A Beautiful Vision: The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

(The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi)

In our home, rather than a lot of artwork (although there is some of that as well) there are several framed prints I purchased once from the church I was attending and had been confirmed in at the time. They were selling them with the proceeds going to benefit the needy at Christmas. Two of them are prayers; one is the Lord’s Prayer, still my favorite of all time, and the other is the above prayer.

Although the prayer is credited to St. Francis of Assisi, I found some interesting information reading about it on the Internet. I found out that the exact origin of the prayer is unknown, and does not actually appear in any known writings of St. Francis. It is said that it was apparently written in France, perhaps by a Catholic priest by the name of Father Bouquerel. I went on to read that the prayer is commonly known as the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis only because it was often seen printed on a small card that had a picture of Saint Francis on the other side, but which made no actual claim that the prayer was written by Saint Francis.

It doesn’t matter to me who wrote it. I feel as if God, and the Spirit of Christ, was truly moving through whoever the actual scribe was. Just as I have the print of the Lord’s Prayer where I know I will see it first thing every morning (hanging above the coffee maker), I have the prayer of St. Francis hanging right beside the front door to see just before leaving and going out into the world to remind me of what is most important when interacting with anyone I encounter that day. My reasoning for this is that although the prayer does not appear anywhere in the Bible and is not attributed to Christ, and in fact appears not have been written by the actual St. Francis, it embodies what I truly feel the Christian journey, and Christianity is all about in a nutshell.

Carrying God’s love into the world

It also seems to exemplify the key teachings of Christ, which as a whole to me are about responding to negativity and negative energy with positive energy, and responding to fear with love. It addresses the concept of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, and also of the power of positive thought, of sowing that which we would want to reap, and being the light we wish to see in the world. But perhaps more than anything it serves to remind me what the core of the Christian faith is really all about — not proclaiming one’s faith loudly or demonstrating it by holding certain cultural views or allegiance to a particular political party, but rather by doing good, being God’s Voice in the world, and allowing ourselves to actually be instruments of God’s Peace, and vessels to carry God’s Love to the world. I feel that is a crucial yet often overlooked point which is key to the growth I feel God has planned for all of us, and I will explain why I feel that way a little later.

I feel that a great majority of what is commonly known to the world as Christianity has seemed to, over time, to have misplaced the core of the religion, and made it about things which in my heart I think that God, or Jesus ever intended for it to be about. What at one time was a source of hope and inspiration to those in times of trial and need has evolved in many ways to something entirely different: I have seen it transform over the years to be less about exemplifying good will to others, and more about where one stands on issues of sexuality, how one votes politically, and whether or not individual beliefs conform to an group collective.

As I was growing up, I slowly saw this transformation: rather than church being about giving thanks to God for all we have, or studying the teachings of Jesus to determine how to be a better person and get along with and interact in a loving way with others, the focus shifted to discussions of impending doom and the “End Times.” Of course, the related discussions of who would be spared and who would not in those time, which Presidential candidates were more “Godly,” and about how the world was not filled with wonder but with evil that must be feared at every corner.

“Family values” are no longer about nurturing and caring for one’s children and teaching them to be responsible, considerate and caring individuals with a positive outlook, but now seem to be obsessed with the imperative to prevent people of the same gender to be engaged in any type of sexual intimacy, relationship, or marriage at any cost and the demonizing of any form of deviation from male/female heterosexuality and rigid gender role constructs. And lastly, and perhaps most disparagingly, the definition of “Christian” in our mainstream culture has largely become equated with “Conservative Evangelical Fundamentalist” rather than someone who loves God and attempts to show that Love through basing their lives and actions on the principles Christ taught and demonstrated.

I always know when someone begins a conversation with, “Well, I’m a Christian, and …” that they are more often than not of the fundamentalist variety. Many times, I find myself glad that they clarified this, as their actions and judgments as well as their apparent disregard for those who refuse to conform to their belief system do not echo or equate to what I feel is very Christ-like.

About those ‘Bible-believing’ Christians

I have to cite this as an example, as it just happened to me recently. I have a heterosexual friend, who knows I am a more liberal Christian, as well as a bisexual man with both a female and a male partner, and has no judgments about it at all. His understanding of God is that it is not his place to judge others regardless of whether he understands them or not. He has always believed in God and Christ, but just thinks that thinks a person’s sexuality is between them and God, and he holds no judgment of other religions, or of LGBT people.

He had ended up becoming romantically involved with a self proclaimed “Bible believing Christian” who was very vocal in her faith. Any church other than the very conservative fundamentalist one she attended was of the devil, and anyone who was not a Biblical Literalist was Hell bound. As he became more involved with her, we kind of ended up going our separate ways, although we did stay in touch somewhat.

