Celibacy as a Pair

In my previous relationships with women, there was always excitement from friends and acquaintances when my Facebook status changed from “Single” to “In a Relationship”. Last week, my relationship status did the same change, except this time it was “In a Relationship” with a man.

I met another guy, Kyle, in a “Side B” (traditional sexual ethic) LGBT Christian group, became friends, and realized there was mutual attraction. While we were certainly friends, there was mutual attraction and desire to orient our lives toward Christ together. This prompted several people to reach out to us, wondering if we’ve decided to abandon our traditional sexual ethic and eventually settle into a same-sex marriage.

We haven’t. Kyle and I are in the early stages of discerning a celibate partnership.

Since I’ve blogged and spoken rather publicly on my vocation to celibacy, I think it’s a fair question. Here are a few questions I’ve encountered. I hope these answers provide some clarity.

Has your view changed on celibacy or sexual ethics?

No. If you know me pretty well, you’ve probably heard me vocalize support for celibate same-sex partnerships in the last three years. Kyle and I both believe God is calling us to live our celibate vocations as a couple. We both hold to the definition of marriage set forth by our individual Christian traditions (Mine Orthodox; his non-denominational Protestant).

Do you see your relationship as a marriage?

We do not. Neither of us belong to a Christian tradition that blesses same-sex relationships as marriages and we do not see our church memberships changing. Even if both of us believed in a progressive sexual ethic, we wouldn’t see our relationship as a marriage. Sharing life together in love, intimacy, commitment, and trust is not exclusive to marriage.

Aren’t you opening yourself up to sexual temptation and sin?

Every human relationship contains sin, sexual or non-sexual. Of course we will sin against one another in some way, though I’m not sure that it will be sexual. Marriages open up the possibility of divorce and adultery, but it’s not a good reason to avoid marriage all together. Celibate partnerships have their own risks, but with good spiritual direction, boundaries, and communication they can be successful like any other relationship.

Aren’t you setting yourselves up for sadness and resentment trying to get as close to the line (marriage and sex) as possible?

We find this question quite odd. First, it assumes that our relationship is built on sexual attraction to one another, but that’s not why I find Kyle to be an attractive man and vice-versa. I’m attracted to the man that Kyle is, and that includes his passion for celibacy. Second, it assumes that every person needs or wants marriage or sex. Marriage is not the only valid way to live. We aren’t attempting to imitate marriage or a sexual relationship, because that is not the kind of life we feel called to. We are in a relationship precisely because Kyle makes me a better celibate and I make him a better celibate.  Both of us spend very little time fretting over line-drawing. When someone is asking “How much can I get away with before it becomes a sin?” then we know they are asking the wrong question.

You might not be having sex, but you are causing scandal. Using terms like partner, boyfriend, couple, and relationship give people the wrong idea.

It doesn’t bother or surprise me when people initially think Kyle and I are having sex. Most same-sex relationships are sexual. My issue is that this assumption isn’t applied consistently. Data from the National Survey of Family Growth stated that in 2002, 77% of Americans had sex by age 20, and of that percent, 75% had premarital sex. Public health reports in 2007 indicated this trend was only rising. Over 90% of people are heterosexual, so keeping this data in mind, aren’t non-married straight couples “causing scandal” when they publicly announce that they are in an exclusive, committed relationship? Shouldn’t we assume all straight couples are committing sexual sin until proven otherwise? My answer to this question is another question: Why are you thinking about what your Christian brother or sister may or may not be doing with their genitals?

If you two aren’t having sex, then aren’t you just friends? If you two choose to do life together eventually, then aren’t you just super close roommates?

First, we resent the phrase “just friends”. Friendship is a holy, beautiful vocation and is placed on the back-burner far too often in contemporary society. Second, Kyle and I are close friends. But the word “friend” doesn’t describe all the dynamics of our relationship. We are still in the early stages as a couple, but if we continue our relationship long-term, then our lives will look in such a way that goes beyond the common understanding of friendship. We would live together, share finances, write each other into our wills, care for one another if we become sick or unemployed, and call ourselves a chosen family. We are partners in ministry, along with being friends.

Did you come up with the idea of celibate partnerships on your own?

