The Hardest Question

A reflection by Lindsey

We’ve been at this blog for a while, and a lot of people send us questions. I’m a person who freezes when faced with an uncomfortable question as much as I want to be a person who lives out a vocation categorized by radical hospitality and vulnerability. I believe that every person is invited into a vocation of manifesting God’s kingdom in the world. As an Orthodox Christian, I rejoice to be a part of a church where I can see people from seemingly every tribe, tongue, and nation coming together during weekly liturgies. I am amazed during services like Agape Vespers and Pentecost when people proclaim the Gospel in their native languages. I love how the Orthodox Church maintains that there is only one liturgy where sometimes I’ve seen four generations of people approaching the chalice together. There is something inspiring and amazing about watching an infant carried to the cup in the arms of his or her great-grandparent. In the Orthodox Church, I’ve seen arguably the clearest picture of what it means to be united into one faith. I love the Orthodox tradition, and I’ve come to rejoice in being a child of the Church. However, even standing in full appreciation of everything I’ve learned as an Orthodox Christian, one question that we get frequently as we blog stops me in my tracks.

How has your Christian tradition supported and encouraged you as you live out your vocation?

I’ve avoided answering this question for quite some time because, when I answer it honestly, the answer is “We haven’t received much support when it comes to living out our vocation.”

Like Sarah, I’m a convert to Orthodoxy. My journey to Orthodoxy started in 2007. By that point, I had already discerned that I am not called to biological parenting so I was eagerly exploring celibate ways of life. Additionally, I also knew that I was somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum regarding how I experienced my sexuality and gender identity. Somewhat ironically, my first serious invitation to explore the Orthodox tradition came from a person I met through the Gay Christian Network. I wasn’t a stranger to the challenges associated with being a LGBTQ Christian, and I investigated how the Orthodox tradition approached walking with LGBTQ folks. The resources were incredibly scant. One could argue that the most thorough discussion on the topic is the late Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections. All along the way, I received assurance that the Orthodox Church approached these matters pastorally.

Pastorally can be a tricky word in the Orthodox tradition. In its ideal form, pastoral matters are worked out by talking with a priest you consider your spiritual father who knows you and your situation intimately well. Additionally, it is hard to experience pastoral care before one is received fully into the tradition because receiving pastoral care is connected to participating in the sacraments. In the Orthodox Church as found in the United States, it is common to discuss pastoral matters of spiritual direction in the context of sacramental confession. While the structure has definite perks, it also comes with a serious drawback that one’s priest is already thinking in terms of sin and repentance when approached with questions about vocation. One can’t assume that one’s local parish priest will be able to serve as a good confessor, even for rather routine discussions of sin and repentance. Many Orthodox Christians have shared with me about their challenges of finding a good confessor. It’s not terribly uncommon to drive an hour or more to meet with one’s confessor. Furthermore, a parish priest might not be the best person to talk with about the particulars of one’s vocation. Through a series of fits and starts, many priests started to recommend that I talk with monastics about how to live a celibate life.

I love meeting monastics. It can be amazing to witness the diversity of monastic life. I’ve had the privilege of meeting monastics living in three countries–the United States, the United Kingdom, and Romania. I’ve met monastics living in small communities of five to twelve monastics, in large communities of as many as 500 monastics, in sketes where two monastics live together, and living alone while attached to a parish. Over the years, my heart has done backflips of joy as I’ve seen yet another celibate way of living out faith. I’ve devoured works like Letters to a Beginner by Abbess Thaisia, Encounter by Metropolitian Anthony Bloom, and collected essays by Mother Maria of Paris. I have been inspired by monastics, living and reposed. I want to see celibate ways of life flourish as I believe the Church needs both married and celibate vocations to thrive.

