Saturday, December 11, 2010

Of Sheep and Men

Photo: Mitchell Kanashkevich

Yesterday's reading is an old favorite: John 10:1-6.  An excerpt:

The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

The story goes like this:

A young man or woman in the church, realizes she is gay and goes in one of two directions.  Consider the stories of Sally and Jack

1) Sally ignores her feelings, and she pretends they're not there and proceeds forward, assimilating with the community around her.  She has problems with intimacy, and will become a pro at deceiving herself and others.

2) Jack knew at an early age he was not compatible with the church community around him.  He acknowledges this conflict and decides that spirituality as a whole is garbage.  He knows that he himself would be judged harshly if people knew, and he sees first hand, from the pulpit to the coffee hour, how much the church lacks compassion for those who are different, who think, dress, and act different, and decides, why should he bother?

I've spoken to many gay and lesbian coptic people and this seems to be the common themes. I was Sally, and then I was Jack, and then by grace and by love, I learned there was another way.   First of all, I have a hard time claiming truth, especially about who God is.   It is not for me to say, as I am just one man.  I prefer to let the Divine do the talking here.  I think that God reveals himself to us in ways that are very personal.  I am not an advocate for one church over another, I just know that for many of us who are gay who come from a Coptic background, we see God as a very all or nothing thing. He is either a bigger version of the strictest priest or father we've ever known, or he's a figment of the imaginations of the power structures, created by religious institutions to make money and keep us in check. Unfortunately, there is no hope in either one of these options.

My heart breaks for brothers and sisters of mine, who are either living in fear and are completely split off from themselves, or feel so rejected and out of place, that they lose themselves in very dangerous behavior with questionable company.

Then there's the great paradox:    Sometimes we actually do believe in God, we believe he's against our sexuality, and yet, we still find a way to live as gays and lesbians, but because we are already rejected, we don't value ourselves as gay people, we don't respect other gay people, and we live irresponsibly with our own hearts and with the hearts of others.  I have experienced this, and let me tell you, it's painful.

I dated a man who lived his life in this way, he broke my heart as a result of his own self-hatred.   Because he felt his love for me was disobedient, he felt he didn't need to respect it.   In a way, many of us do not want to believe that God is pleased and has actually blessed us as gay and lesbian children of his, because it relieves us from responsibility. There's a theory in psychology that says, sometimes when we've crossed a line, the line disappears.  Sometimes the existence of God and his supposed disapproval, gives us the freedom to do crazy things.   Even more than a person who doesn't believe in God at all.

We're still children, rebelling against our parents.


But at the root of all this, I believe is self hatred.   Years of rejection, either directly or indirectly, can make a person reject themselves, and that becomes the norm.   And as a result we have a population who is broken, and whether they know it or not, desire love: true love, but feel completely unworthy of it.

For me the change came, when I stopped telling people what they wanted to hear, and I started telling the truth.   The change came for me, when I told people "this is who I am." and accepted their love, or their rejection.  The change came for me, when I was surrounded by people who saw me no different as a gay man, than they did when they thought I was straight.   The change came for me when I found myself in community with people who were like me, not necessarily gay, but who shared my vision, my hopes, and my beliefs.  The change came for me, when I met a man I could pray with, and with whom I could bring our relationship before God.  The change came for me, when I found myself in a faith community that said I was welcome as me.   I began understanding what love was.  I began understanding what divine grace was.  And I began hurting for all those years I missed out.  I finally started to understand that just because I was gay, it didn't mean I had to engage in the stereotypical behaviors that is often expected of me.  I could just really be myself.   It was through all this that I learned that I was actually OK, and that I was a child of God, except now, I could actually live my life as such.

I know the church has no idea how to handle people who are gay and lesbian.  Her sermons, her publications, and her leadership prove this time and time again.   Whether or not the Coptic church sees that being gay is a viable and holy option for some people, I believe there is room in the church to open her arms, and to embrace her children who have either left, or who have been rejected by her.  Otherwise, I do fear judgement on this institution, which has such a rich history of art, literature, theology, and grace, that if such closed-mindedness continues, she would have traded her purpose to be a vessel of love and grace in this world, for stagnancy and then complete dissolution.

