The Opportunity To Shine
By: John H. Campbell
"No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in Heaven"
As the Holiday season of yet another year draws to a close, many are taking down the traditional compositions of decorative lights which adorn the exteriors, interior windows, and often both of many a residence - home, condominium, and apartment alike - and business. Each year these seem to appear and grow at generally the same time; sometimes immediately following the observation of Thanksgiving or very shortly thereafter, sometimes a week or two prior, and sometimes as late as the week preceding December then 25th (I find that most of these are the installations implemented on a whim or a spur-of-the-moment, last minute infusion of wanting to "get in the Christmas Spirit" and decorate. I have not one judgment of that motive, as I myself am guilty of pulling out the tree at 5pm on December 24th during hectic years). Some elect to leave them up all year long out of convenience for the year to come, others, such as myself, take down and return everything decorative into its proper storage place until the next observation of the Holidays.
When I was much younger - perhaps from the age of three to the age of eleven or twelve, we had a family tradition during the Christmas Season of driving around not only on Christmas Eve, but even some of the nights prior simply to observe all of these displays as if they were in a temporary living gallery. Some were elaborate and ornate, prompting one to wonder how the rest of the subdivision or block was maintaining steady electricity: The giant display of "NOEL" in multicolored bulbs, every square inch of the structure adorned with colored lights from top to bottom, enormous light covered wire framed structures of Santa Claus complete with sleigh and eight tiny reindeer and Rudolph, the Manger scene, or both. Others were a wonderful example of restraint, simplicity and effectiveness: for example, the homes that possessed a single "electric candle" with a glowing electric colored bulb representing the candle "flame," or those with a few simple white lights interwoven with the trees in the front yard, with a spotlight on the wreath on the door. Many seemed to fall somewhere in between, and nearly everyone was unique in some small fashion.
My parents and I would enjoy taking a while to simply drive around and view these; partially to view the creativity of our neighbors and the obvious joy they took in decorating, and partially because it kept us in the Holiday mood and was an activity we engaged in to enjoy the time together. Our home was not elaborate like some of the others - opting for the single while electric candles in each window, a spotlight on the wreath on the door, and our fairly large tree adorned with multi-colored lights visible through a window. I think my parents likely also got an additional yet unspoken enjoyment from the traditional activity of "light looking": an opportunity to live vicariously through the displays of others without having to invest the electricity, work, and climbing all over the house to string decorations.
As an adult, I still appreciate and enjoy a well done display and it always assists in putting me into the mood for the annual commercial observation of Christmas as we know it. We've never done more here than the tree (which these days is predominantly colored lights and very few ornaments, as the cat frequently takes them off of the tree faster than we can put them on) and once in a while, some excess strands of colored lights in the windows; such is apartment living.
I do find it interesting that one of the most popular ways to express the "Christmas Spirit" relates to lights, or light in general. For when I think of Christ and all that His teachings represent, I always relate the idea of Light shining into darkness to guide the way.
Around this time of the year, it certainly helps to remember that Christmas to me is not about lights or trees or decorations; those are merely accoutrements to the Season and the tradition. Christmas to me is a celebration of the birth and life of Christ on this Earth and all of the meaning which that signifies. However, based on historical knowledge, Christ may not have even been born in December, let alone on a specific date therein (there is no specific date attributed to His birth in the Gospels), and the time when we celebrate Christmas is merely the time we observe the birth of God's Greatest Gift to humankind.
Some of the seasonal timing no doubt can also be attributed to the early Roman church attempting to absorb and draw attention away from what were at the time traditional Pagan celebrations of Yule and Saturnalia. The end of December was when the winter solstice was observed in that the longest night of the year falls on the 21st; coinciding with this was the "Festival Of The Sun King" who allegedly "returned the light and brought about the end of the cold and darkness." Early Christians who realized that Christ and His Message and Gift to us accomplished precisely that same sentiment on a much deeper metaphorical and spiritual level elected to declare the same period of time as a celebration of His birth.
"...ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy."
-Matthew 2: 9-10
It makes perfect sense to me that the Christmas story, as told in Matthew, and the Star of Bethlehem guiding the Magi maintains the theme of being guided through the darkness by light, and in my opinion this contributed to the idea of how we related the Holidays to be a celebration of lights. And once again, it lends even more validity to how traditions evolved from the sacred, with the overall theme being Christ's Birth shining a brilliant light and rays of hope into the darkness and beginning a Life which would illuminate the lives of all from then on.
