Writing about Queer Callings in 2017

Many thanks to all who have welcomed us back after our time away. Although we haven’t been writing in this space over the past year, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the topics we enjoy discussing here. In some ways, the conversation about celibacy, vocation, and LGBTQ Christian issues hasn’t changed significantly over the past year. But in other ways, it’s in a very different place now than ever before. Before we begin posting in-depth content again, we would be interested in hearing from you about what topics and questions pique your curiosity. What has been on your mind over the past year? We continue to receive feedback on our old posts. Are there other areas we could cover that would assist you or your church in your own conversations?

For our part, we’ve had a lot on our minds. Considering everything that has happened in the life of the Church and in the lives of LGBTQ Christians within recent months, discussion of celibacy and vocation is timely. The world is hurting, and it needs people who are focused on Christ as expressed through commitment to ways of life existing at the margins. We’ve been thinking about people who don’t have families or loved ones to accompany them during life’s most trying times and how celibates can play a special role in filling some of those gaps. We’ve been thinking about what it means to participate in churches that support people discerning their vocations. We’ve also been pondering the value of community, compassion, and solidarity.

Lindsey has been especially taken by the question, “What does it mean to be evangelical in 2017?” Lindsey’s approach to this question in previous years has focused on what it might mean to bring good news to the world, which Lindsey considered a core aspect of personal spirituality regardless of what Christian tradition either of us has been part of at a given time. Having been formed in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship during college, Lindsey has been grieved by this organization’s recent position paper on human sexuality because of how it problematizes sexual orientation irrespective of sexual activity. And both of us have been praying about how to engage with various intersectional identity discussions given how churches of all kinds have failed at addressing the needs of marginalized groups over the past year. Because Lindsey identifies strongly with evangelical spirituality, witnessing these discussions shut down within evangelical environments has been troubling.

Sarah has been pondering questions of celibacy as an identity marker. We’ve spent a great deal of time in past posts discussing LGBTQ identity labels, but as much as we have discussed celibacy we have not delved into the significance of self-identification as a celibate. This topic has been at the front of Sarah’s mind as we have explored different Christian communities over the past year, including some that recognize celibacy as a vocation and others that find celibacy odd or even threatening. Until the past year, we had not spent sustained periods of time in churches where it is easy to come out as gay but difficult -even impossible- to come out as celibate. Sarah wonders how understanding of celibate identity might vary depending upon one’s Christian tradition, individual faith community, and acceptance from non-celibate friends and loved ones. Sarah has grown increasingly concerned about stigmatization of celibate ways of life as same-sex marriages have become legally recognized throughout the United States.

Those topics are a select few from what arose for us in 2016 while we weren’t writing. This post is a quick preview of what we would like to write about this year, but it’s also a call for topic ideas. If there’s a topic you would like to see us explore here, mention it in the comments or use our contact form to send us an email.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

We’re Back

Hello to all our friends and readers, old and new. Sorry for disappearing. After long hiatus, we have decided it is time to continue our writing project here at A Queer Calling. We’ve missed interacting with you and listening to your stories, and we’re very happy to be back. Apologies to those who wrote to us during our long break. We’ll try to return your emails as quickly as possible.

We needed some time off for several reasons. Mostly, we had reached a point of burnout. Within the year post-Obergefell vs. Hodges, emotion around LGBTQ Christian issues became more intense than ever before…or at least that’s how we experienced it. With Sarah’s health challenges, our attempts to regain some sense of normalcy in life after Sarah’s surgery, the stresses we’ve faced in seeking legal protection for each other, and our continuing church search, blogging became more than we could handle. Both of us were managing unhealthy stress levels, which had negative impacts on mental health and our relationship. Over the past year, we’ve interacted only minimally with any LGBTQ Christian-related topic. That has brought both of us a lot of healing.

So what’s new with us?

