"It is what it is"

The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself. ~ Mark Twain

Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices. ~ Paul Tournier

These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed. ~ Ricky Martin

 

We had an email inquiry yesterday that got me writing about acceptance.  Wes, my colleague, asked if I’d written anything for the blog on that theme – and while it has come up here and there – I couldn’t think of a post with that emphasis.  Now for many of our readers who are out and comfortable with their identity some of the following may seem like it is from an age-gone-by.

Prophets of Peace

Wes and I have been working through Jean Vanier’s book, “Finding Peace” in our staff devotions.  I love this little book and have prayed through it many times.  Vanier’s context is working with adults who are intellectually and physically differently abled.  This is quite distinct from the arena of faith and sexuality and those who find themselves outside the majority status of gender and sexual orientation.  However, his insights about humanity, about finding peace in the midst of difference, are universal and often deeply inspiring as we seek to go about our work through New Direction.

Vanier says, “The world is divided into many thousands of more or less hermetically closed groups.  If each group is sure that it is better than others, how will peace ever come? It is difficult to dialogue with others if we cling arrogantly to the idea that we are right or that our power and technology are a sign of our humanity and goodness.  Walls and barriers exist between people because of language, but also because of fear – each group fearful of those who are different, fearful of losing its identity.  People resist opening up to others.  Aren’t we all in one way or another enclosed in a secure group, in our culture, our religion, our family, our network of friends?  Family and different types of groups are needed for human growth, but when they become sealed they engender rivalry, conflict, elitism.”

Yesterday, I quietly prayed and lamented a world that became more entrenched in its polarization.  How do prophets of peace speak into the madness of boycott and counter-appreciation events?  How does a peace-maker respond to the reality of pain and anger and reductionism on both ends of the spectrum? 

The other side of the coin…. when gay people long for reconciliation with their conservative Christian family

Last week I read about a young girl, just 16 years of age, in Kentucky who was attacked by two men shouting anti-gay slurs.  Her jaw was broken, she lost several teeth and one of the younger boys with her suffered a concussion trying to protect his friend.

Then today I read about a woman in Nebraska who was bound, had anti-gay slurs carved into her skin, doused with gas, and had her house set on fire.  The woman managed to escape the house.  But one can only imagine the long difficult road ahead of her to recover from this level of trauma.

A friend left a video link on my facebook wall that tells the story of a profoundly hurtful family response to the partner of a gay son who had died in an accident. 

For the straight conservative Christian trying to repair a relationship with a gay loved one …..

I heard from a Christian who described a pretty common experience.  The Christian has a loved one who is gay and the relationship has deteriorated to the point that the gay person, as the Christian perceives it, is angry and demanding that if the Christian wants to have a relationship with them, they’ll need to affirm gay marriage and become an advocate for LGBT people.  The Christian person does want to work on restoring the relationship, but also feels that what is being asked puts them in a position of compromising their Scriptural beliefs.  The Christian is wondering where they can begin to try to open communication.

This is my response:
You describe a common but difficult relational impasse with a gay loved one.  There may be a number of inadvertent things you have communicated (through body language, tone of voice as well as words) over time that have built up the anger in your loved one.  Anger is almost always a secondary emotion – it is often a protection for the pain that one feels.  When you feel different in a way that you feel others perceive as wrong, immoral, broken, a problem etc. you develop a very strong sense of self-protection – and this can commonly manifest as anger.  They may be angry about things that you are unaware of.  Or their anger may be amplified by other matters that have nothing to do with you.  So, if you can remember that their anger is probably covering a lot of pain – that may be helpful.

One way to begin to break down the patterns of hostility and distance, would begin with this kind of introduction:

Grieving, Accusation & Tough Questions for God

I haven’t written much about HIV/AIDS on this blog for a few reasons.  First, I don’t feel like I have the knowledge to write helpful posts on the topic.  Second, while this is an important topic, it hasn’t been a particular focus at New Direction.  And third, I do not want to perpetuate the stereotype that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease.  Hopefully most people recognize by now that HIV/AIDS is transmitted in a number of different ways and is a risk that crosses all social, economic, racial and orientation lines.

But we received an email today that offered the opportunity for me to respond:

“I have used your resources in the past when my brother came ‘out’ to my parents. I am SO thankful for your organization! My brother was recently diagnosed as HIV+ and I wondered if you can direct me to any resources that deal with this? Not so much the medical side of things, but questions like, ‘Why is God punishing me?’, ‘Why did God allow this to happen to me’, ‘Can I be forgiven?'”

When I read an email like this, a number of things flash through my mind.  I remember the first time I heard about AIDS.  I was in a phys. ed. class at my Christian high school.  It was the mid-eighties.  A video clip was shown in which a gay man was talking about his illness.  One of my classmates burst into tears and rushed out of the room.  The man in the video was her uncle.  She did not know that he was gay or that he had, since the video’s release, died of AIDS.  She’d been told he died of cancer.  I can remember the shock going through the room.  And I remembered at the time how angry I felt that this girl’s family had been too embarrassed to be honest with her and tell her the truth.  I didn’t know that much about homosexuality back then, but I knew enough to be outraged that someone’s family would be so ashamed of them as to lie.

