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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