Recently, I spoke to him and asked how things were going. He mentioned that although it had ended upon decent terms, the relationship was over; he had seemed happy with her, so I asked why he had chosen to part ways. He told me that it was all about her religious beliefs. Apparently, in her eyes, my friend wasn’t Christian enough, so she had been having another secretive, full blown relationship with a “better Christian, a ‘real Bible Believing’ Christian” man behind his back, and that is why he chose to end it. I thought it was rather interesting that someone who was so incredibly judgmental of others and so adamantly opposed to things “immoral” as she was and went on at length about how superior her Christian faith was to others could act in such a dishonest and hurtful manner.

I have seen the same type of behavior from others who carry on at length about their walk with God verbally. I vividly recall a job I worked at once that did publishing and printing for a number of different businesses, many of them churches, and many of them fundamentalist churches, as there were quite a few in that area. One of the higher ups at one of the more conservative (and touted as “truly Bible based”) multi-million dollar “mega churches” had requested that their newsletter be printed, and unfortunately, there was an error with the printing. Upon discovering the error, the person became utterly hostile and abusive towards several of the employees I had there at the time, to the point of throwing things and using profanity towards them. The error was corrected, and the issue was resolved, but I found it very perplexing that a group who so fervently claimed to be speaking for God would act in this manner towards anyone.

Of course, there are the cases where I see those who talk of the Majesty of God and the Authority of Christ (which I can agree with) act with blatant disregard for the feelings of others because of the ways in which they are different (which I don’t agree with). I have seen people who talk of a Loving God in one breath and who wish death upon LGBT individuals or those of other faiths in the next, and who think that those who are less fortunate or who are beset by illness “brought it upon themselves” due to their “sins.” I recall reading of one person (on a message board post) who refused to help a homeless person once and give them a ride somewhere because they “thought he might be a homosexual.”

I have witnessed many people who speak very loudly about being Christians and “fighting the Christian fight” who have demonstrated what I feel to be very un-Christian behavior. I feel badly for them, for I honestly feel that their relationship with God is most likely a fearful one, and that is the cause behind this type of unloving behavior. And even more unfortunately, at the present time, they have done a very successful job of effectively “hijacking” the Christian faith and culture and committing what I feel to be “spiritual terrorism” on a great many people, including LGBT people of faith. And worse than that, although they claim to have been “Born Again” and let old parts of them die, many are choosing to maintain old prejudices, and clinging to their fears of those different from them, and masquerading their hatred behind the label of standing up for “Christian values” — which is personally feel is at least a misnomer, and at worst, a severe form of heresy to what I believe that Jesus was truly all about.

Judging in more ways than one

I have discovered over time the people who hold to fundamentalist beliefs seem far more threatened and terrified by the fact that I am a Christian than they are threatened and terrified of the fact that I am bisexual and in a two partner relationship. I recall once posting a message in a bisexual group discussing relationships and issues in response to a Christian fundamentalist who had joined strictly to condemn everyone to hell that I was a Christian and asking how they could reconcile their hatred and judgment of others with Matthew 7:1-2 where Jesus specifically instructed:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

When they discovered I was Christian, they were even more furious that someone who they deemed as unacceptable to God in their own eyes could dare to quote Scripture.

I have not only seen that type of attitude displayed by some Christians towards other LGBT Christians, but even towards the conservative heterosexual Christians who dare to allow their churches to become truly inclusive, and accepting (rather than merely tolerating) members of the LGBT Community. Although they may no longer take literally certain verses of the Bible, they hold fast to any of the ones which they can employ to defend what I feel is the last bastion of “socially acceptable” (or deemed as such by those who hold them) prejudices which have yet to pass away, prejudices against the sexual orientation, or private sexuality of individuals. This anger is often reserved not only for the individuals, but those who would offer acceptance and inclusion to them, and extend the Good News to them about God’s Unconditional Love.

On the converse, I have met people who never once said a word to me what their faith was who to me demonstrated Christian values in their actions. And that is why I have come to the conclusion that the best way to demonstrate a faith in God or an allegiance to the teachings of Christ is through our actions: to dig up an old cliche saying, “walking the walk” rather than “talking the talk.” And it is that type of thinking that I honestly feel that will lead to the next spiritual evolution.

