The idea of holiness can sometimes be confusing, and perhaps even problematic for some. To suggest that all of us are invited by God to practise everyday holiness in our lives may very possibly elicit more than just raised eyebrows! Despite the fact that each Christian is called to a life of holiness in imitation of Christ, who said, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4: 19), I am expecting violent protests from readers who will yell out, “How can I be holy? I am not a saint!” Coupled with the idea that one is too mired in sinfulness to be holy, is the popular ascription of sanctity to the likes of Christ, Mother Teresa, the Guadalupana, Lord Buddha, Guru Nanak and Lord Ganesha.
Yet, a devotional reading of 1 Peter 2:9 suggests otherwise.
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called you out of darkness into God’s marvellous light!”
Among other things, this passage tells us that we are already holy because we are God’s own people. Holiness is a free gift from God for us, because “God created humankind in God’s image” (Genesis 1: 27). We are already holy because we belong to God. But this is not a call to passive holiness. We need to learn what it means to be holy, and we need to ‘do holy.’ We may make some mistakes along the way, but fuelled by the mutual love between God and us, we keep trying and learning how to be holy in the presence of God. In this reflection, I ask what “everyday holiness” means – what does it mean to be “holy”? What does it mean to ‘do holy’ for those of us who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ), or those of us who do not adhere to normative expectations of men and women?
The Call to ‘Do Holy’ by the Principles of Love, Goodness and Do-No-Harm
I suggest that the first way in which we can ‘do holy’ is to live as people who are guided by the principles of love, goodness and do-no-harm. Many of us have experienced physical, mental and emotional harm from others. There may be many reasons for these experiences. Perhaps some of these reasons revolve around our gender identities, gender expressions, sexual attractions and sexual expressions. Whatever the reasons, we may also be aware that it is just as easy for us to cause harm to others. We know that we are capable of judging and acting condescendingly towards others, even among ourselves as LGBTQ persons. Some of us may think that gay men “should” behave like men, and that lesbian women “should” behave like women. Some of us stay away from ‘effeminate’ gay men, ‘butch’ lesbians and transgender women, because they seem too ‘obvious’, and any associations with them may draw unwanted stares and tongue-waggings. It is so easy for us to discriminate, and thus reject inclusiveness and diversity. It is so easy for us to treat others only as objects of sexual gratification and disregard their feelings. We are capable of manipulating and using others for our own gain. Yet, God calls us to ‘do holy’ by accepting others just as we want to be accepted. God calls us to ‘do holy’ by learning from and respecting each other. God calls us to live according to the principles of love, goodness and do-no-harm.
The Call to ‘Do Holy’ by Doing Good and Healing, Eating and Drinking
Inspired by Peter’s testimony in Acts 10:34a; 37-43, I further suggest that the second way that we can ‘do holy’ is to commit ourselves to doing good, healing, eating and drinking. In our workplaces and at home, we often find ourselves in situations whereby we are doing non-good and non-healing. The opposite of doing good is doing harm, and the opposite of healing is injuring. As I alluded to earlier, it is so easy for us to do harm and injure others through our actions, our intentions and especially our words. But what kind of followers of Christ are we if we turn our surroundings into spaces of negative emotions, instead of spaces of love and goodness? I am not saying that we need to adopt a ‘saccharine-sweet’ attitude towards everyone. Instead, I suggest that all of us are invited to do good and to heal in all circumstances of life by responding to God’s invitation to
“act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6: 8).
It means that we heed God’s call to create relationships based on respect, kindness, equality and justice.
We can also ‘do holy’ by eating and drinking. A cursory look at the meals of Christ reveals that he did not discriminate against who came to his table. His embracing attitude at meals was such that even the Pharisees asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9: 11). Eating with everyone was the sign of godly inclusivity and welcome. I like to think that whenever we eat and drink with others, enjoying their company without judgement or discrimination, we follow the example of Christ, and we fulfill a godly imperative. Nonetheless, eating and drinking without discrimination or judgement cannot be confined to meal times. To eat and drink without discrimination or judgement is a call to live our entire lives without discrimination or judgement.
To summarise, when we live our lives according to the principles of love, goodness and do-no-harm, we ‘do holy.’ When we do good and heal, eat and drink, we ‘do holy.’ Then, when we ‘do holy,’ we practise everyday holiness.
Joseph N. Goh is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Gender, Sexuality and Theology with the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University, Malaysia. He holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, CA. An ordained minister with the North American Catholic Ecumenical Church (NACEC), Goh is also a member of the Emerging Queer Asian Pacific Islander Religion Scholars (EQARS) and the editor of the Queer Asian Spirit E-Magazine (QAS E-Zine).