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.

Gifts from Orthodoxy

A reflection by Lindsey

My previous post has generated a lot of conversation. I’ve learned about a lot of these conversations second- and third-hand, but I would like to offer some clarifications.

I am not abandoning the spirituality I found in the Orthodox Church. It’s hard to say that I have left when I have yet to find an alternate place to go. I remember having an in-between season after I realized that I no longer believed in the efficacy of sola Scriptura. I knew I couldn’t continue to be a Protestant, but I didn’t know where that conclusion would take me. On a theological level, nothing in particular has changed for me. I did my best to bring everything I could from my past as an Evangelical Protestant with me when I became Orthodox. I’ve received many gifts from the Orthodox tradition that I intend on keeping with me permanently, but I don’t know where I’ll be able to settle. I wasn’t looking to leave the Orthodox Church, but things have happened where I don’t see a way to stay.

I am profoundly grateful to the Orthodox tradition for giving me many gifts. I first started seeking Christ in the Orthodox Church in 2008, and my journey in Orthodoxy has had lasting effects on my spirituality. I am profoundly and eternally grateful to the Orthodox tradition. I have done my best to cling to what is good, and I will maintain forever that the Orthodox Tradition can be a wellspring of life.

The Orthodox Church taught me about how prayer shapes beliefs. Within the context of the Orthodox Church, I learned the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi. I loved the services of the church. Chanting the service made it so much easier for me to remember and reflect on various parts of the service during the rest of the week. I experienced the services of the Orthodox Church as a kind of atlas to the rest of Scriptures. If I had a question like, “What do the Scriptures say about the Mother of God?” I would look at all of the readings associated with feasts dedicated to Mary. I had never considered that the Burning Bush or Jacob’s Ladder were intended to point towards Christ Himself. Interpreting the Bible using typology literally blew my mind wide open so many times. Reading the marriage service of the Orthodox Church, and investigating all of the Scriptures referenced by this service to the best of my ability, gave me a profound vantage point to see that true Christian marriage is exceptionally rare and spurred me on towards redoubling my prayers for all married people I knew. It seemed to me that the Orthodox tradition supported the life of people married in the Church in countless ways, while also providing pastorally for people with failed marriages.

The Orthodox Church also challenged my understandings of pastoral care. Many discussions I had with people about sensitive pastoral matters included references to oikonomia. I understood oikonomia as trying to balance the principles of truth and mercy. Too much strictness could crush a person; too much laxness could stunt a person’s spiritual growth. Exercising oikonomia rightly is a fearsome task, with the burden falling almost entirely on priests providing spiritual care. I prayed, and prayed and prayed some more, for priests. I adopted the practice of praying for specific priests I knew while also praying for any other priest who bore the same name. Praying for all priests named Gregory or John asks that God guides a ton of people. I did my best to seek confessors with whom I could share my life, my heart, my journey, and my questions. I discussed particular matters with my closest friends, allowing them to call me out when something simply was not bearing good fruit in my life.

The Orthodox Church opened to me a deeper understanding of celibacy. My spiritual journey is a bit complicated, but before becoming Orthodox, I had an extremely limited understanding of celibacy. I thought it was a Catholic thing that nuns and priests did. I knew that there were male religious orders in the Catholic Church, but I tended to view them as a way of forming men who were eventually going to become priests. In the context of the Orthodox Church, I met many female and male monastics living in a range of situations. I saw monastic families in action when I visited small communities housing between 6 and 12 nuns. I recognized possibilities for celibate people living in the world when I met monastics who were attached to a local parish while working in the community. I learned about how monastics shared life together, especially as it relates to dimensions of caregiving and the daily routines of doing life. Being encouraged by an abbess of an Orthodox monastery to do my best to put the monastic life into practice as much as I could was instrumental in helping me define celibacy. Orthodoxy introduced me to the concept of skete monasticism, where sketes tend to be small communities of 2 or 3 celibate people committed to sharing life together.

I am incredibly grateful to people who opened up diverse spiritual truths to me while I was in the Orthodox Church. One of my favorite priests was known for encouraging people with “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” I believe that God’s grace can reach each and every person striving to follow Christ to the best of their ability. One of my favorite icons in the Church is St John Climacus and the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Everyone on the ladder has their eyes fixed on Christ, and I like to think that Christ will reach much further down the ladder than we will ever succeed at climbing. The parable of the Prodigal Son convinces me that the Father will run towards his children who want to find His house.