The challenge is finding support to live out a celibate vocation in an American context dedicated to defending marriage. I’d go so far to say that marriage is not the problem but that homophobia and concerns about keeping up appearances are. The dominant reaction I have experienced in trying to explore what celibacy looks like in my life has been cautioning about sin. I’ve been consistently discouraged from using LGBTQ language even in the context of private conversations with people I trust. I have been encouraged to avoid cultivating close relationships lest I cause scandal. In a word, these reactions are confusing. I’m not talking about skete monasticism in an effort to excuse sin. I’m not reading monastic writers because I want to avoid repentance. I am looking at models of living a celibate life because I know I am called to a celibate vocation. I will gladly sit down with anyone who wants to read through an Orthodox marriage service. I can explain why it’s absolutely beautiful while at the same time articulating why I know it does not describe a kind of life that I’m called to. Chances are excellent I’d feel the same way about reading an ordination service. I would imagine that the ordination service is an incredible articulation of what it means to be a priest which contains many pointers as to why I, personally, would make a terrible priest. Defending ordination and marriage does little to help me discern what God would have me to in order to live my life faithfully.

I would love to see serious conversation in the Orthodox tradition, and in other Christian traditions, about what celibate vocations can and do look like. I would love to have retreats and books dedicated to meaningful celibacy. I cannot begin to tell you what it would mean for me, personally, to be able to commit to my celibate vocation in the context of witnesses gathered in a parish community. At the same time, I sit at the uneasy intersection of knowing that time has not come yet. It is the time of the pastoral. I long for the day when recognizing that situations need to be treated pastorally comes with widespread awareness of the need for both humility and compassion.

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Show Me the Church

A reflection by Sarah

This post is long overdue, and for more than one reason. Much has happened since Lindsey wrote our last post while sitting beside my hospital bed two months ago. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for all the support our readers have extended to Lindsey and me throughout my illness. You folks and our local friends have done so much to keep our hope alive at times when we’ve barely been hanging onto it.

To bring those who don’t know up to speed, after more than a year of being seriously ill with Ménière’s disease I underwent a vestibular neurectomy in July. This turned quickly into three separate surgeries after the initial procedure failed due to my neuroanatomy having some unusual features. I needed a second procedure to repair a leak after cerebrospinal fluid started gushing out of my nose and head, and a third procedure requiring a different entry point to my skull finally brought a successful result. It goes without saying that July was a stressful month for us. I spent three times as many days in ICU as what we had anticipated. These days I’m feeling much better, thank God. I wouldn’t wish what I went through this summer upon anyone, but my days in the hospital were transformative for Lindsey and me in ways we are still sorting out and probably will be for some time. I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe the experience for the past two months, but I can’t. I’m still thinking on it, and I’m sure I’ll be writing more on this in the future.

One thing I can say for certain is that I was reminded of how important it is to recognize within myself the image and likeness of God, and to see the same in others even though none of us ever live fully into being icons as we were created to be. If I’m going to make any attempt at living into this calling, I have to be authentically me regardless of where I am spiritually. I can’t hide behind fear of what others will think of me once they see how imperfect a Christian I am. That’s why today, it’s time for another “coming out” of sorts.

When Lindsey and I began writing here at AQC, we intended to make our writings as accessible as possible to readers across a variety of Christian traditions and theological viewpoints. That remains a goal of ours, but it’s time to be more authentic. Lindsey and I are members of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We never had any delusions that our readers would fail to see this in our posts. We’re probably more aware than anyone of how painfully obvious it is and has been since the beginning of our writing project. By this point, we’ve received hundreds of requests from readers that we state the name of our tradition publicly. The time for that is long overdue, and I’m ashamed to admit how much of our hesitation to do so has come from fear of excommunication, of creating a difficult situation for our priest and parish, and of Orthodox internet trolls who are priests more often than not. Today, I’m throwing caution to the wind because someone has to have the courage to speak out. I feel that I’ve waited long enough for a priest or someone with authority to begin this conversation, and that doesn’t seem to be happening.

The state of affairs in American Orthodoxy, especially since the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, is troubling. It’s beyond troubling, and I would go so far as to call it scandalous.

