A liberal lesbian in a fundy Christian ministry: Not. Good.

Dear John,

I am part of a ministry that answers prayers via email and sends out encouragement, as well as answering biblical questions. The ministry is rather conservative, and after speaking to my fellow members I know that I’m the only liberal Christian amongst fundamentalists.

I am starting to doubt whether or not our prayers actually achieve anything; as a lesbian I also feel castigated by their anti-homosexuality stance. (I haven’t mentioned this to them—and never mind my universalist beliefs.) My time here started off well enough after the initial discussion about my testimony (I struggle with depression and self-harm; I’m a barrel of laughs, see). But after over a year I feel more and more disillusioned with the ministry. I’m not doubting the existence of God (well, not as regularly as I once did, although I’m a great believer in what doubting can achieve), but I am doubting what my prayers are actually achieving. I just don’t see the results, and am rather sick of the expression, “God answers either yes, no, or not yet.” I’m scared of being myself with them for the fear of being judged. I know if I said I’m a lesbian who believes in side A theology, I would be ripped apart.

Thankfully I am not admonished for admitting to relapses in terms of depression and whatnot, but my reluctance to be open about who I really am is getting to me. This builds up on the fact that my parents deny my sexuality even though they are atheists; they also deny my Christian beliefs. I feel that the only Christians I interact with (except the few on Tumblr that I talk to because I don’t attend church or a youth group anymore) will reject me. I don’t know whether I want to leave the ministry or not, and I don’t know how to talk to my parents. The only opportunity I see is that I’m off to university, but I don’t know how to utilize that. I really am floundering a little. Any help would be greatly appreciated. (And do I get better advice if I say your website is wonderful? Because your website is wonderful.)

Phew. Good thing you threw in that last part, or I’d have told you to stop being gay and start working overtime for free. But now we’re cool.

Actually, let me just run this letter again, and insert within it my comments in lovely, soothing blue. (I’ll also then have to throw in paragraph breaks that aren’t in the above, so as not to create unreadably long chunks o’ text.)

Dear John,

I am part of a ministry that answers prayers via email and sends out encouragement, as well as answering biblical questions. [Whoa. Kind of a cool job. Kind of a scary job. Do people pay for that, for you to pray for them? If they do, your job bitheths. If not, that's kind of a sweet service. But, so, you answer questions about the Bible? Like, if I called you, and went, "So, did Job have a sister?" you'd have to answer that? Yowzer. You must know a lot about the Bible. Boy. There sure are a lot of jobs in the world.] The ministry is rather conservative, and after speaking to my fellow members I know that I’m the only liberal Christian amongst fundamentalists. [Oh. That's awful. I'm sorry you're in that situation.]

I am starting to doubt whether or not our prayers actually achieve anything; as a lesbian I also feel castigated by their anti-homosexuality stance. [Wow. That's a lot of bad. Not good.] (I haven’t mentioned this to them—and never mind my universalist beliefs.) [You sure you can't mention this to them? Not the part about you being a universalist—no use giving them a reason to beat you up in the break room. But it seems more than reasonable for you to be able to express questions about to what if any degree the ministry is working. If you said, "Sometimes I feel like our prayers really aren't working," what would they do? Just fire you?] My time here started off well enough after the initial discussion about my testimony (I struggle with depression and self-harm; I’m a barrel of laughs, see). [Oh, gosh, I'm sorry to hear about this suffering of yours. Terrible. It's nice to hear your job didn't reject you because of that, though. That's encouraging. For what it's worth, everyone self-harms. Some do it with booze, some with food, some with drugs or whatever. That doesn't mean it's okay for you to cut yourself; if that's what you do, you need to stop that. But just know that the core urge to self-negate is simply part of—and the worst part of, really—being human. Everyone's life is attended by that pull downward; each responds to it as they may.]

But after over a year I feel more and more disillusioned with the ministry. I’m not doubting the existence of God (well, not as regularly as I once did, although I’m a great believer in what doubting can achieve), but I am doubting what my prayers are actually achieving. [That's a fair doubt.] I just don’t see the results, and am rather sick of the expression, “God answers either yes, no, or not yet.” [Is that something they tell you to tell people who call and go, "Yeah, so, you said you'd pray for my dog. Well, my dog's dead. What gives?"? And then you have to say, "Well, sir, here at Prayers, Inc. we have a saying: 'God answers either yes, no, or not yet.' Guess your dog got the 'no.'" And then you have to give them a coupon redeemable for five free prayers. Sorry. I'm babbling. But that's some intense job you have there. I can tell I'm going to obsess on it.]

I’m scared of being myself with them for the fear of being judged. [Gee, I wonder why  you'd feel that way? *snork.*] I know if I said I’m a lesbian who believes in side A theology, I would be ripped apart. [Ugh. Awful. See, this is why I'm self-employed and never leave my house.]