The Orthodox Church challenged me to think sacramentally. What did it mean that God found it fit to dwell within our humble offerings of water, oil, bread, and wine? How could we offer God our hearts in addition to the work of our hands? My sense of spirituality has been forever changed by the idea that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ where He desires to unite His flesh with ours. I never want to regard participating in this mystery as an automatically conferred right, and I do not want to be a person who willfully neglects the teachings of the bishop responsible for overseeing the life of the church. I have deep and profound respect for the way various archdioceses of the Orthodox Church work together to teach people about Orthodoxy, especially as it relates to the canonical situation found in the Orthodox Church in the United States. I have always found the idea that an Orthodox Christian separated from communing in one archdiocese can go to another archdiocese exceptionally problematic, even though I have understood that people need to respect the particular communion discipline of the place where they are communing.

I started attending the Orthodox Church in 2008. I came into the church knowing full well that the Orthodox Church could never bless same-sex marriages. I spent time as a catechumen studying the marriage service to understand what the church taught about marriage. I read the Scriptures referenced by the marriage service and came to the conclusion that a marriage within the Orthodox Church has four requisite components: a man, a woman, an eternal commitment, and an openness to life. I developed the analogy that marriage is to relationships what the Eucharist is to food. It was possible to affirm many different kinds of relationships as gifts given to us by God, even if these relationships were not treated sacramentally. The Eucharist is real food, but the Orthodox Church also encourages us to bless every morsel of food that comes into our body. I took it as a simple truth that God would give me a vast array of meaningful relationships because I am a human being created in the image of a triune God. I knew full well that I did not have a vocation to marriage. I visited various monastic communities with an attitude of discernment towards a monastic vocation, but it seemed abundantly clear to me and everyone around me that God had plans for me that included living in the world. I threw myself, as best as I could, in the general direction of God’s merciful kindness, hoping that the Church would exercise oikonomia to help me along my way.

Many people in my life have recognized the value in the life I share with Sarah. Clergy intimately aware of my life story and situation have told me, “Sarah is a gift, given to you by God, for your salvation.” I believe this to be abundantly true, especially as we have continued to discern our way of life as a celibate partnership. We’ve cared for each other in times of illness and distress. I have lost count of the number of hours I have spent keeping vigil while Sarah has endured the ravages of Meniere’s disease. We share the same pool of financial resources. We support one another emotionally and spiritually. We have encouraged one another as we have sought to love and serve those we come into contact with in the world around us. We have navigated job loss and career transitions together. I believe earnestly with every fiber in my being that God is calling Sarah towards changing to a career in audiology, and so I am busying myself in an effort to meet the challenges associated with supporting Sarah going to audiology school next fall. My life and future is tied up with what God will call Sarah to do just as Sarah’s life and future is tied up with what God will call me to do. I’ve opted in 100% and I’m eager to see what God has for us. I can’t look at the life I share with Sarah without seeing how God has challenged me to grow towards Christ. We remain resolutely committed to celibacy, even though we don’t see any clear legal pathways forward. A friend recently suggested that we might consider moving to Canada where domestic partnerships still exist and universal health care coverage is a thing. I am a bit ashamed to admit how seriously I have considered exploring this option, especially because I know American Sign Language is used in Canada.

When I read a sentence like “The Orthodox Church cannot and will not condone or bless ‘same-sex unions’ of any degree” I am left feeling like the Church has changed the goal posts. I respect the teaching authority of the bishops to draw the lines however they see fit, but in my heart I don’t see any space within the Orthodox Church left for a person in my situation. I did not go seeking out this statement from the Antiochian Archdiocese. I only read it because a friend praised it for its clarity and compassion. I thought that perhaps the Church gathered at the convention had authored a statement which maintained the delicate balance between truth and mercy. But as I read the statement, I came to an unshakable opinion that American Orthodox Christians had built a wall of truth around the Church where I found myself outside of its limits. I tested that opinion by seeking guidance from my confessor and my parish priest. I understood why they were reluctant to comment on the statement because neither of them are priests in the Antiochian Archdiocese. So I sought clarification from people I know who were likely to have attended the convention. It’s also worth stating that there are bishops within that archdiocese who had known of Sarah’s and my situation. The best critique I had of the statement was that “It seems like it’s clumsily worded, but they are simply reiterating what the Church has always taught.” However, another member of the clergy told me that I had interpreted the statement correctly, and it is binding for the entire Orthodox Church regardless of which jurisdiction authored the statement. When even members of the clergy have such differing interpretations of this statement, it should be no surprise that people like Sarah and me feel caught in the middle of an impossible situation.