When I converted to Orthodoxy, I thought I was signing on for a spiritually challenging journey in the ancient faith, where every person would be treated with care and respect because we are all made in God’s image. I thought I was joining a tradition that pushes each person to be asking always, “What is the cost of following Christ? Am I willing to pay that cost? How can I submit myself more fully to God so that I become increasingly willing to follow Christ wherever he leads?” I thought I was becoming part of a Church where I would find what I saw as lacking in my previous Christian tradition (Catholicism). I saw evidence of all these things during my period as an inquirer and catechumen, but soon after my conversion I began to notice that when rubber meets the road, Orthodox Christians are not treated as though we all have the same level of dignity.

I have found myself within a tradition where people are so obsessed with marriage that they cannot offer guidance to LGBTQ people beyond, “Don’t have sex. Don’t get married. We don’t perform gay marriages. Oh, and by the way, don’t use words like ‘gay’ because 99% of people who use that label are sexually active outside of marriage.” I receive these messages and start to wonder what planet their giver has been living on for the past two decades or more, because that last statement is blatantly false and the other statements are just plain unhelpful to someone making an honest effort at living fully into the Orthodox tradition. I grow weary of attempting to explain that many people see sexual orientation as something mysterious that involves significantly more than desiring sex. I grow weary of receiving generic answers to questions about sexual orientation, or answers that sound more like lines from a 1970s psychology text than legitimate spiritual direction. I grow weariest of hearing from LGBTQ Orthodox friends who are trying their very best to do what is asked of them only to be told that they are not fit for any vocation, ought to live as a hermit on the outskirts of a monastery to avoid interaction with either men or women, and should stop talking to the faithful who attend Divine Liturgy.

As Lindsey and I have stated before, the aftermath of Obergefell vs. Hodges has been particularly difficult for us. Had it not been for Lindsey’s ability to add me to employer-sponsored health insurance as a domestic partner, my health problems would be bankrupting us. This would be the case even if I had health insurance through an exchange, and it would certainly be the case for me as an individual if the two of us were doing life separately. Now that Lindsey no longer has this job and it is unclear whether other places of employment will offer domestic partner benefits, we face a new challenge. We’re terrified of the possibility that one of us might not be able to care for the other at a time when it’s needed most, and few people (liberal or conservative) seem to care very much about this issue. To be clear, neither of us is advocating for the Orthodox Church to change its teachings on marriage and sexuality. Neither of us wants to be married to the other. Even if we were Episcopalian (which is apparently the worst of insults according to many American Orthodox), we would never consider our relationship a marriage. Aside from describing it as an odd combination of skete monasticism and partners living life in service to others in the world, I’m not sure if any word in English is fitting for our arrangement.

Fortunately, we have two spiritual fathers who are willing to journey with us through figuring out what it means to live an unusual vocation. However, it’s troubling that almost every bit of support we receive from within our tradition is private. American Orthodox are so concerned with keeping up appearances and not rocking the boat that we end up forcing anyone with a seemingly unusual problem to stuff all the real human emotions that he or she experiences relative to said problem. “Don’t tell anyone besides your spiritual father. I know you’re doing your best to be faithful, but no one really needs to know that much about you. Your needs are too great. Bear your cross in silence.” These admonishments have been the story of my life since becoming Orthodox. Then when trying to explain that I don’t see my sexual orientation as a cross and I rarely experience sexual desire in the first place…well…I’ll not even go there. Material for another post. Anonymous friends of friends (some of whom are priests) who have encouraged Lindsey and me to get married civilly and either hide it or lie about it so the bishops will never have to think about how to handle our situation…yeah…that’s another blog post as well. If you’re reading this as an Orthodox person and don’t find any of it disconcerting, maybe it’s time to rethink some of your assumptions about people who are different from you.

Lest any of our readers think I am suggesting that LGBTQ people are the only groups of Orthodox Christians who receive these sorts of damaging messages, I have to say that my experience in Orthodoxy has made me aware of all kinds of situations where people who don’t fit the box are dismissed as problems who aren’t the Church’s responsibility. It grieves my heart when an Orthodox friend with a severe disability tells me that his priest will not help him solve a problem because he’s supposedly mooching off the parish’s working members whose taxes pay for his disability check. It grieves me equally when a friend who was born and raised in the Orthodox faith is advised to ignore a mental health diagnosis and “suck it up” in order to avoid the passion of despondency. It adds to my own depression when I observe Orthodox Christians ranting about how stewardship of the earth is nothing more than liberalism akin to support for gay marriage.

