Living Life on the Edge


Journey on the Edge


I have spent my life wearing masks. I have spent my life being a liar.

Leonard Cohen gives a good summary of my life, and all of our lives:

“Ring the bells that still can ring, for get your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.’  It is in the cracks of my life that the light shines through.

The story of Lazarus and the rich man gives us one verse that describes a predicament in our lives: “Child remember  that in your life time you got the good things, and Lazarus the bad things. It’s not like that here. Besides in all these matters there is a hugh chasm set between us so that no one can go from one side to the other.” Luke 16:25-26. The reality is we set ourselves up into tribes for protection. Like the rich man we set our chasm’s up, and out of fear, out of our own self-centeredness we can not cross.To remove that chasm we have to let go of those false boundaries, false pride, and fear.

The first half of my life was spent in  an atmosphere of discrimination and homophobia as it still is in much of our  country and world.  I was queer, and my life from the time I was ten became one lie after another  in order to fit into the straight world, or  I would be rejected. My my first memories  I was told of how fags   should be put to death. So I lied from the first moment I realized I like guys and girls, I  lied from the first moment I knew I was different; I lied through college,where I saw young gay guys beat up, and one murdered; I lied in seminary where I was taught by my denomination that being gay was “intrinsically evil;” I lied in the churches I served; I saw men and women who were outed and  have their careers and lives destroyed–until I outed myself and too was kicked out, unfriended, unemployed. Frankly I lied to survive, I had no choice. But those lies warped my life, disfigured it.  My own sister will have nothing to do with me–because I am queer–pure and simple. Labels are destructive, they enslave us to a way of thinking, rather than seeing the person.

And from there was  my life on the streets, where as Ta-Nehsi Coates says:

“The streets transform every ordinary day into a series of trick questions and every incorrect answer risks a beat down, shooting, or a pregnancy. None survive unscathed.”

Those years transformed my life, and the years since have changed my life. When you live and work on the streets you are never the same, your are truly different in your outlook on life. You do not survive unscathed. I have seen people scarred from sleeping on the streets for years, people raped, murdered, abused, child trafficking, and all that goes with the street-you do not go unscathed.

A seminarian once said to me, “You need to get off the streets are you will be here forever,” and she was frightened for me. What my friend did not understand, as most of my friends do not–it is a little too late for that-they have transformed,  and changed my life, and  in Christ a  transformation  into a life of service, and giving, and caring. My relationship to Christ saved my ass.  When people criticize Jesus or faith in Christ I take it personally, because Christ is real to me, from the time I was 12 he called me to ministry, and I have chased him ever since, That is why I have never had a partner or desired one–Jesus is  the One I follow and serve.  He saved my life literally, and has never left me alone. When the whole world walked away–He stayed.

When people say, “Sorry” for painful expects of my life, I frankly get a little irritated, for I am grateful, for every aspect of my life, I have no regrets, for God has used those aspects to give me a fulfilling life. I have no regrets. They are a part of that piece of wood be shaped by God.

The truth is I can never really go back across the line, I can communicate, understand people, that is a gift of living in that world, but I can not go back, I do not belong there, and where I have difficulty is expecting people to cross over into my world–and that is what I am working on more and more. I have had a number of people have their feelings hurt the past few weeks because they tried to pull me into their world and I frankly was rude. The reality is until we all cross the chasm out of our tribes we will not understand one another.

People questioned me, because I do not work with the man made labels of mental health, use labels of client, age, economic status,  and so on, it  is because they separate us from each other. I work with people where they are, and for who they are. I see all of us  as  friends on the same journey. I do not judge because judgment is a way of separation, and that is God’s place. It is like when I have been invited to a dinners as “gay friend,” I do not go, because I am  labeled. And it is a form of discrimination.  I am simply a human being as different as any one.This last doctorate in which I frankly worked my ass off, taught me one thing: “I am OK, for who I am.” This top evangelical school accepted me for me, my dissertation was written from the heart, not like all of the others I have written in the past, it was real. Knox Seminary allowed me to be me which  put me in touch with the Great Commandment in a new way:” To love God, and my neighbor as myself.”  I am looking at loving myself, for I have not loved myself very well. What I am learning is that loving myself means truly understanding that  God loves me, all my warts and spots.

“The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I am always working at shedding my mask, and that is what all of us need to do. For in shedding our masks we see the racism, homophobia, poverty, as all of our problems, we see that just because we make laws that change some of them , the change comes only  with a change of the heart. The trauma of my growing up and living  a lie, the trauma of the street, never go away, it is a part of the great piece of wood that is shaped with  those scars. The key to crossing the chasm is for all of us to face the reality of life that brings those scars, not expect people to be shaped into our way of living and thinking, and simply walking with each other.

I have been called a “child, who will never grow up,” and  a “bad boy,” and I own those labels, for I am a child of God, and I am a bad boy who will not conform to a way of life whose rules are destructive and death giving. My mother was not welcomed by most of her family because during the civil rights area she supported civil rights and loved a gay cousin, she walked alone most of her life,   gave me a quote: “Those who will fly solo have the strongest wings.”  What she taught me was you walk alone, when the general flow is discriminatory, and destructive of a life giving life.  I have learned to measure my worth by my dedication to my path and not my failures. Brother Mark Brown says it like it is: “We are, in a sense, the very flesh and blood of Christ. The body still suffers, the very flesh and blood of Christ still suffer. And if one suffers, all suffer; if one is degraded, all are degraded.”  We need to wake up and embrace that suffering and we will truly live. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!


+Fr. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.Min.

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164




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