Giving up Homophobia for Lent: Queering the Christian "Way of Sorrows"

As Lent begins, some LGBTQIA students have been holding prayer vigils throughout southern California on conservative Christian campuses where they are either still enrolled as students or are alumni.
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As Lent begins, some LGBTQIA students have been holding prayer vigils throughout southern California on conservative Christian campuses where they are either still enrolled as students or are alumni. Walking through Christian education as a person queer in gender, sexual orientation identity or both can be a "way of sorrows" ALL the time, not just during Lent, the forty days when most Christians reflect on self-sacrifice, following Jesus' example on the way to the cross. As these young LGBTQIA adults peacefully pray together by candelight, telling their stories at the intersections of "homophobia, transphobia, racism and other forms of injustice," they seek and practice equality.

In fall 2013, when my professional relationship as a professor of some of these students ended, one high-ranking administrator told the student newspaper's editor I was a necessary "casualty" of the campus struggle with LGBT issues during a joint interview. However, learning to be bullied without BECOMING either a bully (or a victim) is the heart and strength of the queer spirituality I have learned with students. We are NOT martyrs just because we are LGBT Christians. For a queer Christian, Lent is every day. What more should we give up in this 40-day fast, already excluded by our communities of faith from the basics of life like employment, family support, education, recognition of our marriages, even housing and restroom use on some campuses?

In this season of reflection and repentance, we can choose to stand together in a prayerful fast from the denial of our presence by other Christians. Clobbered daily in such contexts with misinterpreted Bible verses, we can turn to the teachings of battle veterans like Mel White, using what the Bible says and DOESN'T say about LGBT people as a shield against those false arguments that aim to wound us. Although immersed in "faith communities" that try to bathe us in hatred of our queer bodies, we can armor ourselves against absorbing ANY of it with resources like God Made Me Gay: We don't mourn or repent of our queerness, we CELEBRATE God's power and purpose in creating us queer. Instead of walking in shame, bearing our queerness as if it were a cross of suffering, we can glory with gratitude in the gifting of so many queer clergy past and present -- as Kittredge Cherry's resources help us do with humor, art, and history.

And when we pray with other Christians "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," we can pray our forgiveness loud and clear -- not shamed into silent denial or acceptance of religious bigots and their bullying. According to the University of California at Berkeley, "research demonstrates the incredible power of loving-kindness meditation" (also called metta) as possibly "more effective than Prozac" for increasing a sense of happiness and well-being. Though most often associated with Buddhism, "loving-kindness meditation is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people" and can be practiced by anyone regardless of spiritual orientation. In the Hebrew Bible, lovingkindness (hesed) is one of the most celebrated characteristics of God, one we most seek to emulate: So in this form of meditation, we can start by directing lovingkindness toward our queer own self first, then extending it outward to those we lovs (often others who are queer and unloved by "Christians" too) -- praying in words and thought and visualization that we and they be "well," "peaceful and at ease," and "happy." The next step is to extend lovingkindness to those with whom we are in conflict, who have bullied or caused harm to us. For me, this transforms my resentments as I practice it almost daily -- picturing the very people one by one who dispossessed me and my children of our home and health care and continue to deny the full humanity of my former students and those they love most deeply.

Bullies win when we let them have free rent, taking up space in our heads and heart and drive us to the denial or even self-harm of our queer flesh. Instead of encouraging more of the same during this Lenten season, we can deny instead that hatred of our bodies that this Christian season tends to encourage. we can start each day with a simple prayer like, "God, grant me the good fortune of thinking only good thoughts, hearing and speaking only good words, and attaining a sound and strong body that I may have long life and achieve oneness with You" before beginning simple physical exercise. In doing so, we affirm our queer bodies and lives as a gift of God, refusing to absorb being vilified by those who would make us martyrs or casualties of a fear-based "faith."

For example, to practice a simple flowing sequence like ashtanga yoga's surya namaskar, we can humbly remember as we face downward that when our view of God is blocked (for example, by others' hatred), it isn't really God that has gone away; our position has just temporarily changed. Rising halfway, we can thus ask God to fill in blanks in our strength and knowledge. As we fill our lungs with air (in biblical Hebrew the word for breath is the same word for God's Spirit),we can ask God to open our heart, untangling any emotional and spiritual knots there. We can ask God to fill us with love on every breath in, then ask God to help us let go of self-hatred, shame (internalized transphobia or homophobia) and resentment on every exhale. As we look upward, we can feel ourselves looking to God, celebrating the strength that comes from doing so. In an awkward pose or one where we struggle for balance, we can gently seek acceptance that journeying through life spiritually as an LGBT person is indeed momentarily awkward sometimes, but feeling awkward doesn't get the final word. When we stand upright, strong and grounded, we can pray with gratitude, in the spirit of the Sanskrit word "Namaste" -- the God in me (a very queer person) honors the God in you (whether you are queer or not, whether you honor me or not). In Hebrew scriptures as understood by Christians, this God in each person is the "imago dei," the likeness or image of God in which each human being is created. Along the Lenten "way of sorrows," whether or not we see God in the hateful behavior of Christian bigots -- and whether or not they can see the God in our queer bodies, lives and community, we can pray with respect for ourselves, choosing to recognize and celebrate God in each one of us.

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