Somehow, we in the American context have become okay with dismissing real world problems that don’t impact us personally, and by extension making it taboo to talk about those topics at all. I’ve known Orthodox priests who have told me that racism doesn’t exist when I’ve raised issues of concern for my friends who are black or Hispanic. I have been told by priests that there is nothing good about my deafness, and I should not view it as linked to any sort of positive cultural identity…so Russians can identify with Russian expressions of faith, Romanians can identify with Romanian expressions of faith, but apparently there’s no way a legitimate expression of faith could emerge from the Deaf community. I once knew a priest who refused to wear an FM system to help me hear on the grounds that it would give me an unfair advantage over everyone else who can’t hear what is being said in the altar.

What troubles me most is that I’ve never seen any purveyors of these messages being challenged to reconsider their beliefs. I’m constantly being asked to reconsider mine simply because I’m a celibate person who uses LGBTQ language. As a Church (at least in America), we allow certain heresies to slide because they aren’t as bad as others. We excuse a person who holds heretical views relative to care for God’s creation and care for the least of these, but we can’t even throw a bone to a person who serves unwillingly as the parish’s symbolic reminder that society at large accepts gay marriage.

I refuse to believe that Lindsey and I are the only two Orthodox Christians who see these problems as the Church’s failure to be Christ to others. Again for clarity, I wrote this post not to complain about a mean, man-made religion that can do nothing but oppress and abuse people. I wrote this because I would like to believe that all of us can do better. The way American Orthodox Christians have been behaving since the Supreme Court decision is but one example of how desire to serve as Tradition Keeper can harm our witness. I want to believe again in an Orthodox Church where every person is treated with the same care and regard we give our icons every Sunday. It was not my intention to join the church of the white, wealthy, able-bodied, educated, straight, cisgender republican, and I’m not any more interested in the church of the [insert appropriate adjectives here] democrat. I’m interested in being part of the Church with the whole messy bunch of us as we journey together toward theosis. Sometimes I ask myself, “Where did it go? I thought it was here somewhere.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking back to my first communion as a Catholic. I was so excited to encounter Christ in the Eucharist that I nearly ran up to the altar, and I probably would have if I hadn’t been slowed down by a nun. I wonder, where is the Christ I sprinted toward as a young Catholic? He’s certainly not the person whose message I see being preached in a number of American Orthodox parishes. We can do better. I can do better. I’m sure I’ve written at least one piece of accidental heresy at some point, so I’m no more above reproach than those with the attitudes I’m calling out today. Brothers and sisters, please show me the Church again and I’ll try to do the same for you again. Otherwise, I just don’t know how long I’ll last.

(I expect this post will get lots of comments, and at least some of those will be from people who are eager to tell me how wrong I am about everything I’ve said here and elsewhere on the blog. I’ll engage in honest intellectual dialogue with any reader who is seeking such whether he or she considers me a heretic or not. Here’s your reminder to read our comment policy. We will not allow our comments section to become just another vitriolic place on the Orthodox internet. If the only thing you feel inclined to tell me is that people like me are attempting to destroy the Church, it is probably better for your salvation and mine if you refrain from commenting.)

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.

Dispatches from the ICU

An update by Lindsey

Hello readers. I’ve been meaning to get you all an update for some time, and I’m sorry for the delay. I’m writing today while sitting at Sarah’s ICU bedside. It’s been a journey for sure, but we’re seeing an uptick in better news.

