|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.