There is a verse in Ecclesiastes that I am particularly fond of that sums up how I feel about the present state of things, and what I feel is to come:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

I feel that this is relevant to the present state of things. I think that although at this time, what the majority of mainstream society thinks of when they hear that someone is a “Christian” is “anti-LGBT, anti-Choice, every word of the Bible is Literal and Infallible.” That there is a huge transformation that will happen which will open up the term “Christian” to be what many have always understood it to be: one who believes that the way to becoming closer to God is by doing one’s best to follow the spiritual teachings of Christ. I feel that what we have been experiencing where the Community of Faith slowly evolves to become more inclusive over time is all a process, and that things will eventually evolve into a form where any type of discrimination is eventually seen as archaic and unheard of as certain types already are.

And oddly enough, and as heretical as the notion might seem to many self-proclaimed Christians, I see it demonstrated to a great deal in the LGBT Community, both the LGBT Community of Faith and the Community as a whole. I think that the entire community plays a role, but that the role of the LGBT Community of Faith plays an especially important role; not by what we profess to others to believe, but in how we show it; in our actions, in what we do.

How they’ll know we are Christians

By “what we do,” I am not referring at all to anything to do with our private and personal intimate lives, save from always behaving in an ethical manner which is respectful of others and among consenting adults. What I am referring to is in our dealings with other people, and that we always attempt to embody the sentiment expressed by one of my favorite Hymns, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” — our love for all others, knowing they are part of God’s Creation just as much as we are. There are a few things that I feel are key to this evolution, along with what I envision the results of this evolution will eventually become.

I envision a time when there will never again be the need for “closets” — whatever a person’s sexual orientation or sexuality is will be irrelevant, and it really will be by their fruits-the unique gifts God has chosen them to bring to others-that people will know and remember them by.

I strongly feel that as LGBT people we should not ever apologize or feel the need to apologize for our sexual orientation, sexuality or individual forms of consensual sexual expression among adults, as if they were some sort of “affliction.” It does not matter to me whether sexual orientation is or is not a “choice” (although ultimately I feel it is not), and it simply is the way God made us. I feel so disheartened when I hear an LGBT person say they wished they could be “straight” or “normal,” and I strongly dislike the use of the word “straight” to define “heterosexual,” as to me it has always seemed to imply that anyone who isn’t “straight” is somehow “flawed.” I am also disheartened when I see others wish to assimilate rather than to be the unique person God made them to be. I hear of same gender couples who wish to marry “in order to be more like normal couples” rather than what I feel the only reason anyone should get married should be: as a celebration of their love before God and others.

I feel that society as a whole really needs to let go of the shame we have allowed to develop regarding caring sexual expression among consenting adults of whatever sexual orientation. I feel that whatever our sexual orientation or sexuality is on an individual level that it is as natural as breathing, and there is far too much concern among Christianity in general with one of the most intimate parts of the human experience. It is, in my opinion, an issue that should be a non-issue.

Why is there the obsession with what goes on in the bedroom in any part of Christian thinking? I just feel it shouldn’t be that way. For all of the graphic talk I hear from those who condemn the private practices of consenting adults, they seem more obsessed with it than anyone to me. Aside from ensuring that individuals are granted personal freedom to be who they are without being discriminated against, I think it’s not a church issue nor should the details of intimacy ever come up for discussion in a church environment (unless, for example, the importance of providing honest information about safer sexuality as part of sexual education is stressed). I honestly long for the day when what goes on in the private sexual and intimate lives of honest, consenting adults is a non-issue in the Church or Christianity as a whole, and that what is spoken about in church has little to nothing to do with those issues, but rather how we treat one another as people, regardless of differences in our intimate lives.

A very long time ago, before I even was a Christian, a person once said to me that they did not form an opinion of a person’s character by anything other than the way that person treated them and the way they treated others, and I still take that to heart even after becoming a Christian. Nearly every time I have seen someone who might not initially been accepting of an LGBT individual as a Christian suddenly open their heart and mind to the idea it has been because of the way they are treated as another individual by that person. They have little to no concern with what they imagine or understand that person to be doing in the bedroom, but are rather taken by the compassion, love and kindness that person has shown. My point with all of this is that as we proclaim that we are both LGBT and Christian, rather than making an issue about the gender of our partner(s), or attempt to engage in a discussion about our sexual orientation, allow our actions-those of compassion and good will towards others, to come first. I feel that we need to live by example, with our sowing of love, kindness and charity towards others being the first things people remember about us, and the fact that we happen to be LGBT being an afterthought.

I envision someday that there will come a time that a person will not be seen as Christian by whether or not they believe every word of the Bible as literal, but whether they take the actual teachings of Christ to heart and put them into action; where Faith will be measured by the way in which we treat others on an individual level rather than any one specific understanding of Scriptures.

