Life is strange… I can’t say it often enough. I grew up in a time and place that was mismatched with who I was and who I understood myself to be. Part of the cauldron that shaped me was the hotbed of the Civil Rights Era, a childhood in the aftermath of the infamously resisted racial integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Every single person around me — family, friends, teachers, neighbors, the salon beautician — they were all bigots, And I could not comprehend what on earth difference the color of a person’s skin made. I was strong-willed and I did not succumb to the rabid hatred. Although, yes, it is hard to grow up in that environment without being a little tainted.
The other mismatched phenomenon I was born into was fundamentalist Christianity. How many times had I heard that black people, gay people, were bound for hell for all eternity. “Hellfire and damnation” sermons ringing in my ears. This became a spiritual crisis when I reached adolescence and took on the label “lesbian,” not even knowing till some time later exactly what the word was or what it meant. Never mind the fact that beneath the lesbian label, I was transgendered, but had largely repressed that realization.
So when I took on the label, I set out to read the Bible, and find out for myself if I was really hell-bound.
I read it from end to end, and high-lighted relevant passages, as well as other stuff that spoke to me in some way.
Good ol’ Leviticus 18:22 could not be mistaken, nor similar other verses. So I went to church and tried my best to wish away being lesbian. It didn’t work! And just as I couldn’t conceive what difference the color of a person’s skin made, I also could not comprehend how Love could be a sin worthy of eternal damnation. I decided, finally, that the Christian God was not a God of Love, and being stubborn and strong-willed, I chose Love.
Many years go by, and I learn that Jesus himself never once mentioned homosexuality. He washed the feet of a prostitute and championed the disenfranchised. I learned a little bit about whole books that were excluded from the Bible, and about the problems of translation from the original languages. Still, it was not enough to endear me to this Christian God always heralded by the likes of Westboro Baptist Church who proclaim that “God hates fags.” (Humorous side note — if God is British, perhaps he hates cigarettes?)
The years march by, one after the other, in lock-step. I discover Buddhism and find that it resonates with my world-view. I particularly like this quote from the Buddha:
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
Basically, even if you see it on the Internet, or if you see it on Fox News, don’t automatically believe it to be true!
Lots of triumphs, loads of struggles. Transitioned from female to male, married my wife and had my worst ever close encounter with a psychopath. Along the crooked path, I did some genealogical research. My very Italian father, raised Catholic, had dared to marry my non-Catholic mother. Not a huge secret. What my mother had not bothered to tell me was that her very German father, raised a Catholic, had also rebelled and married my non-Catholic grandmother. Such an odd coincidence, it seemed by all rights, I should have been raised Catholic as well.
The plot thickens, and as I try to put back together the decimated pieces of my life after my wife, several of the people who most supported me were Catholic, and they did not judge me for having been a lesbian who then transitioned from female to male.
I find in my own little town an intentional community of Catholics. Not only do they embrace GLBT people, but one of the parishioners is an uncloseted MTF acquaintance whose wife of several decades provides the music for mass. But beyond that, they are actively involved in making the world a better place. Members contribute both their money and the service of their time to an organization called So Others Might Eat. This is definitely the God of Love I was seeking!
What Buddhism lacks, most strains of it anyway, is a belief in a Higher Power. On his deathbed, the Buddha is said to have exhorted his followers to seek out their own salvation. (See the Wikiquote analysis of this quote here.)
Acceptance and inclusion of GLBT people within the Christian church seems to be on the rise. And as far as Catholics are concerned, this is not just within intentional faith communities like the one I now attend. Even Pope Francis is leading the Catholic church in a new direction.
I have been attending RCIA classes (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). The classes are held at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in College Park, Maryland. We do not have a regular priest at our own church, and priests from nearby parishes come each week. I am blessed that members of my church provide me with transportation to the classes.
Tonight, we discussed faith vs works, and faith vs reason. According to Father Mark, they are not an either / or, but an AND. I tried to ask my bumbling question, under which was the dilemma that we cannot “manufacture” faith. At first he could not answer my question, and I seemed to have stumped him. He said, “I don’t know.” But as the class progressed, I got my answer, which I already somehow knew.
Faith doesn’t come to us because we will it or choose it (though choose it, we must eventually do, I believe). Instead, God is always there with the door open, beckoning us and leading us to down the rocky road that leads to his Heart. It IS by grace. We just have to answer the knocking at the door. I’m staring quizzically through that peephole now, and praying for God’s continued grace and guidance.
On the way home, I chatted with J, the wonderful fellow who provided my transportation tonight. J mentioned a poem called Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson which I looked up on Google. Read it in its entirety here. It’s not an easy poem, and it sounds rather scary to be pursued like a hound by God. But I’m grateful God has stuck by me through all my rejection and waywardness. I do earnestly believe that this is a God of Love who does not roast GLBT people in hell.
Doesn’t really fit with the theme of my post, but someone shared this song, and I feel like sharing it with you:
May God bless you and keep you and lead you toward healing.
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