Counting the cost.

When I was younger, I thought that gay people were disgusting.  I thought that being gay was a sexual perversion akin to being attracted to animals.  I thought that having gay sex led to any number of medical complications and a shortened life expectancy.  I thought that HIV was somehow connected to having sex with monkeys.  No, really, I did.  Part of it was because I was incredibly young and didn’t fully understand the conversations I was hearing- but some of it was an honest reflection of what the people I was around thought.  And as I got older, the misconceptions persisted.  Bisexuals were “hos” who wanted to have so much sex they couldn’t settle for just one gender.  Lesbians were women who had been sexually abused by men or just hated men so much they could only have relationships with other women.  Gay men were either effeminate and weak or bearish and hairy and nasty, but either way it was all about truly disgusting sex.

Thinking about gay people would make me want to vomit in my mouth a little.

For a long time I didn’t feel a reason a reason to question my beliefs.  The Bible had passages that condemned homosexuality, so I felt safe in my prejudices.

Then I turned seventeen, and I was being pushed to the limits of my thinking.  I was already going down a journey of questioning my beliefs.  I stopped reading the Bible to reaffirm why I was right and started prefacing every meditation with “what’s the cost if I am wrong?”  Around that same time, a close female friend confessed to thinking she might be a lesbian.  And another friend came out as Bi.  (Let me just say- someone having a crush on you as well as one of your brothers at the same time- awkward.)  I had to step back and ask myself what was going on.  My friend was not a lesbian because of being abused or because she couldn’t get along with men.  The Bi friend?  Not a whore, a virgin.  So what was this whole “aberrant sexuality on a slippery slope to all out debauchery” thing all about?

Aberrant sexuality was given a new face to me: innocence.  Young kids, like myself, overwhelmed with emotions they were only beginning to make sense of.  Crushes and longings and whispered confidences that were not about sex, but about identity.  Who am I, who do I want to be, who do I want to be it with?  Who loves me, wants me, desires me?  Am I allowed to dream, or have my dreams become my enemy?  Do my thoughts betray me?  Can I ever be loved?

It’s hard enough to be young when you’re what other people want you to be.  It’s hard enough to have your first love when it’s someone you’re allowed to want- but to deal with all of that emotion in the face of rejection, in the face of being told it was put there by demons- knowing if you were honest, you might lose all your friends…  Think of the cost of keeping a secret.  The way it gnaws at you.  Try to remember what it is like to be young, and ask yourself how much it must tear these kids up inside, to feel like they can’t be completely sincere.  They have to hide the truth from their friends.

I’ve seen things I wish I could forget.  Kids at their most vulnerable, questioning their Creator for not making their sexuality normal, hating God for not taking this burden from them, being thrown to the ground and commanded to release their demons.

Regardless of what one truly believes, or why, it is never okay to reject someone in their weakness, to cast them out in their time of need, to belabor them with your good intentions until they are broken beyond repair.

Love.

We have to remember how to love.

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Feathery Tendrils of Joy.

While my last five posts don’t lead directly to my present life, I find it impossible to write about the last four years with any clarity.  Did I make it back to the arms of the church?  Yes, I did.  The various church relationships I’ve cultivated have led to happiness and broken hearts, discipleship and loss of faith.  I’ve seen young kids ostracied for questioning their sexuality, I’ve seen parents blame the youth leaders for circumstances outside their control, I’ve witnessed as person after person applauded a sermon about “24/7 spirituality” only to leave the trappings of their faith at the door.  But that’s not all I’ve seen- I’ve also seen churches rise en masse to help the needy, I’ve seen volunteers show up in such great numbers that they had to be turned away.  I’ve seen lives changed because of the faithfulness of friends.  I’ve seen pregnant teens struggle with the consequences of their choices, learn new maturity, find the Father’s love in the wake of their own broken hearts.  I’ve seen loss of faith and faith regained, brokeness and beauty.

I’ve learned to feel joy in my faith again.  Part of the reason it is so hard to write about is simply because joy is insidious.  I believe that there are times where people change overnight.  I have met people who can give incredible testimony of God coming into their lives and changing them so radically that their friends could no longer recognize them.  But is that how it normally happens?  No.  We go through situation and situation, mountain and valley, drought and monsoon.  Somewhere along the way the change happens- but oh so slowly.  Just like aging, like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, like carving a statue out of stone.  

Somewhere along the journey I felt the tendrils of joy creep back into my heart.  Feathery and fine at first, but it grew and grew.  Somewhere along the way I saw how I pictured myself changing.  I started to feel more sure, more positive.  I went from questioning my call to proclaiming it.  And parts of what I was meant to do I simply stumbled into by chance- like the time I wrote an “open letter to the church on homosexuality” on my blog, which earned me a never before seen sixty comments.

