Thursday, November 25, 2010

Enough

How many times have I told you that you are perfect just as you are? That you are enough? More times than you can count, I'm sure. During this time of the year when everyone is concentrating on family and being thankful for the blessings they've already been granted, I think it's appropriate to be thankful for you.

I've recently reconnected with a very dear friend on Facebook. Say what you want about Facebook, if you can't do anything else, you can find people with whom you've lost contact. You can reseal those broken bonds. My friend and I were troublemakers, although we didn't think so at the time. We had a knack for asking the hard questions and making people think for themselves. Consequently, the grown-ups were both furious and secretly proud of us at the same time. Our pastor hated to look out into the audience at Bible Study and see us sitting there. He knew that it was going to be a long night.

When she 'came out' as a lesbian, she drifted away from our home church; I had already left. I put 'came out' in quotes because I already knew; I was simply waiting for her to catch up. Suddenly, the strict ideals of a conservative church didn't fit into the life of a woman who had just discovered she was someone that was frowned upon.

You know what? I'm not doing her story any justice. I'll just let her tell you herself. Ladies and gentleman, my literal definition of best friend forever, Tawanna Sullivan.


Sufficient As I Am
by Tawanna Sullivan

the book cover of Spirited
Born and raised a Baptist, I was deeply involved with the church for the first nineteen years of my life. I spent an average of three days a week there: regular Sunday services, Wednesday night Bible Study, and youth/young adult activities on Saturday.
I was a Christian by rote. I could recite the books of the Bible and had memorized lots of verses, but didn’t really think about what I was learning. That began to change one Sunday morning with a discussion in Young Adult Sunday School class. Rev. Sam, the Youth/Young Adult pastor, asked, “What would you do if you were or had gotten someone else pregnant?”
There were about fifteen of us in the room and, like Stepford children, all of us just recited the correct answer. “Well, the right thing to do is marry the mother/father of my child.”
Then, the reverend threw us a curve ball. “What if you didn’t love or even like the mother/father of the baby? What if getting married to this person would be like entering a living hell?” I thought about it for a moment. “Don’t you still have to get married? If it’s a bad marriage aren’t you just suffering the consequences of your own sin?” Even as I said it, I knew it was a weak argument.
Rev. Sam drove his point home. “Do you really believe that a kind, loving God would want you to enter a loveless, lifeless marriage? Can you fix a situation by creating a worse one? Would that be good for you? For the baby? What society, your parents, or even your pastor tells you to do does not always reflect God’s will for your life.”
Those words rocked the foundation of my 16-year-old existence. It was the first time anyone had ever challenged me to examine my beliefs. Before when I encountered doctrine that I thought was strange, I glossed over it. After this Sunday School lesson I stopped mindlessly absorbing sermons and religious teachings and started really thinking about what I was hearing. I began sorting through my own thoughts and ideas. “Do I believe this because I really believe it or because it’s been drilled into my head as the truth?”
I started reading books about religion and spirituality. I began to understand the difference between trying to “be good” because you don’t want to go to Hell and doing the right thing solely because you genuinely believe it is right. When you are motivated by fear (of God, Hell, etc.), it’s easy to feel insecure and miserable. (If I slip and fall on a patch of ice, is it because God is getting me back for some recent, perhaps unintentional, sin?)
If I were in a relationship with a human being that was controlling and manipulative, I would be trying to find a way out. It is definitely not the kind of relationship I wanted to have with God. I continued reading about other religious beliefs. I was not looking to convert to a completely new ideology, but I wanted to explore how others viewed their relationship with God.
At 19, when I finally realized that I was a lesbian, I had already figured out that gays and lesbians were not horrible creatures despised by God. Two facts led me to this conclusion. I had re-examined the Sodom and Gomorrah story and couldn’t see how anyone could use it as an argument against homosexuality. When the people of the village demanded to have Lot’s visitors turned over to them, Lot’s response was, “Leave those men alone, but you can sexually molest my daughters if you want.” Yes, this is the only righteous man in town. Lot gets away free while his wife is turned into a pillar of salt for daring to look back. So God hates homosexuals but Lot’s treatment of his daughters is fine—the story just does not sound right to me.
Also, though my pastor preached that homosexuality was unnatural, I never thought of it that way. Unnatural means something that is forced, something that did not occur normally. My attraction to women is something that developed naturally and normally. It’s not as if I was attracted to men but had somehow “trained” myself to want women. Loving women is just as normal as having brown skin. It’s not something that I chose but part of who I am. In short, I didn’t have a problem with being gay and God didn’t have a problem with it either.
Though I was growing more secure with my relationship with God, I was not sure about my relationship with the church. The most visible gay people there were in the choir. Though people whispered about them, no one would come right out and accuse them of being gay. At the same time, these men, no matter how many gaydar alarms they set off, pretended to be straight. They dare not acknowledge a lover inside the church. Once in a while, one would bring a female friend to church and introduce her as a “fiancee”; I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a wedding. When the pastor or some other church member started talking about “those people,” they pretended not to hear.
If I wanted to stay a part of the church, I would have to leave my lesbian self at the door. Could I? Did I want to do that? Am I really in spiritual fellowship with people if I can’t be my true, one hundred percent self? If my church family doesn’t accept me fully and completely, is it really my family?
At the time I was pondering this, I came across Walt Whitman’s “One Hour to Madness and Joy.” This poem really resonated with me. It talks about escaping from the molds that other people cast for you and realizing that you are sufficient as you are. Forget the expectations of others and live your life. If I wanted to be happy (and I did), there was only one choice: I had to let the church go.
Most of my friends and social activities had been through the church, but it was not hard to fill that void. I found new friends, started learning more about myself, and exploring the world around me. I had a new life and, after a few more years, a completely new concept of God.
For me, God is a positive, life-affirming spiritual force that we all have a link to via our souls. Think of an octopus-like creature but with an infinite number of arms, each arm attached to one of us. God is not concerned about your religious affiliation, but about the content of your heart. Since you can control the content of your heart, you ultimately are the one who determines the degree and intensity of that relationship. For example, if you are filled with rage and hatred, how can you then be open to receiving that life-affirming, loving spirit? You have to be willing to let go of negative, soul-sapping obstacles.
This spiritual link to God also links us to each other. I can’t cut myself off from you and not somehow obstruct my relationship with God. This doesn’t mean that we have to love or like each other, but I have to respect you as a fellow being and treat you with compassion.
In my view, it does not matter what religious beliefs you hold—as long as those beliefs do not actually put stumbling blocks in your spiritual path. More importantly, you can’t let other people dictate what your relationship with God is going to be.
Copyright © 2001

Until next week,
Feed on love; subsist on peace

2 comments:

Let me hear your voice.