Faith

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”              – Martin Luther King,

George Michael sings in one of his songs: “You gotta have faith.” Faith is believing even when you do not know the outcomes. Faith requires existential courage. Faith requires the would-be believer to suspend their inner-most assumptions and believe in a higher power or the universe that things are going to work out. Faith is not only our religious or spiritual beliefs. It is the belief in everyday life when we simply do not know or understand how things are going to pan out.

I, like most of us, try to have faith. Most of the time it is really hard. We crave certainty in our lives. We want to know how things are going to turn out. We do nor like the insecurity of not confidently knowing the outcome of something. For me, faith is intimately linked to praying. I pray to try to ask God for the outcomes that I desire. Praying to God is setting an intention. It is my hope that by thinking it or speaking it aloud it will help to manifest what I desire. This is the essence of faith. This is asking for the universe to provide and asking God to provide and not knowing if They will.

Doubting is almost inevitable. Maybe there are some that have absolute faith, but my guess is that they are few and far between. Most of us have constant doubts, even as we try to hang onto our faith because what else are we to do? Faith, though difficult to hold on to, is an essential part of the human experience, like hope, happiness and sadness. We are tested again and again to hold onto faith in the most adverse of circumstances. As we face adversity we may have very little hope. We may think: How could God allow this to happen? Why would She make us endure so much misery and devastation?

Why bad things happen to good people is one of the world’s great mysteries and I certainly am not going to attempt to answer it here. But I will say that if we do not have faith, we lose out even more. If we have faith, we may not get everything we want, but we set our spiritual intentions for the restoration of what we have and also the dream for what we desire,

Gandhi said: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” I have been so hurt by human beings. So often I feel like my life is not valued or valuable. I become cynical and say “I hate people.” But the truth of course is that I don’t hate all people and in fact I need people. We can’t let a few rotten apples spoil the whole bunch.When people mistreat us we need to take action to make them stop. We may need to sever our relationship. And we need to have faith that we will be okay without them and wish them well even though they have hurt us so that WE can move on. Forgiveness is for us not the object of our derision.

In conclusion, faith is a huge topic. You could write a whole book about it. But what I want to stress here is that it is a journey and we are going to mess up. It is not a perfect process but it is definitely worth the effort. Faith is the glue that holds our lives together. We would shatter into a thousand little pieces were it not for faith. So: you gotta have faith; we gotta have faith. It’s worth the effort.

Religion

Religion gets a bad rap. I consider myself religious and a person of faith. I am incredibly thankful for all that religion has given me. It hasn’t always been this way. Although I was raised in the church, by the time I hit Junior High School I had pretty much dropped out of religion. For most of my life, I considered myself an “atheist.” About 4 years ago, I returned to religion and have been very happy with my decision. I put atheist in quotations because I don’t think I was really an atheist so much as it was a placeholder for me figuring out my spiritual journey. For some of us it takes a long time.

When you type in the words “Religion Is” into a google search box, this is what comes up:

  • Religion is the opiate of the masses
  • Religion is a lie
  • Religion is dying
  • Religion is a cult
  • Religion is poison
  • Religion is bad
  • Religion is ridiculous
  • Religion is for the weak
  • Religion is a mental disorder
  • Religion is a disease

It saddens me that everything that pops up is so terribly negative. I recognize that many people have had bad experiences with religion. I recognize that people often experience dissonance between their personl/political ideology and their faith tradition. But classifying religion as a mental disorder or a disease helps no one. In fact, it is incredibly insulting. Here’s the thing: religion is part of diversity. For some people, religion is a central part or THE central part of their life. For somebody else to classify them as ridiculous or weak is bigoted and untrue.

I have no tolerance for what I call atheist fundamentalists who cast aspersions on all people of faith and who demand that others abandon their religion and become non-believers like themselves. I watched the film Religulous by the wretched Bill Mahar and I was horrified at the venom and downright hate he had for all people of faith. I respect the rights of atheists and agnostics to believe what they believe. They should extend the same courtesy to people who do believe in God. We need a big tent approach that takes everyone into account, both believers and non-believers and people who have had good, mixed and negative experiences with the church.

