The Want to Be Wanted

A reflection by Sarah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bread of Fellowship at #GCNConf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call Me What You Will

A reflection by Lindsey

This is a post that I really don’t want to write. In some ways, it’s the post that I never thought I would be able to write. But the universe being the universe has ways of forcing my hand because certain things need to be said for the benefit of others.

The internet has exploded this week, dividing Christians along unfortunately all too predictable lines. The choice of a single word delineates sides: do you say Bruce or do you say Caitlyn? Concerns about appearance dominate both sides: either Caitlyn is stunning or Bruce has fallen more deeply into the hole of self-disfigurement than could have ever been realistically imagined. Sadly, this conversation is the conversation of the Church. And it’s manifestly voyeuristic, detached, and ugly on both sides.

Call me what you will: transgender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming. At this point, I don’t care. I’m done, at least in the moment, trying to stake out a claim in the vocabulary war that regards people like me as territory to be won. I see messages on all sides arguing that people like me should have a place in the church, everyone with their own choice prescriptions about what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my body.

Call me what you will, because at this point, I’ve simply decided I’ll respond to any form of civil address. I live, breathe, work, and exist in a world that names me before I name myself. Salespeople ask me for my name, but it’s really only a pleasantry to ascertain my last name before assigning me a title. Each and every day, I go to work where people talk about me using a name, pronouns, and titles. I’ve grown numb to pronouns and titles, even though in my own sphere, I try to fight for three syllables of recognition that my preferences matter. I know asking my students to call me “Instructor” is a manufactured construct, but it’s the best I can do to find a workaround to a culture of politeness that threatens to rob me of my sanity.

Call me what you will, because at this point I’ve figured out that it’s possible to find my own safe spaces even if I know that you will never understand. I’ve learned that if I want to give my soul space to dance, then I cannot allow your opinion of me to rob me of my music. Trying to be the person God wants me to be demands my everything. Sometimes I just need to find that much more courage that God wasn’t joking when Christ promised to guide us through all things and remain with us always. I have never been down with conforming myself to social expectations because, quite frankly, my allegiances belong elsewhere. Occasionally country music gets it right:

You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.

Call me what you will because I know the fullness of my heart can never fit behind a restroom door. Whether I choose to be a superhero or a person capable of standing on my own two feet whenever I have to pee shouldn’t have to be your concern. Truth be told, I’ve had a long and enduring suspicion that your concern has never been about me in the first place.

…………

If you were honestly concerned about me, perhaps you would take the time to ask questions and to listen. If you truly cared, maybe you would consider that your well-meaning “advice” does little more than prove to me that you aren’t willing to take the time to understand me and the challenges I actually face. If you wanted to show “Christian compassion,” then maybe you wouldn’t be quite so confident that you understand the full weight and implications of verses like Matthew 19 when it comes to people in my shoes.

No one wins my trust by an impressive display of their ideology. Celebrating that Caitlyn looks awesome tells me that maybe I should only come to you if I’m ready, willing, and able to pursue certain medical choices. Bemoaning the magnitude of Bruce’s disfigurement sets me on my guard that you might decry the disfigurement of my heart. My soul lives inside of my body. I’m much more interested in knowing whether you have the courage to see when my soul comes alive and the emotional intelligence to know when my soul is withering. Do you dare risk sharing your soul with me in friendship’s mysterious intimacy?

Call me what you will because that’s the best and most reliable way I can tell whether you know I exist. Call me what you will because you are telling me how you see me. Call me what you will because I have gotten so good at playing these games on my own territory.

Happiness looks good on people. Everyone who has figured out how to come alive in a body and share a soul with the world is beautiful. Fight for your friendships; true friends are few and far between. And maybe, just maybe, your soul will find a way to dance.

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.

Meeting People in Sickness

A reflection by Lindsey

Lent is a time of year when people frequently ask me how God has been challenging me to grow spiritually. As far as the Church year goes, it’s the season where I feel most in touch with my humanity. Lent is a time where it seems absolutely normal to reflect on my sin, my frailty, my limitations, and Christ’s power in the midst of everything. This Lent has proven to be typical in these regards.