Many people who hear about our relationship have never heard of celibate partnerships before. That is understandable. LGBTQ people are already a minority. LGBTQ Christians, an even smaller demographic. LGBTQ Christians pursuing celibacy? Much smaller. LGBTQ Christians in celibate partnerships? Yeah, I know, it seems like you’re more likely to see a unicorn. But in our case, we both personally know several same-sex celibate couples, who belong to Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions. Some of these couples started out as sexual relationships and others didn’t. We are excited to learn from these couples and receive their feedback.

Are you saying this type of relationship is best for all LGBTQ people?

Absolutely not. Celibate partnerships are not the right vocation for everyone, just as marriage isn’t the right vocation for everyone.

Aren’t you two just stirring the pot? Why do you have to be public about your relationship?

This is probably the most hurtful question. We both think hiding our relationship implies we are doing something wrong. Relationships, romantic or otherwise, should be public because they invite celebration, joy, accountability, transparency, and support. Yes, some people find our relationship unnerving. That doesn’t mean it’s our responsibility to be quiet. Even deeper, both of us desire our relationship to be a Christian testament to holy same-sex love. This is a reality the Church must reckon with, whether She wants to or not. In the coming decades, same-sex couples and their families are going to convert to denominations with traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality. Is the Church really going to say these couples and their children must be broken up in order to live holy lives? Lord, have mercy; I hope not.

I hope this clarifies a lot for many. I’m incredibly excited for both of us as we walk together with Jesus Christ. Please keep us in your prayers; we will do the same for you.

Why Homosexuality is Not My Struggle

In churches that teach a traditional sexual ethic, a common narrative for LGBTQ people is that non-heterosexual sexual orientations are inherently “struggles” akin to other forms of spiritual warfare. In my case, according to this narrative, same-sex attraction is a cross that I must embrace, and it takes the form of constant temptation to have sex with other men. While this language is popular for straight Christians with traditional views on marriage and sexuality, it’s not language that typically resonates with most LGBTQ people, even those of us who accept our church’s teachings prohibiting same-sex sexual activity.

Before I begin to clarify why Struggle Narratives are unhelpful for me and many other sexual minorities, I want to make it clear that there’s plenty of room for gay/same-sex attracted people to use this language for themselves. People have different approaches to their sexualities, and they deserve to be listened to. What I’m saying is that it’s wrong to box people into narratives that don’t fit their experience.

An obvious reason why I reject the Struggle Narrative as a default LGBTQ narrative is that, like everyone else, not every gender or sexual minority constantly thinks about sexual intercourse. We struggle with sins like pride, gluttony, wrath, etc. LGBTQ people are unique individuals, and our sins may or may not include lust.

If someone tells you they are gay, all they have said is which gender they are attracted to. They haven’t told you which people, if any, they are lusting after. It’s like if you were having coffee with your straight friend and she says, “That guy over there is kind of cute!” Does your mind immediately jump to her saying, “I am thinking about having sex with him right now”? If so, I really recommend healthier ways of pondering beauty and attraction.

I avoid discussing my gayness as a “struggle with same-sex attraction” because I would likely be just as unchaste if I were straight. It’s very rare that I meet a straight person who has not looked at pornography. I hardly ever meet opposite-sex couples who abstain from every kind of sexual activity before marriage. I have failed to meet a straight Christian who has not lusted or desired sex before marriage. These types of desires and behaviors are a result of the Fall of Adam, yet we don’t hear anyone frame these sins as part of the “struggle against heterosexuality”.

When traditional churches fail to distinguish between gay orientation and a specific desire for intercourse with the same sex, it leaves gender and sexual minorities with ambiguous shame. Rather than proclaiming a robust, historical sexual ethic in which non-married people are called to manifest God’s Kingdom in their celibacy and possess an inherent capacity to love the same sex intimately, LGBTQ people are hurt wondering why their non-heterosexuality is singled out as a special class of disorder.

We need to remember that Christians are called to be chaste; they’re not called to be heterosexual. If homosexual orientations are disordered because they contain sinful desires, then heterosexual orientations must be disordered as well.

If I were to engage in a type of sex prohibited by Scripture, or lust after another person, this would be sinful because I lack self-control, which is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). It means I have yet to mature in the virtue of chastity. My fallenness is not uniquely due to my gay orientation.

My gay orientation includes plenty of ordered desires such as seeking the companionship of other men, noticing the beauty of other men, a willingness to empathize and serve other sexual minorities, being fulfilled in deep friendship, and yearning for a clear path to access my vocation of celibacy within the context of my Christian tradition. I’m not called to disavow same-sex attraction in my Christian tradition; I’m called to order that attraction into delighting in other men the way God delights.