I also hate the Marx “religion is the opiate of the masses” quote. This is especially true today where there are MANY things which could be seen as diverting people from revolutionary struggle, so it is unfair to single religion out. In addition, I do not see a conflict between being a person of faith and being a socialist or a revolutionary. Religious identity and political affiliation are two different things. I am a Christian and politically I am progressive/radical. While this does create dissonance for me, it is not a deal breaker. There are plenty of progressives in my religion and I think Christianity in its true form is very much wedded to social justice.

There is so much to say about religion but the main thing I wish to get across in this entry is that people of faith should not be made to feel guilty, should not be told our religious practice is a waste of time or a diversion from political struggle or assumptions made about our politics based upon our level of religiosity. No one should be made to defend their religious practice or relationship with God. I would like to see more room made for progressive people of faith and less judgment about people being religious or spiritual. Religion is a vitally important part of diversity and social justice and needs to be seen as such. To close, I wish all who observe them a very holy and blessed Ash Wednesday and meaningful and peaceful Lenten Season.

Love

Love is hard work. We live in a world where hatred, malice and disdain are the norm. There is constant snarkiness and coldness. We are a country dedicated to “independence” at all costs. We walk through the world like an automaton cut off from our deepest and most vital emotions. As with the previous entry, crying, we don’t know how to love. And when love is talked about, it is almost always talked about in the romantic sense, which is such a narrow way to conceptualize love. In this entry, I would like to talk about the importance of love and the need to re-conceptualize love and think about it in a radically different way.

Why is love important? Ideally, everything in society would have love at its very base. It would be the first thing and the foundation. The reason for this is that love produces the best results. If we are not in love with that which we are doing, we are not living up to the potential that God has laid down for us. I believe that God wants love to be at the core of who we are and as the foundation of everything we do. Throughout every religion, we hear about love again and again in scripture. We need to treat each other with love and we need to lead with love in our actions in the world. Love is most important entity because it is associated with kindness, sweetness, generosity and inclusiveness, among many other noble characteristics.

We don’t manifest love nearly enough. The reason is that our society is not set up for it. Our society is set up for coldness, cruelty, greed, stinginess and exclusion. Hatred is far too common, and apathy is ubiquitous. The fact that our society is set up for these negative characteristics makes it hard to manifest love. We must go against the tide, and that is never easy. But given the hatred, greed and destruction we see all around the globe, the status quo is not an option. Social, economic and environmental justice must be guided by love, must have love within its very infrastructure and must have love as a blueprint for social change.

We must also change love away from the exclusively romantic sense. The tyranny of coupledom makes those of us who are “single” feel like love is not a part of our lives. I call this type of love the “Valentine’s Day Love.” It is characterized by flowers and chocolate and a kind of hollowness. I do not discount the love between couples. But I am calling for a revolutionary love that includes everyone, whether or not they are in a romantic partnership.

Revolutionary love is collective and it is geared towards liberation. This liberation is for all. Because of its liberatory goals, this type of love is radical. It is distinctly anti-capitalist and anti-greed. Its abundance is not measured in money but in freedom, in winning justice for as many people as possible. It also carries with it responsibility. It carries the need for people to work together for liberation, freedom, justice and a more collective society. Society right now is very much based in independence. This focus on independence is selfish and dysfunctional. We are not independent, nor are we totally dependent. We are INTERDEPENDENT. We all receive and give help every day of our lives. We are, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, inter-being. How exciting it is to think of love in this new way. To re-conceptualize it and re-purpose it to be for everyone in a radical and unrepentantly political sense. In the next entry I will queer love, and talk about the revolutionary potential of a radical re-working of love by and for queer folk.

 

 

Spirituality 2: Queering the Spirit

What does it mean to be queer and spiritual? I think this has been a central question for me. The reality is that many religions are overtly or subtly homophobic or transphobic. This streak of bigotry throughout so many religions is something found in the U.S. and across the globe. And it is what has turned many LGBTQ+ people away from religion. Some have gone running and screaming. And who can blame them? Religion and spirituality should be all about acceptance, inclusion and diversity. Every church, mosque, synagogue and all other places of worship should be open and affirming. No one should be turned away at the door because of their sexual orientation of gender identity/expression.