Thankfully I am not admonished for admitting to relapses in terms of depression and whatnot ["and whatnot." I love it.], but my reluctance to be open about who I really am is getting to me. [Of course it is. Not being able to be at least most of who you are is a burden no one should have to carry.] This builds up on the fact that my parents deny my sexuality even though they are atheists; they also deny my Christian beliefs. [What the (bleeeeeeeeeeep)? What kind of a no-win situation is that? I hate your parents.] I feel that the only Christians I interact with (except the few on Tumblr that I talk to because I don’t attend church or a youth group anymore) will reject me. [Well, most of us here are Christians, and we love you. I love you, and I'm a Christian. I'm sure there are Christians in your real life that would also love you, exactly as you are. Which is kind of besides the point, I know. But they/we are everywhere out there. Come visit us over at Unfundamentalist Christians!] I don’t know whether I want to leave the ministry or not [I do: you do], and I don’t know how to talk to my parents. [Who would? They sound crazy. What kind of atheists refuse to accept that their own kid is gay? Worst. Atheists. Ever. They're rejecting the two most fundamental qualities about you, each of which is perfect natural and honorable. Again: I loathe your parents. Have them write me. Tell them I'll give them this blog space to explain to the world their personal philosophy and beliefs. I'm sure that would be edifying for all of us. Seriously: this space is theirs if they'd like to share their belief system.]

The only opportunity I see is that I’m off to university [oh, really? Awesome! That's not just an "opportunity"; that's a game changer. Whew. That means you're saved—as long as you're not going to Fundy U or anything. If you're going to anything near a real college, your whole life will open up in ways you can't even begin to imagine now. excellent. I'm really glad to hear that you're going to college], but I don’t know how to utilize that. [Go. That's how you utilize it: you go. Girl.] I really am floundering a little. [Who wouldn't be, in your position? Just reading your letter has me flopping around on the ground like ... well, a flounder in the bottom of a boat. You're facing some serious challenges here, sweetheart. There's no question but that you're more than equal to your challenges, but dang: your plate is full just now.]

Any help would be greatly appreciated. [Hard to advise without really knowing more about your Actual Life. Sounds like you live at home with your cretinous parents? And that you're going to university ... when? Soon, I hope? Anyway, for now of course I have no idea what your actual options are: so much of those kinds of choices depend entirely finances. Generally speaking, though: lay low, don't trip, smile and be nice to everybody so they'll stay out of your face, plan, and get the heck out. That's pretty much ... always the way to go when you're in a life that needs serious alteration. It's all about time, patience, planning, and execution. (Same as a lot of what I say in my mini-book Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, below.)]

(And do I get better advice if I say your website is wonderful? Because your website is wonderful.) [Ahh. That's kind of you. Thank you. Please let us know how it goes for you. Love you.]

image by the great David Hayward, a.k.a. The Naked Pastor.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • roger flyer

    John

    Will you please start a call-in advice ministry?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      yes. i should! be fun. or … something.

  • http://jasowl@earthlink.net Jane

    What a beautiful response. I should have written to you forty years ago. Oh … right.

    Please write more about this; your insight is important: “For what it’s worth, everyone self-harms. Some do it with booze, some with food, some with drugs or whatever……… But just know that the core urge to self-negate is simply part of—and the worst part of, really—being human. Everyone feels it, and responds to it however they might.”

    You give the best advice! So glad you do this. xxxxxx

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yes, I will write more about that. thanks for mentioning.

      • QK

        John, I’d appreciate that, too. I’m reading a great book by Gerald May, entitled “Addiction and Grace”. What you said in those few sentences captured my imagination and made sense to me. I’d love to hear more about that… Thanks :)

  • Sarah

    I’d just like to say that going off to university soon is the best part of your letter and something to be hopeful about. Before I went off to college I was depressed about God. I felt like no one had doubts like me; no one questioned God. I thought I was somehow a bad person for even entertaining those questions. I attended a conservative Christian college, so I didn’t expect to find much different there. But I did. I found several like-minded individuals, and found that even those who were strict fundamentalists seemed to be open to discussion. I don’t know what kind of university you are going to, but I hope that you find the experience as encouraging as I did.

  • Ric

    Dear Liberal Lesbian Letterwriter: Leave. Go the university, just leave. If you’re part of a ministry that is crushing you this badly, you’re probably not part of a ministry. And while you’re at it, dismiss your parent as well.

    John, I laughed so hard when I read this line: “I’m scared of being myself with them for the fear of being judged. [No shit.]” You are like Dear Abby, only realer.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You know, I deleted that [no shit] part. I had to: I know people like to share my stuff with younger people, but won’t if there are dreaded CURSE WORDS in the thing. So, alas: it’s cut. But you’ve uncovered my very-initial gut response to that. So now I’ll have to sue you. Bummer for you.