Disregarding for a moment the orgy of crass commercialism that the Christmas Season as we know it in these times has evolved into (at least in mainstream cultural awareness), it is also a time of the year when we as individuals - regardless of our religious affiliation - traditionally allow the brightest lights within ourselves shine forth. For at least a few weeks, many who allow darkness to create a cloud around their hearts for the majority of the year allow that to be lifted and let the good - the God in them - shine out through to those around them. Those given to a quick temper allow it to be tempered with doing the right and loving thing as opposed to existing in a state of self absorption and fear, and the giving and compassionate Way Jesus taught us was the Way to God seems to be more prevalent in practice. Many who elect not to give charitable donations a second thought for the other eleven months of the year suddenly discover a place in the budget to allot funds towards those in need. Regardless of what one believes about Jesus, so many seem - at least in my experience - to be inclined towards behaving in a way more congruent with His teachings about how we should treat others as the trees go up, the carols are sung, and the assorted cookies and fruitcakes arrive in the mail.
I make the statement every year, and this one is no exception: I feel that every day, not merely December 25th, or any other time, should be a celebration of the Light that Jesus shone into all of our lives with His teachings as well as a time to allow that same light to flow through us into the lives of others. It is exactly the same sentiment I maintain about all religious holiday observances in general: why procrastinate a good thing? Why limit the excitement, the enthusiasm, the joy and warmth which is often more abundantly expressed during December when it can be celebrated each and every day, even if it is in small ways compared to decoration and sales to get us in the mood?
I echo the same sentiment in regards to another annual tradition immediately following the observation of Christmas, that of the turning of the old year into a New one. I feel it is no coincidence that it arrives immediately following the time when we observe and celebrate Christ's birth and His Light to guide the way and that we have come over time to associate it with a fresh start, a new beginning, a time to let go of old fears or negative things which we have allowed to clutter our lives and to adopt new ones or resolve to abstain from old habits or ideas or embrace and maintain new ones. The days begin to grow brighter, and with more daylight and we start all over again.
As I am certain I have said before, I am not a subscriber to the concept of the "New Year's Resolution." Again, I reiterate: why postpone something good, an opportunity for growth or self improvement until midnight on January first? Just as I feel that we should not limit the willingness, motivation, and desire to exemplify the Spirit of Christ's teachings in demonstrating a greater awareness of what He Gave us and embody His teachings in displaying a greater sense of caring, passion, charity, compassion and giving to the weeks leading up to the 25th of December, why postpone the enactment of new decisions for ourselves, those around us, or both intended to signify a new beginning, newfound hope, and a fresh clean start to January first when the ball drops and the calendar year begins anew? Why not instead live and allow our souls to reside within the same timeless Presence that God does without measuring the days, and acknowledge that every day can be the chance to start again from square one and resolve to adhere to the commitments and promises we desire to keep to ourselves?
The aforementioned was the topic of debate between myself and a friend recently. She agreed with my sentiment that making resolutions to take effect with the turn of the year, while excellent in theory and concept as a decisive time of action for an individual to turn over new leaves and begin anew, it can also be utilized as a handy tool in the art of procrastination. She also echoed my thoughts that it is unfortunate that so many limit the "Christmas Spirit" and letting their inner light shine forth more brightly to the Holidays.
Overall, the conversation really influenced me to contemplate the relation between the thematic elements of what it is society often associates with the Christmas Story and tradition and what not only God, and Jesus are to me and what they represent in my life, but what the Holiday we observe as Christmas and the turning of one year into another represent to me. The one theme which I find to be constant is one which I have come to associate with all of my experiences with God in general: a brilliant and unending Source of Light and Life which is forever there to illuminate our way through the darkness we either find ourselves in, allow ourselves to be trapped in at times, or which we have over time allowed our spiritual vision to be obscured by.
Quite often, we see inspirational photos of rays (I call them "the rays of Hope") descending through the clouds as having spiritual significance, and I can say on a personal level that seeing this phenomenon in real life is one of those experiences which reinforces my personal sense of knowing that God is a reality as opposed to something we think humankind invented to appease ourselves through the vast mysteries of life. Yet my concept of God as Light goes far deeper than something so seemingly trivial.