We need to be unafraid to occasionally play the role of martyr and strive to always do the “right” thing, rather than the easy thing. It’s easy to pick up the Bible and find verses to fight back with, but is that always the right way to go about things? When fundamentalists bash us for being LGBT, we do NOT always need to bash back with counter Scriptures and play “Scripture wars” (although I have used Matthew 7 as a response many times, I always try to do so respectfully!), nor do we need to tell them they are “wrong.” We need to feel certain and secure in our faith and “be still and know,” and maintain a quiet peace and refuse to engage in petty fighting and arguing, while at the same time diligently fighting for justice.

We don’t like it when others try to use Scriptures to convert us to their way of thinking, so why should we as LGBT Christians counter use the Bible as a weapon towards them? It was never intended to be used as the weapon so many have taken to using it for. Jesus said to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you and not, “an eye for an eye,” or “do unto others as they do unto you.” That’s one reason why I don’t ever attempt to proselytize to those who are set in their minds. I will attempt to put forth every effort to be very nice to them and give them some things to think about. I may mention what Christ taught about the importance of kindness to others over outdated laws in the Pentateuch or the admonition not to judge, or even inquire as to why their church tells them to discriminate against that guy who was so nice to them the other day just because he happens to be of a different sexual orientation. But I feel that a better way is merely to attempt to display what I feel Christ would have done, which is to treat them with the same level of respect as I would want, regardless of our differences.

I envision an LGBT Community of Faith where we are able to put aside our differences, and understand that each of us has a different journey, place and purpose, although the one thing we all have in common is giving Glory and Thanks to God for all that it is that we have, and carry on the Ministry of Love Christ has entrusted us with as a group, being able to place differences of opinion aside in the interest of that Greater Vision.

We need to expand our vision in some ways still, and stop any and all “fighting” amongst ourselves. While there is always room for differing and varying opinions, there is always room amongst people of Faith to “agree to disagree” and love and respect one another just the same. (I think if it were impossible, the church would never have survived!) Although Whosoever has always been a very inclusive, open and affirming environment I have seen the LGBT Community and particularly at times other LGBT Christians get very divided over things to the point of fighting in other places.

I have been run out of LGBT groups and ostracized for being bisexual and/or “not being the right kind of bisexual” because I have an honest and caring relationship with both a female and a male partner, and I have talked with other bisexuals who were treated in the same manner. I have seen other LGBT Christians treated in the same manner because they were involved in the “Leather” Community, regardless of whether or not they were very open about that fact. Finally, I have seen Christian groups who are welcoming to Gay and Lesbian individuals completely exclude bisexual and transgendered people altogether, on the grounds that they are “too controversial” and a “threat to mainstream acceptance.”

I have gotten into plenty of debates with people who do not understand me, and that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I understand that there are many who cannot relate to or accept the idea that I can be faithful and committed to both a woman and man, and that these relationships are genuine and caring and include the same levels of respect and emotional as well as physical intimacy. That is okay. These relationships are ultimately between us, and God. I would like to someday see a greater level of acceptance for such relationships as being an ethical and moral alternative to the other choices which some bisexual individuals end up feeling forced or pressured into, of either repressing part of themselves, or leading a double life and betraying another. Just as it is my hope and prayer that someday same gender marriage will be universally accepted as a normal part of society, it is also my hope that someday that for a bisexual to be in a committed relationship with a partner of both genders will be more universally accepted.

Jesus said in John 14:2 that, “In the House of (God) there are many mansions,” and I have always interpreted this verse as His alluding to the fact that although all of us may be different, we all are of equal value and importance to God, and each of us in our uniqueness plays a part in God’s World. We may walk very different paths, but each of us has a purpose. We may not understand it, but at the same time, I don’t feel that we need to necessarily completely understand one another’s differences in order to come together as a greater Community while loving and accepting one another as we are, even those things we do not understand. Each of us is our own individual Created by God with a unique place and purpose in the world, and each of us however different has something to offer that I feel is key to the Grand Design. Even where we disagree, I feel that it is more important than ever, especially in the LGBT Community of Faith, to be able to put aside our differences and work for the common good.

I envision a world where a sense of morality is no longer defined by the private intimacies among consenting adults of whatever gender, but rather where it is defined by how we behave towards others; joyfully giving of ourselves whenever possible and carefully watching that our actions do not do harm to others.

I feel that as LGBT Christians, we constantly need to strive to fight the idea that “morality” and “ethics” are strictly confined to the domains of conservative evangelical Christians. I for one am weary of the reference to LGBT people as being “immoral.” That kind of goes back to my thinking in regards to why the obsession with morals being all about the bedroom and private life rather than accepting accountability for the way we treat others in public life. I know plenty of LGBT folks who might be dismissed as “immoral” strictly because of their sexual orientation who are some of the most morally sound people I have ever encountered.