      • Kristi Outler Byrd

        Sometimes that is just the right word, though. This reminds me of that great Tony Campolo quote: “”I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

        I love the way you write, John, but mostly I just love what you have to say. What you do here and through your books truly helps people.

      • Ric

        Well, the Good Christians have edited the same word out of Paul’s writings in the NT. So yeah, you’re in pretty good company.

      • Elizabeth

        Now I just want to cuss to be contrary.

        • Jill H

          It is yet again confirmed for me why I hang here.

          Every single bleeping day.

      • Lymis

        Instead of simply deleting, “no shit” what about substituting, “Well, duh.” If there are parents of young children who object to that, they need to have their children taken and raised by wolves, for the kids’ benefit.

        • vj

          ;-)

  • jesse

    Wow. That’s one heck of a stifling environment right there. Keep your head up and hold onto what John said about University. It truly IS a game- and a life-changer! God has already cleared a path for you to move forward and above the unfortunate mess you’re currently in. You will hopefully get to hook up with several campus groups full of likeminded individuals! i know i did.

    Good luck and God bless!

    jesse

  • http://www.facebook.com/KristiOutlerByrd Kristi Outler Byrd via Facebook

    My advice would be to leave that ministry. It is wonderful that you want to bless people through your work in that particular ministry but if the people there aren’t affirming of who you truly are as a person then this is not a good place to be. You will only feel bad or conflicted being there. I mean if you have to keep so much about yourself a secret (your sexual orientation, your universalist beliefs, your liberal theology), then it is an environment that, at the very least, is pressure-filled. That’s no way to live. This on top of your totally unsupportive parents??? No way! You deserve better. DO NOT let anyone convince you otherwise! University is a fabulous opportunity to find your place, a place where you are cherished and not just “tolerated.” Except for some religious schools, most colleges have some sort of GLBT group on campus ( I know because I’m helping my lesbian daughter search for colleges right now ). Google and sites such as http://www.campusclimateindex.org/ can help you research that. I’ve encouraged my own daughter and now I’m encouraging you to start with a group like that pronto! Plug in there and you’ll find some support to offset the negative messages you receive from elsewhere. You are so not alone, sweet one. Be good to you!

  • Beth Glover via Facebook

    aww:( that’s sad. Maybe she’d find it useful to know that entire towns, and possibly counties, or even states, have a completely different demographic. She might look into that once she’s in college, for she might find that when she is in a different geographic location, “her tribe is there”. It’s an interesting phenomena. Good luck to her. Blessings to you John.

  • Lorelei Hillman

    Dear Intelligent Young Woman, of course you are a universalist! Anyone who has ever really MET God is a universalist. Why? Because God is love. Which means no one gets passed over, shot down or set aside. Each one of us can only do our best to grasp the fringe of that robe, but when we do it heals us. Please believe me – I am not your mother, but I love you! Universalist, call prayer service employee, about to be university student, lesbian, the whole nine yards. I don’t know what your parents’ issues are, but THEY ARE NOT YOUR ISSUES. Do your best to see that you are not them. My parents were/are (Dad’s deceased and Mom alive) staunch Republicans but I am able to love them anyway, understanding that I do not have to swallow whole everything they believe(d). As John says, GO! Go to university and find a new world waiting where your native intelligence and open heart have a chance to bloom. Look for the people who will not only accept, but AFFIRM you for exactly who you are. Find wisdom. Achieve your dreams. Let go of and love those who simply cannot go with you for their own reasons, but do not let them hold you back. And by the way, prayer does work, but it is not about manipulating God, for God is already embracing our reality – prayer is about opening our own hearts to God’s love so that we may be of some earthly use to others on God’s behalf. So the right answer to “My dog is dying, pray he will live” is “You must love your dog a lot. Please tell me about him. Did you get him as a puppy?” And not “Sure, we’ll pray and magic will happen.” We pray for healing, not knowing if it will come, but trusting that God cares. By showing that caring, we enter into God’s own compassion. Know that you are already surrounded by that compassion, and that it goes with you everywhere. The sorrows of your heart are real, but hope is more real.

    • Elizabeth

      I hope the writer tries Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism, every-ism. Especially Intellectualism.

      • Jill H

        Exactly, looking into every -ism gives a human being at least one foot in another person’s sandal. It can, but it doesn’t have to change your belief system to understand another’s. In fact, it affirms what is real to you more deeply.

    • Marlene Lund

      Beautifully said, Lorelei!