In my “struggle with homosexuality” there are few obstacles that pop into my head that wouldn’t immediately come to mind for most straight Christians:

  • A struggle to forgive fellow Christians who say disparaging things about LGBTQ people.
  • A struggle to receive empathy and advice in how I can integrate sexuality into my vocation.
  • A struggle to find people willing to listen to my needs as a celibate person without projecting fear or casting judgment.
  • A struggle to find assurances of deep community and friendship in a modern world where people move at the first sight of a better opportunity.
  • A struggle to distinguish a historical sexual ethic from cultural homophobia.

It’s acceptable for people to know life as a sexual minority can be a struggle, but let’s first remember to ask and listen to what those struggles actually are.

Falling in Love with Celibacy

One of the most common misconceptions I hear about celibate LGBTQ Christians is that we live our lives out of fear, sexual repression, or exclusive obedience to a traditional sexual ethic. While many LGBTQ Christians view their celibacy as a sexual mandate, this assumption overlooks genuine stories of people falling in love with their calling. I want to share a little about how I started falling in love with celibacy. This story doesn’t provide all the details of my story or decision-making process. It’s purely meant to be reflective on some fond memories that led me to where I am today.

I remember the first time I heard about celibacy. I was six years old and asked my mother why Catholic priests were not married. She said something to the effect of, “Priests are married to the Church. They don’t marry because, without wives, they can be more available for their parishioners.” Even as a young kid with no theological training, I remember being struck by the commitment to a broader community being equal to the level of commitment for a spouse.

While growing up, I never even imagined myself getting married. Even phrases from my parents like, “One day when you’re married and have kids…” were completely lost on me. In elementary and middle school, I pictured myself owning a three bedroom house: One room for me, one room for my library, and one room for guests. I envisioned a living space where people were welcome into my home at a moment’s notice – for seasons of unemployment, travel, or even fleeing a bad home situation. I yearned for a home where family, friends, and acquaintances could sit at my table for a meal and conversation; a home that was theirs as much as mine. I kept these dreams to myself because I didn’t think anyone would understand.

After growing up with a mostly secular childhood, I found myself drawn to Christianity my junior year of high school. During this process of conversion, I treasured the experience of meeting priests, seminarians, and monastics – each one called to a celibate vocation, permanent or temporary. As I grew deeper in friendship with these people, the word that kept coming up in my mind was “freedom”; Freedom to love and serve neighbor in a truly radical sense. Witnessing this kind of spiritual freedom gave me goosebumps and a feeling of butterflies in my stomach, sort of like a first childhood crush.

I began to wonder if my attraction to celibate people was stemming from a deeper longing to become a priest. I attended discernment retreats, sought spiritual direction, and visited seminaries. I was also touched by visiting monasteries, particularly observing the Benedictine principle of “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ”. Seeing monks and nuns offer guest housing, cook meals, and a place of spiritual retreat was highly reminiscent of my childhood longing for a home of hospitality.

Long story short (and I plan on writing about this at some point), applying for seminary didn’t happen. In 2013, after my first year of college, I began a long-term relationship in order to discern marriage. Obviously, (and this is another long story) this didn’t pan out either, as I began to ponder more deeply God’s calling in my life.

In the beginning of 2015, I stumbled across a blog that would change my entire perspective on LGBTQ vocation and celibacy, called A Queer Calling. The authors, Sarah and Lindsey, write about their experience as a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple. I found myself captivated by their story while immersing myself in reading about their discovery of celibacy. Article after article, I found myself over the course of two years saying, “Me too. That’s how exactly how I feel.”

Their post “Defining Celibacy” was particularly formative. I began to see celibacy not as a mere abstinence from sex, but a deeper calling to vulnerability, shared spiritual life, commitment, and radical hospitality. If you are interested in learning more about celibacy, I highly recommend reading their story. I literally cannot say anything about celibacy more poignant than Lindsey and Sarah. It’s an honor to share my story alongside theirs.

I started seeing that my earlier draw to priesthood wasn’t a calling to the priesthood itself, but an attraction to celibacy. Ending my romantic relationship wasn’t an act of forsaking intimate relationships, but an act of freedom to experience intimacy with more than one person. Embracing celibacy wasn’t a denial of my sexuality, but an empathetic integration of my sexuality for the service of others. The process of solidifying my identity as a queer person was fundamental to understanding how I relate to others.