This is actually our second stay in the ICU this month. We were here two weeks ago when Sarah had brain surgery in an attempt to find and cut the right vestibular nerve. Vestibular nerve sections are used to treat severe Meniere’s patients. Sarah’s brain has some extremely uncommon neuroanatomy (think 1 out of 10,000), and the surgeons were not able to locate the nerve. We wound up tacking some more days on to our stay when Sarah developed a cerebrospinal fluid leak and needed to have a drain installed. I became a master at waking up in the morning, calling the night shift nurse, driving to work, calling the day shift nurse, teaching my full day at an academic summer camp, driving to the hospital, bringing up dinner from the hospital cafeteria, sitting with Sarah until visiting hours ended, driving home, and collapsing into my bed. We have a number of fantastic friends who have visited Sarah in the hospital, sent cards, checked in on me, and been generally awesome throughout the ordeal. After the drain was removed, the hospital let Sarah go home for a few days to rest before the second attempt at the vestibular nerve section.

Surgery, Take 2, was yesterday. I’m so pleased to be able to report that it went wonderfully. The doctors found the nerve, cut it, and were able to close Sarah’s skull without any additional grafts. Sarah was able to look into my eyes without vestibular drift for the first time in over a year! The doctors think that Sarah has had such a quick positive outcome because Sarah’s vestibular system on the right side was so far gone before the surgery. Even with the great surgical outcomes, Sarah has to clear a number of physical therapy hurdles related to daily living before being cleared to go home. Right now, Sarah’s medical team is actively discerning the best pain management plan, but it’s worth pointing out that Sarah is recovering from three brain surgeries (the unsuccessful vestibular nerve section, repairing the leak and installing the drain, and yesterday’s successful surgery). I could not be happier with Sarah’s current healing trajectory, and I’m continue to pray that we continue to see good outcomes.

As for me, I’m pretty worn out. My summer teaching position takes a lot out of me anyway, and hospitals have their ways of inducing new levels of exhaustion. Thankfully, our dog Gemma is at a board-and-train facility to continue to work on basic public access skills for service dog work. I feel better knowing that Gemma can keep training even as Sarah is out of commission.

The experience over the past sixteen days has changed our lives in so many incredible ways. Sarah and I have been blessed to have a real sense of Christ in our midst. We grew a lot spiritually during our first stay. We’re eager to see what God has for us as we continue walking together. It’s a long road to be sure.

May God bless you, keep you, and guide you. Thanks for walking with us.

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.

Love Has Yet to Win

A reflection by Sarah

I don’t like to write depressing entries for our blog. I’d much rather get back to writing meaningful reflections on living celibacy as a layperson in the world. But that’s not where my mind is right now, and I can’t force it to be there. I suppose one benefit to blogging is knowing that I never have to be isolated. No matter how often Lindsey is away at work, no matter how infrequently I can get out of the apartment to meet up with friends and get my freakishly high extrovert needs met, the blog is here and I’m not alone. Thank you all for reading and bearing with me today.

I’m feeling pretty weary this weekend. Maybe it’s because of my upcoming surgery. Maybe it’s because spending a lot of time at home in bed means more opportunity to see the ugliness of the internet in the aftermath of nationwide marriage equality. But I think mostly, it’s anger at Christianity. Anger is exhausting. Last week, Lindsey and I were sitting in our living room and discussing the processes by which each of us learned that it’s normal to experience anger at God. That got me thinking about how I’ve never come to terms with experiencing anger at the Church.

It feels safer to be angry at God than it does to be angry at the Church. If I pull out my prayer rope and begin praying each knot while feeling absolutely fed up with a particular lesson God seems to be teaching me, the result is not going to be an offended deity making my life more difficult just for spite. If I curl up in a ball on my bed and cry for hours from rage about a difficult life circumstance and yell in anger, “Why, God? Why?!” I’m not going to be shamed for my emotions. But with the Church, it’s a different matter. In the opinions of many people I know, being angry at the Church (whether you mean “Body of Christ” or “official teachings”), is not okay. Expressing anger at the Church often results in assertions that I don’t actually desire faithfulness, that I’m being a whiner and need to toughen up because “following Christ isn’t supposed to be easy,” or that my pain is caused by my own sin and my own lack of willingness to let the tradition teach and transform me. Christ will not dismiss or berate me regardless of where I am spiritually in a given season of life, but plenty of his followers will.

