Monday, September 03, 2012

My Thoughts About Queerness and My New Experiences with the Eastern Orthodox Church

My child and I are both queer. My child also identifies as bigender. She considered joining the Roman Catholic church but then learned of the Eastern Orthodox and instantly felt hopelessly attracted to it. I few months ago I allowed her to start attending a local Russian Orthodox church. I went with her, because I didn't want her to choose some faith tradition that condemned or rejected her. It feels as if this was just what she and I needed.

Recently, we both became catechumens. All of this has occurred without a single question being asked about her/our sexual orientation. I know that no congregation of people should be assumed to be perfect. However, I have had a wonderful experience so far. The congregation is small (not even 50 regular attendees). It has many of those kinds of "little old ladies" who are often prejudged to be intolerant and suspicious. Even they welcomed us--two African Americans with afros and no clue about what goes on in an Orthodox church--with open arms. They treat my child like a cherished grandchild and, during coffee hour, they constantly seek to fatten up her barely 100 lb frame.

It has all had the effect of making me simply enthralled with the church. The love of God that I have felt since my introduction to the Orthodox church makes me sure that the holy Trinity does not see my queerness as grounds for rejection. I have the hope to experience even greater communion with God, now that I know--KNOW--that the only thing that can separate me from the love of God is if I refuse to accept it.

I had no idea what I'd find when I googled "Queer and Eastern Orthodox", but this was the first link that appeared. I'm so very glad that someone wrote this and I truly appreciate all of the references that I can now check out when I'm ready to delve into this subject more diligently. Glory to God!


Rootietoot said...

I am SO HAPPY for you, to have found a church home! I'm all smiles :)!

bint alshamsa said...

Thank you so much, Rootie! One of the things about the church that I really love is how they talk about orientation. Their main point is that it may be a bit unfocused to make your sexuality the thing that you create your identity around.

Am I queer? Or am I a creation of God who is, among other things, queer? The church would say that I am the latter. This makes so much sense to me. I mean, it's not like I'm even single and looking for a partner to share my life with. At this point, whether I find women attractive is as irrelevant as whether I find men attractive. So, am I obligated to make orientation my main preoccupation? Not really!

At this point in my life, there are myriad other things that I'd like to work through with God. For instance, I've told you before about the fact that I was raised to believe that there is no Trinity and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were not a part of some godhead. Even though I'd heard what I thought was every explanation for the Trinity and I really truly respected those who did believe in it, I just never FELT that it was true.

We started going to the adult classes a few months ago at our Orthodox church. In the book we are using, we got to a chapter about God's love for us. The priest opened up the conversation by talking about how this love also shows us something about God. In order for love to exist, there must be something beyond oneself, the something or someone that is being loved. The Bible states that God is Love. It does not say that God became Love after he made the universe. This Love refers to the Trinity, which existed before time began. As the holy Trinity, God is both the lover and the loved, existing in perfect oneness, complete in itself.

I can't tell you how taken aback I was by this. Never in my years of asking and reading and pondering this topic had it ever been presented to me this way. When I went home that day, I kept thinking about this explanation. I continue to think about it and you know what? It hasn't stopped making sense to me.

After a lifetime of disbelief, I NOW BELIEVE! This one change means that I must reconsider everything that I've ever been taught about biblical history, because it must be interpreted with this new understanding of who God is.

What a dazzling prospect! There is a verse in Revelation where God says, "Behold! I am making all things new!" I suddenly feel as if all of Christianity has been made new for me. I'm not just learning about the differences between Orthodox interpretations and the ways that my old denomination interpreted things. I am learning an entirely new religion! How cool is that?!

Rootietoot said...

That is the COOLEST thing I've heard in years! What has happened to you is what I've been taught as "the indwelling of the Holy Spirit"- where it comes in to you and opens your eyes to the reality of God's Love. It's kind of mind boggling, eh? I remember that process (I was in my 20's) and it was going from knowing about someone intellectually (like knowing about Aristotle or A. Lincoln) to actually KNOWING someone, and the process of getting to know Them better is a very interesting and exciting one.