12 comments:

  1. I love your writing. I'm Coptic and agree with everything you wrote...but how can you know for sure that leading a gay lifestyle won't condemn you to hell? I'm struggling with my sexuality and can tell you that if I ever acted on my feelings, I would be excommunicated from my church & family. And while the prospect of living a lifestyle free in my own skin seems relieving, I cannot live without those 2 things in my life. We all have a cross to carry and this seems to be my cross. No one said it would be easy. Yes, God made me this way, but God also made people with severe disabilities, diseases, and abnormalities who have even bigger crosses to carry. This is what I read by another commentator on your site and it put all of things into perspective for me. I'm truly a lost sheep here.

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  2. Hey brother or sister,

    I agree with you that life sometimes asks us to choose, and the choices that matter are never easy to make. I know what it feels like to have to choose between family, church, and sexuality. It's a painful thing to make that took me years to come to resolution with. My sexuality was as much of my identity as was my family, my culture, and my roots. And I remember telling friends that it would be an impossibility to come out, because of these things I thought I had to give up. It's truly scary indeed.

    Friend, take courage. God is a lot bigger than these problems and these choices. You have to make one assumption, that you're not alone, and that truly God is on your side. Of the many leaps of faith a human being will have to make in his or her life, this one is the first. Because without this particular leap of faith, life is hopeless, and we are loveless. But in taking this leap of faith, one that we are told time and time again by scripture, by tradition, and shown by those in our life who love us, only then can we begin to start having an active spiritual life, the one the Bible describes as having in abundance.

    You may feel alone and lost, but you're not. Don't settle for answers that don't pertain to you. Seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you: Alleluia :) An oldie but a goodie.

    How can I be sure that leading a gay lifestyle won't condemn me to hell? I took a gamble a few years back, knowing that a tree is judged by its fruits. I've made a few mistakes along the way, but I look at my life now, and the quality of my life, my relationships both with my family and friends, my relationship with God, i'm not saying things are perfect, but they are infinitely better, and i'm so much more of a healthy person, that the prospect of seeing the world through the goggles I had before, is an impossibility, because that was hell. A little bit about the hell I was living.

    People will tell you many things, and prove to you using the bible, their life, both for and against homosexuality, at the end of the day you're your own person. Seek truth in all things, and experience the love of God through relationships with those around you. And by all means: serve others. In service, we lose ourselves and our egos take a back seat, and truth tends to become a lot more clear.

    It's getting late! Have a good night.

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  3. Hey Anonymous,

    Truly, my heart goes out to you. Rest assured that you are not alone, friend. There are so many Christians out there who are gay, and are asking the same questions that you are, and dealing with the same inner conflict. I certainly went through that process, and I came out on the other side much as Just A Dude has - with an enriched, enlivened, invigorated, robust relationship with God and family and friends.

    I'm very happy that you've found some perspective that makes dealing with this easier. If you're like most of us, chances are that your perspective on this will change and grow as time goes on, as you ask the tough questions, and really wrestle with them.

    Don't be afraid of those questions, friend. Don't be afraid to listen to the small, quiet voice of God in your life. He will lead you to do, say, and be some things that are absolutely terrifying. Be brave, and don't get stuck on the fence your whole life. Whatever way you live out your sexuality and your faith, the fact of the matter is that it will NOT be easy. If you choose celibacy, you will battle loneliness. If you choose committed relationship, you will battle a more external conflict: constant belittling by those you love and hold dear. Either path will require faith. Either path will require sacrifice. Either path will necessitate you sticking very close to God, to preserve you through the tough journey.

    That being said, what do you think it means for you (practically speaking) to have to carry this cross-like burden? What do you feel God is specifically calling you to in that way?

    Anonymous D

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  4. Both of your comments almost brought me to tears. I never thought I'd ever find someone both Coptic/Christian and gay. Thank you both for your caring words and understanding. I'm so grateful.

    How can I not believe what the Bible says about homosexuality though? Do you truly believe that God would manifest Himself in a way that would be deceiving? I heard a lecture one day by His Grace Anba Suriel in which he said that homosexuals are not fighting for human rights, they are fighting for the freedom to have sex with whomever they want. I remember feeling so ashamed that day and that the eyes of everyone in the room were glued right on me (even though I'm not out).