I’ve been watching a lot of suffering this season. An older friend of mine died recently because of congestive heart failure. Many of my friends have been experiencing profound grief after their friend was killed in a car accident, leaving behind his wife and six children. I’ve also seen firsthand what it means for Sarah to have an extremely aggressive form of Meniere’s disease. Sarah’s balance continues to decline, where Sarah is chronically exhausted from all of the different ways the body tries to compensate for vestibular system losses. And because it’s Lent, I find myself more inclined to say, “Okay God, what’s going on here? What are you trying to show me?”

The first thing I’ve realized is that it’s hard to make space for people who are sick. Many people have asked me if I’m praying for God to heal Sarah. In my lived experience, expecting God to heal Sarah miraculously creates much more pain and anger. I have a naive view of healing where God makes everything “all better” and it was like the sickness was little more than a bad dream. Praying for God to restore every aspect of Sarah’s health before the Meniere’s diagnosis feels futile as much, even as I do pray every day that God is ever-present, active, and bringing peace that surpasses all understanding. My sense of the miraculous has been recalibrated where I see how God might be active in the small bits of the day. When Sarah is laid out with a vertigo attack, I find myself praying that God would bring this spell to an end as quickly as possible and that the various medical treatments Sarah has tried would have some positive effect. I have also discovered that I spend a lot of time praying for myself that I would be patient, provide comfort, and remain present.

I have been convicted about how meeting people in sickness involves practicing radical hospitality. I can’t think of anyone I know who likes sickness. I have been around healthcare professionals my whole life. People work in healthcare because they want to see others get well, they want to alleviate suffering, and they want to provide a degree of care that others cannot provide; people do not work in healthcare because they think sickness is a good thing. Keeping vigil with a sick person can be exhausting work. Bearing witness to another’s pain, doing the limited things you can do to bring comfort, and voluntarily entering spaces that no one wants to be in require surrendering your own will. Meeting people in sickness takes commitment. If you’re healthy, you frequently have the option to seek respite. It’s hard to find balance between making good self-care choices and acknowledging how chronic illness affects the every-minute reality of your loved one.

Being present has tremendous power. I’ve been amazed at how simply being myself has provided so much comfort to Sarah. As I have prayed about remaining present through various iterations of our “new normal,” God has been a constant source of reassurance. I have noticed features of what I do as a caregiver. Sarah and I have seen glimpses of what God might be asking us to do as a community of two, and we pray about this together regularly. Our community has expanded to include Gemma, a two-year-old chocolate Labrador that we plan to train as a service dog. I’m learning to differentiate between sickness, disability, and realities that are simply different ways of experiencing the world. I have learned a lot about how hearing people and deaf people experience noise, silence, and motion differently. Helping Sarah move between where we parked our car and our target destination has given me new appreciation for people with mobility disabilities. I have learned to ask questions when people tell me that they’re not feeling well. I find myself more attentive to other people’s needs and more forthcoming when it comes to sharing my needs with others.

I can’t help but feel like I’m becoming just that much more human.

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.

Can radical hospitality have limitations?

A reflection by Sarah

Radical hospitality seems to be a hallmark of celibate communities (e.g. monasteries). Every celibate community we have visited has guest housing. (Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why we could visit them….. they’re committed to hospitality.) For us, in our home, the practice of radical hospitality means always being willing to host a guest. Whether the guest stays overnight in our apartment, joins us for a meal, or travels with us for a ride home, the guest is a welcome person. When we meet new people, we prayerfully consider how we might be some conduit of blessing for them. So far, God’s been pretty awesome to show up in our limited efforts.

That’s a quote from one of our earliest blog posts in which we made an initial attempt at defining celibacy as a vocation. If you’ve been following our posts for a while now, you’ve probably seen that our understanding of celibacy and its various components has evolved significantly within the past year. I hope that this growth never stops, and I’m grateful to be learning more and more about what God is calling me to as time goes on. I’m especially grateful that God has been showing Lindsey and me new ways that we can extend hospitality to others.