  • Marlene Lund

    To the young woman who wrote to John: What a heavy burden you carry! I applaud your desire to help others by joining the ministry you have been working with. I can’t help but think, though, that this particular group is not a good fit for you, on so many levels. Supportive ministries come in many different stripes, and hopefully you will be able to find a better fit for your gifts and large heart when you go to college. As John said, college is a wonderful place for self-discovery and personal growth. Look for an affirming faith community when you get there that will accept you for yourself (all of yourself) and love you with Christ’s love. Find a QSA (Queer Straight Alliance) group on campus that will also affirm you. Know that so many of us Christians out here in the wide scary world also affirm you and will be praying for you. And always remember, you are loved!!!

  • Christy

    In this and all things the truth usually sets us free. And as with all yummy and delicious things: please enjoy college responsibly and in moderation.

    On the matter of a call in prayer ministry: If it helps to admit my own doubts then I hope that helps. I’ve never really understood the idea that anonymous prayer giving has cosmic benefit, nor that a tipping point exists with God where if enough people bother to bring something to God’s attention God will pay more attention to it than God would have otherwise, where we are trying to break God down: “Oh, all right. You can have that really awesome job that you’ve applied for!” Prayer, to me, seems to be more effective as a personal spiritual practice and related to people with whom we have a relationship or connection or about issues about which we deeply care in order to bring about change within our own psyche and an understanding of our place in things – either to be ok with what is or in order to know what to do to change it. I hope prayer of this sort will garner one of those two answers. Blessings on your journey.

    • David S

      Christy –

      Yes about the truth piece. My experience in the closet is that it was a destructive and unsustainable. Human connection is an essential need.

      For me, hiding and denying my true self caused emotional detachment and isolation, loneliness and depression. Whereas trying to live my life openly and authentically has helped to build trust, to avoid confusion, to know and be known by others. [I later discovered that industrial psychologists illustrate this reality with something called the Johari Window- easily Googled.]

      The reason I stayed in the closet was, of course, to avoid conflict and maintain relationships with those who might condemn or judge me. But it really is a dark and lonely place. Ultimately, I had to decide: how much worth does a relationship hold when it it built on hidden truths? How much emotional distress was I willing to endure for the sake of preserving that relationship? For me, the walls of the closet were built with self-loathing and fear of being loathed. I was suffocating and almost succumbed. And now I grieve for the years I lost while I worked through it all.

      Unless coming out would put one at risk of harm, I don’t think I would ever advocate staying in the closet.

      • Jill H

        I for one am very glad to know and be known by you. For every year that you feel you’ve lost, I am sending you a moment of quiet gratitude that you’re here now as your true self. Thank you for being you David S.

        • David S

          I am so totally grateful. Thank you Jill!

  • http://aws-wendy.blogspot.com/ Wendy

    Sweet Sister,

    I am a Christian. I am a former pastor and former missionary. I love and accept you – just as you are. One of the things that biological (raised up in the church) peeps know that us converts don’t learn quickly is that you don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, share your deep thoughts with everyone just because they are a fellow believer. You need to find a group outside of the fundies that share your view of God and learn if you can trust them with your fears.

    I learned a saying in bible college – the church is the only army where we shoot our own wounded. Too effing true! The insecurities of others can only be relieved by pointing out and shaming those who make me look better – BANG!

    My parents were also non-believers and thought that my faith was a “phase” I was going through. They went so far to suggest seeing a counselor who specialized in cult-deprogramming. So far this phase has lasted over 30 years and while it has had some ups and downs, it seems to be sticking. Surprisingly, my parents were quoted before they died saying how proud they were of me, but who knows with crazy parents right? Although I am not a lesbian, my family has stated that it would be easier to accept that I was gay than to accept that I might marry a person of color. Yeah, prejudice is so ignorant.

    One of my countless jobs while attending bible college was to work for a television ministry that was a club, of sorts. I was paid to pray with the nice folks calling in during the show. I was pretty much the only non-Charismatic in the place, which meant during the show, the other pray-ers would show me random, out of context verses to support why I wasn’t really saved because I didn’t writhe on the floor or speak in guttural language. I cannot tell you how much fun that was – really!

    Now, twenty-five years after the fact, I treasure those moments when I was just praying unselfishly for others. (Okay, getting paid to pay may not be totally unselfish, but I didn’t toss in any prayers for me.) It connected me with others in a way that, no pun intended, fundamentally changed me for the better. It was the beginning of my life of questions, doubts and crazy liberal thoughts that I think have brought me closer to God. Whenever I start to wonder about God’s answer to prayer, I recall the scene from Bruce Almighty where he just says yes to everything and chaos ensues. I know, its not very biblical, but it makes sense to me.

    Like John, I hope you aren’t going to a bible college, but even if you are – stay strong in what you believe about God and yourself. I have struggled with depression for years and thanks to good meds and good cognitive therapy, my struggles are shorter and without thoughts of self-harm. I want to encourage you to get help while at uni, their medical centers and counselors are used to the struggles of young adults finding their own true north.