    I often wonder why God made me like this if I'm supposed to be created in His image; why He's allowed me to suffer my whole life...be ridiculed, teased, beaten, belittled, and made fun of every day of my existence until this moment. Then I remember through all the torture I've experienced in my life that He has always been there for me...things could have truly been a lot worse. If this is not my cross, then what is? There are times I wished I was dead over being alive and gay. Sorry to be so harsh. When my life is through and God asks me to recall my days on earth, what will I have to say for myself? That I took up the cross and followed you, Lord (and that I lived each moment in misery)? I know salvation should always be our first priority (do not love the world or things in the world) but how can I not act on my feelings? I always try to occupy myself with things that keep my focus off of who I am and what my future will be like but I always find myself asking myself the same thing over and over again...what the hell am I going to do with my life? If I don't have my family and church then what do I have? Of course I have God but how would I ever receive his blessings if I'm denied or can't partake in the sacraments of the church and find reconciliation with myself and my family?

    Yes a tree is judged by its fruits...but what if on my judgment day I'm denied from seeing Christ the King? At that point I would have not only failed at life but I also failed at my eternity. Even if I live celibate, sinful thoughts will always cross my mind, and the Lord said if those thoughts are in your heart then you have already sinned. How are sins forgiven? Through confession? What priest will give me the absolution and for that matter communion after telling him my thoughts?

    God, when does life get better? Have mercy upon me, Lord. I long to be one among your amazing flock but will just never be good enough.

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  5. Hey there, Like Anon D said, my heart does go out to you as well. It sounds like you're dealing with a lot of fear. Fear of resisting being gay, fear of actually being gay. And you're asking great but very tough questions, too. These are things you have to think about.

    When it comes to scripture, it seems that people have been debating scripture for millennia. It's not as if the issue of homosexuality is the first and only issue that has been met with scrutiny and doubt. The answers are in the story as a whole. What is consistent with the story of this great relationship between mankind and our Creator.

    We each have our journey, friend. I write about mine, because it helps me reflect, and maybe others out there can relate. You think it's been easy for me? never has, and I don't think it will be. Coming out to family and friends has been a painful process, but the difference for me, is that before I was dead inside, lost, lacking sense of self. Being true, and being myself has taught me courage, and has given me peace, no matter what difficulties have arisen. I believe that I since I decided to not abandon faith through this process, it has kept me safe, and has given me stability, even as things were so uncertain. I read your words and I feel I could have written them myself 5 years ago. My biggest fears were separation from family and from God. All these things are a choice. And a choice we each have to make is this: do we want our lives to improve? Because if we do, we must choose it.

    I certainly cannot tell you what to do. There will be people telling you that your thoughts are disgusting and you need to do everything to block them out of your head. There will be people telling you that not only are your thoughts fine, but you need to act out on every single one of your desires and give two middle fingers to anyone who tries to repress you. I urge you to continue seeking truth. People will give you advice, take it worth a grain of salt. Listen to all sides but judge for yourself. You don't have to worry about keeping God with you, because God will never abandon you. This is the one thing you must continue to believe. That you are loved, and that you are His child, and a brother/sister to mankind.

    Regarding Bishop Suriel, I did write about his lecture here In the western world, gay people already can have sex with whomever they choose (if the feelings are mutual of course). No one is fighting for that right, because that right exists. Nothing really special about that right... That notion is absurd. But, you know what? They're fighting for the right to be seen as equals, so that it's not ok to be ridiculed as you, me, and many people have been, just because we are different. Because a society with a conscience will not allow these things to happen.

    Today I want to give you this. Matthew 5:3-12. These are for you today, friend. Meditate on them, and understand. No matter what anyone says, being gay or having gay feelings does not make you any better or worse off than anyone else out there, whether they are clergy, or they are a homeless man. A wise person once told me: "I know God can love a gay person: because loves can even love me." We're all the same. Start with that, and see where it leads you.

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  6. I am beginning to wonder if the church really has nothing else to say to our people except to rant about the "gay issue" and a few other matters relevant to the "Culture War". Are our clergy so ignorant of the depth of spirituality of our orthodox tradition that they really have nothing else to talk about? I'm really tired of having one class of people completely excluded from our common prayer and life. We seem to need to rethink how the church should operate in the modern world without compromising our Orthodox Christology and Spirituality.

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  7. Actually Mor, you're onto something:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-10-10-christians-young_N.htm

    On a survey of non-christian youth on their perceptions of the church, the number one perception, 91% in fact, said the first thing that came to mind when thinking about perceptions of the church was that the church was anti-homosexual. Why is that the first thing that the world sees when it thinks about followers of Jesus?

    Mor, I really appreciate your comment. Tell me, what do you think is being lost by having this one class of people completely cut-off?

