Updated: Nov 17, 2019
What is faith?
It’s a pretty powerful word. Chances are that you have a feeling about it in some way, and it can have so many different meanings depending on your background, worldview, or where you are at in your life currently.
It can be a reminder of your belief system, or a red flag for why you don’t believe anything at all. I have definitely taken part in a couple religious conversations between an atheist/agnostic and a believer where faith becomes the end of the discussion. “If you can’t give a better reason than faith, you can’t prove your point.” Yet it can also be the only thing to hold onto during times of loss or hardship.
If you ask me, it’s really a lightning rod of a word that can elicit extremely positive or negative results. I think that is because faith is misunderstood.
For me to adequately discuss my thoughts on faith, I’m going to need to take a step back and first talk about her baby sister: hope.
I’ve always thought of hope as an emotion and used it mainly as a verb: “I hope we win on Friday.” “I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend.” “I hope your week is going well.” It’s more of a universal word than “faith” and I believe more people can identify with it because it does not necessarily infer religious beliefs. I thought it was warm and positive, but also cheap, easily expendable, and hard to defend. Think about how many times we say that we hope for something then subtract that by the number of times we say “That should have happened because I hoped SO HARD that it would!” when something doesn’t go our way. You either come up with the same number, or got confused by the question like I usually do....The point is that I didn’t believe hope was really worth much.
That said, I have re-examined my beliefs on hope now that I am reading a book titled The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Braum. In the book, she points out that hope is more of a thinking or a cognitive process. She cites research showing that hope is a combination of:
having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and
believing in our own abilities. The research she sights also states that hope can be learned noting that “we learn hopeful, goal-directed thinking in the context of other people.” This means that we can learn how to better hope through our relationships with others, and teach hope to those we encounter in our daily lives as well.
This framing of hope really resonates with me. It explains my belief system that we can affect change and improve the world around us through sharing our authentic selves. Alternatively, in this context, the absence of hope is inability to set or pursue a goal. Even worse, hopelessness is the lack of belief in one's own abilities.
I strongly feel that hope is something that all folks can and do practice to get through their daily lives. It isn’t just an emotion, it is a confidence in your own ability to successfully affect change in your own life. We all have the cognitive processes for hope whether we call it ‘hope’ or not. It’s also a building block for faith, so let’s get back to talking about her again.
To me, faith is a recognition that we are all connected to each other somehow by a power greater than us, and our connection to that power is strengthened through the enrichment of others and the world around us.
It’s a concept that is fully recognized through hope.
It does not have any specific religious affiliation at all because folks that don’t even identify with a religion can practice faith as well. As discussed with the concept of hope, we practice faith through the belief system that we are capable of affecting change in our lives. The only addition is that with faith, we are utilizing the hope belief system to improve the lives of others and the world around us.
Words can be funny in how powerful they are, but this is what faith means to me. It’s also how BraveNewLove is approaching the topic of faith. This means that when faith is discussed on the blog it can be from a person of any religion, or none at all as long as it is rooted in the hope to improve and ultimately enrich our lives.
This blog and my recent decision to transition back into the wellness industry is an example of my own faith.
I had, and still have, so many apprehensions about pursuing this dream of working in wellness for so long. Like I shared last week, I never viewed wellness as a viable career for myself and I’m only still coming to understand what those reasons were. An easy one was that I didn’t think it would be sustainable financially. Another is that I didn’t think that a career in wellness as a personal trainer or massage therapist would be viewed as “successful” and as an external validation addict due to a lack of self worth, I had to be seen as “successful.” *Eye roll*
Years upon years of not doing what I wanted and only partially fulfilling what I was good at took its toll on me as it would for anyone. I found myself in a classic situation that many folks have dealt with in some way or another. I could either stay with what I knew and continue being unhappy, or take a leap of faith (Heyo - there’s the word of the week!”) and pursue a passion by betting on myself.
I prayed and meditated on the decision for many weeks if not months. Apparently I am not one to make big life decisions lightly. I felt like God tapped my shoulder a few times by giving little opportunities to get back into wellness that I would turn down or decide against because it would be “too big a risk.” One example came about mid-last year when I decided to try and get into massage school the first time. There was a class starting in July and I told myself that if I could find a suitable part-time job to continue having money coming in the door, I would go for it. I submitted an application to Juiceland one evening and got a call the next day. The gal on the line let me know that they were opening a new location in south Austin and were interested in me to help with that location.