    Your north is that you were breathed into life just as you are by a loving God who accepts you as a perfect creation struggling in an imperfect world. He is sending you friends, a new kind of family and hope via people who think like you – find them and grow a strong community of support.

    You are loved by me, by John, by everyone here, and by Jesus.

  • Elizabeth

    The important thing is that you know your goal is to go to college. It sounds as if you’re willing to do anything to get there: put up with unsupportive parents and judgmental coworkers.

    Once you’re there, you decide who you are. That’s the whole point. Challenge yourself. Read everything you can get your hands on. Meet people you’d never meet in the devastatingly confined world you inhabit now. Don’t be afraid to change schools if the first one doesn’t fit your needs. I went to three elite colleges in four years. I learned important things about myself at each one.

    I really do recommend you read John’s Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships. You seem to be in several. It has practical advice for extricating yourself from each of them, even if it’s not a romantic-love relationship. And, please, stop hurting yourself. You’ve been hurt enough. The world needs you around a long time. Good luck.

  • Tim

    You said you don’t know how to utilize going off to college/university. A couple pieces of advice on that front from a guy who has made the most of a small, liberal arts school (your options will only be amplified in a bigger school)

    1. Find some sort of local faith community. I started off with a local Methodist Church college ministry that was deliberately not intense and went from there. Church works too, or just find a group of friends. We love being here for you, but there is something about flesh and blood interaction.

    2. Find a place to serve–and I mean this literally. Is there a GSA on your campus where you could take the lead? A local food bank? A fundraiser for some good cause the university needs help with (we do a lot of breast cancer, St. Jude hospital, and domestic violence stuff on this campus)? Find a niche where you can be of aid to others–it really can ease your pain. This ministry was just a bad, bad fit for you.

    3. Have a little fun. If you are 21, go out to the bars at least once (in a big city you’d have a lot of wonderful options). Don’t get drunk if you don’t want to, but it is always fun to laugh at/with the drunk people and to just let loose a bit. Don’t write any form of fun off unless it is unsafe until you have tried it once.

    4. Study hard and make something out of yourself. However, find a field that you love, and don’t be afraid to change your major multiple times. It didn’t take me long, but I know people who went through 6 majors to find something they loved and are thankful for the extra year “wasted” so that they didn’t waste the rest of their lives.

  • Jim

    To the young woman: Wow, you have a lot going on in your life that is both good and unpleasant. While your situation is unique to you, it is the kind of complicated life that all of us face in one way or another. That’s good news, because while each of us who stand with you may not perfectly ‘get’ your life, we all have experienced something similar. You are in the good company of people who have been hurt and broken, and have healed and learned.

    Now, I’m going to ramble through the rest of your letter, and offer thoughts that I hope you could use to cultivate your confidence and give you something positive to hold. Caution: these rambling thoughts are perfectly clear to me, because I can see inside my head. Since you cannot see inside my head, feel free to question or ignore if any of it that is unclear or confusing. This essay response is a leaping-off point, and each paragraph could easily be a chapter or a whole book.

    My first word of encouragement would be to find and work within a faith community where you are comfortable and accepted. Surround yourself with loving, if imperfect, people who seek to know God in the same way as you. Create a home with in a church or faith community that works for you, that builds you up and empowers you to face the good and bad in life. If the first place you go doesn’t work, move on to the next. You will know you are home when you get there.

    Clearly you are drawn to minister to other hurting people. At some point, the idea of being there for other folks and helping them through their tough times appeals to you, and I don’t think you should give that up that call. I would encourage you to seek similarly minded folk, however. While I imagine that the conservatives in your prayer ministry are well-intentioned, and perhaps are helping some of your call-in clients, the fundamental differences in your approaches to Christianity are insurmountable at this point. Continuing to work within their context with no one to ground you in your own is unhealthy, as you have noticed. So, I am of the opinion that you should follow your heart and give aid to hurting people in a setting that also helps and heals you.

    I am of a mind that some of your doubt and confusion about the efficacy of prayer is rooted in your peers’ fundamentalist, mechanistic belief in a vending machine god. You succinctly summed that up in your letter to John. It is an overly simplistic world-view that fails to take into account many complex ideas and systems and tries to reduce the Author and Finisher of the universe to an Eternal Slot Machine. Stick a prayer in, pull the handle, and see what comes out.

    I believe that any view that fails to take into account the free will of its participants, the pressures of societal operants, and all the other variables that lead a human to reach out for spiritual and emotional comfort radically misses the mark. The universe, by itself, continues to defy the Newtonian world view of 19th Century American Protestant Theology. Humans and human societies are complex organisms rather than machines; at any rate, world-views that try to systemize society have, so far, failed. And, if these are factual statements, then I would think that God, as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all things is likely to be even more complex.