We’re still as celibate and queer as ever. Over the past year, we’ve delighted in reconnecting with old friends and experiencing community in new places. Lindsey has entered the entrepreneur world, and Sarah has become healthy enough to go back to school to train for a new career. Life is significantly calmer than it was the last time you heard from us. Sarah’s chronic illness will always remain part of our lives, but at this point symptoms are manageable on most days. Lindsey has truly come alive in getting a new business off the ground, and Sarah is enjoying learning everything possible about her new healthcare field. In a sense, we’ve spent the year exploring two additional queer callings.

Church remains a difficult topic. Sarah is still attending Catholic Mass and confession, but beyond this is not participating much within any specific Catholic parish. We’re still figuring out what to do about finding a church home as a family. We’ve explored a variety of options, and we do have a place where we go every Sunday. Nonetheless, we still feel like bystanders. Ever since the Supreme Court decision and the resulting responses from both conservative and progressive churches, we’ve felt as though every possible kind of Christian faith community either hates us or merely tolerates us. There’s nowhere we can go and be ourselves fully. We’ll probably be writing more on that later.

Now that we’ve returned to the blog, what can you expect to see here?

Continuing reflections on celibate vocations, our life experiences as a celibate couple, and related issues…but at a much slower pace than before. We’re still feeling somewhat fragile, and both of us have more life obligations than ever before. Some weeks, you might see multiple blog posts. Other weeks, you might see nothing at all. Occasionally, we might need a month-long mini-break. Feel free to look through our old material if we haven’t posted recently. All of it is still available.

The bottom line is, we’re happy to be back and to have all of you on this journey with us as we continue to explore our queer callings individually and as a couple. Hugs and blessings to all of you. We’re glad you’re here.

Also, we’ve updated our FAQ. Check it out here.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

The Bread of Fellowship at #GCNConf

Practicing real hospitality in the midst of extreme differences can be hard. What does it mean to make another person feel truly welcome when their needs are seemingly at odds with yours? This question drives the ethos of the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference. How can we welcome all who want to be present, inviting each and every person to be challenged by God’s radical and unrelenting hospitality while simultaneously creating a safe space for all to feel loved and accepted? It is a high call. And as conference veterans, it’s a call we embrace as a part of our own call to hospitality.

One of the hardest places to practice real hospitality is the Communion table. Real hospitality requires that people consider the needs, desires, and convictions of others, taking special notice of irreconcilable matters of conscience. Various Christian traditions have developed diverse views of what happens during Communion, who can partake of Communion, and what Communion means. Moreover, each individual Christian is always encouraged to examine their conscience before taking Communion in order to decide how they want to respond when a particular opportunity to receive is available. There are so many reasons why a person would make a choice to abstain from receiving Communion. The choice to receive Communion can only be a free choice if the choice to abstain is also available.

Towards that end, the two of us have sought to create an option for GCN Conference attendees where people who come to the worship service that takes place during the closing session have the option to receive something other than blessed Eucharistic elements. This is the Bread of Fellowship. We started this tradition at GCN Conference 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona as a way to help conference attendees from closed-communion denominations, non-Christian attendees, and others who are not comfortable receiving Communion to feel more welcome. But this is not a tradition we made up on our own: we got the idea from the Eastern Christian practice of setting aside a basket of unconsecrated bread that can be shared by any or all in attendance at the liturgy. This unconsecrated bread is called antidoron. In Eastern Christian practice, the bread that is consecrated is cut from a larger loaf. The unconsecrated leftovers from this larger loaf become the antidoron, which is often linked to the Gospel stories where Christ feeds the multitude and the disciples fill baskets with what is remaining. We loved the idea of the Bread of Fellowship being something that could feed all, even when matters of conscience prevented people from receiving Communion.

