Friday, November 25, 2011

Damned if I do and damned if I don't - Shake it out Pt 1

The moment I heard the new single from Florence + the Machine I knew I'd found my new mantra. "Shake it Out" says everything I've been feeling for the past year and everything I want for my future- to shake the demons who want their pound of flesh off my back and dance.

I think I'm at the point of the bridge of the song right now:
I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
so here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope
and I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
If you read my previous post than it's not really a secret that I've felt tortured by my new beliefs but I don't see how I can ever just ignore everything I've learned and seen. Ignore all the thoughts and doubts that have run through my head and go back to my old life. At this point I feel damned either way. Either I live feeling damned because I'm too afraid to believe in any other afterlife than the one I've always imagined or I follow my heart. That will still mean suffering because friends and family won't understand and maybe it will mean damnation- but right now I'm choosing to trust my hope that God is bigger. That his love is bigger. That salvation is complex. That grace is overwhelming and "... all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea."

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Confession

I mentioned in the first post on this blog how scared I am of essentially "coming out" to my conservative religious friends and family. Right now the thought of it literally ties my stomach in knots. I want to be brave, I want to just say what I think, whether or not I know that I'm right 100%. I don't really want to fight or debate or try to change anyone's mind, I just want to feel like I can be honest with the people I call my friends. But, I don't feel that way. And I know I'm a coward. But there are so many variables...

It's beyond the word difficult for me to just let go of so much that I've believed for so many years. As I've become less arrogant (I hope) and gotten older, I question myself more than I ever have before. Lately, I've argued, debated and agonized over the question, "Is being gay a sin?" and this debate has shaken me to my core.

My heart says, no, it can't be. There's no way. My head even agrees with my heart. I'd even come to a place of confidence to the point that I sent letters to every congressman, senator, whomever I could telling them that, as a NY state citizen and a Christian I firmly believed that gay marriage should be legal. I even told people I thought it should be legal. And finally, I took the first step and told someone I didn't believe being gay was a sin. Our ensuing conversation was lengthy and nuanced but the part that haunted me and tore at my heart was when she said that I was holding my gay friend's hands on their way to hell by not telling them to repent. Ouch. It's been weeks since this conversation and I am haunted by those words and the tiny voice whispering- what if she's right? What if that is what I'm doing?

I wish the voices would just shut up.

I can't stand it anymore.

Is this what God wants? Agony and misery and shame and hiding and questioning and never feeling safe? If God is good... if he is loving... why would he condemn someone who is just looking for someone to love? For companionship and a home? For everything that I have been lucky enough to find in my husband. Why  shouldn't my friends deserve that?

Here's the thing. Even if you're TOTALLY and completely wrong, and it's an outright sin to be gay, what damage have you done? If being gay is a sin, or even acting upon feelings you have toward a member of the same sex is a sin, are those people that you have continued to love and accept going to go to hell, because you didn't show them the path to redemption by opening their eyes to their sinful relationship?

No. Because the only way to get to heaven is through faith in Christ. Not straight faith, just faith.

If our (Christianity as a whole) stand against gays, or against BEING gay, or ACTING gay, or even thinking gay, will that stand not drive others away from Christianity?...I don't want to be wishy washy about my faith, or what God requires of us. But I know he doesn't want us to hate. He wants us to love. I figure if we can bring people to Him through love, He will speak to their hearts for the rest.
Rebecca, who wrote that comment, I wish I knew you. I really do. I want to talk with you and ask you if these words are true and you are at peace or if your fear ever eats you alive like mine does. Do you have past teachings in your heart, like I do, that appear suddenly and cover your hands with the blood of the lost?

This is my true struggle- I don't want to fail my friends. I don't want to die and face God and have him show me all the people who I was meant to save but didn't because I was too scared or misled. That is my greatest fear, my ultimate fear.

I grew up being taught that I had the absolute truth in my hands. I spent a lot of my teen years learning from a ministry I was involved in that the souls of the lost are in my hands- that the blood of the lost is on my head if I don't do everything in my power to "save" them. I spent all four years of college as a "leader" in a Christan campus ministry, steeped in responsibility for the people around me, desperately trying to grow the church. These are not light beliefs that I've held and can slough off. They are burned inside of me and I want, I need to know that I am not failing the people around me by following my heart, changing my beliefs, challenging theirs. I don't want to be a deceiver or lead people astray. I don't want to hold anyone's hand on the way to hell.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where God is found

Ben and I had the chance to visit our friend Beth yesterday, who just happens to be the mother of two of our good friends, and a highly respected spiritualist, at least to Ben and I. She came swooping into our lives shortly after I had major adult breakthroughs and was in desperate need of a mother figure who validated my newfound stances in life. She's always such an affirming speaker, and one of those rare breed who has the ability to interpret exactly what you are trying to say. She, too, has had struggles with what church means, what Christianity is, how to express it in her daily life, and yet with the benefit of more years than me, so she's much more at peace and much more able to express her thoughts.

