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I don’t usually do much for Lent other than think about what I should/could/would do. But this year there’s something stirring deep down. A need for silence.

My brain works in a furious rush sometimes, and most of my life is filled with incredible life-giving moments, but sometimes the energy of those moments keeps me up at night because I just. can’t. shut. off.

My brain and my soul need a break. And I need to practice quiet.

I told someone yesterday that in grade nine a science teacher asked me to stop putting my hand up to answer questions so that other students would be more likely to participate. In grade twelve a teacher told me I take up too much verbal space.

Ya, I’m long-winded. And I’m sensitive about it. Nearly every time we leave a social gathering I ask Kathryn if I talked too much. It’s only just occurred to me in the last few months that I don’t need to (and don’t even benefit from) this compulsive desire to share and record every thought that comes swirling through my mind.

Kathryn’s highest love language is acts of service, and in my desire to love her well, I sometimes need to remind myself at bedtime that it is an act of service not to tell her every thought I have had all through the live long day. And then I have to tell myself it’s an act of service not to tell her I’m doing an act of service. The woman needs some sleep.

So, because of these heart stirrings, and because of a desire to deepen my internal peace, for the next forty days I plan to spend twenty minutes a day practicing external and internal quiet. I will sit quietly and focus on my breath and as thoughts come through my mind I will picture them as leaves on a river floating by, appreciated but not needing to be captured, and I will gently return to my breath.

Silence.

This poem, written by my friend Rachael Barham, speaks volumes to me of the kind of spirituality I seek. I hope it does the same for you.

If this be a kindly mist
Then I wish to surrender to it
Fall into its unclarity and darkness
As into a soft and giving sleep

But it must be Love:
It must love me like no other
And cause me to love in return
– To love the mist itself
And the shapes that rise in it,
Bodies softened,
Hard lines blurred

If this mist be Love
I wish to view all things in and through it
I wish never again to see clearly, boldly, singly
I wish never again to see the world divided, sorted, sifted
But joined, surrounded, lost in obscurity together

May the mist be thick enough to hide from me my own hands
Left from right, right from left
Good from bad, right from wrong
So that I can move unselfconscious
Unobserved and unnoticed

Should I feel myself tugged at by a hidden hand
Toyed with, pushed and pulled
Twisted round to face…
(What?)
Let me give in to the swirl, fold, whisper
And find myself taken in
Encircled, embraced and
At last
Lost

God of the universe who holds all things together:

Let us be instruments of peace.
Where there is hatred, may we bring love.
Where there is hurt, may we forgive.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
Where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Where there is darkness, may we bring light.
Where there is sadness, may we bring joy.

May we seek to comfort rather than to be comforted;
to understand, rather than to be understood;
to love, rather than to be loved.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is by forgiving that we find forgiveness.
It is in death that we find new life.

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I came out to my friends and family at the age of 25.  Three years prior, one of my university professors had come out as a gay Christian. Before hearing her story, I had never heard the two terms used in cohesion with one another.

Growing up in a Pentecostal church, being gay was so far removed from my experience of ‘normal’ that it did not once cross my mind in a conscious way that I might be gay. It was only after hearing my professor’s story that I began to examine my own life, attractions and relationships.

That journey was painful. Coupled with my vulnerability to depression and having Borderline Personality Disorder (undiagnosed at that point in my life), trying to process that I was not who I always thought I was – and not who my family, church and friends expected I was – was like trying to swallow fistfuls of cement. Coming out to oneself is always the first and hardest step of accepting who you are. And that’s just the beginning. The idea of having to share this dark shame with another person paralyzed me. I was physically and emotionally sick for a long time before I started talking to people who were able to help me see the beauty in who I am as a gay Christian.

One of those people was Wendy Gritter, executive director of New Direction, an organization that actively seeks to “eliminate fear, division, and hostility at the intersection of faith, gender, and sexuality.” She had counselled a few other gay people I had spoken with, and on their recommendation I connected with her. I still remember her expression the first time we met, when she told me “there is no shame in being who you are.” The sincerity and determination in her voice pierced through my walls of internalized homophobia. This was the first time a straight person with a religious background was affirming my sexuality.

From there, my world of acceptance grew. As I found more safe people (and realized just how many of my friends and family were accepting and affirming), it became easier to overcome this internal shame and wrestle through the difficult theological questions that I faced as a Christian who had grown up believing homosexuality was sinful.

The result has been an incredibly loving relationship cultivated with Kathryn, sharing who I am more authentically with my friends and family, and the dismantling of a spirituality built on fear of punishment. In its place, I have found room to grow as a Christian that believes God is drawing all life toward Love, and that my role is to practice this love and learn to cultivate trust when fear is tempting.