    In closing, I’ll offer some questions to consider. Have you given thought to what you will study at university? Have you considered other ways you could volunteer to help a hurting world? What drew you to this telephone prayer ministry? How did you hope it would benefit those you spoke with? How did you hope it could benefit you?

    I wouldn’t expect you to work out the answers to these questions in an hour or two. I’m still working on variations of these in my fifty-fourth year of life. Spend a little bit of time thinking about this, and even praying about it, and I’m sure you will find direction for your life. And check in with us from time to time; let us know how you’re doing.

  • Jill H

    From a humble perspective, God is always and will always be bigger than any label, box, idea, or expectation humans place on s/him. Which, in my experience, will mean that our G0d-given lives will be more than labels, boxes, etc.

    You sound like you feel alone and overwhelmed, dear one. Hopefully you are gaining reassurance that you are far from alone. And how could you NOT feel overwhelmed to be boxed in as you are now? Take heart that this present situation is passing, and your life is opening daily to what is intended for you to enjoy.

    Keep John’s advice, use this space as a lifeline to bring you through the daily grind, and know that you are in the process of building a life much happier and fulfilled–that is your birthright. Hang on–it’s unfolding.

    • mike moore

      “like”

  • Janet

    Dear Beautiful Young Woman: I too have struggled for many years with the whole concept of “prayer.” From “why even do it” to “what difference does it make?” to “do I even want to pray to a god that might heal me but not my friend?” I have finally found the only kind of prayer that makes any sense to me, and it is Buddhist Metta. You pray for all sentient beings the things that all sentient beings would want for themselves. Mine goes like this: “May [whoever] be safe from danger. May [whoever] be happy. May [whoever] make a friend of their body. May [whoever] dwell in peace.” To me, that covers every kind of circumstance, without demanding that the outcome be one thing or another. It works for self, for other people, for animals, the environment, nations, everything.

    So I pray for you: May you be safe from danger. May you be happy. May you make a friend of your body. And may you dwell in peace.

    • Elizabeth

      I like that prayer.

    • mike moore

      I really love what Janet is saying here.

      I no longer believe in ‘intercessory’ prayer, per se. The world, to me, doesn’t appear to be a place in which a personal God is engaged in our day-to-day lives.

      However, within the patchwork quilt of my beliefs, I feel there is a spiritual power generated when we seek the company of the Divine — via prayer, or meditation, or day-dreaming while stuck in traffic jam — and that power can, in turn, materially affect our world.

      The notion of self-fulfilling prophecy also comes into play. At such time that our planet, as a community, prays for true and unconditional peace, global peace will come. (A variation on the idea of “what if war was declared, and no one bothered to show up?)

      In other words, prayer can change the world around us, but it is highly unlikely to cure my husband’s HIV.

      • Jill H

        “there is a spiritual power generated when we seek the company of the Divine … and that power can, in turn, materially affect our world.”

        I would never have believed this, and didn’t for a long time, until I experienced it many, many times myself. It’s a game changer.

  • Lymis

    Dear Liberal Lesbian. (may I call you “Libby?”)

    If your ministry is praying for people in need of prayer, you don’t have to give that up, you just need to lose the judgmental bigots you are currently doing it with. There will always be others to pray for. I love the Marianne Williamson quote to the effect that if you ever wonder what your ministry is, just pick up your address book. That’s it.

    It’s not like there’s any shortage of people who need the light of God in their lives. Maybe finding other people like yourself – LGBT people who are burned out by or turned off from formal religion, and being Christ for them.

    You may find that you can be even more present to people without the churchy overlay that is hurting you – and it’s possible that it’s that more than you faith that your parents don’t accept. It’s hard to imagine they’d actually prefer you weren’t happy. If so, well then, shake some dust out of your sandals.

    Here’s a suggestion. In all seriousness and in all sincerity, talk to God, especially to the Holy Spirit, and tell God that you have no idea what God wants you to do at university or how God wishes you to deal with your parents and that you are turning the issue over to God and that you trust you’ll find the right answer in God’s time. Then let go. And enjoy this transition time until you have some of those answers. God will put people in your path, both as teachers and as your ministry.

    • Laurie McNeece

      Beautiful response, Lymis…couldn’t have said it better myself! Grace and peace to you, “Libby”, and prayers for healing for your family…

    • Molly By Golly

      Word.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.herendich Alan Herendich via Facebook

    Your story sounds like a story of an abused wife. The abuse is terrible, demeaning, and painful but you endure it because of low self esteem and fear of losing what little you have. Take the hand offered to you and leave. There is so much that is beautiful out there and so many people that will love and appreciate the beautiful person you are.

