The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. -Isaiah 9:2
“Nothing can quite replace your first love or your first march.” Gloria Steinem said that yesterday to a crowd of more than half a million women and their supporters who had gathered from across the world at the nation’s capitol. They had gathered to register their formal protest of a man and an administration which represents a greater threat to women’s rights and human dignity than has ever been explicitly made in our nation to date, though it reeks of the implicit bias and hidden violence many have confronted all their lives. The difference is it’s on the surface now, it’s come to light, shameless, flaunted even, waved about in a tweet. In reply, a resistance has come to light as well. More bodies than have ever gathered for such anti-inaugural displays. Many found themselves marching for the first time yesterday, as evidenced by signs such as, “I’m not usually a sign person, but jeez,” or “So bad even the introverts are here,” and “Now you’ve pissed off grandma.” Yesterday, many experienced for the first time the unique camaraderie which can only be found in a crowd of thousands of people who are like you in at least some small political agreement. And this is a blessing. And it will not be soon forgot. As Steinem said, “Nothing can quite replace your first love or your first march.” But what in the world do those two things have to do with each other? Better yet, what do they have to do with Jesus?
My first love was a disaster. I was fifteen, and following the bankruptcy of our family business my parents had drug me and my sister all the way up from the bucolic hills of North Carolina to the unrelenting darkness and bitter cold of suburban Columbus, Ohio. It was the middle of December, and when my father opened the back door of our car to a temperature lower than any I had thought possible I wondered what strange hell he had delivered us to. I was a painfully shy young man and had barely managed to make any friends at my last school, and this one was larger and even more daunting. Each day at lunch I sat alone in silence unable to touch the food my mother had packed for me, paralyzed by fear. There was one kid, though, who sat next to me in Algebra. He was seventeen, and confident, and popular, and I had no idea why he was talking to me. After school one day shortly after we’d met he walked me down the busy hallways to the bus and I asked him if he had a girlfriend. “No, I’m gay,” he said, nonchalantly. I almost threw up a bit. “Oh, yea, me too,” I replied, totally cool. But the whole world was spinning. And the whole world changed. Poetry followed, and dates at the mall, and a long litany of first things which usher fifteen-year-olds into worlds they’d only prior dreamed of towards all the things no one thinks to expect. Like total heartbreak. It only took a few weeks before he turned his interest to someone new, and I was left alone in the cafeteria again. I was also now awake to myself, to who I really was. Love, even when it’s painful, can have that effect. He had seen something in me I hadn’t caught yet, and had given me the space to name it to another human being. Heartbroken as I was, I now knew that I was not the only one like me, I now knew that I was not alone. In the land of my deep darkness, a light had shined.
By contrast, my first march was glorious. Now I was seventeen and we’d moved back to Carolina and a carload of my newfound friends and I were driving up to Washington DC for Pride. I remember coming up the escalator at DuPont circle and watching as a stream of exotic creatures filed past us. I had never seen so many gay people before in my life. I don’t think I realized that many gay people existed in the world, so accustomed had I grown to a myopic High School where I and one other student had come out. There, we were anomalies trying to blend in. Here, suddenly, we were a people. Not only a people, but a beautiful, costumed, glittering, shirtless people dancing in the streets. The whole world was spinning. I listened as speakers spoke of rights I hadn’t thought to ask about before. I watched as bands of friends stormed the streets with a confidence and joviality I hadn’t thought possible in public places. I recognized myself, not as some soul left to work with some strange identity alone, but as a member of a band, someone who belonged. There was a quality to our celebration which I recognized. These were the kind of shouts which could only come from people who knew what it was to be silent. I realized I was one among a people who knew what it was to walk in darkness for a spell, and there in the faces and bodies of one another, 100,000 strong, we saw a great light at last.
The same thing happened when the disciples first saw Jesus, the same recognition, the same epiphany. They were fishermen, but they were fishermen only in the same way that I was ever straight, it was a mundane disguise over a life which they could not comprehend until they saw it in an other. They were meant to be healers, and preachers, organizers of widows and orphans, workers of miracles, but until they caught sight of Jesus they were holding the same nets in their hands which their fathers had held and their fathers before them. When Jesus walked by they dropped the nets. There’s this venerable tradition of cheesy Christian praise songs which make Jesus sound like he’s supposed to be our spiritual boyfriend, like I’m saving all my love for Jesus, and giving all my heart to Jesus, but there’s a way in which the life Christ calls us to really is like falling in love. It really is like falling in love if falling in love is recognizing yourself in another human being and learning about who you are through their eyes. Seeing Jesus is like falling in love if love is that thing which wakes you up to the infinite possibilities of the world and gets you out the door, which has you hoping for all the amazing things yet to come, a life worth living together, the world with someone else in it who knows you and cares. And if that’s what love is like then a march can be like love. Yesterday as the Max trains filled with women in pink hats bearing signs perfect strangers were for a moment friends. People who might have rode the same train together side by side on any given day already anyway had a reason to speak to one another and show kindness and to know that we were not alone in the horror we’ve been feeling and that small thing was enough to turn our horror into hope. Andrew, Peter, James and John followed Jesus but soon became a crowd, soon became a sea of women and men and children traveling together because they saw what they wanted to be in Jesus, they saw a world that could be good in Jesus. It is still what we see in one another. And there are still many more people to bring into the fold, ourselves, at times, included. Turning our gaze away from fear and lies and towards our hope and strength and joy we caught a glimpse of the light which will sustain us, which will strengthen us for the walk ahead. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.