A friend of mine once jokingly said to me, when I refused an offer for pirated software on the grounds that I thought that it was stealing and not a very moral or ethical thing to do, “For someone with such a perverted lifestyle, or who at face value is so radical, you are such a morality freak!”

I may be bisexual, and I may be liberal in my thinking about sexuality and relationships, but that has no effect on what I think is “moral” and “immoral.” There are people of all sexual orientations, heterosexual included, who act uncaringly, recklessly, and irresponsibly at times, both sexually and otherwise. I still think that lying about sexuality, or any form of non-consensual sexuality, or exploitation is immoral, and I think that lying, stealing of any kind (including plagiarism and even software piracy) is immoral, putting others in dangerous situations is immoral, and being selfish, greedy and uncaring, as well as showing a lack of concern for the feelings and emotions of others is immoral. To me, truly moral behavior is treating all others with the same level of love and respect that we ourselves would want.

I feel that in time, morality will be defined less and less as what is congruent with a literal understanding of outdated holiness codes or cultural mores that are no longer relevant in this day and age with our evolved knowledge and understanding, and defined more and more by whether or not it squares with the Great Commandment of “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” In other words, determination of whether or not something is moral or immoral will come down to, “Is this the way I would want to be treated?”

I envision a world where there are no longer any fear created barriers or divisions which we allow to come between us, and all of people understand the tremendous blessings God has given us and put them to use for the good of all humankind.

I think that perhaps one of the greatest things that we can do is to reap the harvest of blessings God has blessed us with and utilize these to spread the Word to other LGBT Christians, and other LGBT people who might be spiritually hungry and thirsty, but who have had a bad taste left in their mouth by past encounters with fear based, rather than love based Christianity. There are a great many people out there who earnestly seek God who have been frightened away by the culture of fear, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia which has permeated much of Christianity. However, God has blessed us with many ways to cut through that shroud of fear with a scythe of love, and reach those who might not otherwise be reached with the knowledge that they too are loved, and have an equal place and purpose in God’s Creation.

There are many ways that this can happen. One of course is by fellowship in person, and just by letting those in our lives who may not know the joy that comes from knowing God through Christ that they too are loved Unconditionally by God, but also by speaking out to others through the blessing of connectedness that has come with the advent of the Internet and cyberspace. Magazines like Whosoever are one form this can take; there are also “Blogs,” and other places where people can speak out.

In any case, God has blessed us each with so many possibilities and abilities to allow Divine Love to flow through us to others — allowing ourselves to actually be “instruments of God’s Peace,” and vessels to carry God’s Love to the world-sowing love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, faith where there is doubt, and so on.

So often the book of Revelation has been used to inspire terror in people, but there is one passage that really stands out to me as offering a rather inspiring message of hope and love rather than fear. Literally, it is foreboding; metaphorically, I see it as a beautiful vision:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as bride and bridegroom adorned for each other. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
God will dwell with them;
they will be God’s peoples,
and God will indeed be with them;
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

(Revelation 21:1-5)

While this and other verses in Revelation have been used very frequently by those with the “Turn or Burn,” “End Times,” “Late Great Planet Earth” and other Pre-Millennial Dispensationalist lines of theology to terrify people, I see this as the ultimate vision of what someday can, and will be. The coming about of this “New” heaven and earth is, like any real and honest form of growth, including spiritual growth, a scary, at times distressing and difficult and challenging process as it forces people to confront fears, let go of old fears and judgments, and expand to a new way of thinking. With that in mind, the concept also spoken of in Revelation of being “caught up in the Spirit” makes wonderful metaphorical sense of those who are fearful letting trust in God’s Love get us through the challenging times. I think that ultimately what God intends is a time when we reach a new level of understanding, that no matter how differently we are all made, we are all equal and that we can learn to accept our differences and live in harmony.

Each of us, I think, no matter who we are, plays a part in this “new Creation” under development. I think we do that by taking a cue from the “Prayer of St. Francis” as well as the ethical and spiritual teachings of Christ and always striving to let God’s Light shine through us, in the way we treat others — seeking to give others hope, love, and faith when they find it difficult to find, seeking to comfort those in need, forgiving those who we feel have wronged us, and letting God’s Giving Nature flow through us to others who need it. While the journey to a time and a place where we all are aware that each and every person is a precious and equally valued creation of God and we can live in harmony as one may be a long and challenging one, we have a beautiful vision to carry us through.