That Light may be represented in the teachings of Jesus about God and how we should strive to treat one another in that doing so will make God's Kingdom more visible to us, and enable us to obtain a deeper and more profound awareness of God's Unconditional Love and unending supply of abundant Grace for us. It could be represented merely in episodes in our own lives when we have "suffered and seen the Light"; having come through the metaphorical dark night of drug or alcohol addiction, from the nightmare many LGBT individuals have tragically experienced of feeling that we are somehow "unnatural" and have to suffocate and repress our true selves and deny our true sexualities, sexual orientations, beliefs and feelings in order to find acceptance, from the terror many of us may have experienced in being frightened into taking someone else's distorted perception of God marred by their own fears, prejudices and insecurities seriously.
Experiencing the Light of God might be something which could be deemed thoroughly insignificant to some but hold a deep and cherished meaning to us. It could be represented by an instance where we hoped, longed, prayed for, ask, sought and knocked for the answers to an issue we have been some difficulty we might have been experiencing or some issue we were striving to work out on a personal level. It is very common that I have been dealing with an issue clouding my mind and after just letting it go and trusting in God, suddenly a chance comment from a friend, colleague, loved one or even a stranger, a website or a book I happened to come across, or a fond memory I may have all too quickly forgotten in my anxiety suddenly resurfaces; any one of these or all of the above might lead to a freshly illuminated perspective I had never previously considered until I opted to "be still and know."
All of the above and an abundant multitude of other blessings I have experienced in my own life, and all have been very real, tangible and valid experiences of the reality of God for which I am forever grateful. Experience, be it through personal self discovery or interaction with others has brought me closer to God than any amount of time in organized religion ever has, though a healthy community and fellowship with other thinking, caring and open minded Christians has also played a significant role in my own spiritual growth and awareness.
Yet merely embracing God's Light, as illuminated by my understanding of what Jesus taught or through experiences first hand with God and with others is not sufficient. I feel the constant need, and the imperative, to let the Light which has brought wholeness, peace and joy into my own life spill over into the lives of those around me who long for, desire and need to experience it as well.
For those of us who are Christian and LGBT, sharing that Light, that joy that God has blessed our lives with and employed in order to show us a brighter way and perspective may be something we feel a deep sense of longing to do, yet at times we may allow old fears and apprehensions to cause us to hold back and restrain a full and complete disclosure of the peace and the joy we have known. In these times, and especially given all of the media attention all too often given to Christianity being mutually exclusive to a narrow, legalistic definition of such, those imagined fears too often result in a self imposed barrier from fully sharing the Joy we have experienced firsthand personally in God.
Yet Christ is very clear in His teachings that merely embracing the joy of God's Love and Acceptance of who we are is not sufficient in order that we may experience the fullness of joy which we are intended to be blessed with. We are clearly instructed and advised with love that rather than hiding our light we are to come forth and share that with others, so that we may assist them in lighting their way as well. I feel that it is we who are the messengers of God in this world; we are empowered to be God's healing voice, vessels to carry God's Love on to all who are in need of it. He knows as many of us have found that direct experience is often the best method of creating an awareness of the reality of God, and that we should open up and allow the joy we have felt from knowing of God's Unconditional Love for all of us to flow into the lives of others, lest they remain alone in a place of darkness, feeling lost, afraid and without a clear path, sense of hope, or a metaphorical beacon to light and guide them on their own path, however that might manifest itself. Whenever I read Matthew 5:16, the way my heart interprets it clearly states to me that only in becoming able to share our own testimonials and faith journeys will we be fulfilling the full intent God has for us, and in the process strengthen our own sense of faith, Oneness with God, and peace about who we are Created to be.
And I feel we are constantly called and instructed to do exactly that, that we may allow our awareness and peace about who we are have a defined purpose to illuminate the lives of those around us in need with the blessings and rays of hope we were given freely through God's Loving Grace. We are empowered and encouraged to share the rays of Hope God has blessed and illuminated our own lives with, casting away not only the darkness and fear we once resided in but that which still imprisons those who are still fearful and in doubt of the fact that they too are intended to be a recipient of the same sense of peace and joy.