I still sometimes revert to that internal homophobic fear that worries if gay is synonymous with broken, sick or sinful. What I return to again and again in these moments is this – I have to believe that a life modelled after Jesus must be motivated by love, and so as St. Teresa of Avila said, “the important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so to do what ever best awakens you to love.” A life lived with love as the motivator, and in conscious opposition to fear, is the one I am after.

There’s a reason I am sharing this with you. Imagine having to wrestle through all this shame and fear without the support and acceptance of the people closest to you. Imagine if I had never met another queer Christian. Imagine being a child or a teenager who is a sexual or gender minority, fully aware of how different you are, and fully aware of the rejection you would face if anyone ever found out. I was incredibly lucky that most of my fear of rejection was unsubstantiated. I weep for those that do come out and are abandoned by family, barred from their churches, pushed toward damaging “reparative” therapies or simply ridiculed for being different.

Despite growing cultural acceptance of LGBTQ* identities, there are still kids in Canada growing up in churches and families that are not affirming, and at worse are abusive toward those that don’t fit expectations of ‘normal.’ All the fear and shame I wrestled through nearly killed me (literally). I can’t imagine the deep pain of those who have to experience this as adolescents in isolation.

This is why the work of New Direction is essential. The gay/queer community is not always fond of Christians, and vice versa, and you can imagine funding for an organization that exists in such a tense place can be scarce. This fall, New Direction made the heart-wrenching decision to lay off their Youth Coordinator due to funding. This is devastating. We must be doing MORE to reach kids and teens who fear the only way out of the closet is by death.

If you think the work of New Direction is essential, please consider making a donation (choose General Fund and indicate in the comment if you would like it to be specifically for youth outreach). To really make a difference, become a monthly sponsor. This is a tangible way you can stand up to the homophobia in our churches and society, and make a real difference in someone’s life. I’ve seen it happen in my own, and there are so many more hurting hearts to reach.

I wrote this prayer for a friend’s family member who was feeling suicidal. Later that same day, I found myself in the ER after overdosing on my medication. Without realizing, it was pre-emptively for me too. And now it’s for you if you ever find yourself in a place of needing it.

To feel understood in their pain,

For compassionate people who can truly listen,

For a real safety plan that reduces the vulnerability they and family feel,

For peace during the long wait for mental health services,

For the root of this pain to be addressed and not masked,

And endurance for the road ahead,

These things I pray.

“Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation… all the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you.” 
– David Wyte

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(Photo Credit: Brandon Mitchell)

I got to be near some pigs that were “unutterably themselves” this weekend.

I watched them cool themselves in some pretty nasty mud. I watched them root through fresh straw. I fed them corn cobs and scratched their heads and even grunted a few replies to their curious questions. I marvelled at their long eyelashes and the density of their bodies and how fast they could run in circles. I laughed and turned away disgusted as they shit and pissed right there in front of me.

I loved these pigs a little bit this weekend. I loved them even though we are so different, even though our interaction was so limited. I loved them because they showed me something I didn’t know, or maybe had just forgotten.

Along with these pigs were the dogs and the chickens; the gardens and the grass; the lake and the rain; the ants and the mosquitos; the sun and the sky – all reminding me of the hope and resiliency of creation,

the hope and resiliency of God in creation,

the hope and resiliency of creation in me.

I will tell my story.

I will open space for vulnerability where stigma and silence have reigned.

In this, I bring my darkness to light. In this, I find hope.

In this, I kindle a spark for you to bring your own darkness to light.

“You are alone.” “This pain will last forever.”

These are the two great lies of mental illness.

And so, instinctively, we fight or flee.

In telling my story, I challenge myself and you:

Stand still and hold the light.

I am, you anxious one. 

Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am that wanting:
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.

 – Rainer Maria Rilke

I have so many thoughts swirling around, overwhelming me.

A few days before flying out east I was telling my therapist how I feel this lack of spirituality in my life. I don’t know where I stand with “God” as he has always been defined by the Christian communities I’ve participated in. I was fighting back tears and she encouraged me to find time to cry.

I’m insecure about telling the ‘good’ Christians how terrible I am at being a Christian, and equally nervous about telling the non-christians how “Christian” I am.

I thought maybe I could try to be open to God around me, if indeed God exists. And then a Mormon sat next to me on the bus, and more than this, kindness spread through the bus by a simple act from another person.

And I found this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke on my friend Walter’s wall, suggesting that God grows strong in the beauty we behold. That God is at the very surface, waiting to burst forward.

Finally, I found myself at an Easter gathering and confessed to the group my disbelief. I told them how anxious I am for an answer – was the resurrection literal? Is God a personal, interactive being or just a distant creative force, albeit a fully good one? What role does spirituality play in my life? Do we need God in a postmodern world? Have we destroyed God?

And yet, I found myself wanting to pray.

