Sometimes I just get tired of asking the questions…
This morning, I read an article my friend Nico wrote about another mutual friend, Brad. On the one hand, I felt a sense of pride for knowing both men, one who identifies as an atheist/humanist and the other who professes (and lives a life of) faith in Christ. On the other hand, I felt partly envious for both: I envy Nico’s own ability to live a life separate from the church, and I envy Brad’s ability to live his life as both a gay man and a follower of Jesus.
Sometimes being gay and Christian feels like I’m trying to be an apple and an orange at the same time… like I’m trying to be black and white, male and female, Fred Phelps or Hitler and Gandhi (if I wasn’t making sense before this last one, hopefully you’re getting the point now).
In 2003, after leaders at my former church home asked me to step down from leadership and suggested that I was no longer worthy of being welcomed, of being a part of the community, I entered a time period where I finally started calling myself gay and stopped calling myself a Christian, not simply because I thought the two were irreconcilable, but because I didn’t want to do damage to the witness of my friends who I felt were true Christians. I no longer thought I was a part of that category.
…Despite being in seminary, I still feel this way from time to time
I have a number of friends, dear friends, who have found a way to be authentic both in their faith and in the sexual orientation. Friends who are a part of a faith community, who pray regularly, who find value in and give priority to reading Scripture, and who are serious about sharing their faith with others. I envy these friends. I wish I had their courage, their strength. I’ve been told that I have this same courage, this same tenacity, but most days I just don’t feel it. In fact, far too often I feel like a fake, a fraud, an imposter.
A friend recently asked me how I defined faith (in as few words as possible, since I have a tendency to be verbose). My response: unrelenting love for God. I would add to that a manifestation of love for the other, because for me, faith necessitates action and response. By this standard, I suppose my faith is pretty strong. Still, though, I have to wonder sometimes whether or not I’m getting it right, living up to whatever expectations there might be.
According to this friend and fellow nerd, Paul Tillich defines faith as ultimate concern. What matters more than certainty or specifics is the degree to which one is concerned with faith and how faith is lived out. What is important is how much of a priority one places on their faith. One is made whole not by certainty but through sincerity, not through the destination but through the journey. This makes complete sense to me, and it definitely sheds light on some of my more recent struggles.
The joys of being a recovering Baptist/Methodist/Pentecostal/Evangelical/you-get-my-drift…
There are days where I just want to force myself to let go of the label of Christian, and there are days where I can’t help but hold onto it white-knuckled. It is a label, an identifier, that means the world to me, yet it comes with so much baggage some days. I love Jesus. I love talking about him. I love asking questions about the meaning of his teachings, about the significance of his life both for those in his immediate presence and for us today. I love the idea of a community gathering together around the table, learning to love each other amidst the messiness of life, learning to show grace, to forgive. A community whose mission and identity is wrapped up in the idea that God loves all of creation and invites creation to reciprocate that love. A community that recognizes the brokenness that exists in the world, and who wants to be a part of the ways in which God is working to redeem that brokenness, heal the wounds of the world.
Sometimes I see glimpses of this. Other times I see people so self-involved that they can’t see past their duct-taped glasses that are blinding them to the needs of those around them. I see people who, having never experienced grace, forgiveness, and possibly even love, are unable to offer those things to people who have the greatest need of them. I see politics, bureaucracy, injustice, oppression, prejudice. In our modern age I see heterosexism and homophobia. I see the great marriage debate dividing us further when it shouldn’t be an issue at all. I see kids kicked out of the homes, churches spreading a message of hate, people being led to believe that their lives hold no worth or value, because of the gender of the person with whom they are (or want to be) in relationship with. It breaks my heart and pisses me off all at the same time.
This must be how God feels sometimes…
I’m mostly just venting. It’s simply one of those days where, for whatever reason, I feel as if I must choose to be either gay or Christian, as if I can’t be both. But in my heart of hearts and in my rational core, I know, I believe, that I can be both. In fact, I believe that both are integral to who I am as a whole person, and that to choose one over the other would be sinful, an act of negating the very person I was created to be. This is one of those times where I have to tell myself this over and over, hoping to eventually believe it fully. Believe that I’m loved. Believe that I have a purpose. Believe there is a reason I am who I am while being compelled to believe in what I believe.
In the meantime, I just need to keep on keeping on…
MICHAEL OVERMAN is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical in Evanston, IL. As a self-admitted “old soul”, Michael is more than comfortable asking the tough questions and not having immediate answers. Michael is passionate about all things interfaith, challenging the religious status quo — and baking whenever possible. Michael lives with his partner and their two cats in Chicago and is currently preparing to enter full-time hospital chaplaincy. In his spare time, he loves chocolate, wine, and scifi.