I just prayed. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, pandemic and all. It helps. Sometimes it’s more meditation and self-love affirmations than actual praying to a divine entity, but it’s praying nonetheless.
Sometimes I pray to a Charlton Heston-like Moses version of God and other times it’s just white light (Holy Spirit, is that you?) beaming into the top of my head. Other times I have visions of Mother Mary covering me with a cloak to offer a love I often felt missing from my own mom. And yes, sometimes I envision the crucifix of Jesus embodying the ultimate sacrifice. I tear up a bit. In my prayerful meditations, I ask for protection, compassion, guidance, and courage, for myself and the world.
I’ll be 41 in June and haven’t been to church regularly in 15 years. Yet God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Mary are still a part of my life (in addition to spirituality, meditation, breath work and infinite intelligence). If these divine entities of my Catholic upbringing haven’t left me at this point, they most likely never will. I’m OK with that. They are great counselors. This boy may have left the church, but the church most certainly has not left this man.
I suppose it’s because of the church inside me that I was saddened when Pope Francis decreed once again the old chestnuts that being gay is a sin, leading a gay lifestyle is a choice and the church will never bless gay unions or call them a marriage. Sigh.
In the style and voice of Oprah Winfrey: “Who’s (still) having THAT conversation?” Apparently, Pope Francis and the Holy Roman Catholic Church, Oprah. Still.
The church’s continued preoccupation with sexual orientation is disturbing, especially given how little the bible actually talks about same-sex relations. Furthermore, in the context of the church’s own history of decades of sexual abuse and cover-up amongst its ranks (various reports calculate over $3 billion has been paid out in restitution globally to date), it is incredibly tone deaf. And yet, with this new decree, a whole new generation of Catholics and Christians are potentially empowered again to use sexual orientation as a means to separate and shame rather than to celebrate God’s diverse spirit, of which we are all an expression.
Western civilization operates as a guilt-based society based on a Judeo-Christian God who knows our internal thoughts and sees our private deeds, thus our need to seek divinity through God’s grace. Like everyone else, a westernized queer person lives with this ethos, but also confronts aspects of a society driven by shame as well.
In The Warrior Ethos, author Steven Pressfield writes, “A shame based culture imposes its value from outside the individual, by the good or bad opinion of the group. The community imposes its code on its members by such acts as shunning and public shaming.” I don’t think most queer people look at it in this context, but this is what it is. This is the root of the struggle.
The extra filter applied to us is a filter of shame that is still largely condoned by both church and state. By the church continuing to separate God’s children into “separate” but “equal” or “less-than-equal” it gives fuel to those looking to shun or dominate through shame. Modern westernized societies have already experimented with this failed separate-but-equal theory most fervently applied to people of color in the mid-20th century. It led to shame-induced trauma, violence, increased separation, oppression, and revolt. It led to societies full of inequality, inequity, and a lack of access for minority groups. It led to the society we’re in now.
Look around you, asserting dominance through shame and using it as a building block for power in a functioning society is fading fast. Separation encouraged from any spiritual leader will no longer be tolerated, not from the pope or the church itself. I fear more people will use the pope’s language to justify their hate, ignorance, and violent attacks intended to shame “the other” out of us and out of a “good” Christian society.
Finally, the most shame-filled dig in this new decree is continuing to perpetuate the myth that homosexuality is a lifestyle and a choice. Choice infers self-will, not God’s will. The Catholic Church believes we are saved as a “body of Christ,” and yet this decree shames parts of that body, curiously going against modern-day science that homosexuality is a choice and therefore sinful, and thus turning away from God’s will. This is nonsense. This failed paradigm sets up the tragic choice of choosing God or the inherent nature of how God made you. To deny one is to deny the other. If I am a physical part of source, then I can never turn away from source/God. God is in me. He’s in you too. Pass it on.
All the challenges life has thrown at me, from the death of my 22-year-old brother when I was 12, to bacterial meningitis that resulted in brain surgery, to my ongoing battle with ADHD, to a slight lifelong stutter, have instilled empathy, compassion, patience, and courage within me. And yes, being a member of a minority group, has instilled the continuous pursuit of those virtues as well. God and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As a spiritual and empathic other, I am honored to hold space between the past and the future, the privileged and the impoverished. I am called to share the message that the space of God’s grace is here for all of us, especially the most disenfranchised. As God’s highest creation, we are all called to find a seat in the kingdom of heaven, whether the pope sees fit to bless us or not. The church will never have jurisdiction over the seat in the kingdom of heaven found within. That’s reserved only for you and your consciousness.
It would be easier to cancel the church in my mind. I tried, it didn’t work. A church still lives within me. A church lives inside you too, whether you are Catholic or not. I’m also the bridge that extends from the front doors of the church to hold space between a dogmatically religious past and a more religiously spiritual future, where God, Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Spirit are full of only mercy, compassion, and grace. Let us pray.