After explaining massage school as my reasons for applying, she said “Oh that’s a great school. Lots of our people have gone there.”
Oh shit. Does that mean I will go through massage school and still be working at Juiceland?! My brain was in freak out mode.
I didn’t pursue the Juiceland gig and also put massage school on the backburner. Why dive into the uncomfortability of the unknown when the uncomfort I knew was so great right? (Side note: Don’t worry about my juicing dreams. My Nana (yes, I still refer to my grandmother as Nana) got me a juicer for Christmas so I can make as many juices as I want now!)
One thing that kept arising in various ways during these months of prayer, meditation, and so much nail biting, was the concept of His eye being on the sparrow. If you aren’t familiar with that concept, bear with me as I take us to church. 😊
His Eye is On the Sparrow is a gospel hymn written in the early 1900s. I came to know it by way of Lauryn Hill & Tonya Blount who sang it in Sister Act 2: Back at It - which is one of the best movies of all time and should be required viewing for all Christians in my opinion! It is inspired by the following verses in the Bible:
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (Psalm 32:8).
"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26) and
"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29–31).
It’s always delivered such a good “take a pause” moment for me. The concept of knowing that a creator that made and cares for a small bird would look out for me gives me comfort. Almost always. It enforces my belief that I have the ability to affect change in my life, and a reminder that we are all connected to each other somehow by a power greater than us. It’s a powerful thought.
Another way to discuss it if you aren’t into birds (or the whole spiritual aspect of faith) would be that the reminder that the Higher Power would create an entire ecosystem that would provide for a little bird helps me remember that It also created a similar structure around me. It basically pulls me out of intense internal shame dialogue and lowers anxiety.
That concept - in whatever form I can find it - is so helpful for my mental health. That reminder and feeling of structure and peace ultimately grew strong enough to help me practice hope by 1) making a goal, 2) having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue that goal (ie starting massage school) and 3) believing in my abilities. My faith helps with my hope and my hope belief system in turn helps enforce my faith.
I recently joined a church here in Austin. That church happened to be a Methodist Church which in turn means that I am now a Methodist.
I’m a gay christian who is a Methodist. Look at all those words. 😂
Anyway, the United Methodist Church or UMC, my new peeps, convened this week to discuss and address divisions over LGBTQ issues. Basically the church as a whole is against LGBTQ folks and even has rhetoric stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” That said, for years, there has been a progressive movement within the church in which UMC clergy and their churches have started to be nice to LGBTQ+ folks without much persecution. One of those churches happens to St. Luke, the church that I joined in December.
This recent meeting was for the UMC to finally address this division within the church body, and the hope was that the entire church would begin accepting and affirming LGBTQ+ folks as the masterpieces that God created them to be (Ephesions 2:10). Unfortunately, the church accepted a “Traditionalist Plan” which kept the wording that homosexuality was against Christian teaching and actually stepped up punishments for UMC clergy who support LGBTQ+ folks (those are still TBD in terms of how strict the punishment will be to my knowledge).
Now I have a confession: I have used some extremely loaded words in my telling of this situation so far and I think it is important to explain them because it helps better understand the significance of this event. First - I wrote that the UMC is “against” LGBTQ+ folks. There is no “love the sinner, hate the sin” here. If you are anti-LGBTQ rights, you are against LGBTQ people. That’s because LGBTQ+ folks did not choose to be gay. Think about it - why would I lower my advantages and privileges as a white man in our society by actively choosing to practice homosexuality. It doesn’t make sense. As a result, there is no “practicing homosexuality,” in a way that can be turned off. I guess I’m always “practicing homosexuality” every minute I’m alive?….
As a result, the United Methodist Church is now setting up an additional hurdle for LGBTQ+ people. They are saying that you can be a fully accepted member IF you deny who you authentically are. They are asking for gay and queer people to do exactly what our society has done for so many years. Go back in the closet. Lie to my face. Hide in your shame. You are not good enough. You will never be good enough.