At this year’s GCN Conference in Houston, the Bread of Fellowship was offered and blessed with the following prayer:

Living God, source of light,
hope of nations, friend of all,
builder of the city that is to come:
your love is made visible in Jesus Christ,
you bring home the lost, heal the broken,
and give dignity to the despised.
You gather us together, feeding and nourishing us.
In the face of Jesus Christ
we see your light shining out,
flooding lives with goodness and truth,
gathering into one a divided and broken humanity,
with people from every race and nation,
with the Church of all the ages.
Bless this bread, and unite us in fellowship.
Strengthen and preserve us in community with one another.
May all find welcome at this Table of Fellowship.

It is our prayer that God continues to bless everyone who has ever gathered at a Gay Christian Network and guides each and every person where they can hear the heartfelt words of, “You are welcome at this table of fellowship.”

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Gifts from Catholicism

A reflection by Sarah

Earlier this week, Lindsey wrote a post titled “Gifts from Orthodoxy.” It covered a sampling of spiritual and theological treasures that Lindsey came to love while in the Orthodox Church, and so much of it resonated with me. Every item that Lindsey named is an aspect of my time in Orthodoxy that I will always treasure. As I have made my return to the Catholic Church, I’ve been thinking about all the gifts that Catholicism has given me over the years. In today’s post, I’d like to reflect on some of those in no particular order.

Throughout the past week, several readers have been asking me why I chose to return to the Catholic Church. The most common question has been, “Why would you return to a tradition that is unlikely to be more supportive of your calling to celibate partnership with Lindsey?” I don’t agree with the premise of that question, primarily because of what I would consider support for my calling. If there is anything I have learned from my years of experience interacting with other Catholics, it is that we share a common commitment to helping each other during difficult times. Our Church has an extensive social teaching that spans a variety of life-in-the-world issues. We care about whether people are able to meet their basic needs. Though we hold diverse opinions about the best way to resolve the problem of ever-rising healthcare costs, we agree that when human beings are not able to receive healthcare without going bankrupt that is indeed a problem. If any kind of life situation places someone’s healthcare access or other basic needs in jeopardy, it is not difficult to find a Catholic priest (or brother, nun, or layperson for that matter) who is willing to help that person find solutions for meeting those needs. The Catholic faith teaches us that we are to stand in solidarity with all who suffer, and that we are to do what is possible to relieve the suffering of others. The bottom line is, we care for one another. And I consider that the most meaningful form of support for any person’s calling.

Speaking of callings, another gift from Catholicism that I cannot speak of highly enough is openness to certain variety within Christian vocation. We recognize marriage and religious life, but also a variety of pathways that are neither. Lay Catholics can commit their lives to secular institutes and other movements within the Church. Certain Catholic women choose to become consecrated virgins living in the world. Then, there’s the general category of “vocation to single life in the world” that has not yet been discussed thoroughly by the Church, but holds so much possibility for people who are called to give of themselves in a way that is different from both marriage and religious life. The idea of vocation outside of marriage and monasticism is not foreign to Catholicism. I’m eager to see how the idea of vocation for unmarried laypeople will continue to develop. Certainly those conversations will not be swift or easy, but they are important as more and more people remain single.

The ability to engage in these kinds of difficult conversations is a third gift I have received from Catholicism. Though scholasticism arose within the context of the western Christian tradition and I am quite fond of the eastern approach that is less academic, my time away from the Catholic Church has led me to value more highly the theological and philosophical approaches of the West. One disadvantage of the western approach is that western Christianity can appear more argumentative and less unified. But it’s impossible to ignore the advantages of engaging in reasoned conversation about hundreds of different life-in-the-world issues. The core truths of the faith will never change, but how we apply those to life may look slightly different as the world changes. Being part of a Church that values both tradition and continued learning from many academic disciplines is an incredible gift. Engaging deeply in the hard discussions is one of the most spiritually and intellectually rewarding aspects of being Catholic.

