Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Naked Truth

Have you ever had a dream where you were naked in public?

I had one of those last night, but there was a twist. In my dream, I arrived at the scene of a terrible car accident. I followed my Red Cross emergency respondent training -- checking the scene and discovering two victims. The driver of the car, a woman, had been thrown clear of the car and was lying on the sidewalk with terrible injuries. Inside the car was a baby whose skull appeared crushed and who seemed dead to me. There was no one else around so I used my cell phone to call 911. Then I began to attend to the injured woman. In my dream that's when I realized that I was completely naked.

I had to make a choice: would I stay and attend to the wounded until help arrived, or would I flee the scene and find some clothes? In my dream, I made what I think was the right choice. I stayed to help, risking scandal and personal humiliation in order to make sure that the injured woman was cared for. Later in the dream, as if to vindicate my decision, the "dead" baby inside the car turned out not to be dead after all. He emerged from the car as an unharmed, fully grown adult. In other words, life was emerging from the wreckage of death.

Oddly, though, at the end of my dream I got no credit for tending to the wounded woman. The police implied that they were going to prosecute me for indecent exposure. So the dream ended on a disconcerting note. I was still going to have to pay a price for doing the right thing. In other words, my dream was teaching me something about the true principle of sacrifice.

After all, if Hollywood had written the Gospels, Jesus would somehow have been able to save humanity and miraculously avoid being crucified in some dramatic, by-the-skin-of-your-teeth ending. We typically want to believe that good can conquer evil without a price having to be paid. Very often in real life, however, as in my dream and as in the Gospels, the hero gets punished. I think that's what my dream was trying to warn me. If you want to do the right thing, prepare your mind and your soul. There's a price to pay.

The particular nude symbolism of this dream drew my attention to a phrase in the Gospel of Mark I read this morning that I'd never noticed before. In chapter 10, when blind Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus from the side of the road, after Jesus invites him to approach, the text continues (v. 50), "And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus." I'm not sure what if anything Bartimaeus was wearing underneath the garment he cast aside. But the wording of the text was not "casting away his outer garment." The totality of the phrase "casting away his garment" suggests that this impoverished beggar was casting away his only piece of clothing in the world in order to stand before Jesus utterly naked and vulnerable.

This theme of casting aside one's covering is reinforced earlier in the chapter, when Jesus says, "How hardly shall they that trust in riches enter into the Kingdom of God!" (v. 24). When the disciples are "astonished beyond measure" at this saying (did they trust so much in riches?!), Jesus offered the analogy of the camel and the needle, invoking -- in at least one major exegesis of this text -- the image of unloading everything one possesses, in order to get down on one's knees and crawl through a small opening.

When Jesus explains to his disciples that "to sit on [his] right hand and on [his] left hand is not [his] to give," he then drives the point home by explaining that "even the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (vs. 40 & 45). In other words, the way of Christ is not about having, not about possessing, but rather about giving up.

Jesus' teaching that "whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein" (v. 15) speaks both to the passivity and acceptance that saving faith requires, but also to the vulnerability. A child comes into the world naked. And so when blind Bartimaeus rose to receive the Kingdom -- in the form of healing from Christ -- he too cast aside his garment and received it naked. It seems significant that Bartimaeus' willingness to be vulnerable was a demonstration of precisely what was required in order for his eyes to be opened, in order for him to perceive the world as it is, in order to receive truth.

When we truly serve, we put ourselves on the line. There may be good we can do safely, behind the lines, not risking ourselves. But there will eventually come a time when we realize that we can't do enough unless we are willing to risk it all. To save lives, sometimes we will have to bare it all.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post. Yes, the good, hard work of people who do the right thing without regard for their own personal safety is often not recognized. Perhaps that's what it's like to be a pioneer. The first ones into the wilderness meet with hardship and sometimes early death. It is only future generations who benefit materially from the sacrifice of those who came before them.

As far as sexuality and the Restoration movement is concerned, LGBT people have been waiting at least a generation for things to change. Maybe the baby (the Christ child?) symbolizes the hope for future generations, that your hard work will be recognized and take on a life of its own. -- Bryan/NL

Anonymous said...


I laughed at the part where Hollywood write the Gospels.

It's really true...


Anonymous said...

I used to have "naked" dreams all the time; I'd leave the house on an errand of some kind, having made a seemingly rational decision to go nude that day, like nude or khakis, or jeans, all equal. Then halfway through I'd become aware it was a terrible mistake, everyone was staring, I needed to go home now. end of dream.

But I've not had that dream for several years. Why?
I wonder if it's my age-related declining testosterone levels, or more symbolically, now that I have "exposed" myself in a blog, anonymous though it be, I don't need to expose myself literally.

Beck said...

I remain incredibly in awe of your vivid, detailed dreams and your ability to interpret them and resolve their meaning in such appropriate ways!

I couldn't help but think of you being "naked" in the Church, exposed to your ward as a gay man, and yet you remain there as it is the right thing for you to do, to help and serve and offer assistance and feel the spirit and confirmation that what you are doing is right, despite being exposed... and even sacrifice full acceptance for being naked among fellow clothed saints...

Anonymous said...

I chanced on to your blog through the affirmation web site. I could spend hours going over your posts.

So did Ty Mansfield ever get married? Wish I would have seen the post from more than a year ago when the debate was going on. I'm a married (15 years, 5 kids) gay man and I can attest that one should never go into a marriage when one partner is gay thinking everything will be all right. I told my wife before we got married that I had "been gay" but was now over it. I thought over time my "gayness" would diminish and I'd end up being an almost normal LDS married man. (Evergreen needs to be banned). Last August I had a near mental breakdown. Since that time, my wife and I have had some excruciatingly difficult discussions. We are still married and highly motivated to make it work. I cannot say with certainty that it will, but I do know that it is extremely difficult. Like it or not, sex is a huge part of any union. You simply cannot have a true marriage relationship without it. My story is complex and would take up a ton of space, so for now thanks for your insights.

J G-W said...

Anonymous - thanks! I do wonder what difference it makes going into marriage if your expectations are tempered. If you know you are going into a relationship where sex will not play a very large (if any) role, I wonder if that would make a difference? Of course, I suppose it would still be extremely difficult, if only because of the imbalance of sexual desire.

MoHoHawaii said...

If you know you are going into a relationship where sex will not play a very large (if any) role, I wonder if that would make a difference?

The make-or-break problem with mismatched sexual orientations isn't the asymmetric desire for sex (A wants it more than B does). Instead, the crucial problem is the inability to form a durable pair bond in such a relationship (i.e., evidenced by a profound and enduring feeling of loneliness). At least this is what I found in my own experience and from talking to others in this situation.

Going in to a marriage with low expectations for sexual relations does nothing to prepare you for the inability to develop emotional intimacy in the long term.