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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18 thoughts on “Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

  1. A difficult journey, but a rewarding one. The best of luck to you! Keep blogging, whatever you do! I want to be along for every step of your journey, and I want to see where you end up.

  2. Thank you so much. I enjoy your commentary. Would you be interesting in being interviewd on Catholic radio? Your sister in Christ Carol

    • Hi Carol, we’d be open to sharing a bit more about our experiences. You can get in touch with us through the “Contact Us” page at the top.

  3. It’s such a shame that we think we have to belong to Peter’s church, or Paul’s, or James’s or Thomas’s or. . . . (I wonder if there were 12 churches, or more–one for each apostle, and then one each for the 70). What is a church, but a group and a leader. Christ promised the Spirit as a guide, but he also reminded us that “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.”

    My priest acknowledges that there are many ways to get where we are all trying sincerely to go. He uses the ocean analogy: we’re out on seemingly endless water; some swimming on their own power, some with life jackets, some rowing, some in sailboats, barges, tankers, liners, etc. Of course, he sees the Orthodox church as the safest, most reliable conveyance, but I think he, or anyone who thinks at all, would say to you, and maybe to me if it came down to it, “Godspeed. And may we help each other when in distress.”

  4. Clearly statements like “the Church cannot and will not condone or bless ‘same-sex unions’ of any degree” are at odds with reality and with the gospel, not to mention vain attempts to constrain their own future theological development. A much better approach is to recognise the good in those relationships, even if they are different to marriage in some respects.

    I remember some friends, a gay couple, many years ago who were members of a gay inclusive Church (metropolitan I think). I was very impressed at how they stressed the importance of love, kindness, tolerance and mercy as the core of Jesus’ message, and how rejection of gays was not intrinsic to Christianity.

    With every Blessing.

    • Hi Chris, my best understanding is that these statements work a bit differently in the Orthodox Church because the Orthodox Tradition generally does not speak of “theological development.” I can say that I think the statement I quoted is deeply pastorally problematic for many reasons, and I do sincerely hope and pray that Orthodox Christians reflect more thoughtfully on what it looks like to journey alongside LGBTQ people seeking Jesus with all of their heart. -Lindsey

  5. Keep chasing truth. You’ll always have people running alongside you, even if you can’t see them — those of us here on earth may falter in our imperfection, but the communion of saints… boy, can they run. (Those glorified bodies, y’know.)

    The Church both invisible and visible is here with you, the Church both glorious and suffering (I use the big-C Church with an expansive sweeping motion of my hands here). You’re never alone.

    • Hi John, I intend on continue speaking as clearly as possible for as long as I can. However, it seems like the vast majority of counsel to LGBTQ Christians is that the only place we should be speaking is in confession as we fight against our sins. Both Sarah and I had extremely sympathetic pastors, whom we are very grateful for. On the heels of the statement, it seemed like neither of them were able to offer much by way of consolation other than to assure us that we would find a welcome in their parish community. In part, it was finding a couple of places that would welcome us without reservation that showed us some of the bigger challenges within the broader manifestation of the Orthodox Church. -Lindsey

  6. Thank you, Lindsey. I wish you peace and clarity in the midst of your ongoing process of discernment. The prohibition of same-sex unions “of any degree” is troubling and beyond troubling, of course, as it seems to demonstrate that the sexual content of a relationship doesn’t matter to the folks prohibiting them. It’s still a same-sex union, and still condemned. I struggle myself with remaining in the church at this point when such statements are made and not disputed. But the main thing I want to note is how important it is to write reflections such as you’ve done here. For all of us to write them and speak them and to to that over and over and over again in witness. Because to do so exposes the untruth of the people who categorically identify as sin any same-sex relationship “of any degree.” Their categorical prohibition just can’t stand up very well in the face of such heartfelt testimonies. And the more such things are said, the fewer people will be able to negate everything you’ve expressed about your experience as though some churchman’s words cancel it out.

    • Thanks Dave for your comment. I saw a lot of things happening in the Orthodox Church that left me feeling unsettled. I do hope that some of these things are growing pains associated with Orthodoxy in America, but I do think that many people would do well to remember the old adage: “What you feed, grows.” -Lindsey

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