  • Dan(Chicago)

    I know it may not seem like this could possibly be true, Liberal Lesbian, but you are ahead of so many us when we were your age(I’m assuming under 25, since you are starting at the university). You are already on your way out of the fundamentalist world. A whole lot of gay young people end up moving toward fundamentalism and other far right Christian sects, enticed by the promise that they can be rid of their sinful gay nature, and seeking the structure of a group which has a yes/no answer for all of their questions. It took me 15 years of my young adult life(all of my young adult life, really) to shake this.

    I’m excited for you. It’s a big world and you have some sense of who you are. Now go, learn, meet people, find a girl friend, argue with a professor until he/she turns red, attend some poetry slams, study all night for an exam, get a job in the campus bookstore, take advantage of it all, regardless of whether you are attending budget state U or Harvard. And above all, don’t be paralyzed by the fear that you aren’t doing what God desires you to. Lots of learning happens in the field.

  • Don Rappe

    Let our prayers come up before Thee as incense and the lifting up of our hands as the evening sacrifice. Are our prayers working? Depends on how they smell, I think. We know that when we forgive the debts of repentant sinners our prayers work, because Christ has put the keys of heaven and hell into the hands of those who follow him. I’m sure God doesn’t need our prayers of thanks, but, I always feel better after I send one up. I’m fond of an old Benedictine prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for listening to me, as you listen to your Dear son Jesus. Thanks for leading me safely to this time and place in my life. I beg you to keep me from everything bad. I trust your hands with my body and soul and everything that I have. Let your holy angel take care of me so that the wicked one will stay away. Amen. (loosely paraphrased, as I do for Sunday school children.) There is much to be said for the rabbinical petitions that the Master taught us: Give us the bread we need for today. etc. If our child asks us for bread, shall we give a stone or scorpion? Yet our honest hearts are aware that, of the hundreds of thousands who have starved, not many did not pray for bread or for fat or for rice. Christ also prayed, with sweat like great drops of blood, not to be executed for performing his great messianic work. I do believe that God hears all prayers and we creatures have angels that can see the face of God and hold him to his promises.

    • Elizabeth

      Your Benedictine prayer reminds me of one I learned in 4th grade, reading Madeleine L’Engle. It’s a version of St. Patrick’s rune, and it changes according to the plot of A Swiftly Tilting Planet:

      In this fateful hour,

      I place all Heaven with its power,

      And the sun with its brightness,

      And the snow with its whiteness,

      And the fire with all the strength it hath,

      And the lightning with its rapid wrath,

      And the wind with its swiftness along its path,

      And the sea with its deepness,

      And the rocks with their steepness,

      And the Earth with its starkness

      All these I place

      Between myself and the powers of darkness.

      I also believe that God hears all prayers and we creatures have angels that can see the face of God and hold him to his promises. Thank you, Don.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.s.fiscus Andrea Senteney Fiscus via Facebook

    I hope you are following the It Gets Better Project. It really will get better.

  • Allie

    Lay low and get the heck out is almost always good advice. Listen to John!

    Re: praying for other people. I always feel a little awkward with the culture of “I’ll pray for you” as an empty social reflex. I know I use it myself sometimes when I feel the person I’m talking to would be comforted by it, and I do even sometimes make an effort to actually take a moment in prayer for that person. But sometimes I say it and then, yeah, that didn’t happen. And I suspect most people who say “I’ll pray for you,” constantly aren’t getting down on their knees and remembering every one of the two dozen random strangers they promised to pray for today.

    Part of it is that I’m not 100% sure what I think of petitionary prayer to begin with. The Lord’s Prayer includes petitions for food, both spiritual and physical, with the caveat that God doesn’t need to be told these things because he already knows what he need better than we do. And then there’s the whole “ask and you shall receive” business. Many, many people have asked and not received. The usual response is to say that they were doing it wrong. I think that sucks. We’re supposed to believe God doesn’t answer prayers unless you pray some kind of perfect that obviously no one but Jesus has ever been able to?

    On the other hand, I’ve found that when I do pray, my prayers are answered. Not necessarily in the way I hoped they would be. But always in some way. And there’s this: I’m friends with a lady at the grocery who offered to pray for me recently, and the specific issue she was praying about fixed itself the very next day. For real, y’all. She’s one of those exceptionally nice people who make you feel there are saints on earth, and it was like God worked a magic trick just when I needed one.

    I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with offering to pray for others, as long as you believe what you’re doing is right. But if you have doubts that it’s doing any good, may I suggest doing something with more concrete and obvious results for a while? There are plenty of good things to be done for people and there’s a shortage of hands.

  • Michelle P.

    Dearest young woman,

    My heart aches for you. I am so, so sorry you are in such a soul crushing position. I echo what everyone else has said regarding attending university. You will have many options when you’re there. Please, search out a safe, loving, welcoming community that you can be part of, and BE part of that community, wholeheartedly.