It has been a definite challenge for me at times along the way, especially initially, given who it is that I know myself to be and how my own life experience drastically differs to the majority, to fully allow myself to let that Light God blessed me with to shine. It is partially due to my sincere belief that just because my path works for me and I know with my heart it is right for me does not render it the appropriate path for the next person. There are a great many commonalities which I share with others in my faith, yet there are some marked variances that a much smaller group of individuals can relate to. I struggled with this at one time, but eventually I was able to find clarity on these issues.
When I came out as a bisexual man, and it was apparent to me and I recognized that for me that means that I feel the need for a committed relationship with both a woman and a man, it had no negative effect on my love for God, nor my identifying as a Christian. God did not change, the only thing which had happened was that a veil and a dark cloud of repression, self inflicted false guilt and shame, and confusion had been lifted; God was still the same Loving God there to help and guide me through the entire process-although it did take some time and patience for me to reach a place of full comprehension of this fact. I did endure and come through my own dark night of the soul as I went through the challenging task of reconciling my spirituality and sexuality, which I am aware is a process that anyone regardless of their orientation can acknowledge as a challenge, especially with much of the negative programming regarding anything related to sexuality in general which is still unfortunately still maintained and perpetuated by a large faction of Christianity.
However, I knew from both experience and from the response I received from others that while many could theoretically accept the fact that I was bisexual, some had issues with not only how that is expressed in my relationships with my partners and the inability or unwillingness to understand that it is possible for me to share honest, genuine and committed relationships with both a woman and a man, but also other beliefs and ideas I have about human sexuality and definitions of love and commitment I have which vary from the mainstream, and my openness about other religious paths than Christianity. I discovered that even among those who were fully accepting of same gender marriage or lesbian and gay relationships I was seen as anathema to a few, not to mention how I was viewed by those who were skeptical of any same gender relationship at all.
Nonetheless, I refused to allow the apprehensions others held about the nature of my faith or sexuality to make me feel devalued or less, or to diminish my own sense of peace about who I am or my personal awareness of and relationship with God as I understand and know God. It took a great deal of soul searching to learn not to put a shade over or dim my light when I was sharing my faith with others, but I was eventually able to achieve that sense of peace where I felt confident to let that Light shine with the full brilliance that it did for me on a personal level.
When I was fully aware of the fact that God Loves me as I am, and not for what others might think I should be, I was full of joy and I definitely desired to share that peace with others. Initially, I would find myself discussing aspects of my faith journey which were predominantly those which I knew I would have in common with anyone who identifies as Christian and did not enter into the controversial areas.
But as Jesus did say in Mark 2:17, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." It is not the spiritually whole, well and healthy who are in the most dire need of a different, fresh point of view and way of thinking about God, but those who are trapped in the darkness of fear and doubt from years of negative influences and conditioning, and toxic ideas about a judgmental God of conditional love and dogmatic legalities. For me to share aspects of my faith with others who already had a strong faith in core concepts which the majority of all those who identify as a Christian can relate to might have served to strengthen my own faith, it did little towards sharing the definitive sense of peace which came from knowing that God Loves and Accepts me as I am with those who are in doubt that God would ever acknowledge, let alone accept and be there for them. So I opted instead to go amongst others who identified as LGBT, particularly in the bisexual community I had become active in and a part of, to share the Light I had experienced, expecting to be met with relief from those who might be seeking God but who doubted that God could ever love them as they are.
On the converse, I did immediately meet with a little resistance amongst the bisexual community and among other bisexuals in committed relationships with more than one partner. It did not matter how accepting or open minded I was, or how non judgmental of others I was; all they heard was the statement that I am a Christian and they immediately jumped to the false conclusion and assumption that all Christians are of the restrictive and legalistic variety and therefore not to be fully trusted. Some were outright angry with me, claiming that I could not and should not attempt to be a Christian (not too unlike the way that conservative Christians insisted I could and should not). Others were angry because they felt I was attempting to claim some imagined superiority over their beliefs or non-beliefs. And yet others of what I jokingly refer to as the fundamentalist Atheist variety were insistent that belief in God was the source of all problems in the world.
