Grace From the Shadows

Shortly after coming to Shanghai in 2014 I was missing the community I left behind in the US. The church of believers I regularly fellowshipped and worshiped with had been wonderful, but after I left, I only heard from maybe 2 or 3 people; and hardly on any kind of regular basis.

I was lonely.

I began feeling the need for a community. I began longing after a group of people with whom I could open up to, trust and who would encourage me to continue to seek after God.

About 2 years ago, I wrote this in my journal:

I’ve spent the better part of the evening looking up Churches in Shanghai. The longer I search, the more I keep asking myself if I’m crazy. My experience with [churches] hasn’t always been the best. I don’t function well in “community”.
But that’s not a quality. It’s a weakness.
Living in community requires humility and other-centered living; two of the many things that I lack. I know that churches nor the people who frequent them are perfect. Which is why I so often go in with my guard up.
Walls high.
No one gets in.
I don’t get hurt.
But staying isolated doesn’t protect me. It (only) keeps my pride and independence intact. With my defenses in place, I don’t have to care for anyone else. I don’t have to be vulnerable; don’t have to place others at the center of my life… instead of myself.
Can I change my thinking when encountering a new church?
Can I walk in, walls down and arms open?
Can I go to encounter God, seek nourishment and find a way to help others?
I. Need. To. Try!
(October 19th, 2014)

It would be several more months before I could get the courage to pick a church and go.

In early 2015 I began attending Shanghai Community Fellowship.

It was amazing!

I got connected with a fellowship group that met every week. I felt like I had friends and a kind of “family” in a place where I had been feeling so alone. And the best thing for me was the opportunity to be challenged and grow spiritually.

 

Over the summer of 2015, I did some traveling and took a CELTA course in Prague. While I was there, the city was also hosting its annual gay pride parade. And, having only been to 2 and both of them only in the US, I decided to go and see what it was like. While I was at the parade, I posted a picture (top of this post) and a status about it on WeChat (a popular social media app in China). One of the girls in the church community group who I had become really good friends with “liked” my picture and, while I thought it was interesting, I didn’t give it that much thought. I had never “come out”or said anything about my sexuality to the Church. I wasn’t “hiding”, but I didn’t see any reason to say anything as the topic had never come up.

When I got back to Shanghai, I met up and had lunch with one of the guys from the Church fellowship group, the husband of the girl who liked my photo who had also become a really close friend over the past year. During our lunch he asked if he could share his “story” with me.

He told me that he identifies as gay. But believes that same sex relationships are not in God’s plan for humanity. His wife identifies as a lesbian. They decided to get married and do ministry in China. Which is absolutely fine. I completely respect other people’s beliefs and their desire to pursue the life they want to live in good conscience before God.

He asked me about my story, so I told him. If you’d like to read the condensed version of my story, you can find it here. He seemed quite troubled when I told him that I believe that God who designed humans, our sexual natures and our desire for love cares most deeply about our love and care for others over the anatomical way in which we express that love and with whom we share it. I explained that I believe it is possible for two people of the same sex who are followers of Christ, to worship together in Spirit and Truth and be vessels of love and compassion ministering to those in need and the community while lovingly committing themselves to each other as mutual helpmates and partners with a desire to edify, encourage and support one another for the rest of their lives. Now, the actual discussion lasted for several hours over two separate days and was more complex than what I could put in this blog post. I’m aware that not everyone agrees with me, in fact, in most Christian circles I am probably on the fringes. I am humble enough to admit that I may be wrong. I am small and finite and God is great and beyond my comprehension, so I can only live as His Spirit guides me. For now, at this time in my life, this is how I reconcile my faith and my life.

He did not agree.

Through eyes filled with crocodile tears he told me that he could not allow me to continue coming to the fellowship group. He explained that he saw me as a false prophet, a divisive, unrepentant backslider who would be a moral and spiritual danger to the group. He emphasized over and over how much he loved me like a brother and that he was so broken hearted about having to do this. And I think on some level he believed that. But in that moment it was hard to feel the “kiss on the cheek” when there was a “knife in my side”. We parted. I respected his wishes (command) and never went back to the Church. No one from the group has spoken to me since.

That was over a year ago.

And while the hurt, anger, betrayal and heartbreak I felt has subsided, I feel scared because now I feel the Spirit leading me back to find a community to worship with. There are only so many times I can sit and read alone, or watch/listen to a sermon podcast alone. I feel like a limb that’s been severed and is slowly draining of life.

A part of me wants to walk away and never open myself up to a painful experience like that again. But I know I can’t. If my faith is real, if what I believe has any affect on my life at all, it needs to flourish within a community who also seeks after the same things.

In the journal entry I quoted earlier, I had also written a response to a quote by Frank Schaeffer I had read at the time:

“(Jesus) criticized everything religious around him yet still participated in the traditional, liturgical, formal worship of his day even though it was led by hypocrites he denounced”   -Frank Schaeffer
In scripture I’ve read a million times about Jesus being in the synagogue on the Sabbath. But never did I picture him being led in liturgy and worship by the very religious leaders whom HE KNEW would crucify him!
(October 19th 2014)

As I said before, of course, no religious institution is perfect. I would never expect it to be. And I know that many of you reading this post have felt the exact same sting of hurt and rejection from people who profess Christ and yet seem more keen to do the crucifying. InterVarsity has been in the news recently as they are causing a similar kind of rejection, pain and heartache to people on a massive, nationwide scale. And sadly, they aren’t the only ones. But the purpose of my post is not an angry rant against the Church, Christians or the use of personal beliefs to reject, exclude and condemn others.