At the risk of sounding like I am trivializing it (please understand that is NOT what I am trying to do!), your queerness is as much a part of you as my short legs or sarcasm is a part of me, but it is not the very definition of WHO you are. It may be a part of WHAT you are, but WHO you are is a Child of God. I am reminded of that saying- I think CS Lewis was the one who said it: I am not a body. I *have* a body, I *am* a soul. (or something like that.) This is true of mental stuff too, all those brain things like tendencies and leanings and preferences. They do not define your soul. Only God gets to do that.

bint alshamsa said...

Rootie, you have no idea how much it means to me to be able to talk to you about this! This brand spanking new experience couldn't come at a better time.

I can't change how anyone else in the world will see me. However, I can rest assured that God sees me as His child, His greatest creation.

Now, if I was the princess of some human kingdom, there would be many expectations and guidelines I'd be expected to follow. It goes with the position. So, now that I know who I am, what does it mean for how I should be expected to behave? That's the scary part! I've tried many times to bridle my tongue and make it my slave instead of being a slave to it. I'm very worried about whether I can do this.

That's where you come in. Rootie, I want so much to be like you. You are just so much more balanced than I am. My priest talks about the need to heal from our "passions" (e.g. lust, anger, gluttony, pride). I honestly need help. There have been times on facebook where I've said or shared something unkind and hurtful. When you reply with a single sigh, it feels more potent than another rebukes. Knowing that someone I esteem as much as you saw an ugly side to me just makes me cringe over what I've done. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." The former are beneficial; the latter only lead to eventual disaster.

I want to get to the point where I say less, but express more. So, I guess that means I should stop talking now. :)


Rootietoot said...

Fortunately, God knows we aren't perfect. It's a process and we won't be finished with it until we are dead and firmly in the palm of His hand. Lord knows I say and do things that make me cringe later.
Your desire to do right- to follow those "rules"...well, I don't want to say that one MUST follow the rules to call herself a believer-because it's not about following the rules. It's about the belief, and the desire to do God's will is a consequence of knowing Him as Lord. Does that make sense?
Right now, where you're at, I wouldn't think too much into it, the whole rule-following part. That will come as you learn more.
My pastor puts it like this:
Think of it all as a target,with a bullseye in the middle. The bullseye- the CRITICAL THING- is belief in God the Father, Jesus the Son,and the Holy Spirit, as the Godhead, and in salvation though Grace (not works!). If you believe that, you have the most important matter. Then imagine rings around the bullseye- the nearest ring is important doctrinal issues- like the sacraments. The next ring he calls "pious opinions" and that's stuff like evolution vs creation, whether to drink alcohol or not,etc. All those things are important in formulating the whole blanket of your belief system, but only the bullseye is critical.

I have no idea how Eastern Orthodox church handles all this- I am speaking from a purely Reform Presbyterian perspective. You have my curiosity up and I will look into it all deeper. I would love for you to explain stuff to me as you learn it- would you be ok with me asking questions as they come up?
Perhaps this could be better managed email or FB message? My email is Rootietoot (at) gmail(dot) com

I think one of the great beauties of the body of believers is the encouragement that we can give each other. A new believer brings excitement and vitality that can be lost to older ones. Older ones can give the benefit of experience to newer ones.

bint alshamsa said...

The things in the target sound very much like what they teach at the Orthodox church. There are central matters and it kind of flows from there.

I'm going to e-mail you so that we can talk. I'm really excited to have someone to talk to about this. You're a great friend Rootietoot.

Rootietoot said...

I am looking forward to learning more about Eastern Orthodoxy, and hearing from you!

molon lave said...

Welcome to Orthodoxy-may your journey be filled with mercy and love. It sounds like your church community is working for you-as you can see we love children!