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  8. Hi Anon,

    I recently just came across this blog (great blog, Just A Dude), and have been reading through this comment thread - as a Christian, as a straight Christian. For what it is worth, i wanted to let you know that indeed, just as "Just A Dude" mentioned earlier, you are not alone in this. You most certainly have God on your side.

    A God who is loving of ALL, who redeems, who purifies, who is present, and who LOVES, most of all. I know there are plenty of doctrines out there, plenty of speakers out there who determine and define who God is, who God will love, who God will forgive, and who God will "save," but ultimately - who do YOU believe your God to be?

    Indeed, we are each, individually created in God's holy image, as you also mentioned - and so, because of that, we are called to LOVE who we have been made to be - the good parts, the sinful parts, the parts of us that we hide from others. I urge you to use this weakness that you feel, as bread for your journey. But to be who you are - the Lord already knows. There is no need to mask that.

    I also noticed that you ask a lot of "what if" questions - well, I ask you, what if God loves you for who you are - right now, where you are? By love, I mean, accepts you, and cares for you, and is standing right next to you, EVERY TIME you are belittled, and ridiculed, and teased? What then?

    I don't want to sound preachy, but I want to support you in your walk, Anon, and let you know that this God, this Jesus that died for us, He died for all of us, and He already knows us through and through. The least we can do, is be ourselves, and ACCEPT who we are, but 100% in our hearts, learn to love who we have been made to be.

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  9. Concerning the last post, PLEASE start reading the desert fathers. Really, people, stop judging homosexuals as though they need to repent. What are they repenting of? If, like any human person, a homosexual is living in fornication, then yes, that person needs repentance. But there's no such thing as "repenting from thoughts."

    Sexuality is a human desire, given by God. You can either live it out in moderation or fornication (or celibacy, if that's your calling). Desire in itself is not evil. I'm not sure where you're getting your spirituality from, because that's not what the Church and Desert Fathers and Mothers taught.

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  10. Dear Gay4xc,

    I think you may misunderstand me, and that's my fault. I don't think I've been clear at all throughout my last posts.

    I'll try to shortly clarify it. What I mean is homosexual acts or intimacy, and the adultery of the heart. In other words if you dwell on a homosexual thought where you're letting the devil pull the strings of your imagination, you need to repent.

    Also Gay4XC in regards to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers here are some examples :)

    When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert hewas beset by accidie, and attacked by many sinful thoughts.He said to God, 'Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? (The storys end with an angel showing him that he should work so the devil doesn't have a chance to take the strings of his mind)

    Another one (Its a very long story, so I'll only take the relevant part):
    St. Macarius asked a monk: 'Do not your thoughts war against you?' He said all was good because he was afraid and St. Macarius told him: 'See how many years I have lived as an ascetic, and am praised by all, and though I am old, the spirit of fornication troubles me.'

    I think that should shed light on what I meant by desires. The type of thoughts I was talking about are the same as thoughts of lust towards a woman. I didn't mean wanting to spend life with a man (though actually doing it will almost certainly lead to sin if there is any lust at all.)

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  11. Notice that the story of St. Macarius says that he was battling the thoughts of fornication, not his own sexual desires that he, like all humans, are born with. He was battling his own nature, but was battling with the thoughts of the pleasure of fornicating, because he chose the life of celibacy.

    The point I'm making is: don't mix up the natural sexual desire with the thoughts of fornication. It's not the teaching of the Orthodox Church, although such teachings unfortunately died out due to the focus on culture wars and the use of evangelical (and fundamentalist) sources by those who have the authority to teach in the Coptic Church. If they get back to sources, there wouldn't be as many problems in the sexual affairs of (straight) married couples, and there certainly won't be an attack on homosexuals for their orientation, which is a natural sexual desire as the research in biology and psychology has come to find.

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  12. Mike and M, is that really necessary? She is offering comforting words to a person who is obviously in need of some support and encouragement. I think your comments were inappropriate. We can discuss, and there are plenty of other places on this blog to discuss, however, i do have a problem when people start assessing the "christian-ness" of a person. I think some humility could be learned here. I commend her and others here who have taken the time to show a young man who is hurting and afraid, that they are loved by God. That is the beginning. That's how Jesus did it, and you saw how He was attacked whenever he just simply loved. I just had to say this because I was disappointed when I read all that. You don't know everyone's story, and sometimes meekness and gentleness is the best way to approach someone whom you do not know.

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