As I look around, read, and talk to other LGBTQ people, I hear their pain, their heartache to belong, to be in community, to worship God with their partners in the fellowship of other believers. I hear the anger and the sadness of people who have been beaten down and rejected by those who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters in the faith and who many times are their own family! People are DYING! Both spiritually and literally because of the actions of people who claim to follow Christ.

But my faith is not in the religious people. My faith is in the One the religious people crucified.

I have to believe that the same Spirit that is calling me to worship and fellowship in Church & community is calling the community & Church to reach out and embrace the stranger at their gates. And while it’s difficult, and while the road may be painful on both sides, it’s what I’m called to do. My only choice is to open my heart and continue to love as much as He loves me. To move towards acceptance and reconciliation. To show Grace from under the shadows of the Church doors.

It’s all I can do.

 

pro-image-cropped-1    Thank you for reading!

If you are part of the LGBTQ Community and have had a similar experience as what I have shared, I would appreciate you leaving a comment and sharing YOUR story. Or perhaps you have questions and would like to know how to be a help to those in the LGBT community who have been hurt by the Church, please leave a comment and share. I would appreciate you keeping your words respectful and I will try to reply to any comments or questions I receive.

 

Addiction

A friend of mine recently posted a quote by Fredrik Nietzsche on Facebook.

“One loves one’s desires, not the desired.”

My response was to comment on the correlation between desire in this sense and addiction. Since most would agree when someone desires alcohol, chocolate, cigarettes or drugs it’s not the actual, physical thing that’s drawing them to it, it’s their desire that compels them towards consuming it. Inanimate objects do not have the power to force or coerce us to do anything. Instead, it’s our own state of mind that convinces us that we want or need that particular thing.

Now, I have noticed this same correlation between addiction and religion for many years. But at the risk of being labeled a heretic (more so than I probably already am) I’ve kept my mouth shut. But my friend’s post got me to thinking about that connection again and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. In Church and in the Bible we are told to love God, cherish him and desire him above all else. I would agree.

In my own life I’ve found that when I’m “close with God” that he is all I can think or talk about. But in order to maintain this “closeness” I must listen to Christian music, read christian books, read the Bible, pray, go to church and bible studies and countless other things to “keep me focused on God”. And the longer I go not reading the Bible, listening to other music and not constantly filling my mind with religious things then the less I think about it until God is no longer that important. So my relationship with God becomes a cycle of addiction. I want to think more about God so I start focusing more on Christian things that keep me thinking about God, I keep thinking more about God so I continue to focus on those things. When something breaks the cycle and I “drift away”, “backslide” or get distracted, the cycle begins to crumble.

For years I’ve felt very guilty for thinking about my relationship with God like an addict to cocaine. But maybe that’s exactly what belief is- addiction.

But is this such a bad thing? We as humans need addiction to stay alive. One could go so far as to say that humans have an addiction to oxygen or food. But these are things we need to survive so we never think of our addiction to good things in a negative way. Call me bitter and cynical but even our desire to love and be loved could be called an addiction. We crave it, we want it and we fall into fits of depression when we don’t get it. I think in one sense that’s what Nietzsche was talking about. But getting back to the point, even if a belief in God is an addiction, is that really a bad thing? I’ve found the times in my life when I was most focused and centered of God I was more calm, at peace and in a better state of mind. Never has my addiction to God left me empty, disillusioned and broken like so many other addictions in my life. I’ve gone on drinking binges in which I lost count of the bottles. I’ve gone through weeks of sex and hookups that were nothing more than notches on a belt. And none of these things ever left me at peace, centered or satisfied. Quite the opposite.

I think we as humans judge the severity of the addiction by the mess it leaves the addict in. A sex addict may end up with a warped view of the opposite (or same) sex and at worse could end up with numerous STD’s or even HIV. A drug addict may lose their own life to an addiction. Most negative addictions come with severe consequences. But few would argue that an addiction to love has life threatening consequences. Sure, there are casualties and people have died, been killed or committed suicide from a negative experience with love. But we have yet to see love being banned for being harmful or destructive. I think the same is true of a belief in God. Never have I experienced a harmful or destructive repercussion from my belief in God. On the contrary, through it I’ve avoided some very bad paths and mistakes in my life.

But just to clarify for some who may already be thinking about all the harmful, evil, wicked things that have been done in the name of God and religion- I believe there is a difference between a genuine, deep faith in and love for God and a fanatical devotion to a religion, organization or certain way of thinking. We are too often quick to judge God based upon the people who say they follow him. For example, if an American goes to Brazil, gets drunk and gets into a car accident and kills a bus of children, we would say it’s absurd if the parents of those children wanted President Obama to answer for the deaths of their children. Yes, the drunk was an American citizen and yes maybe he voted for Obama. But Obama didn’t tell him to get drunk and kill those kids. Just the same I don’t believe God tells people to do half the shit they actually do. But in order to justify their actions and to make themselves feel better they use some imagined idea of who they think God is as an excuses to do some of the most horrendous things.

So is it wrong to say that I have an addiction to God? It may sound strange and I may still be called a heretic. But when I come to understand that this is one addiction that won’t leave me broken and empty then I find comfort in that. In Scripture Jesus compares himself to a lot of things; one of those is a well that never runs dry. A drug addict can run out of drugs or the money to pay for them. A sex addict can lose all excitement and interest in “normal” sex and frustrate himself looking for something to arouse him. The reason bad addictions are dangerous is because we don’t abuse them, they abuse us and drain us until we have nothing left. But what if we were addicted to something that never ran out, that always kept us satisfied and always gave more than we took? That’s an addiction I can live with.