At the end of the Academy award-winning movie The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, mathematician and inventor of the modern computer, there is a scene that haunted me. After brilliantly enabling Britain to break Germany’s secret Enigma code and thus win WWII, this secretly gay man is left in a deep state of loneliness and fear. Roaming the streets looking for brief tastes of companionship, he is caught in a homosexual encounter, and under the laws of 1950s Britain, given the choice: two years in prison, or house arrest with a chemical treatment essentially designed to kill any kind of sexual desire. In the last scenes of the movie, a former friend and co-worker finds him at home alone, a shadow of his former self, unable to do even the simplest intellectual task. In our last glimpse of this broken man, he turns out the lights and disappears into the darkness, an allusion to his eventual suicide.
The only solution his society could offer Alan Turing for his same-sex attraction was profound isolation and a reparative therapy that killed his entire being, not just his sexual urges. It is no wonder that he eventually took his own life.
Deep in the heart of every human being is what the board of faith and life has defined as “embodied desire for intimacy.” Turing’s “treatment” took away the possibility, not only of homosexual intimacy, but of any intimacy at all. In a sense, his ability to be human was being denied him. He was considered nothing more than a problem to be solved.
This tragic and haunting story of isolation and rejection has been in my mind as I have anticipated attending the Study Conference on God, Sex and Church, and particularly as I attended Daniel Komori’s workshop on Spiritual Friendship on Thursday afternoon. Daniel works with Journey Canada (formerly Living Waters), a ministry that exists to help people find hope and live life through experiencing Jesus in their relationships and sexuality.
The purpose of the workshop was to help us imagine how to create a safe place for people to journey through brokenness. It’s this kind of safe place in community with others that could have saved the life of Alan Turing (and perhaps countless others). It’s the kind of safe place that Christians who know the transforming work of Jesus ought to be most equipped to provide!
Sometimes I wonder how many people, myself included, are carrying the burden of our brokenness and the shame of our sin in isolation, poisoned by inadequate “solutions” to our issues, and dying inside. Whether someone else has given us the impression that our issues make us unwanted or we’ve simply come to that conclusion on our own, our sense of human worth and dignity withers up.
But the solution is not to lie to ourselves and conclude that this broken self is our true self, to find a stronger treatment, or to deny the very presence of our embodied desire for intimacy. Most profoundly, we need Love – an embodied love – that embraces and transforms our brokenness through a faithful and tangible presence.
This is the embodied love that Larry Crabb describes in his 1997 book, Connecting:
“God’s method is neither to merely issue commands from the general’s tent (do what’s right) nor to improve the functioning of diseased organs (fix what’s wrong). Instead he becomes so intimately a part of us that we want to resist whatever he doesn’t like and release the good things he has aroused within us. The most powerful thing we can do to help someone change is to offer them a rich taste of God’s incredible goodness in the New Covenant” (p 10).
But I can only offer that rich taste if I have tasted it for myself; not as orders from a general or a prescription from the doctor, but as the soul-nourishment of the Spirit.
As I’ve heard about the work that Journey does, deeply rooted in the gospel of grace, I’m more and more convinced that what they are doing with people whose issues are often considered more dirty than others is actually deeply needed by the whole body of Christ.
I need to be friends with people who have been courageous enough to walk into deeply broken places, not just for their sake, but for mine.
I need to realize that the same gospel that frees othes from sexual brokenness can free me from my own sins, idols, coping mechanisms and control complexes, in whatever form they appear in my life.
“We only come into inner authority insofar as we admit a positive and mature dependency on others and freely enter into a mature exchange of life and power,” said Richard Rohr (quoted in Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (2008), p 173). My authority to minister to those experiencing brokenness increases as I am willing to make myself as vulnerable to the transforming work of grace as I’m inviting them to be.
I long to experience more of that kind of community and friendship with people – the kind of friendship where we can be real together, and where we can find that the grace of God is even more real and more powerful than any of our brokenness. I have tasted it at various times in my life, in a variety of degrees.
As a pastor, I long for everyone in my church to be able to experience something of that safety to be vulnerable in a healing environment. Sometimes I wonder if those who are courageous enough to come forward with their sexual and relational brokenness could be the forerunners of a sweeping and reviving move of grace in our churches, if we would be willing to accompany and learn from them.
The great sufferer, Job, said to his unhelpful, isolating friends, full of quick answers and simple solutions, “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14). The opposite, then, is also true: genuine devotion to God will always produce a kindness that walks with friends through their brokenness, no matter how long it takes – a kindness that we ultimately see in Jesus, who shared all our infirmities and bore our shame.
—Tim McCarthy is pastor of discipleship and community life at North Langley (B.C.) Church.