It was not too unlike how I had been shunned by many conservative Christians due to my sexual orientation, aside from the fact that I was avoided rather than chastised and condemned to Hell. In retrospect, I realize that it was a knee jerk reaction due to the cultural conditioning and how Christianity has unfortunately allowed itself to be defined and compartmentalized by modern media as a means of discrimination against anyone not heterosexual, straight and narrow.
Which makes me wonder, when will the liberal Christian denominations be given a louder and more resonant voice in the media? When will the time come when "Christian" is associated with qualities and ethics such as compassion, charity, kindness and caring without judgment, doing good for one another regardless of whether we identify with them or not, and bonding together as human beings for the common good rather than anti-LGBT, anti-choice, anti-Democrat, anti anything that does not fit a very narrow and restrictive, limiting definition of "Christian"? Another topic to be delved into more deeply for another time perhaps, but I definitely feel that the question does apply in this instance.
This is the main reason why I feel it is especially critical that those of us who are unconventional Christians or LGBT Christians never feel any sense of shame about non-judgmentally sharing our faith among those who may not subscribe to what it is we believe. It is the most profound witness that I feel any of us may offer. Notice that I am not suggesting that we attempt to exalt ourselves above anyone, nor attempt to change or convert them, or even evangelize: I am merely stating that I feel we should live by example by being a caring and loving individual while still maintaining who it is we know God Made us to be-whether that is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or whatever we may be, whether we are in monogamous relationships or multiple partner relationships, whatever our private lives are and whatever forms of sharing physical pleasure we engage in behind closed doors with consenting adult partners (provided we are living the truth of who we are in a fashion which is respectful of all others and hurtful to no one) and being able to state with confidence that we base our sense of ethics and way of life in a belief in the Loving God as embodied in the teachings of Christ.
Some interesting things took place when I refused to deny or make apologies for my faith amongst those who were for the most part highly skeptical of anyone who calls themselves a Christian. While there were many who continued to consider my faith as "suspect," others would quietly contact me and ask me to share with them more about my own faith journey. It was then that I had the opportunity to shine the Light God has blessed me with. I let them know that while my path had worked for me, they should be encouraged to seek God for themselves and find the path that worked best for them.
I met numerous bisexuals such as myself who had experienced firsthand many of the same trials I had endured in being fearful that they could never fully reconcile their spirituality and sexuality, who had experienced the feelings of being misunderstood by others, and who longed to know that they could be who they are and express that reality in a fashion congruent with their faith in and love for God and their value of the teachings of Jesus. I encountered those who desired a closer personal relationship, or the existence of any relationship between themselves and God but who were unaware that this was a valid possibility until coming into contact with another who had successfully attained such. In sharing my faith and journey with them, I felt confident that they would at least walk away entertaining the possibility of Hope.
And, along the path, I also encountered those who had a personal relationship and peace with God, but, who like me, were uncertain as how to express that to others who might not understand or be fearful of how others would react to their differences to what is more universally acceptable to society. In the case of the latter, we were able to help each other; their testimonials served to strengthen my faith and vice versa, and we were able to assist each other in reaching out to others like us who were still in need. Our experiences of God's Light we shared complemented each other.
While all of the above and sharing my journey with like minded individuals who would be more readily apt to understand my unique perspective was definitely one of the most spiritually nourishing and enriching experiences I have ever had, and absolutely a worthwhile endeavor (if you can call it such; it all seemed to come effortlessly and naturally when I would merely relax and trust in God to guide me), another challenge arose when the time came to share my faith journey with those who had a vastly differing perspective.
Although I was very secure in what I believed and my faith was strong, when it came to openly discussing my journey with those who might not be so accepting of my faith but not of my sexuality or sexual orientation, while I did not doubt the validity of my faith, there was still some inner resistance I was compelled to overcome. Deep inside there was still a certain lingering level of concern and apprehension as to how what I shared would be received. However, as is so often the case, it seems to me whenever we elect to doubt, that is when God most often illustrates why we should not and have no valid cause to.
Although I no longer have the time with a busy schedule to participate in online message boards, it was once a regular habit of mine some time ago. In this particular instance, it was a (very poorly moderated) Christian board comprised of a wide variety of beliefs-from the harshly legalistic to the most liberal minded-discussing the topic LGBT acceptance, of anti employment discrimination laws, and of same gender marriage and the alleged "threat" to marriage that tragically many still believe that it carries. It began with a simple observation on my part of the direction the thread was taking, one which was threatening to rapidly transform from reasonable civil discourse to a hostile and toxic environment.