Over the past week, Lindsey and I have written our respective reflections on how we are feeling after Obergefell vs Hodges. We had little energy to comment on much more than our fears about losing access to domestic partner benefits, but there is so much more to be said, and not just about gay marriage. I’m going to state the obvious: the internet is a dark, cruel place where people created in the image of God treat other people created in the image of God as though they haven’t even the dignity of bacteria on the bottom of my shoe. No reasonable person ever expects to find utopia on the internet. Nevertheless, I always hope that the people who make up the Church will surprise me during intense news cycles; yes, I’m more than a little idealistic.

This weekend, I’m angry because the Body of Christ needs to be engaging in repentance and reconciliation after the ways we have treated people who are different from us. I’m angry because we have allowed issues of difference, whether ideological or otherwise, to divide us. Within the same week, I see one friend stating publicly, “Any church that lets queers in needs to have its whole congregation stoned to death,” and another friend proclaiming, “If you think for any reason that gay sex is a sin, you’re a hateful bigot!” Both are members of my Christian tradition. Both claim to love Christ and do their best to follow him in their daily lives. What have we come to when one member of the Church would have another stoned to death? When theological disagreement even after prayerful reflection and discernment means that the person who disagrees is hateful?

I’m angry because white Christian America has been sitting back, content to wave either a rainbow flag or a Confederate flag as black churches have burned to the ground and black Christians have been murdered while worshipping. White LGBTQ Christians previously engaged in meaningful discussions about racial reconciliation abandoned those conversations in favor or gloating over marriage equality. Some will not pick up that discussion topic again until there’s a lull in the LGBTQ news cycle. Folks who do not consider themselves allies to the black community but were still engaged in conversations about Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston have ceased participation in order to mourn because “the gays are destroying America.” How quickly we’ve forgotten about the nine human beings who lost their lives while attending church not even three weeks ago, or at least pushed their deaths to the back of our minds in favor of spouting off bad theology about sex. What happened in the United States on June 26, 2015? Why will future generations remember that date? Certainly not because of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral. And I’m ashamed of myself as a white person for forgetting his first name and needing to Google it before adding it to this post.

I’m angry because able-bodied Christian America is clueless about how to be loving to people with disabilities. After the Supreme Court ruling, more than one article about disability and marriage was published. People with disabilities in America who receive SSI benefits risk losing resources if they marry. Some people with disabilities were married or living with a partner before becoming disabled and cannot qualify for help because of the spouse/partner’s income. These are real problems that the Church could be addressing, yet most of what I’ve seen from Christians on these issues is, “Just go with other programs that aren’t income-based” (never mind that you have to be out of work and likely broke anyway before qualifying) or, “Stop whining. It’s not the government’s job to take care of you. You could work if you really wanted and had more motivation.” How many members of the Body of Christ actually care about how broken our social programs for people with disabilities are?

Speaking of ableism, I’m angry about an entirely different issue I’ve been dealing with for several weeks. I’m angry about the nonsense that passes as d/Deaf and hard of hearing ministry or “deaf inclusive ministry” in Christian churches. I’m angry that hearing people at Christian publishing houses profit by selling ministry resources that co-opt American Sign Language and Deaf culture, throwing random ASL signs into spoken songs and calling that inclusion. I’m angry that when I try to educate on how wrong this is and why it is not actually welcoming to the Deaf community, hearing people engaged in ministry become defensive and argue with me about how hearing children in Sunday School need something to do with their hands and doing a few signs seems like a good idea. And I’m angry that on the few occasions when hearing people do listen to me about this, they’re almost always more willing to accept my perspective as a late-deafened adult who grew up hearing than they are to acknowledge arguments from my friends who have grown up in Deaf culture.