Somehow I ended up here, writing this to you.  I’m not entirely sure how or even why- I’ve guarded my own story closely on this blog.  Yet one day I felt a nudging, the kind of nudge I’ve learned not to ignore.  So I gave away my secret faith.

I hope it helps you.

My Crisis of Christianity

I spent a long time angry at God because I was angry with other Christians.  I couldn’t understand how, if they spoke to God as they seemed to, and heard from God as they claimed to, they couldn’t understand God’s heart for other people.  How could God let Christians get away with the kind of cruelty they espoused towards others?  Towards me, my friends, strangers whose stories I’d heard?  Christianity seemed, to me, to be a big farce.  A way of slapping an “I’m okay” sticker on people’s most virulent behaviors.  It was okay to gossip in the name of God, judge in the name of God, castigate in the name of God.  It was okay to torment people as long as you were doing it to save them!

There had been a time that I had embraced the Evangelical lifestyle.  Handing out “Jesus Pamphlets” at the park, demanding that my friends recognize and leave their sins, burning all my non-Christian music and trying to read the right things.  The thing was, it made me miserable.  I had gone from a suicidal depression into a grudging last-resort relationship from God.  And that depression had deeply colored the way I viewed God.  I had seen God as wanting my life, but wanting it because he was the possessive Jealous God of the Old Testament.  I didn’t truly understand God’s love for me.  And the Christian lifestyle I’d adopted seemed to reinforce the idea that God didn’t particularly care for me.  Living without all of the things I loved- my fantasy novels, my music, my pride, my inert sense of what was and wasn’t appropriate behavior at the park…  These things all were impossible for me to deal with.

I took to forcing myself to live with Christianity with the same kind of zeal I attacked everything in my life.  I viewed my distaste for the lifestyle I was living as a challenge, a test of faith.  Sarcastically saying “Jesus is my boyfriend” as a way to justify my inability to have a relationship with the opposite sex was supposed to fulfil me.  I didn’t confront the fact that I ran away from relationships because I was terrified- I justified it with my faith.  Burning all of my old music and devoting myself to only pursuing what was “good and holy” was supposed to reinforce my devotion to God.  So burn the fact that it was leaving me bored, that all I had to listen to was what I saw as falsely cheerful tripe.  It was supposed to fulfill me, so it would.  I would “fake it till I made it” if it killed me.

And by the time I hit my late teens, it was certainly killing me.  I was back to listening to the music I liked.  So DMX and Staind and Nirvana weren’t on the approved list?  Oh well.  I was back to wearing the clothes I liked.  So tight tops and black lace skirts and leather knee high boots and pink hair weren’t a good Christian look?  (Not to mention the huge tattoo on my lower back…)  Oh well.  So being depressed and angry at God and thinking “Jesus will never fill this emotional hole in my gut” wasn’t the right attitude towards God?  Screw it.  So refusing to Evangelize and telling the people I was hanging out with that I didn’t care how they felt about Jesus, that was their business, is shirking my Christian duty?  By the time I started wrestling with that one, my attitude was to reply, “F***  IT.  I want to be able to be friends with my friends, get out of my faith.  I don’t want to talk about it!”

And for several years, I confused the above with having a crisis of Faith.  But, in the end, it wasn’t really a crisis of faith I was having.  It was a crisis of Christianity.  There is a famous Buddha quote that reads:  “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it.  Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.”  That quote affected me profoundly.  So many of the tenats of faith I’d been raised with simply went contrary to my internal compass.  And who gave me that compass?  Who gave me my conscience?  Would God have created me to react so adversely to Christianity if he wanted me to be a Christian?  What in the world was going on here?

Then I realized something else.  The Bible has this to say:  (Romans 2:14-15)- Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This verse has been used, for some time, to demonstrate that God guides man’s law by guiding his heart.  That written inside of each one of us is a code that can guide us to God’s heart for our lives.  And I, by trying to be what other people percieved as a Good Christian, was denying that code.  I was denying who God made me to be by trying to be who other people wanted me to be.

What I needed to do was seek after God’s heart for me, to leave behind the trappings of the Lindsey of Old and just try to be the best disciple I could.  But not a disciple of the church- a disciple of God himself, of Jesus.

(to be continued…)

Jesus and Me plus nothingness makes three.

By the time I turned nineteen, I didn’t discuss my spiritual life with anyone.  I was fairly certain my family wouldn’t understand, and I didn’t have many friends that I felt comfortable being honest with.  Just a few years ago I was the one leading the prayer groups, I was the one leading the Bible lessons, I was the one answering other people’s questions.  A spiritual crisis seemed like the kind of luxury I couldn’t afford.  The friends who did know that I’d given up on church mostly commiserated.  We were a rag-tag group of kids who had often had our faith questioned because of our appearance, or our choice in music, or the friends outside the church walls we chose to keep.  But I didn’t really even talk to those friends about what I was doing to keep myself going.  Studying Buddhism?  Taoism?  Wicca?  I was the one who may as well have had “Jesus is my boyfriend” tattooed on my forehead for most of my life.