Reluctantly, but with faith, I made the decision to participate and offer my opinion that while I respected those with differing opinions that I feel that laws designed to foster discrimination against the LGBT Community actually contribute to violence against LGBT individuals, and that while I felt that if an individual elects to believe being LGBT is wrong that is their personal right, that broadcasting that belief as gospel can create situations where direct harm can come to another, and any act which encourages harm to others is in direct opposition to the cornerstone of Jesus' teachings.
While one or two agreed with me, I was in the minority. While most disagreed, (Keep in mind at this juncture I had not yet revealed my sexual orientation.) A few posts later the first angry and hateful post appeared, quoting my post and then below offering a three-letter response: "fag."
What an intelligent and articulate response, I thought, and began my response with "Well, although I disagree with your use of that term, you're half right, in that I am bisexual" followed by my observation that I found it interesting that this individual was so absolutely certain that any supporter of LGBT rights could only be LGBT themselves. A few others chimed in to agree, and then one person asked at the end of their post, "Bisexual? How does that work?" I simply stated that there is no set definition of bisexual beyond the attraction to people of both genders, and some bisexuals were monogamous in a same or opposite partner marriage or relationship, some were irresponsible in their behavior but that was only due to not fully accepting themselves or remaining closeted to their spouses, some were celibate, and others such as myself are in open but honest, loving and committed relationships with more than one partner. I followed this with some informational links, steered the thread back to the overall topic, and I questioned for a moment if I was prepared for the response my post might create. I contemplated my belief that God will never give us more than we can handle, especially when our heart is in the right place, and posted it anyway. After all, I never knew if what I had to say might help someone who ran across it.
What I discovered was rather surprising. Apart from the one or two expected vitriolic tirades directed at me from individuals who seemed more trolls than actual participants in the conversation, there was little response to my disclosure and the topic veered back to discussion of Scripture and interpretation and LGBT rights in general. But there was one related response to my disclosure which startled me. It was from one of the conservative evangelicals who was posting in the thread, who I recognized from having engaged in debates regarding non-LGBT related issues in other topics and threads.
His exact words to me, quoting my post regarding being bisexual were:
"I may not understand or agree with the way you live your life or who you are, but I cannot dispute that the light of Christ shines through in your actions and words, and that your faith is sincere, regardless of what differences about beliefs on a personal level we might have about sexuality."
I was shocked that when this person discovered I am bisexual and have two partners or any matter of other factors which would often prompt conservative Christians to disregard my faith and identification as a follower of Christ as counterfeit, rather than judge me, he just agreed to disagree.
Here I was fully anticipating being labeled as a freak, a Pariah, a devil for being bisexual and having an unorthodox relationship, yet despite my vast theological differences with this person, they publicly stated that they thought I was a valid viable witness of Christian faith. I was amazed that it was left that that, and there was not even further discussion of the matter, not only from this person but from others. While I could discern that there were more than a few others who did not understand, no one seriously interested in carrying on a real discourse judged me and I even got the feeling some I had fully expected to rake me across the brimstone were not "tolerating" me but rather even accepting me despite our differences.
I should have known better that perhaps there would be some who simply saw my being bisexual or any other aspect of who I am or how I differ would be disregarded by some and seen as a non issue in perspective, for while it is an integral aspect of my being, it is not all which defines me, nor does it prevent me from expressing a shared faith in God from one who views God from a different light and vantage point, for whatever reason. I then comprehended that there had been many times when I was the one who made things an issue, even when none truly existed and it was a wonderful experience of spiritual growth.
Sure, there were the typical turn or burn posts from some, but I was amazed how I was able to locate commonality in places I had not previously expected to. And while those who agreed to disagreed could still maintain negative beliefs about myself or anyone LGBT, I cannot help but wonder if it opened some once tightly closed eyes to the idea that we too can be bearers and bringers of God's Light.
It doesn't always go that way, I am aware. But it was an illuminating experience which challenged my assumptions as well as any remaining fear and apprehension I had held on to at the time. I realized sometimes that my own imagined fears held me back and resolved to not allow that to happen in the future.
