My post today is part of a larger initiative of more than 60 bloggers all coming together to share their thoughts on how to 'bridge the gap' between GLBTACQI people and the church. You can check out the other links at: www.btgproject.blogspot.com
What I'm Doing
This blogging initiative is one I'm proud to participate in because it touches my heart in a unique way, and I'm excited to read what everyone else has to say on this issue, because for me, the realization that I was a lesbian is what brought me back to God, not what turned me away from God, so my journey is different than that of most people with whom I've discussed this topic. I always tell people that I think it might be helpful for GLBT people and Christians to try to focus on the ways in which we are alike instead of focusing on our differences, but that sound slike a cliche, and I don't think anyone understand how hard that is for me to say or what a difference it has made in my life. Perhaps if you understand more about me, you'll understand why this is so important to me.
Who I Am
Now here's the deal. I'm one of those people who's never fit into the church as a whole, no matter who I was or who I was trying to be. I tried many different denominations, and no matter what, there was always some reason that I didn't "fit in" at the church. I talked too loud, I laughed too loud, I watched the wrong movies, I listened to the wrong music, I wore the wrong clothes, I didn't seem to be able to believe the right things (or I shared my doubts about things everyone else seemed to believe without much effort). I never had any reasons growing up for why I was such a square peg in a round hole, so I spent my time trying to change myself to fit the environment I was in. I looked at the people around me and tried my best to dress like them and talk like them and modify my beliefs to fit what they believed. Much to my dismay, this never seemed to work, because I was always denying some part of myself that made me who I was. I'm the kind of person who can get more spiritual truth out of a zombie movie or an Elton John song than I can out of a sermon. I've always been this way. For whatever reason, God uses pop culture to speak to me, and that's something powerful, and to deny that is to try to suppress a part of me that is vitally important to who I really am. The point of this isn't to say that going to church and listening to a sermon is something that doesn't affect me at all, it's to say that whatever truth I need to see about God I see more clearly in the things that resonate with my soul, and it's not a bad thing to go to church or to read the bible, but to do those things purposely as a way to suppress the part of me that needs to listen to music and watch horror movies is to ignore a vital part of what drew me to God in the first place. Once I began to believe he existed, I could see him all around me, and I could hear him singing in the words of songs I'd loved since I was a child, and it was like I was seeing everything with new eyes. Then I learned that this music and these books and these movies weren't part of the life experience of most Christians, and in fact were thought to be sinful by the people in the churches I attended. I spent years going to rallies, burning my books and CDs, asking forgiveness for watching movies, and growing increasingly frustrated that no matter how I tried to change myself, I was still different than those I saw around me who seemed to seek God and instantly become able to blend in with those around them. I left church for good one year when I decided that I was never going to be "good enough" to fit in there, and I swore I'd never go back.
Who We Are
The thing is, when I was 25, I fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with another woman, and I realized that this was a problem for many reasons. I'd read all the bible verses that Id been taught to believe would condemn people to hell for feeling the way I did and acting on it. Oddly enough, I realized that although I'd pretended to leave the church and never look back, I still believed everything I'd been taught, I just believed that it excluded me from ever having a relationship with God, so I tried to live as though it didn't matter to me, when really, it did. I started seeking out other GLBTACQI (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally, Curious, Questioning, Intersexed...wow that's a lot of letters) people in my area, and when I met them, I started getting what I call "nudges from God," slowly leading me back to him. I talked with these people, over and over, and I learned that somehow, miraculously, many of them went to church, they believed that God loved them, and they didn't spend every moment worrying that they were going to hell because of who they were. this boggled my mind. Something that a lot of people don't understand is that I've felt like I was damned to hell and completely hopeless since I was four years old, long before I was ever aware what "gay" even was. I've never fit into a church, and for years, that had nothing to do with my sexuality, it was simply a side effect of how weird I was. I had never felt worthy of God's love, and it was only recently that "I'm gay" was added to my list of reasons why. It was a big reason of course, because I'd been taught that there was no way that someone could be gay, be in love with someone of the same gender, and still be a Christian. As soon as the idea that I could be both gay AND Christian was introduced to me, I was ready to read all the books I could find, revisit the bible verses I'd heard, and start listening to my Christian music again, because a small spark within me had been rekindled and I had hope once again that I was worthy to sing about God's love.
Who They Are
Trying to find a church that will have me while I'm on this journey has been difficult, but one of the biggest revelations for me is that this would always have been difficult for me, whether I'd been gay or not, because I'm a weird little person who doesn't fit in with most people, and that's who I've always been. In college, I hung out with a small group of similar weird people, and they're still some of my closest friends today, even though we're spread out all across the country and we have very different religious beliefs. Something that I've had to learn, over and over again, is that when dealing with other Christians, it's just as important that I accept them as it is that they accept me. Read that sentence again. I sure need to. I feel a sense of rejection whenever I end up not fitting in at a church, but the truth is, it's taken me years and years and years to get comfortable being in my own skin, so I can't possibly expect other people to be comfortable with me in five minutes (or even five months). If I come into every church situation expecting the Christians to be hostile toward me, for whatever reason, I'm going to be stooping under the weight of the massive bag of chips on my shoulder, and I won't have time to see those people as fellow human beings, with their own flaws and struggles and concerns and lives.
Mother Theresa has been quoted as saying "If we judge other people, we don't have time to love them," and I'm realizing more and more every day how that applies to my journey back to the church. If I'm going to get anywhere on this journey, and if I really think church is going to be an important part of this journey, then I need to cool down and start trying to understand who these other Christians are. They may not agree with my "lifestyle" (whether that includes who I love or what movies I watch or both) but I probably don't agree with everything they believe, either, and if we stand there glaring at each other counting all the ways in which we are different, we're never going to have a chance to find any common ground or any reason why we should love and accept each other. I'm realizing that expecting other people to understand and accept me hasn't worked in the past because I haven't been willing to understand and accept them, either. That hurts, because a lot of hurtful things have been done to me in the name of religion, and I feel like I'm trying to minimize the damage that's been done to me when I say that I need to try to look past their insults and understand them as people, but the truth is that no matter how badly I've been hurt, that doesn't give me an excuse to expect the worst from people, because I can't control what any other person does, I can only control what I do, and what I need to start doing is recognizing the beauty and importance of every person I meet, even when we disagree on just about everything. After all, I spent years wishing someone would look past all the labels and try to see me and love me for who I am; how can I refuse to at least try to do that for other people? This attitude has made it easier for me to at least try going to church and to at least try to understand people. It's helped me to understand myself a little better, too. That douesn't sound earth-shattering or monumentous, but it sure is a good place to start.