As I prayed over what Jesus and St. Paul taught on celibacy, I could no longer see celibacy as a strict regulation of my sexuality. I now see celibacy as my unique path to manifest the Kingdom of God. People have asked me, “So does that mean you would be celibate even if you were straight?” I have no way of answering that question, because I believe sexuality is an integral part of who I am. I believe God uses the totality of our being to draw us closer to Himself. However, I can say that my celibacy would remain intact even if I possessed a liberal sexual ethic.

I don’t know what the future holds. This is only my first year of intentionally living life as a celibate person. I’ve had successes and failures so far, not unlike a marriage which has successes and failures in its first year. Perhaps I’ll be called to live out my childhood fantasy as a single person with a three bedroom house. Or it’s possible that I will live in an intentional community with a group of Christians. Maybe I’ll thrive as a pair with a celibate partner or a covenanted friendship. I’m not ruling out God even calling me into a monastic community.

I don’t know how to live in celibacy quite yet, but I know that I’m falling in love with it. And right now, that’s enough.


A Bulimic’s Guide to Fasting

When I started investigating Eastern Christianity, I was struck by the emphasis of fasting as a means of spiritual renewal. While Roman Catholics are well-known for abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays, I was surprised by the rigor of fasting in the Byzantine tradition: Abstinence from meat and animal products (eggs, dairy etc.), fish, wine, and oil.

Fasting rules can vary between regions, but they are observed during four penitential seasons of the liturgical year: Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Dormition Fast, and the Apostles Fast. The Fast is also observed most Wednesdays and Fridays of the year to commemorate Jesus’ betrayal and death, along with other important days sprinkled in such as the Beheading of John the Baptist or the Feast of the Holy Cross.

This made a lot of sense to me. I was used to hearing about fasting as a routine cultural practice; something optional or a ritual “we just do”. But the emphasis of fasting in liturgical churches is much different. The Church is known not primarily as an institution, but as our Mother.

Jesus said, “But this kind [of demon] does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21) As our Mother, the Church cares for our souls and gives us guidelines to temper our passions and increase our reliance on divine providence.

The tension within my own spiritual life has been balancing this corporate expectation of fasting with the individual care of my soul. The truth is, I’m recovering from years of intense, long-suffering bulimia. Restricting what I eat at this time is simply too much of a burden in my healing process. Combine this with relentless seasonal depression, and it’s a recipe for Advent disaster.

However, as a person who longs to be in intimate union with the Body of Christ, not participating in the Fast sometimes feels like another form of isolation.

I’m still figuring out what life looks like in both managing an eating disorder and participating in the life of the Church. Right now, I’m resolved to make my “no” to dietary guidelines a “yes” to humility. My current approach has yielded several important truths:

  • I desperately require grace to recover from this awful disease.
  • I need to humble myself to the care of my spiritual director, my priests, my doctor, mental health professionals, and friends.
  • Fasting in itself does not save anyone. Christ is working out my salvation in and through my baptism even without the Fast.
  • Because I suffer from the sin of pride, to not excel at a spiritual practice is actually good for my soul.
  • Not participating in the Fast in this season of life is honoring my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

A deep solace of mine has been turning to the wisdom of the Liturgical calendar. Two weeks before the start of Great Lent, the week of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Church forbids Her children from fasting to remind our souls and bodies that we cannot boast in our observation of the Fast. It is the grace of God that saves. I can take this fast-free week of the year and apply it to my daily life.

As we approach the end of the Nativity Fast, my desire is for those of us with eating disorders to delight in the feast of Christ’s birth as though we fasted in expectation.

“…This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today, in which God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God, or return – for to speak thus is more exact- that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam we have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with him, buried with him and rising with him.”

– St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 38, “On the Nativity of Christ”

Why Christians Can Bake the Cake

The Supreme Court recently listened to oral arguments on the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. As someone who has friends on both the Left and the Right, my social media feed blew up: Conservatives accused progressives of anti-Christian bullying; Progressives accused conservatives of bigotry. In my personal experience, I don’t find either caricature accurate, although I’ve certainly witnessed my fair share of homophobia and bullying in political discourse.

Instead of reflecting on the legal question of religious liberty, I wanted to ask a different question: Can a Christian hold to a traditional sexual ethic (that marriage is between one man and one woman; sex is reserved for that union alone), yet also bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? I take the position that they can.