From that point on, I was still wary of subjecting myself to situations where I knew I might be met with nothing but negativity, yet I no longer held on to the fearful ideation that who I am, my sexual orientation, or sexuality was problematic to my credibility to being an effective witness. I realized that such negative thinking was only due to my internalizing the prejudice and ignorance borne of misunderstanding and fear of those who either did not understand or elected not to try, and sometimes the difficulty was merely a product of my old fearful patterns of thought I desired to overcome.
I cannot claim that every experience where I have shined my light to another ended so well as my long ago epiphany on a message board, in fact, I have had more than my share of negative responses and experiences in all places upon sharing the Light that God brought into my life with others, be it by telling my story or simply by being present and unashamedly and confidently living my truth with confidence. But I can state that the urge to assist anyone in feeling the joy God has brought me with others is one that I cannot, and would not ever desire to repress. It is an expression of gratitude to God rather than any sort of personal grandstanding, and something I am both driven and compelled to do.
I spent an extensive amount of time getting to the place where I felt comfortable sharing even in less than favorable or potentially receptive environments, but several things contributed to my feeling more confident that my witness to others in need-even when faced with potential ridicule-was a process I was not only driven to enact but one that I feel that all of us who call ourselves LGBT and Christian are called to have the courage to.
I cannot help to be reminded of seeing something a very long time ago which at the time made absolutely no sense to me. Given my lack of spiritual depth, growth, and open-mindedness to diversity in general during that period of my life, I can understand why, in retrospect that it did not register to me as practical, although given where I find myself at this juncture in life, it makes perfect sense to me now and I can look back on it with a sense of amusement.
There was a strip mall I would often find myself driving past in my travels, and this particular location had a store whose name I just could not comprehend: the name of the establishment was simple, two words: "Just Lamps". I thought to myself how ridiculous of a concept this seems, especially given how large of an outlet it appeared to be: how many different types of lamps could there be? Certainly, there was some variety: floor lamps, bedside lamps, desk lamps, gas lamps, and to be sure an assortment of lamps in a few different shapes and sizes, but to me there seemed to be a certain limitation to just how much unique inventory this place would be able to maintain given the seemingly narrow area of specialty.
However, upon a visit on a whim in an effort to understand the concept better, simple curiosity and nothing better to do that afternoon, upon closer review, I realized that I had underestimated exactly how much diversity there was in the world of devices designed with the intent of delivering modular lighting. The variety and diversity of merchandise they offered was quite staggering. Literally hundreds of varieties, shapes, types, colors, styles, manufacturers, power sources, bulbs, insert your category here-yet all with the commonality that they could be classified as lamps - even though they were all the same and shared some basic commonalities, each one had its own unique features, qualities, and purposes that set it apart in some way from the rest. I had never quite thought that there could be so many different definitions and variations on one theme.
These days, however, I know differently, and not only in the area of small electrical appliances, but especially so in God's diverse and wondrous world of Creation. Like the massive variety of lamps, each of us is different and carry our own special and unique purpose but have a common purpose despite our diversity: shedding light where it is needed. For those of us who identify as LGBT and Christian, we may feel initially as our differences might prevent us from being allowed to fully display our light without others attempting to throw a shade over it or attempting to obscure it, yet this is merely but an illusion from past negative conditioning.
Each of us is not unlike a lamp God has a specific and definitive purpose for, to shine light in places that might not otherwise be able to receive it, and illuminate the darkest corners of souls that might not otherwise know or believe that it exists. And each of us plays our part.
Perhaps an even better, and more appropriate analogy of why I feel it is so important that we let our own individual light, however different, shine with all of the others relates back to the ornate Christmas light displays I was so fascinated with as a child and still appreciate. Just as each light individually on its own may seem small and insignificant shining alone by itself, each one has a crucial part to play, however miniscule. When they all come together in all of their various colors, styles, and purposes, the collectively create a beautiful, colorful, clear and bright display and celebration of brilliance-not at all unlike how all of us working together and letting all of our lights shine as part of the display can create a magnificent and bright display of all of God's Diverse Creation in all of its wholeness and completeness.