    And, please, PLEASE check in with John now and then, and let us know how you are doing. I’m rooting for you, and it looks like you have a whole thread of people on your side, here.

  • Matt

    ‘Kay, first of all, John needs to stop posting letters that I could have written. Seriously. Every single one it seems hits me right where it hurts, or used to hurt. Let’s just say I’ve experienced a lot in my 20 years of life. But anyway…

    Dear letter writer,

    About work: Wondering if your work matters is what we in the caring professions (whatever stripe) all struggle with. You can end up feeling quite helpless at the gallons of human suffering that never seems to end. But it does matter, I promise. Even if you can’t fix it, you are there doing your best, and that is truly what gets people to a better place. Just people doing their best all the time, that’s all. So if that’s not what you feel you can do (your best) with this ministry, then move on.

    About college: John is right. If Fundy U is not your destination, you have no idea how your world is about to open up. I won’t lie, it can be very stressful (I’m smack-dab in the middle of it right now), but you will not want to go back. There is something so freeing about being ablet to live your life exactly as you choose. You want to be openly lesbian? Go for it. You want to go out for milkshakes at 3 AM? Mazel tov. Your mistakes, your self, and your identity are your own.

    About self-harm: Six years into my struggle with it, and sometimes I feel so alone it aches. I just wanted to let you know that you’re not, either.

    • http://T otter

      I am really sorry to hear that you have also been thru the wringer…..

      • Matt

        Thanks, Otter. It means a lot just to hear someone say that. It has been so hugely refreshing to realize that I am not insane–I have been through crazy-making things.

        I hope I can pass on just a little bit of that reassurance to the Letter Writer.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    I was out of the house all day yesterday, so didn’t have a chance to track/read these responses. Boy, was I missing out. Fantastic stuff. REALLY great. Man. What a group.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson via Facebook

    some very good comments in there. i agree with all of them. peace to the young lady who wrote this. God is always with you and there are a lot of us liberal Christians around… start with the Internet, but if you want a liberal church those exist too.

  • Ashley

    I agree with John about getting out and getting away! I was force by my parents to go to a really, really conservative religious college, and I HATED it. I was so anxious and depressed all the time, AND I ended up seriously convinced that no one could ever possibly like me because of all the rejection I faced for my liberal progressive beliefs (and just my normal-people beliefs, like women are equal to men…). After leaving the auspices of my parents, I went to an east coast public university for graduate school (let’s call it Diversity U). It turns out that there is a place for me in the world, and I am NOT fundamentally unlikeable. The world is so much BIGGER than small-minded ideologies would have you believe. There IS a place for you. You just have to go out and find it. :-)

  • Matt Muecke

    I have recently left my church just because of the “ally” status my wife and I hold. It was a really good place for me to re-connect with God after a period of abstinence. What I found though is the inability to accept me due to my beliefs that the church as a whole carried, it just tormented me to no end. I had to leave, because to me watching the bigotry flow, while being kept from doing anything about it, made me part of the problem. Life is too short to pretend to be someone your not, to not let your voice be heard, and to tip-toe around bigots that will only love you if you are who they want you to be. There are plenty of us who are willing to love you for who you actually are.

    • vj

      “Life is too short to pretend to be someone you’re not”

      I am SO stealing that! ;-)

  • Karin

    I’m a lesbian who pretty much is universalist in my beliefs. My parents completely love and accept me and my wife, but I’ve not been open about being a universalist because I know my mom would be very worried about that. My dad’s “backslidden” so I don’t know where he stands with God right now

    I find friends with common experiences on Facebook. So, I would ask, friend me on Facebook? I can then recommend some groups to you.

    Karin

    http://www.facebook.com/nirakia

    Just message me first saying how you are so I know ;-)

    • Elizabeth

      Big thumbs up to friending through John’s blog! I have ten or twelve from over the years. (You know who you are.) :)

  • Connie

    I agree with John, the best thing to do is get away to college as soon as you can. It is can be a place full of open minded people who are young and not so set it their ways and judgmental. If you can’t get away yet maybe you live in an area where you can find other loving people. I too suffer from depression but maybe some of your depression comes from the situation you are in? Look up and read Desiderata. Try to find likeminded souls on the net. Limit your time with people who suck the life out of you, including your parents. If you are young (high school/early college age) your parents may be hoping that you will grow out of the gay thing. When I told my mom I was gay she didn’t take it well. I told her, at one point, that you raised me to not lie so that’s why I am being honest with you, I don’t like to lie. My parents learned to be ok with me being gay and when I fell in love and moved in with a woman they got to know her and I think loved her as much as they loved me. Keep the faith! It will get better. Let me know if there is any way I can help.


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