Perhaps more than anything else, I’m angry that there are Christians who are more concerned with policing identity than with building relationships. If you’re a straight, white, hearing person, it’s easy to judge a gay person, a black person, or a deaf person, “Your cultural identity isn’t important. It’s not who you are. Who you are is in your relationship with Christ.” We need to stop saying that all people are equal and should be treated with respect if we are going to pretend that some aspects of identity do not exist. If I tell one of my black friends, “Skin color doesn’t matter. Everyone is the same to me,” I have just erased a huge part of that person’s life experience. The same thing happens when Christians tell me, “You’re not really a lesbian. You just struggle with liking women, and we all struggle with sin,” or “Just accept your deafness as a limitation. There’s nothing positive about it. You’re going to be healed in the eschaton anyway.”

When we erase people’s experiences, we drive them away. It doesn’t matter if you think race isn’t important. It is in American society, and white people are the ones who have made it so. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand why a person would want to identify as gay. For many people, it’s an important term, and straight Christians ought to be willing to engage in conversation and consider why. It doesn’t matter if you believe that deafness and other disabilities will be eliminated in the hereafter. No one person knows more about the eschaton than any other person does, and it would behoove members of the Church to reflect more deeply on how social stigma has created what we consider to be “disability.” And let’s not forget that progressive, social justice-y Christians are also good at erasing the experiences of conservatives and traditionalists.

Cultural identities may or may not matter at all in the next life. As Christians, we are not called to ignore the here and now or excuse ourselves from treating others well and working for justice on the grounds that someday none of our differences will have meaning. When I look at the Church this week, I have seen it seething, oozing, and pulsing  with the emotional illnesses that make it hard for us to do life together. And it’s challenging because part of me wants to shove everything and everyone aside, screaming, “Eeeeeewww! Ick!” But then I’m left looking at the same festering assumptions and judgments within my own heart. There’s relief that comes when we look in the mirror at our human failings and own them. That’s what I’m experiencing now. I’m much less angry. But where do we go now as we journey towards reconciliation?

EDIT: Thanks to a reader for pointing out a typo where I had misgendered Reverend Clementa Pinckney. I assure you that it was an honest typing error and not my thinking that this person was a woman. I blame this one on vertigo. Apologies to all who read the first version!

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.

A week after Obergefell vs Hodges, and I think I am still breathing

A reflection by Lindsey

Hello readers. My apologies for what seems like radio silence. When I am overwhelmed, my instincts are to hide, curl into a ball, and hope things resolve themselves quickly. Sarah and I were already awaiting Sarah’s surgery date with considerable anticipation. We’re accustomed to smiling, staying strong, and doing our best in the face of stressful situations. By God’s grace, we’ve managed to keep our feet and our sense of humor through it all. It hasn’t been easy, and there are times where it has definitely been hard.

The past week has been arguably one of the hardest to navigate in the three years that we have known each other. The only other week that even comes close was when I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my job two days after Christmas 2013. However, after I lost my job, I experienced my friends and my family rallying around me and Sarah to help us strategize and regroup. Having a supportive community makes a world of difference when you are trying to remind yourself, “Everything is going to be okay. Breathe. Everything will work out. Breathe. You still have options. Breathe. There is a way forward. Breathe. You can do it. Breathe.”

This past week has brought a flurry of official pronouncements. I have been drawn, seemingly like a moth to a light, to reading every statement that is likely to provide some insight as to how clergy within my Christian tradition see the question of pastoring LGBT people in the aftermath of last week’s decision. It is simply remarkable how many statements fail to consider the question, “What should we say to congregants who are LGBT who desire to live their lives in harmony with this Christian tradition’s teachings?” I have lost count of the number of LGBT Christian friends who have approached me to parse the implications of their churches’ reaction to Friday’s ruling. Many statements contain directives that all people who enter into civil same-sex marriages ought to come under church discipline without any hint of an exception.

Did I mention that in ten days I will be keeping vigil in a hospital’s waiting room as Sarah undergoes surgery?