Generous Spaciousness & the Invitation to Rest

Generous spaciousness is a posture that is needed more than ever.  In a world of instant communication where people can react and respond within seconds, perhaps without taking time for reflection or prayer and with the convenient protection of anonymity, harsh polemic is more often the norm than is generosity.  It is easy to be black and white, self-righteous, arrogantly certain, and loud with your judgments when you don’t have to put your name to your opinions.  When there is little to no chance of accountability, you can throw out statements without really thinking through how they might affect others.

Generous spaciousness invites a different kind of discipline.  It seeks to intentionally make room for the reality of multiple perspectives.  It seeks to extend the benefit of the doubt that different conclusions are held on the basis of convictions that have been thought through and prayerfully reflected upon.  This of course is not always the case.  Sometimes people hold opinions that they’ve never risked questioning or challenging.  But generous spaciousness

Changes at Exodus & Apologizing for the Pain of Ex-Gay Survivors

There has been a lot of buzz of late about changes in the focus of Exodus International under Alan Chambers’ leadership.  As many of our readers will know, New Direction used to be a member ministry of Exodus.  In fact, I served as the Regional Rep for Canada for about three years.   In that time, I did my best to encourage the network to step back from debates about causation, to focus on discipleship rather than reorientation change, and to cease any involvement in political matters that would impede or prevent civil equity for LGBT people.  It seems that some five years later some of these changes are being incorporated into Exodus as it moves forward.  

In my last conversation with Alan, I encouraged him to think very carefully about how Exodus will navigate dialogue with those who hold affirming views in the future.  He and I both know that societal attitudes are shifting at an incredible pace, at least in North America.  These shifts are happening both outside of and inside of the Christian community.  I challenged Alan to think about the potential role Exodus could play in modeling peace-making and being a catalyst of respectful dialogue in the midst of diverse perspectives on the question of gay marriage for Christians.

Is Generous Spaciousness just a Bridge to Nowhere?

I’ve just spent some time reading through a number of different blogs and, as I often do, find myself ruminating on the mission,vision and context in which New Direction seeks to serve.

On one end, Alan Chambers gives an interview for the Atlantic in which he shares his vision for a discipleship-focused ministry for same-sex attracted people who believe that Scripture directs them to refrain from entering a committed same-sex relationship.  On the other end, John Shore chews up and spits out the idea of bridge-building and middle ground and unequivocally calls for all Christians to support gay marriage.

Both of these men are my brothers in Christ.  Both believe they are following the leading of Christ.  And the words and actions of both affect my sisters and brothers who are LGBT.

I am keenly aware, as I ponder not only their thoughts, but the comments generated by these posts, that I do so as a person of majority privilege.  As a straight ally, I cannot fully enter in to the experience of needing to fight for the opportunity to enter a loving, committed relationship to launch building a family of my own. 

Suggestions on Communicating Effectively

In a blog post entitled, “The Church and Homosexuality:  Ten Commitments”, Kevin DeYoung offers advice to Christians about speaking on the topic.  As he considers different audiences, he recommends:

-> If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous.

-> If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic.

-> If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be apologetic and humble.

-> If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society’s approval, we want to be persuasive and persistent.

-> If we are speaking to liberal Christians who have deviated from the truth once delivered for the saints, we want to be serious and hortatory.

-> If we are speaking to gays and lesbians who live as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be winsome and straightforward.

-> If we are speaking to belligerent Christians who hate or fear homosexuals, we want to be upset and disappointed.

 

So how ought we to speak about homosexuality? Should we be defiant and defensive or gentle and entreating? Yes and yes. It depends on who is listening. All seven scenarios above are real and not uncommon. And while some Christians may be called to speak to one group in particular, we must keep in mind that in this technological day and age anyone from any group may be listening in. This means that we will often be misunderstood.

The Tipping Point

As those who read this blog will know, I’m not a “jump on the latest news” kind of writer. I prefer to ponder, percolate and pray before sharing my reflections. This particular post has been in the hopper for a while – before North Carolina’s vote on Amendment 1, before Obama’s comments about gay marriage, before this great post by Rachel Held Evans, before backlash within the Exodus network, before SoulForce got to sit down with some Focus on the Family leaders ….. well you get the idea. A lot has been happening that seems to reinforce the thoughts that I’ve been distilling to put into this post. Typical for me, however, this post didn’t germinate in the headlines – but in the context of conversation and relationship. That’s where the real stuff happens, IMHO. What we see in the headlines comes long after the quiet, behind closed doors, emotionally connected, vulnerable, soul-searching sharing between human beings doing the best they can to hear God, to love him with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love their neighbour as they love themselves.

I’ve been in this conversation about how straight people can respond to gay people, particularly gay Christians in the church, for a while. Over ten years in fact. During that time I’ve encountered a lot of resistance, a lot of tearful tension, and some openness. Almost without exception, the openness I’ve encountered has come out of people’s encounters with gay people. This isn’t rocket science of course. But it bears being highlighted because it is still the most significant tipping point in this conversation. Once you move from this being a theoretical theological or moral dilemma to the reality of people’s lives, their faith, their challenges, their questions, their authentic searching, their commitments, their fears, their hope and dreams you, most often, can no longer categorize things in impersonal terms.