And then someone reminded me that we live in the middle of the story. Perhaps the resurrection is evidence to us that God is Hope, and that we get these glimpses, but we also are still in mourning. We are grieving God’s death just as the disciples grieved Jesus’s death.  And the evidence of God, God-essence is all around us. In some way, people are more present after death – in those moments when a cup, a place, a word reminds you so much of them. And oh, how that makes the heart ache.

It shouldn’t surprise me that Easter is a time when reminders of God and questions of God’s relevancy would surround me. But here I am.

A friend of mine recently got involved in the kind of conversation that one sometimes stumbles across on the internet. The original post might be about anything, but at one point or another, the topic of religion is introduced and there are some commenters who are off to the races.

In this particular conversation, a few individuals wanted to claim that a definition of ‘christian’ is basically boiled down to one’s stance on homosexuality. My friend was frustrated with this narrow version of christianity and made a few statements, such as “for the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: love your neighbour as yourself,” and “if that makes me less of a Christian in some eyes, so be it – I’ll risk where my love of Jesus leads me,” before excusing himself from the conversation to “lament and have lunch.”

At times, it’s hard for me to avoid getting sucked in to reading these arguments, back and forth. I know they aren’t really good for my spirit, they wear me down and make me feel defeated. And while there are voices like my friend’s, calling for a more loving dialogue, they seem few and far between. And often rather ineffective.

Sometimes, if I’m not careful, these arguments can start to eat into me a little, and I start wondering who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ The reality is that I still struggle sometimes wondering if I’m the one who is deluded. Would God reject me on the basis of my orientation?

I know that thought is based in fear. And when I think about my love for Kathryn, how we shape each other’s lives, it feels whole and hopeful. It is the same feeling I get standing in a rainstorm, or hugging my beautiful nieces, or having a chickadee land on my hand when we’re bird feeding, or celebrating life with friends by dancing and laughing and feeling belonging.

Those are the moments God is most with me, or I am most with God, or something. And they include laying in Kathryn’s arms at night, or laughing at her ridiculous sense of humour, or comforting her after a long day at work. Her gender (or mine) in those moments means nothing.

That is what I need to remember when a stranger’s comments on the internet start eating at my self-worth and security in God’s love.

I have a picture of my dad, one of the happiest and proudest moments ever captured of him. It hangs on my wall near my entrance, and shows him and I walking down an aisle towards the woman I am about to marry. My dad will forever be an example to me of the way relationship and love can heal division and fear. In a little less than two years, he went from having an opinion very similar to those commenters to the moment pictured, joy washing over his face and tears budding in his eyes. He and Kathryn sat side by side at my hockey games through a whole season, even though he was certain of his position on homosexuality, and through that slow building of relationship he discovered the love that was possible between two women, equal to the love my brothers share with their wives. (It really could be a Tim Horton’s commercial.)

Anne Lamott recently said, “the mystery of grace is that God loves Dick Cheney and me exactly as much as He or She loves your grandchild.” Which also means that God loves the gay couple down the street as much as God loves those commenters. I don’t have kids, or grandkids, but I love my two nieces with such intensity, a love very different than the emotions I feel for those commenters. It’s hard not to be emotionally effected when you come across opinions that question the goodness of your most intimate relationship.

But I’m learning that it’s also really okay to be emotionally effected. Hurt and anger are natural, and we do need to lament for the LGBTQ* individuals that aren’t being shown God’s love by those claiming to represent Christianity. God’s heart is probably breaking and might be getting angry too. God just somehow manages to also love those guys just like I love my nieces, and that’s the confounding part. To be broken and angry and also really, really loving. How challenging.

It’s unlikely that I will be able to have much influence on the kind of people who want to spread a version of God’s love that excludes some people. But I’m not writing this to try to change the opinions of those who would define Christianity by one’s view on homosexuality. And I’m not writing this to hear agreements from those who accept gay relationships as part of the diversity of God’s creation. I am lucky and so grateful to have family and friends who actively remind me (through words and actions) that God is love unbounded.

I’m writing this for the kid who is growing up in a church that tells him he is not enough, or the woman afraid of being imprisoned simply for falling in love. I’m writing this because there are gay individuals who don’t have a dad that will walk them down the aisle at their wedding, or a family that will accept their partner as an equal.

In the deluge of posts and comments against homosexuality, someone needs to stand up and say “God is love.” I was so grateful for the words my friend did post. It’s not really his ‘battle,’ he is not gay. But in a way, it’s also a battle that belongs to all of us. Because as much as the world has changed, there are still gay people surrounded by those who think along these very hard lines, even gay people themselves who think along these hard lines, and feel the weight of shame and rejection that comes with being told you are less than another.

I just can’t accept a God whose heart is full of wrath and vengeance. I have to believe that God’s love is unbounded.

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