The Want to Be Wanted

A reflection by Sarah

This afternoon, thousands of women and allies are marching just a few miles away from me. I might have been marching with them. Instead I chose to stay in our apartment, read stories, educate myself, and open our home to local friends and out-of-town demonstrators in need of a respite. I offer my love and prayers to all who are participating, but I could not in good conscience attend another demonstration that does not accept and welcome people for their whole selves. As a white woman, I felt that my presence at this event would send the message that I support white-dominated activism that expects women of color to minimize their specific concerns and experiences for the sake of unity. I had already made this decision before the event also opted to exclude women with more conservative views on abortion, although some decided to march anyway.

On another day, I’d like to write more on the troubling trends I’ve noticed in American progressivism of recent years – specifically, the refusal to listen to anyone whose story deviates in any manner from white, upper middle class, educated, able-bodied progressive norms. But right now I’m thinking less about those who refuse to listen and more about those who spend their lives wanting to be wanted. How often are you the person who is closed off to dialogue? Or the one who just wants to belong? I’m finding that I spend considerable amounts of time on both sides of that fence.

Most of us cling tightly to our identity markers and strongly resist any possible threat to our stories. White women take offense when women of color point out that our activism isn’t as inclusive as we sometimes think it is. People on both sides of the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate fear that if we give the other side an inch, their ways of life will wipe out our ways of life. Many LGBTQ people who are married to same-sex partners feel threatened at the mention of celibacy or celibate partnership. Many disabled people feel that our stories are overridden by the stories of caregivers who try to speak for us. And so on, and so on ad nauseum…

We urge people to come together for the sake of unity on all kinds of issues, then take offense when discovering that someone with a different experience than the majority has shown up. Not long ago, I was in a large group situation with many LGBTQ people and allies. Some in attendance didn’t realize that celibates with a traditional sexual ethic would have a vocal presence in that situation, and one person who was unhappy about this expressed that everyone should have been warned in advance. This wasn’t my first time being told that people like me ought to come with a warning label. It wasn’t in a church exactly, but Lindsey and I have gotten the same message in almost every church community we’ve ever been part of together. At this point, we tell every priest and pastor about our celibate partnership upfront just so we don’t have to wait for the eventual, “You should have warned me that you’re gay so I could’ve thought about how to handle concerns.” Or in more progressive churches, “You should have warned me that you’re celibate in case that makes other people feel unsafe.”

So many of us come into churches and other community spaces with a very simple desire: to be wanted. At times, the want to be wanted burns so severely within me that the pain is almost unmanageable. I don’t need anyone to affirm my relationship or way or life. I have no need to convert others to my way of thinking: it is Christ who changes hearts, including mine. I don’t want false assurance that the broken and sinful parts of me aren’t actually broken and sinful. What I want is to be wanted. I want to be part of something larger than myself where people of all walks of life are welcome and respected. I want to be in a place where differences in belief are discussed with civility and no one has to worry that being authentic means failing some arbitrary conservative or progressive litmus test. I want to be part of a world where my life choices aren’t used as weapons against other people. I want us to stop wasting time painting each other into corners where disagreeing lovingly is impossible. I want you to love me in all my wholeness and all my brokenness, and I want to learn how to do the same for you.

I’ve spent most of my day educating myself on the concerns of women who felt excluded from the march I did not attend. But I have to admit that all the while, I’ve wondered how welcome I’d have been at such an event, especially if my full identity had been known to others there. I share the majority’s white privilege. But I am also an intentionally celibate, partnered lesbian who strives to live fully into the teachings of the Catholic faith. I am late-deafened and part of the disabled community, and I grew up in a high-poverty rural area with rampant unemployment and drug abuse. I’m weary of puzzling over which parts of me will be welcomed and which will be further marginalized every time I enter a space that claims to be all about social justice. And I’m equally weary of performing the same mental calculus when environments that welcome me are not as welcoming to people who are different from me. The want to be wanted comprises every aspect of self. It’s the desire to be seen, heard, welcomed, and known. As I’ve reflected on my own experience, I wonder if anyone truly feels wanted or if that happens only in the eschaton where the lion and lamb lie down together in peace.

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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.