Do I have a story to tell you…
Working at an urban summer camp and volunteering in a city school, I often listen to teens tell a story with the ending first- it is , after all, the most exciting part . This post is a bit like that; the ending of years of thought, learning and movement in my heart. The Lord drove huge change in my life over the course of just a couple years. He led me to new places where I was uncomfortable, He led me to people I didn’t know and who would teach me to listen well and He humbled me. Humbled.
It began with a prayer. I asked to understand what it was like to be gay. And I asked this multiple times during the day, day after day.
Working at Camp Ray Bird had put me in place to hear the stories of our campers and staff. Over the course of a couple years, I was privileged to sit with several campers and one staff person in particular who shared their experience of being attracted to the same sex.
I had little paradigm for this in my church and life experience but desired to see that change. I had no idea of how to change this, so I prayed. Walking, sitting, reading, the simple sentence “Lord, help me understand” echoed in my mind constantly it seemed.
I wanted to be able to see life through the eyes of my friend. She was gay and experienced the world differently than I did on many levels, and I wanted to understand. And I wanted to love her and others well.
My prayer broadened with a challenge to ‘do something’ in a book that I read. The author challenged readers that if they felt moved at all by his story, to get out of their chairs and “do something”. I remember like it was yesterday. It was actually the Spring of 2011. Sitting and staring out my living room window as I finished that sentence in the book. It was May and summer camp was upon me. I knew I couldn’t do much right then but said out loud, “Lord, come August, I will do whatever you put in my path so that I can understand more”.
August brought me praying again. I heard of a group in Chicago that met biweekly with open discussions aimed at bringing the church & gay communities to the same table. It was aptly named “Living in the Tension”. Meeting with this group of LGBTQ Christians would teach me more than I could have imagined. In Chicago I learned to hear deeply as I listened. I also spent a lot of time crying as I heard stories of people wounded largely by the church body. I learned terminology. I said aloud to others what I had been praying for months now, “I want to learn”.
August also brought me to a group called PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) where I listened and learned to articulate my sexual ethic. This was challenging for me as no one else in the room shared my thoughts about what God intended in the area of sexuality and gender. And perhaps more importantly than learning to articulate what I believed- I learned to speak in ways that didn’t immediate offend those listening. I learned the meaning of ‘nuance’ and ‘staying in the conversation’.
And still I continued to pray to understand. I read copious amounts of books. I asked way too many questions when I should have been listening. But God was faithful in the teaching. I prayed to understand and to “do something” and He continued to provide things to”do”.
I spent hours hanging out at a local gay bar. I spent several days at The Center on Halsted (the country’s largest LGBTQ center). I heard lectures in the Women’s Studies department at our local college IUSB. Nine months packed with doing and praying. At times it seemed like my brain would explode with questions.
That simple prayer has shaped my thoughts, beliefs and choices these past years.
You see, I am a lover of the church-the body of Christ. I didn’t grow up in the church and once I became a Christian and found a church home, I never looked back. I love the church body. I love watching people be the body for each other. I love seeing all the gifts and parts of the body function together to glorify our Savior. I love experiencing life, worship, and sacrifice in the context of body community.
But I also see some gaps in this body that I love. As I heard story after story of hurt, miscommunication, hateful words, and alienation between the church that I loved and the gay community that I was growing to love, a different prayer began to form in my heart. I clearly heard the Lord saying, “I didn’t help you understand just for your own benefit”. “Change this”.
This blog is part of my piece in seeing that change happen- at least in my corner of the world.
I have prayed that the church would become a welcome place for the LGBTQ+ seeker. A place to learn and experience God’s love through the body community. I have also prayed that the church would be a supportive place for those Christians who are celibate, gay, single, and committed to a historical Christian ethic. A place that loves well and lives in the tension that this causes in our current society. At times change has seemed so hazy. What could I possibly do to bring about change in something so large as the church?
Part of the answer to me has been simple: first- live my life a bit more publicly (my husband and I share a house communally with a young woman and that causes a lot of questions for us). I wrote earlier about how our friendship with our friend Mike generated questions for us. The same is true now with Kristen (our housemate). Except without the question, “do you ever wonder if she’s gay?”- because she’s open about her same gender attraction. But our living style brings up great questions and opportunities to sprinkle conversation with the idea that people in general in the church could choose to live differently, choose to define family differently.
The second part of the answer- write this blog (use more words to share the things that I have learned). I’m not really a writer. I am pretty much a worker bee. But I have been challenged over and over to write out my story and what the Lord has done in my heart these past 8–9 years. In many ways, I’d rather be out having coffee or sitting at the local gay bar I enjoy so much, but I’m here typing and trying to put words to thoughts and feelings long held off.
My husband keeps telling me that a lot of the church is like me: straight, 50’s, holding to a conservative doctrine, and married. There are bunches of people sitting in chairs and pews that perhaps have/had similar thoughts to myself and would benefit from some nuanced ideas. If you’ve read this far I’m assuming that might be you. I’d love to hear your thoughts, prayers and ideas. I hope these words resonate with you deep inside. I hope the Lord stirs many to pray the prayer, “Lord, help me understand” and to be challenged to “do something”.
Share this blog in the spaces you live in your social media life and let’s see what happens.