If you were to ask me to name my top fear, I would tell you that I am most afraid of Sarah losing health care access. Currently, Sarah’s health care access rests entirely on my employer extending coverage to domestic partners. We first opened the conversation about protecting ourselves legally over 20 months ago. We’ve been encouraged to grant one another durable power of attorney and write our wills naming each other as beneficiaries. It’s hard to believe that a document one can create using free internet templates would be the answer to our legal worries. If it were truly that easy for the two of us to protect ourselves legally, please tell me why I have never seen a conservative Christian discussing how granting durable power of attorney and keeping one’s will up to date provides adequate legal redress. Additionally, I cannot escape the observation that accessing health insurance in the United States seems to be contingent on where you work and to whom you are married even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We are terrified that Friday’s decision will mark the eventual end of domestic partner benefits, a fear that appears to have merit. One analysis suggests that unmarried partners comprise over 7 million American households. That analysis helps me feel just a bit less alone.

When I’ve shared my fears and anxieties with friends over the past week, I’ve encountered a range of reactions. The vast majority of people ask me why we haven’t already entered into a civil marriage. A handful of people suggest that no one would ever have to know if we contracted a civil marriage for legal purposes and certainly leaders in our tradition couldn’t possibly be thinking about someone in my situation when they authored their public statements. Some people shrug off my concern by reminding me that being a Christian is costly and that I’m not being asked to do anything unreasonable.

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve wanted to throw something in the past week.

Like Sarah, I can rejoice with my friends who have been rejoicing that they no longer need to worry about whether they will have their relationships legally recognized. I know couples who have made legal arrangements in upwards of four states in an attempt to care for each other. I had heard numerous personal stories of people driving around with every legal document imaginable in their glove compartments in an effort to ensure hospital visitation rights. Trying to sort my own affairs relative to my relationship with Sarah gives me deep and profound empathy for every LGBT person who has asked the question, “If and when the time comes, will this legal document carry any weight?” In the past week, at least 3 friends have posted pictures of their freshly procured marriage licenses online complete with extended discussions of why they are so glad they finally can access these pieces of paper in their home states. For them, this is the document that legally permits them to care for one another and alleviates any anxiety. I can only imagine what that feeling must feel like. I know I would be rejoicing if Sarah and I managed to figure out what we needed to do in order to ensure that we could care for each other even if calamity hits.

But, that rejoicing does not negate the fact that both Sarah and I have spent the better part of two years discerning what a celibate partnership looks like for us. We have done our best to live our lives as transparently as possible with our priests while also devoting considerable energy towards writing about celibacy and being LGBT in the Church. I’ve personally spent over ten years asking Christ to illumine my own vocation, striving to cultivate compassion and grace for every person I’ve met along the way. I earnestly believed that others were trying to do the same. Unfortunately, in the past week, it seems like any compassion or grace that others might have previously shown me as evaporated. Where is the compassion when conservative straight Christian friends tell me that it’s entirely reasonable for bishops to tell me that I must choose between sacramental care in my Christian tradition and doing what I can do to ensure that Sarah has continuing health care coverage? Where is the grace when my newly legally married friends accuse me of willfully neglecting Sarah to appease the homophobic whims of a man wearing a funny hat? Even more importantly, where do I find the way of Christ as I try to live faithfully within a vocation that has proved to be abundantly life-giving?

There are no easy answers here. In my ideal world, we would figure out a way to divorce health care access from one’s employment and marital status. Everyone would be able to see doctors and get the care they need. Given that historically Christians built an incredible number of hospitals, I’m surprised that churches haven’t been more active in creating systems for health insurance. If employers can offer health insurance policies covering their employees, why haven’t churches explored options to create health insurance for their congregants? Additionally in my ideal world, we would be able to recognize diverse structures of adult relationships. Your ability to give and receive care from another adult would not depend on your familial or marital status. I do not think it’s necessary to use civil marriage as a catchall category for all caregiving relationships between two adults if the two people are not related through family of origin.

I know we don’t live in my ideal world. In my ideal world, Sarah would not be needing to have surgery in ten days either. I’m an engineer, and brainstorming crazy out-of-the-box ideas is one way I cope with uncertainty. A week after the decision in Obergefell vs Hodges, I feel more uncertain than ever. I think I’m still breathing, hoping, and praying that Sarah and I will find our way through the legal quagmire…. I think.

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