Being Epiphanies of Grace
Isn’t it amazing how two people can say the same thing, and these words can take on completely different meanings? Recently, I happened upon a story about the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender youth in Ohio who was killed by a semitrailer at 17 years old. Leelah left a suicide note on her blog that detailed her reasons for seeking a release from the pain of loneliness, fears about the future, and quite poignantly (for me as a Christian) the conservative dogma espoused by her parents that led her and others to believe that Leelah was “wrong,” “selfish,” a “mistake.” These beliefs would ultimately cause Leelah to hate herself (her words), and conceivably accept the subsequent idea that God in someway agreed or was the source of these ideas (as so many others of the LGBT community have).
“I immediately told my mom [that I am transgender] and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me… that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.” -from Leelah’s suicide note.
As I drove down the street with Leelah’s death resonant in my mind, I heard a song on the radio that made me consider what a difference words and their intentions can make. The song was “Born This Way,” sung by Lady Gaga. In it, Gaga says “I’m beautiful in my way ’cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.” Just then I thought “Wow! Gaga has a better gospel then a whole lot of Christians.” This gospel of God with us and of loving relationship is lost in rigid phobias, and staunch maintenance of norms that serve very few. I wondered rather sadly what would or could have happened if Leelah could have been told “God doesn’t make mistakes” in a different way? What if she was told that she is good in God’s sight and that it’s many of us who can’t see that– not God. Honestly, I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference in Leelah’s case, but I think it’s worth considering.In this season of Epiphany, many Christians celebrate and remember the revelation of Christ to the Magi. The Messiah is revealed to “wise men from the East,” or Gentiles, foreshadowing the welcome offered by God through Christ to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19)… “all Gentiles”… all people.
Yet, we Christians sometimes forget or disregard this welcome in favor of a more rigid, more socially and culturally acceptable, more comfortable/conforming agenda that excludes and diminishes the worth of anyone that doesn’t fit the standard that has been established. In the American Protestant church, for example, this practice has meant the denial of God’s liberation and open arms to enslaved black persons and Native Americans who widely endured distorted versions of God and scripture for the sake of the maintenance of enslavement, and in order to take Native American lands. It has meant the systematic exclusion of women and LGBTQ persons from ordination and church leadership. It has meant closed doors to persons of lesser economic means. It has meant discrimination toward the “other.”
The wise men saw the Messiah and they were “overwhelmed with joy.” So often, we play Herod and instead of expressing joy for the revealing of a revolutionary and out-of-the-box Jesus, we are frightened (Matthew 2:3) by One who’s reach is beyond what we’ve imagined.
In this season of Epiphany, let us remember in a lasting way to be revelations, or epiphanies of God’s grace, to any who our churches have marginalized or considered less than, inherently “wrong,” or a “mistake.” Let us offer signs of grace that assure each one that they are God’s beloved. Let it be our prayer that our extension of God’s love can make a difference in the lives of the Leelah’s among us.Rest in eternal Love, Leelah
Josh Alcorn [This is how Leelah closes Her note.]
Please join us Sunday at 10:30 for our 3 Kings Day/Epiphany service. All are welcome!