who identify with only one of the two sides won’t necessarily feel a strain, as they side with the one over the other. Instead, it is those who live with one foot in the each world that are like the child in a divorce. They know and love both sides, because each party represents a part of who they are. But they have to live daily with the reality that the one side whom they love wants to tear apart the other side, whom they also love.
The arguments may be necessary, but the effects of the cognitive dissonance can be difficult to process. The irreconcilability of the opposing views becomes exhausting and discouraging. Like warring parents, each side strives to show why the other is unworthy of trust. Throw in the pressure to maintain website traffic through new controversy (even in the name of truth), and you’ve got a recipe that creates echo chambers for those on either side, and a fury of incompatible noise for those living in the middle.
Whether we who live in the middle realize it or not (and, from talks with several friends, I think we do), each article we read, each response we write, and each interaction we have takes an almost imperceptible toll on our emotional well-being. Each of us can handle a certain amount of this stress. But the accessibility of social media and the immediacy of the Twitter news cycle has trained us to see every argument as urgent and every dispute as important. In the rush to meet point for point, we sometimes forget that we have emotional limits. While the opponent (whoever it may be at the moment) deals in argument, we absorb the emotional impact of the fight, because we are always to some degree fighting against a part of ourselves.
We can not escape this debate, nor should be try to bow out of it until it’s over. Each of us has a voice, and we should use it at appropriate times. But this forced convalescence has shown me an essential key for surviving the middle road: rest.
The injury to my back was not caused by a single move. It was the result of a series of small events where I pushed myself too hard. The morning it happened, I had worked out. That afternoon, I carried two heavy shoulder bags through an hour-long line at Midway Airport. Then I sat on a plane for four hours as my back began to seize up. None of these three events in isolation would have caused enough stress to snap my back. But in sequence, and with no rest, it was enough stress to lay me out for over a week.
In much the same way, we check our social feeds daily without thinking much about it. We donate some mental and emotional energy multiple times a day to the articles on faith and sexuality that mean so much to us. We pay close attention to who is calling out whom because of something he/she said. None of this is wrong.
But how much of it is necessary? How urgent really is this latest bit of news? How incensed should I be at this leader today? If we want to continue the difficult work of bringing reconciliation in the midst of a great divorce, we need to make sure we give ourselves permission to take breaks from the noise of the great debate.
As stewards of finite bodies, we must choose carefully where we invest our finite emotional and mental resources. By centering our focus on the issues and arguments that matter most, we can preserve ourselves from the cognitive and emotional burnout that comes from reacting too fast, too often. Then, we can take that energy and pour it into one another. We can use it to offer support when the critics come knocking or our souls feel diminished. By limiting our investment in the noise of others, we can stand between opposing sides, waving the banner of love, hope, peace, patience, reconciliation, and forgiveness, and therein be the hands and feet (and back!) of God.