I’ve always considered the Orthodox Church to be like a house celebrating Christmas. There is a roaring fire in the fireplace and a well-lit tree. I considered myself extremely fortunate to be able to be inside, joining in the celebrations to the best of my ability. I’ve never been the keeper of the house, and I never expected to be asked for my opinion if remodeling was necessary. I do know that I was doing my best to stand in identically one spot, but unfortunately all I can see now is that wall. When I look up, I don’t see a roof over my head. But it’s Christmas time, which means that it’s winter. It strikes me as unwise to try to drill through a brick wall of what the Church has always taught. So I’m out trying to enjoy the snow and hoping that God, in His mercy, provides me with shelter soon.

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.

In which I make my return to Catholicism

A reflection by Sarah

Yesterday, Lindsey shared with our readers a difficult and painful decision that the two of us have reached after an extended period of prayer and discernment. As much as both of us love the Orthodox Church, we reached a point both individually and together of being unable to remain within that particular Christian tradition. We bear no ill will toward Orthodoxy or its people, and I certainly don’t intend to bash the Orthodox faith in this post. But I will say that as an individual, I could not continue in good conscience to be part of the Orthodox Church. There are many reasons for this, and most of them hinge on the fact that the spirituality I practiced as an Orthodox Christian was breaking me, and I was not able to find a viable path into a better way of life using the resources of the tradition.

The purpose of this post is not to offer an explanation for my leaving Orthodoxy, but I would like to offer some clarifications relative to issues that arose after we published Lindsey’s post yesterday:

Lindsey and I are not giving up celibacy. The reality that God has called us both to a celibate way of life is abundantly clear. That simply is not changing. We continue to understand our relationship as a way of life that combines elements of skete monasticism and partnership lived in the world.

We are not leaving Orthodoxy so that we can get a legal marriage, get a religious marriage in a different Christian tradition, or start thinking of our relationship as a marriage. A number of people seem to be under the impression that our plan is to run immediately to the courthouse and get a legally recognized marriage. A few seem to think we are now looking for a more liberal Christian tradition that will marry us. Both of these assumptions are false.

Leaving Orthodoxy does not solve our problem of insufficient legal protections. We have no idea how we are going to sort our legal affairs in the end. It’s a complicated question that has only become more complicated as non-marital forms of union between two people in the United States are going the way of the dodo.

Our story is not a weapon, and we will continue to call out anyone who uses it as such. Let’s be honest: Lindsey’s post yesterday was the post that many of our more liberal readers have been waiting for since the beginning of our blog. We’ve long known that at times, more conservative readers have used our posts to beat their LGBTQ friends over the head with a celibacy frying pan. But as of yesterday, we also have readers proclaiming, “If a celibate couple like Sarah and Lindsey aren’t even welcome in the Church, that definitely means it needs to change its abusive teachings!” Make no mistake, Lindsey and I are not on a smear campaign and are not advocating for doctrinal changes to any Christian tradition. Our story is not fuel for your political fire.

Not long ago, the two of us gave an evening devotional at a retreat with about 30 of our brothers who are also celibate LGBTQ Christians from a variety of traditions. At the end of our talk, we asked those gathered to reflect on what might be next in their lives relative to their faith communities, interpersonal relationships, new callings, and so on. Given our announcement that we are leaving Orthodoxy, I’m sure that many of you are reading and wondering what is next for us. That’s a difficult question, considering how we came to Orthodoxy from very different backgrounds and left for our own individual reasons, but we’re grateful for the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with our readers as we sort the answers.

As for me, less than a week ago I approached a Catholic priest who used to hear my confessions on occasion before I became Orthodox. Though I had intended nothing more than to engage in a conversation about some controversial issues in Catholic ecclesiology, things changed about an hour into our discussion. He told me that I appeared troubled and asked what was on my heart. There was something about the way he said it (or at least what I got from lip reading) that led me to think about a truth I had not considered in a long while: the decision to follow Christ within the context of a particular Christian tradition is as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of the head. And I had known for quite some time that when I took my analytical theological brain with me to Orthodoxy, I left my heart behind in Catholicism. Living in a neighborhood with over 40 Catholic institutions has been a constant reminder of this: one can’t walk more than a few blocks in this area without bumping into a priest, brother, or nun in full habit. As we continued to talk, I found myself forgetting all about my angels-on-pinheads theological misgivings…and before I knew exactly what I was saying, tears filled my eyes and I blurted, “I want to come back!” In a moment of impulsive yet entirely free decision, my theological conversation became a sacramental confession. Soon after, I was welcomed back to the faith where I had first experienced a meaningful relationship with Christ. And for the first time in a very long while, I felt like a free woman.