Note: I’m not arguing for the traditional sexual ethic in this post. If you hold to a liberal sexual ethic (Marriage is between two people of any gender), then most of this post will be lost on you. I’m also not taking any legal position on refusal of service in this reflection. One can believe that legally, bakers can refuse service, while also believing that morally, that people should say yes to providing the service.

I don’t claim to know all the answers for each Christian church and individual. I am wrong about plenty of things, and this might be one of them.

It’s possible to take disagreement seriously on matters of theology, morality, and doctrine, while acknowledging Truth when we see it. For example, an acquaintance was recently baptized in a non-denominational church. Her church does not believe in baptismal regeneration (i.e. baptism has a real effect on your salvation by absolving sin and conferring grace). Rather, her church holds to a belief that baptism is a public ceremony for the local church that symbolically highlights personal commitment to Christ and the reality that He washes away our sins.

As someone who belongs to a Christian tradition that believes in infant baptism and baptismal regeneration, this makes me very uncomfortable. In my view, baptism is the basis of Christian spiritual life. However, that didn’t stop me from noticing my acquaintance’s personal commitment to Christ and sending her a nice note that said “congratulations”. I’m not signing on to her baptismal theology by signing the congratulatory note.

We can draw a similar parallel for Christians who believe in a traditional sexual ethic. To what aspects of same-sex marriage does the traditional sexual ethic object? It objects to calling a same-sex union “marriage” and it objects to sexual arousal/intercourse between those of the same-sex. The sin is not in two people of the same-sex living together, sharing life together, loving each other, and committing care for one another in sickness and in health. Baking a cake can celebrate the act of commitment between the same-sex just as my congratulatory note celebrated my friend’s commitment to Christ. It does not mean I’m approving of deviation from correct theology in either case.

There are fears from Christians that if they were to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, then it might be perceived as them “supporting a sinful lifestyle”. I’ve discussed why language about LGBT lifestyles is confusing and unclear. Every person and relationship (marital or non-marital) contains sin. Like everyone else, LGBT people have a mix of sin and virtue in their lives. No relationship is 100% wicked or 100% saintly.

If I’m able to overlook the errors in other Christians’ baptismal theology, then conservative Christians can overlook the errors in same-sex couples’ marriage theology. We do this all the time with straight people without thinking twice:

  • We tell married friends congratulations on their anniversaries, even though we acknowledge that they sin privately and publicly against one another.
  • We send cards for our nieces’ and nephews’ First Communions, even if their church’s eucharistic theology is theologically erroneous.
  • We feed an excess of food to people on special occasions, even if we know that some of them in our midst have a gluttony problem.

It’s possible to hold tightly to our theology while embracing the aspects of beauty and goodness where we can find it. Baking a cake for a same-sex couple doesn’t mean you’re endorsing what you assume is going on in their bedroom (Why are you even thinking about that?) or that you support calling their relationship a “marriage”. Just as me telling my friend “Congratulations!” on her baptism wasn’t an endorsement of her church’s view of baptism, neither is baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple an endorsement of their view on marriage.

No matter what the Supreme Court decides, I hope Christians can focus less on what they can legally say “no” to, and find more ways to say “yes” in loving their LGBT neighbor.

My Gay Lifestyle

This weekend a local church invited a speaker to share her testimony in experiencing same-sex attraction before undergoing a conversion to Christ. I edited out some of the information in the event description:

[Event speaker] is dedicated to speaking forth the truth of God’s Word to a generation that has been enslaved by lies. [Event speaker] knows the destructive bondage that comes as a result of believing and living under deception. She began [Ministry name] with a desire to help others find the same peace and healing she found, through faith in Jesus Christ. As a teen, [Event speaker] turned to alcohol and drugs, and later entered into the world of homosexuality. Today, [Event speaker’s] life is a testimony to the transforming power of God and the truth of His Word. In 2003, she was set free from the bondage of addiction and homosexuality and is now committed to sharing with others the hope and freedom she found in the Gospel.

It’s not my place to question the event speaker’s story. Many Christians perceive their same-sex attraction as a form of spiritual warfare. I’m not here to question that narrative. My focus today will be on the notion of a “gay lifestyle”. Christians will tell me that even though I’m celibate, I shouldn’t call myself gay because it implies that I live out an immoral lifestyle. My first question I have is, “Who doesn’t live an immoral lifestyle?”