As someone who feels a deep connection to the spiritualities of both East and West, I consider the Church’s worldwide presence another of the greatest gifts Catholicism has given me. Most Latin rite Catholics I know will say this and follow it up with, “No matter where you go in the world, even if you don’t know the language, we can follow the Mass because it is always the same.” Fair enough. That’s true to an extent when one is speaking within the context of a particular rite. But it’s not what I’m talking about here. I am thankful for the presence of 24 autonomous particular Catholic Churches throughout the world, 23 of which are Eastern Churches that offer Divine Liturgy rather than Latin rite Mass. Some of these were formerly Orthodox, but others — the Maronite Catholic Church, Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, and Syro-Malabar Catholic Church — have always (or almost always) been in communion with Rome. The Maronites gave me my first experience with Eastern Catholicism, and I am grateful for every opportunity I had to learn from them when I lived in a different city. As a Latin rite Catholic who has returned to Catholicism from Orthodoxy, at present I find myself struggling to integrate what I love most about the western tradition with my most beloved aspects of eastern Christian spirituality. But on the bright side: I don’t have to attend services only within the Latin rite or only within an eastern rite. If it seems fitting, I can celebrate Advent within a Latin rite parish where English is the liturgical language, visit the Ukrainian Catholic parish down the street for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, see a deaf priest for confessions in American Sign Language, and go to vespers with the Maronites even though I can’t lip read Syriac. There is plentiful room in Catholicism for the spiritual treasures of both East and West.

I’m probably stating the obvious here when I say that these are not the only parts of Catholicism that I consider to be gifts. I love the way we do confession in the Catholic Church. There’s just something the immediate outpouring of grace that gets me every time. I can’t think of any place I would rather spend a lazy Friday afternoon than in a Eucharistic adoration chapel hanging out with Jesus, then attending a daily mass. The rosary, particularly praying the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesdays…no other prayer practice I have ever attempted has succeeded so thoroughly at getting my racing mind to slow down. And I have quite an emotional soft spot for the May Crowning ceremonies and First Communion Sundays that come in springtime.

I could continue naming gifts indefinitely, but getting to the point: when I left Catholicism for Orthodoxy, I was not running away from the difficult parts of being Catholic. I was not abandoning one Christian tradition for a different one that I thought would be utopia. I had my eyes open as widely as I could have at the time, and I made the decision that I had thought was best, going where I had thought God was leading. I may never know why God leads me in a particular direction. All I can do is listen and follow as best I’m able. But I believe that when transitioning from one Christian tradition into another (or back into another after having left previously), it is important to be running toward something rather than away from something. That is what I’m doing now. Catholics are no more sinless and no less judgmental than Orthodox Christians, and though some of our readers may be confused as to why I’m returning to Catholicism instead of looking for another Christian tradition, I do not find this matter confusing at all. My return to Catholicism is not a running away from problems in the Orthodox Church. Instead, it is my running back toward all of Catholicism’s gifts — these and so many more.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

“If you’re gay and celibate, why tell others?”

One of the most common questions we get on the blog and in person is, “Why do you tell everyone that you’re gay and celibate?” Usually, this question comes just before a number of assertions about why we shouldn’t share this information with others: “It’s nobody’s business. Nobody needs to know about your sex life or your sins. There’s no good reason to tell other people. It only causes confusion for them. Best to keep this information between you and your confessor.” Today, we will address this question along with some of the assumptions behind it.

First, it’s important to make clear that in contexts other than the blog, we don’t mention to many people that we are LGBTQ and celibate. And we have never brought this matter up within the context of parishes we’ve belonged to except at the level of priests and closest individual friendships. But that really doesn’t matter because most of the time, people take one look at Lindsey and identify us as an LGBTQ couple right away. As we’ve mentioned before, we were once members of a parish where the other parishioners had met Sarah for a few weeks first, and there was no problem until Lindsey started coming to church with Sarah. At that point, the gossip mill started and families were asking the parish priest if we were a couple. Neither of us had said or done anything to give the people of this parish any particular impression about our relationship to each other. There have also been instances when we have been involved in a parish and a member has asked us, “Are you sisters?” We answer honestly, “No.” Yet people infer from the brevity of our response that we are a couple. It seems there’s little we could do to avoid members of churches from figuring out that Lindsey and Sarah share life together as a pair.

