“God is an unutterable sigh, planted in the depths of the soul.”
I’m a believer. I believe. I don’t necessarily believe that things happen for a reason – as if they were predestined – but I do believe everything that happens has a lesson that can be learned from it. I believe people are good. And often people are hurt. Our pain and fear can cause us to make certain life choices and our love and kindness can drive us to make different ones. I don’t believe anything or anyone is wholly good or evil, but I do believe we generally operate from either love or fear. When I describe my core values I use words like: love, connectedness, equity, humility, justice, kindness, empowerment, belongingness, humanity, and curiosity. I can often get spiritual in a big-universe kind of way, but I don’t shy away from my Christian roots. Even as I become more familiar with and appreciative of other religious traditions, it would be an extreme oversight not to acknowledge the profound influence Christianity has had and continues to have on my life. My church quite literally saved me as a kid and certainly helped shape the trajectory of my whole life. My faith taught me to love and taught me to believe. However, most of my views have also evolved and broadened over time, as has my sense of identity, self-worth, and understanding of my place in this world. I do believe. But mostly I seek other questions, and not necessarily the answers. I think bigger things are at work than we can understand right now, but that part of our life’s work is to explore those mysteries together, strive to live a life that contributes positively to the world, and learn to better love ourselves and one another. I find true beauty in the unknown. I believe there is something miraculous in each of us and all around us.
“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Practicing your faith — any faith — is often challenging. Anytime you choose to strive toward a high standard, you choose a difficult path. For LGBT folks in particular, though, that challenge is often also isolating to the point of nonbelief. Often we are shut out from our organized religious communities in such a definitive way that we feel we don’t have permission to even have an individual belief system. I love the quote at the beginning of this post because of the word unutterable. So much of the gay experience is indeed unutterable. We keep ourselves and our identities bottled inside, which limits our ability to have a meaningful connection with others as well as any higher power. And even if and when you find the strength and the support to finally utter who you really are, the idea of a gay person also being a person of faith? Talk about unutterable! We can’t be that. They won’t let us be that. Other gays won’t understand why we’d even want to be that. We have three faith options: atheism, agnosticism, and yoga. Well, people find meaning in each of those paths and I think they are totally valid. But what about those of us who are seekers? What are we allowed to believe? Many of you know that this intersection of sexual orientation and meaning-making is my biggest passion area and research interest. But here are my two main points:
1. We’re all seekers
2. We’re all connected
Everyone has a way of answering life’s big questions. A way of making meaning. Maybe you don’t identify with words like faith, religion, and spirituality, but we’re all experiencing life together. We’re all seeking to make sense of who we are.
I don’t go to church often. Mostly because I’ve never been to a church that fully accepts me for all of who I am while also creating the spiritual environment that most resonates with what I would like that experience to be. I went to church yesterday, though. City Beautiful Church in Downtown Orlando that felt very different. For me, it was actually a bit of a breakthrough.
You have to understand something. I was MISTER church growing up. I was a Sunday school teacher, an occasional preacher, a worship (music) leader, an interim youth pastor, a full-time church employee with a national ministry, a church camp counselor, a school bible study and conference leader… this was a huge part of my life for most of my life. My church was my family. In ways that my actual family wasn’t or couldn’t be, the church was. When I finally accepted that I was gay, I didn’t just lose a church. I lost a family. A spiritual community that, prior to this, had helped me through every struggle I had ever known. Suddenly, I found myself in the toughest transition yet, but without that support system. Since that time, I’ve maintained my spiritual curiosity and passion, but from a safe distance. To avoid being told you don’t belong or that you’re going to hell, many people of faith who come out of the closet choose to let that part of their life go. Although I couldn’t ever quite do that, I also didn’t feel permission to practice faith anymore. So, my “safe distance” approach was mostly an academic one. I’d talk about it with faculty members and research it for classes. I’d participate in faith as an observer, because that felt okay. I’m honored to serve on a university task force for spiritual inclusion and to have frequent philosophical debates with friends and colleagues about life’s mysteries, but last night was the first time in a long time that I truly felt something deeply, personally, consumingly spiritual.
It doesn’t come as naturally anymore for a few reasons. Mostly because I could go to a gay-affirming church that accepts me fully but isn’t (as far as I’ve experienced) the type of spiritual community I crave (for various reasons) or I can go to a place that feels like a better fit (like City Beautiful), but always feel I don’t belong or like others there think I don’t belong. In that kind of place I’d also likely never be able to take on a leadership role like what had always been a big part of my spiritual experience in the past. I miss that so much and have been so hurt by the rejection, that at times I have gone to a service and found myself completely distracted by the other people who were praying and engaging with no hesitance or obstacles in their way, and I would resent them. They don’t know how much easier it is for them to be there in that moment just because they are straight. So, getting past the various distractions and emotions has been my primary challenge and probably the biggest reason I avoid organized religion altogether now.
Last night, something happened that I really needed to happen, though. The church hosted the service at Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando. It was mostly just music. Outside, under the stars. Surrounded by a community of friends and strangers. I felt connected. To nature, to people, to love, to God. To a spiritual experience not bound by walls or exclusionary rules. And I allowed myself to become vulnerable again. I let my guard down and opened my heart. That moment in the park freed me to engage in a non-academic, all-embracing, self-aware, connected, and humbled encounter with truth. I felt myself in the moment… my strengths, imperfections, hopes, fears, insecurities, dreams …and allowed myself to feel each of those things. A song was played that included one line in particular that was sung powerfully like an anthem, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me,” and tears streamed down my face, inaudibly. I wasn’t necessarily crying. But I was releasing. Letting go. Opening up. Believing. And reminding myself that at the core of who I am, I believe. I believe in a love that never gives up and never runs out. I believe Love is the thread that connects us all.
We each make meaning of life’s questions in our own ways. Should you choose to do that through a spiritual lens, you are allowed to do that while also being gay. You really, really are. We each have the right to believe.
Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains
Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me
On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains
In death and in life I’m confident and covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid there’s nothing that can separate my heart from your great love