I think this is one of the reasons that for so long I avoided religion. Way back in Sunday School, I remember one of my teachers saying that when she went to Boston and saw a “homosexual” she walked to the other side of the street. It was around junior high that I dropped out of church and went my own way. But as stated in my previous entry, this eventually did not work for me. I needed a place to ask the “big questions” that started to plague me as I felt increasing alienation from our culture. What I now know is that any religious or spiritual tradition or path that shuns LGBTQ people needs to acknowledge that their traditions are not acceptable. There have always been LGBTQ people in their faith and there always will be. It is not a question of whether LGBTQ people will be there or not; it is a question of whether LGBTQ people will be openly embraced, accepted and celebrated or not.

My religion’s official stance on LGBTQ people is not one of inclusion and acceptance. Despite this, there are many LGBTQ people in the church, both “out” and not out. Many wonder why I don’t simply walk away from my religion. I understand where these people are coming from. My response is that I am standing in my truth and demanding my place at the table. I fully sympathize with those who choose to walk away. But the church is never going to change unless some of us stay put and advocate for transformation from within. We deserve to fully be who we are within the faith traditions of our rearing or of our choice. It is going to take a tremendous amount of work to change these deeply ingrained attitudes and traditions but I know it can be done and in fact change is happening in big and small ways all around us.

Spirituality can help queer people. The reason I choose to embrace religion and spirituality is because I need something to give me gas for the car. I have faced so much adversity as a queer and trans person in this society. Because of this, I have a strong need for something that fuels my fire. I need determination, I need grace and I need perseverance. And I need something that makes life more than something to simply survive. I need something to make my life worth living and to make it meaningful. Spirituality gives the journey, the search for meaning, so much of its life and power. I am delighted that spirituality found me once again and I am determined to make a place for myself and for all queer people in religions. The good thing about spirituality is that it does not require religion. Being spiritual is an immensely personal journey and we can do it anywhere, anytime. As I continue this blog, expect issues of queer spirituality to bubble up many times. It sits at the very core of who I am.

 

 

Spirituality

It would be silly to think I could say much important about spirituality in 500 words. It is, to me, one of the most vital and crucial topics imaginable. What follows is just some preliminary thoughts and undoubtedly spirituality will show up a lot in entries to come. There is so much to say about this topic and it is incredibly necessary to say it. We live in a time when spirituality is more needed than ever. The type of crises that the world is seeing right now are catastrophic. While this of course demands peace, brilliance, cooperation and decisive action, it also demands reflection. Reflection without a spiritual connection is, to me, hollow and insufficient.

I have been on a spiritual quest for the past four years or so. For most of my life I called myself a “militant atheist” but it was a lie. Not a malicious lie, to be sure, but a false appearance of self. In fact, I was not an atheist, and certainly not a “militant” one. It was a placeholder if nothing else. In fact, there were always the stirrings of something spiritual within, even if they were often faint and hard to discern. I think this was a need for connection to the universe and connection to something bigger than myself. This is a uniquely human quest that has been going on since the beginning of time.

For me, spirituality is deeply connected to philosophy. The reason I say this is because both ask the BIG questions. It is no coincidence that there are many academic departments in Religion AND Philosophy as the two are so deeply intertwined. Some of these questions might include: Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose on this earth? What happens to us when we die? Why do we suffer so much? What gives us the strength and determination to go in the face of adversity? What is our responsibility to our fellow human beings? What does it mean to live an ethical life? What does it mean to live a purpose-driven and meaningful life? What is the search for meaning? What does the search for happiness mean and is it even able to be fulfilled? You know, simple questions like that!

Spirituality may not easily and simplistically answer these questions, but they help us to approach them. Atheism works well for many people and I totally get that. For me it didn’t. It left a void that I was constantly trying to fill in less healthy ways. Now I feel more of a connection to the Cosmos and I believe in God. Speaking to God has been a tremendous gift. THEY are in conversation with me about all the questions that I just wrote down. I can talk to Them and ponder the mysteries of my own life and of the greater world, as corny as that sounds. I feel like this truly is a journey, and one that will have many twists and turns. After a few years, the “honey-moon period” ended and I had a lot more doubts, but lately I have been back to greater belief again. I have no doubt there will be many such shifts as I work through my relationship with God and continue to hone my BIG questions and discover the many truths that I seek for a more meaningful and fulfilling life.