But moving on from that, we offer you some items to think about next time you find yourself wondering why any two people would share with others that they are a celibate LGBTQ couple. We are committed to being open about our story for the following reasons:

We share our story with others because the Christian life is lived in community. We aren’t meant to go through life sharing everything exclusively with a confessor. Fostering Christian community means being vulnerable with others. It means sharing difficult information with our brothers and sisters and being willing to listen when they share difficult information with us. Spirituality and pastoral sensitivity are not limited to times when one needs to confess sins to a priest. If we are to love one another as Jesus asks of us, we ought to be able to extend grace and kindness to other members of our faith communities no matter what their stories are. If a woman at coffee hour shares with you even half-jokingly that she’s struggling with gluttony, are you going to admonish her to keep that sort of sin in confession and out of the public eye? Probably not. So why insist that issues related to sexual morality cannot ever be shared publicly by an individual?

We share our story with others because community happens when we share about differences as well as similarities. Yes, our shared faith in Christ is what unites us. Yes, members of any Christian church hold to a set of common beliefs no matter how long or short that list may be. But learning about our differences and how those impact our daily lives in the world helps all of us to grow. A white woman does not have the same experience of life as a black man. A plumber does not have the same experience of life as a college professor. A deaf person does not have the same experience of life as a hearing person. A lesbian does not have the same experience of life as a straight woman. Difference matters whether we want it to or not. It is part of life incarnate, and it impacts how we understand every situation we face. Confusion is not always bad. Dissonance pushes us to reconsider ways of life that we did not understand previously.  It seems absurd to us that people in churches should be permitted to speak only of our similarities.

We share our story with others because saying, “I’m a celibate LGBTQ person” is not the same as saying, “I struggle with the sin of lust.” In conservative churches, there exists a hugely problematic misunderstanding about what it means to be LGBTQ and what it means to be celibate. People who describe themselves using LGBTQ language have many different understandings of that language. Contrary to popular belief, it is not reasonable to assume that people who use this language have engaged in any kind of sexual immorality. It is also not reasonable to assume that the added phrase, “…and I’m celibate” means, “I am engaged in a spiritual battle against my body that tells me I should be having gay sex.” Some celibate people experience sexual temptation in various degrees, and others do not. Insisting that a person frame the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity solely within the language of “struggle” is assigning a sin to that person when no sin (or temptation to sin) may be present.

We share our story with others because there is a common struggle that most celibate LGBTQ people face: profound loneliness and fear. We are not the only celibate LGBTQ people who exist. We are not the only celibate LGBTQ couple that exists. You probably have celibate LGBTQ people in your own parish whether you are aware of it or not. To be an LGBTQ Christian is to be hated and victimized by many people who call themselves Christians. Add celibacy into the mix, and in comes hate and victimization from some non-celibate members of the LGBTQ community. Being a celibate LGBTQ person is incredibly isolating, even if you are one half of a partnership. With great regularity, it involves feeling as though no one in your faith community understands your experience of life…and fearing that if they did find out more about your life they would hate you for your sexual orientation/gender identity, your celibacy, or both. Because our society has made an idol of marriage, being a celibate LGBTQ person can feel especially lonely when people ask questions such as, “Isn’t it time you settled down and found a husband?” Even seeing young families with children at church can bring up painful longing for what will never be. But as we have been blogging, so many people have come our way to say, “I didn’t think anyone else lived this way. It’s nice not to feel so alone anymore.” If we can help even one person just by saying, “Us too,” then sharing our story has been worth all the hardship it sometimes brings.

We share our story with other people because that is what transforms isolated individuals into a community. We are always happy to listen to other people’s stories. Whether a person is 2 years old, 100 years old, or any age in between, we value that person’s story. Building Christian community is hard work, and we do our part in sharing because we are committed to that process.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.