So I say, let it shine. I feel that it is imperative as LGBT Christians that we come to fully understand that there is nothing whatsoever "dark" about us. Yes, our lives may still be considered by some to be very different from the mainstream, but only in the illusions of fear others may not yet quite understand, and the only way to create understanding is through allowing ourselves, and our lights to be fully seen. I feel that we cannot and should not allow ourselves to be fearfully, willingly or unwillingly excluded from any of the rest of those who want to express and share a common faith in Christ and promoting the Light He brought to all of us despite whatever differences we may have individually. Regardless of what factors may deem us as different to another, we are not in the least flawed or defective, and we have a definite and specific place and purpose in God's Plan for peace and joy for all. Each of us can play our part in providing a guiding light for those seeking, searching to discover the same joy we have found in God's Unfailing and Unconditional Love for us all.
Haven't we finally reached a juncture where all of us who call ourselves Christians can at long last focus on what unites us, our commonalities, rather than nitpick about differences based on personal opinions? Can we cease the process of straining out gnats by obsessing on the minutia of old, tired dogma created by our own fears while swallowing the camel - in this instance, the camel represented by making others feel distant and excluded from God due to a fear of releasing hold on orthodoxy and tradition? It is an ongoing task, but I feel we can make steady progress and contribute to it if we do so one little spark, one little light at a time.
We need not repent of who we are to be credible witnesses of God's Light, instead precisely the opposite: show unashamedly that we as are we all children of the same Unconditionally Loving God and it is the same God regardless of any individual differences or how understanding and knowledge may evolve through time. Only our minds can create any illusions of separation from God, for in reality that separation does not exist. We can refuse to allow any opinion to allow us to think our faith is somehow flawed or counterfeit due to being at peace with being who we are, for nothing can be further from the truth.
I feel that we can best be witnesses and shining representatives of the Light by merely by living our Truths as God illuminates them to us with honesty, integrity and love and respect for all the rest of God's Children to the best of our capability in all that we do; we can eradicate fear by illuminating knowledge and understanding. By living a good and loving example and putting forth our best efforts to allow our actions to be congruent with the spiritual wisdom of Jesus while refusing to compromise our God given sexuality or who we are, we confidently redefine that "Christian" no longer has to have a narrow definition and provide others with greater access to the same Loving Light which healed us from our fears and brought us to a brighter day and a place of clarity and peace.
Be not afraid to boldly express your faith; in living justly with confidence illuminate and illustrate to the world that to be a Christian, to be a joyful follower of Christ does not indicate and is not defined by a life of low self esteem, denying one's true self, or being judgmental and elevating oneself above others or claiming that your own chosen belief system is somehow superior. Illuminate to the world the fact that regardless of who one is everyone - whosoever believes - has the right to call themselves a Christian and there are absolutely no restrictions, limitations, reserved rights or boundaries to God. God knows no exclusivity. That is a human construct which divides and separates us from the Love God truly desires for us as individuals and a society to experience.
Those of us who have experienced this illumination can reach within and allow those who need it most to view it. Although some days our awareness of the Light may be clearer than others, out of the abundance of Joy it has brought us, there is a never ending well and a power Source that will never go dry which we can draw and give and provide to others from.
So as the time arrives to bid another year farewell and move into a brighter tomorrow, make the commitment to take each day, each moment to allow your light to shine with boldness, strength and confidence - let it shine brilliantly and persistently! If you wish to consider it a resolution, be constantly mindful of the fact that every day, not just January the First at 12:00 a.m., whatever time zone we find ourselves in, is a brand new fresh blessing, beginning, and opportunity for growth. It brings us each and every one a new opportunity to shine the Light God Has blessed us each with however we have experienced it - one that can never be extinguished - into the lives of those around us who need, crave, and long for it, and to reach places of darkness others might still falsely fear that it cannot.
The Light God has blessed us each with is, as each of us are, with a definite and specific purpose, however specialized and unique, towards a greater end and the greatest Good. I sincerely believe that we are called to act as conduits and bringers of that Light, intended to act as beacons for those seeking their way in a world often obscured with fear and darkness. We can play our part in God's Plan to provide rays of Hope, clarity, understanding, belonging and Love to all who seek them to guide their way - if we all just embrace the opportunity to shine. And if we all did exactly that, then I think that the brilliance would be so great that there would never be any amount or level of darkness that it could not defeat and conquer.
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