Finding Authenticity on a Godward Path
Contributed by: Izabelle Woods
The thing about being a parish administrator is that while I really like what I do, people are often verbally underwhelmed when I tell them where I work, especially since I had an unpleasant departure from the last church I was seriously involved with after it became known that I am a lesbian. To make matters worse, it feels like everybody else in my closest circle of friends have far more important job titles which sounds like “director of [pick your department] at [pick your nonprofit].”
Introducing Joanna: The Unbelievable as the Gospel Catalyst
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 8, Luke talks about the female disciples traveling with Jesus who are funding the ministry of Jesus. This is where Luke introduces one of my favorite biblical characters: Joana the Wife of Chuza. Chuza, in case you’re wondering, is the guy who manages all the vast estates of the House of Herod, all the staff required to maintain Herod’s lifestyle, and who is personally responsible for ensuring that Herod lives the life worthy of his title. House Manager for Herod.
Yes, that Herod. The Herod who later goes on to kill John the Baptist. I don’t think “Disciple to this homeless Jewish radical” had much social clout for Joanna either, so at least I am not the first woman who comes from privilege whose choice of work inspires confusion in her peers. Female disciples were unheard of in her day. The Jewish people were occupied by the Roman Government, and Joanna was bankrolling a radical sect of the occupied Jewish people. The Jesus movement was being watched as an enemy of the state. And the most prestigious position in the house of Herod is held by a man whose wife is hanging out with a guy who calls himself the Son of Mankind. Can you imagine the upheaval that must have caused?
I imagine that Joanna and I share something other than taking our lives in completely unexpected directions: a sense of complete sureness that this is the right place to be right now.
One of the incredible things about Joanna is that because of her, Herod was, unbeknownst to him, funding the Jesus movement. There were other Jewish subcultures at the time, other men claiming to be the Messiah, but this is the story that turns everything inside out. Just a few verses before Jesus highlights this and says in Luke 7:
28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Then, in case the reader hasn’t caught on just yet, right before Luke 7 closes, the author paints a picture of Jesus eating with the cultural elite and in the middle of dinner, blessing and anointing a woman who the pharisees called a sinner. Then Luke opens the next chapter and basically says “FYI: women were bankrolling the ministry, yeah, it’s that kind of story.” That is the wonderful thing about the Gospel story, at every possible intersection the story uses people who are unbelievable, including going so far as to use women to be crucial parts of the mission. You just didn’t do that. Jesus did, though. When Joanna decided to make her job title “Disciple of Jesus,” she was being her most authentic self, and the result is the sacred – beautiful messy story we know as the Gospel.
My Authentic Self
So back to me being my authentic self: amidst the current environmental, political, and social climate I also felt like I needed to stand up and be counted as another footnote to the Gospel story. Somebody who will walk through the desert with the unholy alongside The Divine; part of the drunken dance through the history pages that ties enemies and friends together as neighbors who I am called to find a way to love.
When I did this, I did something that I did not intend to do - I created a reputation for myself as somebody who wants to hear other Gay & Lesbian peoples’ own struggles with spirituality and religion. Sometimes I don’t know them, I am just the only lesbian Christian a lot of people know, so they send their friends to me. Sometimes we meet for coffee. More often, we use every form of digital communication to ping concerns, fears, love, joy, and our own persistent hum of reverence across the planet.
When I first decided to become re-invested in this Jesus-thing again, I thought I was alone and probably weird. Then I realized that many-many of us have faith written on our hearts, and what many people like me need is a friend who will come alongside them as a reminder that living authentically is a sacred offering unto itself. They need somebody unexpected, maybe a little bit unbelievable, to be a disciple of some wildly unpopular messiah.
So instead of dread in response to everybody’s favorite question of what I do, I try to remember all the good that comes out of my faith and honesty and choice of occupation.