Whenever I hear the phrase “gay lifestyle”, I’m not angry; it just doesn’t resonate with me. As a sexual minority in the Church, my life looks pretty similar to most people: I wake up every morning, I brush my teeth, I go to work, I attend church services, I go to confession, and I spend time with people who sustain my soul. While there are challenges with my LGBT status (most of those challenges being harassment, not lust, by the way), it just feels weird lumping that in with drug and alcohol abuse, as this speaker does.

“Well you’re different,” my conservative friends say. The term ‘gay lifestyle’ isn’t referring to my life as a celibate gay person; it means sexually immoral behavior. So,  I can’t be offended by this phrase.

While I agree it’s helpful to make a distinction between sexual behavior and orientation, I don’t think the term “gay lifestyle” achieves this. Do I struggle to always uphold my church’s teachings on sexual ethics? Absolutely. However, I don’t know of a single person, LGBT+ or heterosexual, who doesn’t struggle with chastity. Jesus places lust in the heart on the same level as adultery, and I don’t know of any heterosexual Christians who haven’t lusted. So by this logic, am I sometimes living a gay lifestyle and sometimes not? Am I only liberated from a gay lifestyle when I’ve achieved 100% sinlessness as it relates to my gay orientation? That’s a tough ask.

When I’m sharing some of my challenges with sexual sin, many well-meaning straight Christians assume lust is a product of my gay orientation, and not merely because I’m a human being who suffers the same consequences of the Fall. If a straight person tells me they are battling sexual temptations, my goal should be to pray for them to see human beings as own God’s image, not as instruments of personal pleasure. It’s not my role to assume their sins come from their heterosexuality. Why then, don’t we extend the same grace to our LGBT+ neighbors?

Double standards have damaging consequences on LGBT+ Christians. When straight people divorce and commit adultery at alarming rates, no one labels it “the straight lifestyle”. No one decries the “heterosexual agenda” leading the nation to spiritual turmoil. When we label ordinary ways of life immoral “lifestyles” the only conclusion LGBT+ people are forced to accept is that their Christian neighbor finds them inherently gross; it’s not really about sexual acts in the bedroom or the theology of marriage. If you say you oppose drug addiction, hookup culture, or alcoholism, then name those things. Don’t lump it in with being gay.

I think every church has a right to enforce its teachings on marriage and sexuality. Churches which teach a traditional sexual ethic have the resources to define their parameters without double standards, unhelpful rhetoric, and assumptions about LGBT people. That’s the “Christian lifestyle” that I would be grateful to encounter.

A Blessing’s Expiration Date

If you know me personally, you know that I’m a little weird. For example, if you carpool with me there’s a 95% chance Byzantine chant will be playing on my stereo. It’s not the only genre of music I like, but for me, driving time is praying time. Chant keeps my mind from wandering.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom performed by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Choir. Like most liturgical texts, the Eastern rite contains an ancient exchange sung between the priest and the people called the Anaphora:

Priest: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

People: And with thy spirit.

Priest: Let us lift up our hearts.

People: We lift them up unto the Lord.

Priest: Let us give thanks unto the Lord.

People: It is meet and right to worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.

As I was driving, I found myself thinking about the priest, deacon, and choir on the CD to which I was listening. I gradually grew in awe with the idea that this single priest could sing this blessing one day in 1982 which would later be conferred on me hundreds of times while driving my Ford Fusion 35 years later. This priest’s blessing will never have an expiration date. His blessing will be renewed every time I listen to his voice. It’s not like it runs out of juice.

I don’t often realize the same for blessings I read in Scripture or hear in church. My brain tends to go on auto-pilot to receive blessings like “The Lord be with you” as polite greetings like “Hey, how are you doing?” In reality, the priest confers a tangible gift for me to receive, in order that I may return it to him (“And with thy spirit”). Blessings aren’t polite greetings. A blessing is a gracious act from Christ. To treat this call-and-response as a mere pleasantry misses the point.

When my priest blesses the congregation, it’s meant for me, even if I’m the worst sinner in the pew. His blessing won’t stop existing when I engage in sinful behavior. As Christians, I think we struggle with the idea that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has [God] removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 12) 

I have moments when I’m not too happy with clergy and laity for their treatment of LGBT people. Rather than be bitter and unforgiving, I’m resolving to create my own anaphora: An act where I invoke the persons of the Trinity, lift up my heart to the Lord, and thank Him for the gift of the person in front of me.

If my priest’s blessing doesn’t expire when I neglect to love God, then neither will my blessing expire for those who neglect to love God’s LGBT children.