I have struggled with church. Ben and I have tried (before we met, separately attempted) to find a church that expresses who we are. I hear my father's response to that statement - "You don't go to church to find you, you go to church to find God". Yes, dad, I hear you. What I have tried to mean with that sentiment is, I want to find a place that has worked as hard as I am to be healthy, honest and open with the world and with God. I have yet to find one here where I live. Whenever I have attended church within the past few years, I feel a sense of loss, or boredom, or at the least, disconnection. One visceral last impression was a church Ben and I attended where 5 minutes in, I emotionally and physically shut down. I had an overwhelming urge to cry and was afraid if I moved, or said anything, I'd burst out into my very uncomfortable ugly cry - the gasping for air, sobbing/moaning mess that I only do when alone - NEVER - in public. It was the one and only time I have driven Ben away, literally, with my inability to communicate or process my feelings.

Church used to mean a place of peace, where I sat with friends who were comrades in life - we knew each other and loved each other with a desperation to always prove how much we loved and supported each other. I don't have that here - in church at least. I have it outside of church, through conversations with friends who may or may not be Christian - through emails and phone calls and blogs. I have it with Ben, my life friend, who understands and says so succinctly what takes me 20 minutes to spew out.

I have always felt this is enough. I felt if I ever do feel the need to return to church, I'd do it, and would find a place that was home. The only reason I still hear those voices in my head is because my parents feel I can't possibly be a believer while not attending church. I'm missing that check in the laundry list of being approved as a Christian and one worthy of attention.

While expressing all of this to Beth, she politely listened and then replied, "If you think the church is going to be a healthy place, you're mistaken - church isn't for the healthy people, church is for the sick. You won't find God in church." The light clicked on immediately and to my shock, I felt so relieved. RELIEVED to hear someone finally say it. God isn't in church - I find him in posters explaining disorders of the macula (a part of the eye) in Ben's ophthalmologist's office. I find him in conversations with friends when they echo what I feel, and I don't feel alone or misunderstood anymore. I find him in therapy sessions where the therapist tells me, "If there's anything I want you to gain from these sessions, is to trust yourself and your instincts and your decisions". I find him when I'm living on being the best me I can be, because he made me to be me. I make God proud when I am me and am honest.

Right now, I don't need church to show me God - he's doing a better job than any one place can do. I'm listening to him and that's all I need.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I couldn't let this go

To the commentators on that say things like "say no to homosexual coaches" in response to the terrible tragedy unfolding at Penn State:

Homosexual does not equal pedophile. Pedophile equals pedophile. Sandusky is a pedophile because he is a sick, sick man who abused children not because he is a homosexual.

Plenty of men have abused little girls. Should we also not have any heterosexual coaches? Maybe only eunuch coaches? Eunuchs were great for guarding harems, let's get them coaching children's sports and such.

Statements like this don't even make me angry. They make me physically ill.

What happened to those young men is terrible. A tragedy. Let's not add fear, bigotry and hatred to the mix.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A little context please

It baffles me how how people preach texts from the Bible without any sense of cultural and historical context.

The Bible is not a book but rather a collection of books, each with their own nuances, perspectives, and historical/cultural motivations.

To comprehend and teach the Bible as a literal, stand-alone text is like describing the ocean to someone based on only what you see from the shore, which is the surface of the water.

Yet there is much more depth and scope to be explored and understood beneath the surface. To merely skim the surface based on what you think see, is to tragically flounder. -David Moran
This is a quote by a friend of mine from college. We recently reconnected over facebook and have been exchanging wall posts and messages discussing our current questions and ideas about our faith. An issue we have both struggled with is what he addresses here- anachronism of philosophy/theology. Taking texts out of the Bible and applying them without taking into consideration whether or not we should really take them literally. Personally, as a woman, there are parts of the Bible that I consider archaic and will absolutely not take literally. I was a church leader and I don't really know what Paul would have thought if he had showed up for my homegroup (Bible study) in college. Would he have stood up and proclaimed like he did in his letter to Timothy, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet."

Should I have not even been teaching in the first place? I know there are still churches that expect women to be secondary to men but there are plenty that allow women to stand in places of authority and it is generally accepted as a matter of preference. But why? The Bible says "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." End of discussion right? Why isn't it the end of the discussion? Because, culturally, we have evolved. This idea of Paul's is no longer considered culturally relative so we, American Christians, have largely set it aside. There are lots of women active in ministry today.

In 1 Cor. 11 Paul discourses at length about men and women's hair and whether or not they should cover their head while praying. He concludes men should have short hair but not cover their heads and women should have long hair and cover their heads. He apparently felt strongly about this, I can't say why because I don't know, but in spite of his strong feelings I was intrigued by verse 13: "Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" Is that really Paul inviting the Corinth believers to make up their own mind about this? Intriguing. Maybe he didn't consider himself "the man" after all.

So I will conclude this with some questions - should we take the Bible literally? Is that the way God/Jesus meant for it to be? Did Paul even mean for his words to be passed along for hundreds of years and a letter to a specific man or church to be taken as commands for a church in New York in 2011?

I'm leaning towards no.