I wasn’t sure that anyone could understand what I was going through.  I didn’t even understand.

I would practice yoga.  Not just the exercises, as was quickly becoming fashionable, but the spiritual lifestyle as well.  Focused thought, strength of center, guiding your bodies internal energies.  It made sense to me.  It seemed to be working.  Day by day I wasn becoming less scattered and panicky, more in control not just of my body but of my emotions as well.  I would meditate on nothingness.  This was an interesting practice, as my brain is hyperactive, and clearing myself of all conscious thought has always been nigh on impossible.  But I would light a candle and focus on the light inside the light.  I would sit, for hours, trying to empty myself.  It was my time alone, my secret.  I really didn’t even talk about it with my husband.

And slowly, over the course of years, I learned to be quiet.  To listen.

In the meantime, I worked on my relationship with God.  I wanted to trust him, I wanted to trust Jesus, I wanted to walk into a church on a Sunday morning and not feel horribly out of place.  Yet the times we did go to church I still felt like a charlatain.  I didn’t like other Christians, and it bothered me.

In the quiet of the morning when there was no one in my world but myself, I would become empty.  I would become the flame within the flame, pure potential.  In this place of silence I would feel something that I had never before felt so keenly:  Love.  Love in its purest and simplest form.  Love that exists for no other reason than itself.  Love, which like God, proudly proclaims “I am that I am.”  End of question.

I became absolutely sure of three things:  God is love, Jesus is the embodiment of that love, and those who live in that love serve God.

Yet I couldn’t seem to conquer the pain that was eating me alive.  I couldn’t find the words to express it, but I felt betrayed.  Broken.  Misused.  I had given God my life out of bitterness and despair, and up until that point my relationship with him had been defined by that.  I felt no joy- I felt hope, but no joy.

(to be continued)

How Buddhism led me back to God.

When I was in my late teens, heading into adulthood, I was unsure of myself.  I wasn’t sure about my spirituality, or how I felt about my family, or what I wanted to do with my life.  I wasn’t even entirely sure that I was sane.  I went through a period of intense questioning.  My biggest questions were about God.  Who was God?  Was God really even there?  If God was there, was he a good and loving God or some cranky guy in the clouds with a big stick and a score to settle?

What was the real point of Christianity?  If someone asked me my opinion of church, I wouldn’t equivocate.  I would smirk and say that it was a load of crap, that I had other things to do.  Church made me feel guilty and dirty and even more unsure than I already was.  I saw people getting joy from it and I hated them, I hated myself for not feeling what they were feeling.  The only thing I did know with any certainty was that the status quo wasn’t working.

So I gave up.  I stopped going to church.  I stopped reading my Bible.  I stopped doing everything.  I started buying books about the Dalai Lama and Taoism.  I read about Wicca and elemental spirituality.  I buried myself in hope- hope that even if everything I grew up believing was wrong, that there was still some essence of goodness in the world, that there was still something I could connect myself to, to give myself purpose.  Here’s the thing:  I never questioned if there was some higher force or higher power.  I was sure of it.  And even at my worst, I still believed in a kind of god.  That god just wasn’t the God of Christianity.  Or, at least, that’s what I thought.

Because my God was a loving God.  He was compassionate and tender.  He didn’t want for people to suffer, or be judged, or be tossed aside.  Yet the way I saw God’s name being used seemed to say something different.  People used God to set themselves apart, to judge others, to justify their bigotry.  And I couldn’t let myself believe in the same God they did.

I found a lot of the elements of the God I sought after in Eastern Spirituality.  Here were systems of belief based off of truth and observation.  They talked about a natural order, an observable rightness, aligning one’s self with the right patterns in order to be whole.  They talked about how man kills himself with anger, judgment and bitterness.  How pain is not your enemy, but a way to find truth.  They talked about how the greatest good comes from sacrifice.  And as I read these words, I found myself thinking, “isn’t this Jesus?”

Jesus spoke in the same sort of parables as the Dali Lama.  He spoke observational truth.  His words rang true because one could watch the world around themselves and see the evidence.  He cautioned against anger, bitterness, judgment, and idleness.  His death itself proves that there is no power greater than sacrifice.  And certainly he didn’t view pain as the enemy if he was called the “man of many sorrows.”

I had an epiphany.  No matter my contentions with the church, everything brought me back to Jesus.  And I felt sure that I could embrace all that I loved the most about Buddhism and Taoism while still following God:  mastery of one’s will, one’s body, one’s emotions, self-sacrifice…  these are concepts that are very at home in Christianity.

(To be continued…)