I didn’t return to Catholicism because I see the Catholic faith as easy, or because I believe that I can do it well after doing Orthodoxy so poorly. When I look back on my faith journey so far, I can say with confidence that I have spent more years of my life being a bad Catholic than a good Catholic. Read this post if you don’t believe me. I have not yet sorted all of the theological issues where I find myself far more in agreement with the approaches of the East than the approaches of the West, and I expect there will be frequent occasions when I attend a Roman Catholic Mass or Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy and abstain from the Eucharist. But I see no problem in taking that approach because Christianity is not supposed to be easy, and the Church does not give up on her children when they find themselves in situations where reasoned argumentation and the internal spiritual experience aren’t matching.

I can be Catholic without being perfect. I can be Catholic without engaging in obsessively legalistic thinking about my faith. I can be Catholic while sitting in the tension as other Catholics disagree with my way of life and the bishops try to sort out what kinds of non-marital legal protections they can support for people in my situation. I can be Catholic while viewing my deafness positively, even attending deaf parishes and receiving spiritual direction and confession from deaf priests. To be Catholic is to be part of a worldwide family that is as dysfunctional as it is delightful. It means participating in the tough conversations as much as it means being obedient. And at the end of the day, I’m grateful and relieved to be home.

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.

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

A reflection by Lindsey

I’m sorry it’s taking a bit for Sarah and me to get back in the writing saddle. I’ve been working on some major projects that demand a lot of my attention. I’m not exceptionally good at writing for public consumption, but I try.

I feel an overwhelming sense of relief that Sarah’s health has stabilized considerably after this summer’s surgeries, and I’ve been trying to reclaim space for my own self-care. In some ways, this season feels like a strategic initiative to get my life back. When I started feeling the strain of increasing caregiving demands, it was easy for me to put my professional projects and personal health on the back burner. Over the past three weeks, I’ve connected with some old friends from high school online trying to develop some healthy eating and exercise habits. Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I experienced friendship and community in high school.

In some ways, my experience isn’t that unique. I was an awkward nerd who was always willing to help out in the science lab and would help other students with their math. But also I was terrified of being known by other people. I struggled to feel like I fit anywhere. I always felt like I was trying to fit into an existing set of expectations. Years ago when I took the Myers-Briggs inventory with fellow summer camp staff, I felt obligated to answer the questions such that I appeared to be well-suited to working at summer camp. Questions like “Do you like being at the center of attention in a party?” felt loaded where the only right answer was “Yes.” It didn’t matter where I was. I knew that other people had an opinion about who I should be, and I did my best to check all of the right boxes. This approach worked out okay when I was playing my part, but it actively got in the way of building friendships. After all, I was constantly swapping out masks. I didn’t know how to be myself.

I started to fear friendships. I thought that revealing anything about my true self would spell certain death. My throat would tighten before any big reveal. I constantly wondered, “How much longer will this friend put up with me? Is this going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?” I met my best friend in high school working at camp together. We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years. We have had hundreds of conversations where I was honestly prepared to hear, “I think it would be best if you didn’t contact me again.” About 5 years ago, I clued into the fact that my friend was always going to be my friend. But it took 15 years of consistently good outcomes when I took the risk of opening up about my life to come to a place of being able to trust her. Incidentally, once I finally crossed the threshold of being able to trust my friend in my heart, it became so much easier to risk friendships with other people.

Friendships are the stuff that intimacy is made of. You can’t have intimacy if it’s not safe to share yourself vulnerably. Letting yourself be known as you are right now is a risky endeavor. I never quite expected middle school students to be able to get it right. After all, everyone in middle school is actively trying to figure themselves out. However, the Church ought to be the place that models friendship, intimacy, risk, care, community, and relationships. After all, the Church exists because Christ Himself has come to dwell in our midst. He took on our flesh, He lived a human life, and He subjected Himself willingly to every limitation associated with being human. Christ’s willingness to identify Himself with our humanity makes Christianity possible.

But, instead, I find myself wondering how many people attend churches where they’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It doesn’t take much as a Christian who is somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum to feel like you’re inches away from being excluded. I’ve spent the better part of 3 years almost afraid to breathe in the Orthodox Church lest the expansion of my chest cause me to go outside of the boundaries of what is permissible. The lumps rise in my throat, and I have no idea who I can actually talk to about what’s going on for me. Counsel of “You shouldn’t let it get to you” only gets one so far. Incidentally, it also suggests that my anxieties are exclusively my problem.