You can’t sit here. 😊 I had to throw a fun one in - this is getting DEEP!
The church does not care about the psychological trauma that this type of rhetoric inflicts, and they are actively contributing to that culture of negativity, exclusion and shame. They have proven to be unable to love and accept God’s creation in the form of LGBTQ people, and are now actively rejecting them.
“Will you leave the church?” My boyfriend asked when he found out about the decision. I thought about it for a bit, and said, “No.”
Why not?! Right? Why would I continue to affiliate myself with a body that is actively denying who I am especially at the start of my journey to live more authentically?
Here’s the thing - the vote was pretty close. The difference between the For and Against of the new plan was about 50 votes. There has been a lot of social media chatter since the decision and one thing I am noticing is how many folks mention that they “used to be Methodist” before leaving the church.
I realize that yes - I could run. I could turn around and live my authentic little gay life here on BraveNewLove and not tie it to a church at all. But I just think about that 50 vote difference and about what might have happened if the folks that support LGBTQ+ people but left the church for whatever reason had stayed. I guess I see the opportunity to stay and carve out my own authentic space with St. Luke.
When I was in college and Facebook was just coming around, I remember it being fun to update your About Me section. Kinda like you might do with Myspace…I know it is so different than how it is used now! Anyway, for a while I wrote in the “Religion” section that “my God is bigger than a description box.” It was one of my final thoughts on faith before throwing in the towel for my 8ish year sabbatical from God. It was self indulgent, a radical, and a bit condescending towards the church and organized religion. I think it applies so well here.
When I was on the mission trip I took with St. Luke to Guatemala back in 2017, I broke down and cried on one of the evenings. It was in a positive way with me sharing that it was the first time that I was finally allowed to just simply be a Christian while also being accepted as a gay man. In that moment I said something to my pastor like “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.”
I guess if I’m truly playing ball here as a Christian who happens to be a gay man. My response to the question of “Are you leaving the UMC?” Is a resounding NO! My spirituality and belief system has nothing to do with what a group of people decide many miles away from me. They do not know my relationship with God and they do not know my heart. Shame on them for making a judgement on my worth and salvation.
My boyfriend and I went on a run pretty much right after I found out about the vote, and you can bet God got an earful from me. One thing that came bubbling back up in my mind was a quote that I was obsessed with back in my late teens/early 20s as I was losing my faith due to a belief that Jesus’ love was not for me.
“For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.”
It’s an excerpt from a poem titled “As the Ruin Falls,” by C.S. Lewis, and like any type of art, can be interpreted many different ways. In this instance it is teaching and helping me to remember that things will never be perfect, and more specifically things are going to break up and fall down. The message for me is the same now as it was when I was an early twenty something losing my faith for the first time: The church, or organized religion, is the ruin and it is falling away.
Time is only going to tell what this does for the United Methodist Church. There has been a TON of media coverage this week already and it hasn’t made the UMC look that great. In a country with a majority of people who support LGBTQ+ rights in theory, this makes the church look conservative, dated, and out of touch. There is a chance that the church will split up, but even if that doesn’t happen there is also a chance that some if not all of it will crumble.
But it doesn’t have to.
I’m committed to staying and enriching the lives of others and the world around me while still being a part of the UMC. My membership to St. Luke is a large part of how I am choosing to practice my faith currently and I don’t want to give that up. I’m happy to make a plan for everyone in the UMC body to be accepted. I have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue this goal, and I believe that it is possible. That's hope.
It will most likely be rough and uncomfortable, but if things start to crumble, I won’t mind. I’ll still be here quietly blessing God as the Ruin falls continuing my belief that we are all connected to each other somehow by a power greater than us, and our connection to that power is strengthened through the enrichment of others and the world around us.
That, my friend, is faith.
To close, I’d love to take the opportunity to directly communicate to the following groups:
LGBTQ+ of faith
People of any religion
People with no religious beliefs
UMC congregants who disagree with the recent decision
UMC congregants who agree with the decision
I see you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are beautiful. You are loved and accepted exactly the way you are as the workmanship of a Higher Power. You are all people of faith in my eyes.
You are always welcome on BraveNewLove.
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