Saturday, November 03, 2012

Timothy Kurek: Demonstrating Soul Force

Nearly a month ago, I received an e-copy of The Cross in the Closet, written by Timothy Kurek. In the book, Timothy tells the story of spending a year as a gay man. It sounds like a strange thing for a straight man to do, and indeed it is. But Timothy grew up in an extremely conservative religious world where people who were gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual were openly condemned and ostracized. In order to more fully understand what such rejection felt like, Timothy decided to "come out" with his family, friends, and fellow church members and see not only how they would respond, but also how his entire life would change as a result of that declaration.

I grew up in a similar religious atmosphere to Tim's; in my religious community; homosexuality was taboo in all its forms. I was taught that homosexuality is a choice, and "those people" could choose to be straight, but for some reason they preferred their "perversions." I remember walking and driving through Greenwich Village in Manhattan and being told to "look neither to the right nor to the left, but look straight ahead." (In fact, I heard those words of warning often in my growing up time, but that's fodder for other blog posts...) Those words of warning were an open invitation to me to look in every direction, to stare, to wonder, to question, and eventually to be jealous because "those people" always looked like they were having a great time together. When I was offered the opportunity to read and review a book written by someone from a background so similar to my own on a topic that is not often graciously or lovingly spoken of or written about in the Christian community, I gladly accepted the offer.

Early in his year-long adventure, Timothy discovered a "gayborhood" in his home city into which he ventured for work, socialization, friendship, shopping, and eventually discovered a place within himself that welcomed the very same people he condemned earlier in his life. The Pharisee within him fought desperately to keep the hate and condemnation alive, but Timothy fought even harder to keep his heart and mind open to all that he needed to learn and experience during that year. His preconceived notions about the nature of friendship, flirtation, long-term relationships, and love between non-heterosexual people were all shattered. Early on, he shocked himself with his reflexive responses to the men and women around him - his anger, his suspicion, his fear and his hatred arose daily, sometimes hourly. With the passage of time, however, his love grew deep. His heart grew to be more tender. His soul grew in every way, in every dimension.

Soulforce is a gay advocacy group that Timothy encountered on his Christian college campus not long before he decided to carry out the experiment that the book describes. Soul force is what those young men and women displayed when they gently, patiently, lovingly warded off the insults, judgments, and belittling comments that Timothy and his college companions hurled their way.

Soulforce welcomed Timothy with grace and forgiveness when he joined their ranks for marches and demonstrations during his year of being "out." Soul force is what empowered Tim to listen to and be changed by the stories the protestors told about the danger, the fear, and the hidden lives that many gay people in this country and around the world live with and endure on a daily basis.

And once again, soul force was the means by which Timothy told the truth about who he really is, why he did what he did, and how his heart and mind were transformed during that difficult, love-filled, fearful, lonely, life changing year. Timothy found that the cross he thought he needed to defend from the closet was already firmly established in the closet. He learned that its power to heal, redeem, and restore is not diminished, even there.

I applaud Timothy's courage in taking such a radical step to spend an full year walking in the shoes of people he had hated and feared for so much of his life. I applaud his courage in writing this book, especially at a time when so many in the institutional church have again chosen to reject our brothers and sisters because of their sexual orientation. I hope this book arrives in many bookstores, libraries, churches, and eventually into many homes.

This book will challenge those who think they understand the religious right's view of homosexuality. This book will challenge those who think they understand the effect of the religious right's view of homosexuality on the homosexual community. But most of all, this book will challenge those who call ourselves followers of Christ, the One whose love drove him to the cross for all people, to truly follow Christ, even if that path leads us into "the closet."

Thank you, Timothy, for this powerful and challenging book.

PS. My only criticism of the book is that it needs to be re-edited in order to eliminate many, many spelling errors.

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