Thursday, April 21, 2011

He set an example...

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

I attended the Holy Thursday prayers at my church this morning and afternoon. It was a great time for reflection on the Lenten journey we have all gone through. Battling the inevitable hunger pains, we arrived at the "Laqqan" or blessing of the waters, where the water is blessed and prayed on, and then the priest symbollically washes the feet of the congregation by wetting a towel and putting the sign of the cross on the front of their lower legs. This of course comes from the gospel, where before the Passover, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, leaving some offended at the notion of a great teacher humbling himself to such a menial task, but does so as an example of what it means to be a true servant, and how we are to treat each other. For some reason, I had this thought in my head: I wonder what it would be like if we as a congregation actually washed each others feet. That it wasn't the task of the priest to put a wet towel to our legs, but that we could actually wash the feet of our neighbors in the pews.

I could imagine the discomfort. Many people hide their feet, it is a very sensitive part of the body. Allowing someone to wash your feet is in a way letting them see a not so clean part of you. For some they would rather have their feet covered, rather than show the world what they look at. Others are self conscious, while, for the most part, unless you've spent a lot of time and money in pedicures and such, most likely, you would not be quick to put your bare feet in the hands of another person in church, let alone let them wash them. On the flip side, how many of us would want to take the bare foot of a congregation member into our hands? I wonder what kind of congregation we would be if we were the type of congregation that could wash each other's feet.

It's not about washing feet, though, but its exposing ourselves. It's allowing someone else to clean us, to acknowledge our shortcomings, and to take the dirt and wash it away. I'm sure we can have no problem doing this with strangers, but what about with people we know well, who maybe have hurt us or fallen short of what we wanted. Or maybe for some of us, we don't want to be seen. We don't want our dirt and our filth exposed to our neighbor, even in the church, even if he or she has dirt of their own. It's being in a very vulnerable position, and putting ourselves in the hands of our neighbor.

I thought about the conversations in past weeks on several message boards, in light of the passage in John 13, and I wish we could come together, humbly, gay and straight Copts, alike. "Pro-gay" and "anti-gay" Copts together, and come together in that same spirit of humility and love and service, and for a moment, take the time to wash one another's feet. To take the dirt that we see in the other, and pour the cool water of forgiveness, understanding, compassion and love, over what we see that offends or bothers us. That for a moment we can stand humbly as one, imperfect, but covered by grace and love. For we are all loved, and greatly so. We fear the other, we blame the other, we accuse the other, and we think we know the other, however, the greatest One among us, was able to wash the feet of the one who betrayed him, who are we that we could refuse to do the same?

These were some thoughts that affected me today. I hope after Lent, we can continue the dialogues out there on the net, in a better Spirit where we can follow that example given to us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Did Someone Light A Candle?

It comes to no surprise that the survey that was distributed a number of weeks ago has caused a reaction in the community.   The topic of homosexuality and the church is one that polarizes.   I wish it weren't so, but it is.   In many web communities, the survey was faced with a lot of backlash, and distrustful skepticism.  Immediately, we were accused of plotting a way to change the church's dogma on homosexual sex.  The mention of the survey alone, brought out some interesting thoughts from people.   I have to say when we are in a place of fear, we are not at our best.

Fortunately, the church need not worry, as there is no secret agenda of a gay takeover of the Coptic Church.  That is not the intention of the survey nor is such a thing possible through the asking of questions.   If popular vote was a way to set and alter church dogma, are we saying that the council of Nicea went something like this:  "Ok guys, show of hands:  oneness of Christ with God the Father, yay or nay?"

But despite the distrust and heated arguments, there have been some great moments of dialogue and mutual understanding!   Many of us have had a chance to tell our stories to people, and it is through this exposing of ones life in detail that takes away the mystery.   One man in particular reached out to me via email, and asked me to explain more about the survey and why we did it.  This is what I had to say.  I say this to all people who are wondering why we made this survey.  Something to think about:

The people who made the survey, and now I'm helping out with them, because I definitely feel in line with what they're doing.

Yes, they are all copts. Initially the survey was intended to capture some of the stories of other gay coptic people out there, and their experiences, so others can feel that they are not alone in their struggles. But it turned into something different, more like a survey for all Coptic people. The fact is that no one wants to talk about this issue. And, , I happen to believe exactly what you believe, that we should not be defined by our sexuality or sexual orientation. But the fact is, everyone is defining us."


"The aim of the survey is mainly just a way to get the people in the church thinking: "Do I know any gay people? How have I dealt with them? Do my actions further ostracize them or am I part of making my church a safe place for everyone to be in fellowship with?" Also, the fact is, everyone I know who has struggled with their sexuality, or have either come out, get different reactions from clergy and their community. I've seen some pretty harsh stuff, but I've also seen some loving stuff as well. But the harshness says that many of our dear clergy members do not know how to attempt to deal with this. Some even go by way of the ex-gay route, which only leads to further destruction. I'm all for gay celibacy btw, if one truly believes that it is the only path to holiness and wholeness in their lives."

"Yes, it is a difficult issue with no easy answers, but we feel that the conversation needs to start. And it needs to start within the church. We are not saying the church needs to accept homosexuality as a viable lifestyle. The fact is, someone who identifies as gay, says nothing about how they actually live their lives. Many are celibate. Many are promiscuous. Many are monogamous. etc. etc. etc. We are not saying the church needs to change her doctrine. But the question is, ok we have brothers and sisters who have fallen short one one point, on a single point. Should this separate us from the community? Does the community want us separated? The survey responses that have really surprised me the most, are the ones that say "yes I believe homosexuality is wrong. And yes I believe gay people should be one with us in the community." If Christ can meet me, here and now as I am, I have to have faith that he will lead me to the truth."

"By offering Christ to everyone who wants, without condition, you are putting them in line with grace. You are putting them in direct contact with the love of God."

"So this survey is for gay copts, to see what "those closed minded coptic people" really think, and I know in my heart, they will be surprised to see the results. And it's for straight copts, to challenge them to think more about what it is they believe and how that belief should be carried out in terms of dealing with others different than themselves. This survey is for clergy to see who their congregation is, and not who they want them to be, or who they might present themselves to be. It's for reconciliation. And yes, we are a small number. But, yes, I care about my brothers and sisters who deal with this, because I've been through it myself, and it's a miracle that I am where I am today. I don't know why I feel spared, but I have been, and I thank God every single day."

"Hope this clarifies, sorry that this went so long. I will never forget when you said "I know God can love a gay person: because he loves me." you give me hope in my community, whom I also have feared. Those words stick with me, and I'll never forget. Thank you!"
The gentleman wrote me back.   His quote that I mention was from a previous email.  This man has really inspired me.  He made me realize that in this community which many of us have felt so estranged from, there are people who are willing to stand next to us and call us brothers, even if they may not agree with us on all fronts.   If you are gay and Coptic, or straight and Coptic.   We invite you to stand with us.    We have a fan page on Facebook.  We'd love to interact with friends, those who are willing to acknowledge that we exist, and are willing to stand with us.   Not all of us believe the same thing about what it means to be gay or how that is expressed.  If you have questions, ask us.  We'd love to share with you.    If you're gay, but are in the closet, you don't need to out yourself, but a time will come when you'll be ready, and know that when you are, you are NOT ALONE.

I feel hopeful.

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