Love Renders Us Worthy

by Kristyn Komarnicki love2

Thomas Merton once wrote to Dorothy Day, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”

Only love will render the church worthy of being called the body of Christ. This idea has been guiding my journey to build friendships with and gain understanding of my LGBT sisters and brothers over the last few years. What would it look like to truly love the gay people in our midst—particularly those who know and love Jesus (and those who want to).

Most people are scaredy cats. Some of us are afraid to take a stand, preferring to stay on the sidelines and hoping for the best. Some of us are afraid of offending, so we cater to those around us and never really figure out who we are, what we believe, or why. Others of us attempt to overcome our fears by taking control, raising our voices, and making sure everyone knows how we feel—and why we’re right—about everything.

Of course, God has given us a prescription to combat our fear—perfect love! Yet we often don’t appreciate, trust, or even give a try to the remedy. But God is gracious.

When I moved with my family into a Philadelphia neighborhood over a decade ago, I harbored visions of our home as a central gathering place for kids. We’d have an open-door policy, and all would be welcome—the latchkey kids, the troubled kids, the loners, the losers, the brokenhearted. In these visions the windows of our home emitted a Thomas Kincaidian glow, and love was triumphant.

Then the kids came over—in droves. Real kids, loud kids, sassy kids, many of them with absolutely no training in “how to behave in a neighbor’s house.” They climbed on the furniture, explored the refrigerator, raided the fruit bowl. At first I was too afraid to say anything lest they feel unwelcome. Then I became angry.

Spiritual arteriosclerosis set in, and eventually I ended up screaming shrilly (was that my voice?) at a big group of kids out in my yard, “Get off my property!” (Neighbors down the street heard me and phoned to commiserate.) I felt humiliated, defeated, and distinctly unchristian.

Then I stumbled on something else by Thomas Merton that hit home (quite literally) and that I have never forgotten. A firm believer in the art of hospitality, Merton wrote that when we invite someone into our home, we must not hide our values, convictions, or way of living. If we do, we are offering our guests a kind of ghost house from which the true spirit of the owner has been withdrawn.

My reluctance to inform the neighborhood kids of my belief that one should respect others’ spaces or ask before one takes not only prevented them from knowing their hostess but also resulted in them becoming unwelcome in my home. My desire to be “nice” robbed them of the opportunity to learn who I was and be safe from my resentment, and it robbed all of us of the chance to enjoy a mutual embrace.

This is applicable to other kinds of hospitality as well. Many of us are afraid to let “outsiders” in—sometimes because we fear offending them with our views, sometimes because we don’t want our neat little world to be altered or challenged in any way. But inviting those with differing theological and/or sexual orientations into our hearts does not require us to relinquish who we are. However, it does require a certain amount of stretching and inconvenience. We need to move the furniture around to make room for our guests; we’ll need to offer up for scrutiny what’s in our fruit bowl. We’ll be challenged to relinquish the labels that have helped us keep certain people at a safe distance. We may want to hold on to our right to be “right,” but that is simply incompatible with hospitality, love, and unity.

Remember Jesus’ prayer that “they may all be one, Father, even as you and I are one”? We can’t genuinely have unity unless we practice hospitality, and we can’t practice hospitality without both sharing who we are and giving up some of our own idols of control. When we open our hearts to others, life gets messy. Sometimes both the fruit and the furniture begin to migrate in ways we never could have anticipated. This is called growth. God loves us enough to allow us to experience this discomfort.

In January 2012 I traveled to Orlando to attend the annual conference put on by the Gay Christian Network. Although I’d been in active dialogue with gay Christians for about a year by that time, this was still uncharted territory for me. Worshiping God with 400 gay people, I was struck by the beauty, faith, and joy that filled the room. I heard the stories of Christians who know something of God’s grace that I have not yet been forced to discover. I reveled in the diversity of the Christian gay community and spoke with dozens of believers who told me, “I just want to serve God; whatever God wants for me is what I want for me.” I was deeply moved by the creativity, intelligence, and graciousness of the leadership.

But when the largely pro-same-sex-relationship crowd gave a standing ovation to a speaker who made it clear she does not believe God ordains same-sex relationships, I knew I was on holy ground. Talk about hospitality! A straight woman I’d met earlier grabbed my arm and said, “There’s going to be a revival in the church, and it’s going to start in the gay community.” If she had said that to me even a day earlier I would have said she was crazy. But on that day, I believed her. And I still do. We have so much to learn from gay Christians as they wrestle authentically with their faith and their sexuality in ways that most of us will never have to.

How (and whether) the larger church deals with this community will say much about the resiliency, vitality, and relevance of the body of Christ in today’s world. Will we embody Christ for our gay brothers and sisters, loving and encouraging them regardless of how we read the Bible? Will we listen to and learn from them? How will we respond to the sexual purity (abstinent until covenanted) movement within the gay community? Will we lay down our litmus tests (and our need to be “right”) and love them as Christ does?

Kristyn Komarnicki has gained so much from having  her beliefs and assumptions challenged that she is finally learning to relinquish her need to be right. One of her favorite TED Talks is by “wrongologist” Kathryn Schultz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (HarperCollins, 2011).


One response to “Love Renders Us Worthy”

  1. stephany katsur says:

    i just came across this posting while looking up the quote by Thomas Merton on loving our job. I am a therapist doing my best to make space for people to love themselves so that they may love others. I continued reading and was moved by the vulnerability and honesty with which you share how you have learned lessons of loving. I was struck at how the ideas regarding fear of outsiders relate to this present moment in our nation. Thank you for your words. Hope you are well. with love! Stephany

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