This summer, I kept vigil beside Sarah’s ICU bed for 13 days. I was working two jobs to try to keep everything together financially. We’re still getting notices from our insurance company as they process the claims. I don’t know the exact tally right now, but Sarah told me that it’s summed up to over a million dollars of medical care. It’s still climbing. The only reason why I can breathe at all is that I know we have fantastic health insurance… simply because my now-former employer was generous with extending benefits to domestic partners of employees. If I remember the dates rightly, I had picked Sarah up from the hospital on July 31. I went to pick up our dog from boarding on August 1. I successfully fought to be able to resume my PhD dissertation on August 21. I took the risk of releasing air from my lungs and began to dream again about what God would call Sarah and me to do together given an exceptionally positive surgical outcome.

And, then on August 27 or 28, I honestly don’t remember which, I read the words “the Orthodox Church cannot and will not condone or bless ‘same-sex unions’ of any degree.” That last phrase if huge: of any degree. And no matter how much others have tried to tell me that the statement in question is not talking about people in my situation, I can’t believe that. The other shoe finally dropped, and I couldn’t see a way to continue communing in good conscience. The conscience is a tricky thing. It belongs to us, and only we know what will give us comfort.

As I read those words, my head started reeling back to every single conversation I’ve ever had with an Orthodox Christian about trying to find my way in the church as an LGBTQ person. I felt the crashing feeling that I’ve been trying to sort so many of these questions alone. A person’s spiritual father can be a great resource, but I didn’t start following Jesus because I wanted only one friend to walk alongside of me as I did so. The services of the church are great, but I believe that prayer lives in the hearts of people who commit their lives to following Christ. I have never doubted the need for patient discernment during different and challenging circumstances. But the engineer in me says, “Let’s join forces and come up with a solution.” And really, I started following Jesus in large part because I believe that if we’re going to have any hope of stemming widespread injustice in our world, we’re going to need to carry the light of Christ courageously into every darkness.

The only thing I could see bringing comfort and consolation was a community of people who could affirm God’s love for me, see Christ’s work in my life, and step up to the plate to try to clear a pathway forward. I realized that I personally had a way of seeing the tradition through Christ-centered glasses, and maybe that approach to Orthodoxy wasn’t nearly as common as I had thought, believed, and hoped it could be. I love the Orthodox Church, but I reached a point of questioning if I could really thrive in a place where I felt the only way forward involved silently imploring priests and bishops to simply overlook my way of life. I need to be able to breathe without fear while risking connections in community. I’m a person who finds community by actively trying to do things together; it doesn’t make sense to try to go to war with my own temperament.

The simple truth of the matter is that I want, and I need, the joy that comes by pursuing Jesus in the company of friends. I want, and I need, to devote myself wholly to living out my vocation to see if God will allow bits of His kingdom to be manifest on earth. I want, and I need, to know that God says, “I know you, and I have formed you. There is no need for you to wear a mask when you are around me.” I want, and I need, to be a part of the Body of Christ that hears the cries of people suffering injustices and responds. I had so desperately wanted to see the Orthodox Church living out the fullness of evangelical zeal. I think there are some Orthodox parishes that manage to do this well, but I also think that it’s extremely unlikely that Orthodox bishops will consider it a priority to advocate for justice on issues that disproportionally affect LGBTQ people. It’s also not simply about me and issues that impact my life directly. It’s easier to have hope when those around you are trying to be a force for good. It’s easier to have faith when communities stir up each other on towards love and good works. And I believe that it’s often easier to love when you’re not first concerned with verifying that those gathered with you first pass an ideological purity test.

I took a lot of time discerning how to enter the Orthodox Church. I certainly know what would need to transpire to separate myself absolutely from the broader communion, and I do know how to walk back through the door should I decide that’s necessary. But I want, and I need, to be in a place where I’m not afraid to be known by Christ and the people gathered in community. I want, and I need, to be somewhere that I don’t feel like I’m absolutely on the edge of falling off into the abyss. I want, and I need, to be surrounded with people who will help me discern how to bloom where I’m planted. And so, I’m out. I’m out on an adventure, trusting that Christ has His ways of finding me. I’m out exploring while not knowing exactly where I’ll wind up again.  I’m out searching in the highways and byways because sometimes we best find Christ when we look on the margins. I’m out seeking Christ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year… or at least that’s what I want to try. As I see it, the other shoe has dropped where the only way to appease my conscience is to put my shoes on and start walking.

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