Today, I’m writing not because of anything bold or profound that I’ve discovered, but instead because of confusion and conviction. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about certain people who used to be part of my life but are no longer. More specifically, I’m thinking of family members, former friends, and acquaintances who are not in my life at present because I have chosen to remove them from my life. Several examples come to mind. There’s a family member who misinterpreted something I said on Facebook, unfriended me, and sent a long and dramatic letter in the same envelope as my birthday card to explain her decision. When I confronted her about this, she lashed out and neither of us has spoken to the other since. There’s an ex-girlfriend who slept around with a variety of people in two different cities while we were together, who has made a habit of contacting me once every few months to throw an insult or accusation my way. There’s a man I haven’t seen or heard from in years — my high school boyfriend, who I’m sure has no interest in ever hearing from me again because of the emotional hurt both of us inflicted upon each other when we were younger and far less mature.  There’s the friend from college whom I have avoided intentionally since graduation because of her insistence every time we interacted that I “just don’t have enough faith” that God could make me straight. There’s the girl from my second grade class whom I lashed out at for excluding me from a jump rope game at recess. I have a clear memory of shouting at her, “I’m glad you’re moving to a new school next year! I don’t like you anyway!”

If I truly believe that hospitality is part of the Christian vocation and that radical hospitality is  a basic building block of a celibate Christian way of life, how am I to live that value in interactions with people whose company I enjoy about as much as a root canal? What about people who have been out of my life for varying lengths of time not because they have chosen to be, but because I have chosen to keep them away from me? I’m torn when it comes to these questions. I believe that sometimes, it is morally justifiable to cut people out of one’s life. In certain cases, not doing so results in decreased mental health and causes one to become an open target for manipulation, gaslighting, and other forms of emotionally, physically, or spiritually abusive behavior. At other times, the most Christian approach to dealing with a person one considers difficult is to keep trying, pray about it, and watch for signs that the situation might be improving. A couple of the personal situations I listed above are less difficult to discern than others. There’s almost nothing I can do to make amends to my second grade classmate. Her name is an incredibly common one, and it doesn’t seem reasonable that God would be asking me to send an apology message over Facebook to all 3,000 women who have that name. Her name might not even be the same as it was 1991. It seems a bit more reasonable that God might be asking me to get back in touch with Mr. High School Sweetheart to say, “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But what about the instances in which my anger toward a person is justifiable, and while I bear him or her no ill will I have determined that it is best if we do not interact with each other?

What does it mean to live radical hospitality with respect to someone I recognize as an image of God, but still see as a toxic person? Really, I have no idea. Is it even possible to live radical hospitality while knowing full well that there are people I would never allow into my apartment under any circumstance? Am I just kidding myself when I say that I desire to live a radically hospitable way of life if, deep down, I hope that God never sees fit for my ex-girlfriend to show up on my doorstep with a need for someone to show her hospitality? Should I be praying that God will soften my heart toward these people? But what if hardness of heart isn’t the problem and my lack of hospitality toward certain people is rooted in important concerns about safety? Or does it even matter what the root of my confusion is? How can radical hospitality be radical if it excludes even one person?

As with most dilemmas of this sort, it seems the best place to begin wrestling with these questions is the historic Christian tradition. How have celibates lived radical hospitality throughout the ages? What did it mean to them? Did those saints who lived celibate vocations ever place limitations on their extension of hospitality to others? As I’ve been mining the tradition for answers, I continue coming up confused. St. Brigid of Ireland was one of the most generous human beings I can think of, giving nearly every bit of food she had to the poor and welcoming travelers from everywhere into the monastery she founded. I wonder if there is anyone she would have turned away, or if she did would that decision be an example of her holiness? Or her human fallibility?

The Scriptures also have much to say about hospitality. 1 Peter 4:9 reminds us to be hospitable to each other without complaining. Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us not to fail in showing hospitality to unfamiliar people because “by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” In Luke 14, Jesus tells one of his many parables to help us understand the kingdom of God, instructing us to show hospitality to the marginalized. Who am I to suggest that certain people should obviously be excluded from the very small banquet table in my own dining room?

I don’t have a conclusion for this post. This is an area of my spirituality where there is a clear need for growth. Maybe there is a fine line between being inhospitable to someone and holding oneself back out of healthy concern for the safety and wellbeing of both parties. Maybe there isn’t a line at all. I welcome any feedback. And as Lent approaches, please pray for me, a sinner.

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.