Rays of Hope
By: John H. Campbell
"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." -Genesis 1:3
"I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in the night but will have the light of life." -John 8:12
"Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." -John 3:21
Each year, a day or two after Christmas Day, usually on the 27th, I engage in the annual post-Christmas Day/pre-New Year's Eve tradition of what I have come to refer to as "closing out the Holiday Season." It involves taking down the seasonal décor, hauling mountains of trash out in used department store bags (mostly comprised of the ragged remnants which once adorned carefully and meticulously wrapped gifts that took what seemed like forever to wrap; yet that process is undone in a matter of seconds as the recipients eagerly shred those efforts in order to reach the hidden treasure within), clearing out old clothes and items for donations as they are replaced with new things, cleaning out the last of the homemade fudge, Mexican Wedding Cookies, and leftover turkey (which usually ends up paired with some exotic cheese and mustard in the obligatory Hickory Farms collection someone in the family inevitably receives in a sandwich), and of course, taking down the tree.
And as I systematically perform those tasks each year, the last of those items-the annual putting away of the ornaments (many which are accompanied by their own quirky tale of origin), unstringing the hundreds of multicolored lights from the branches, and folding the tree up (yes, it's artificial, but that's what we prefer) - leaves me feeling a bit melancholy. It's such an event each year for so many, and I don't know whether that shade of sadness arises from a sense of relief that all of the "ta da" is done with for a year, or that the excitement in the lead up has burnt out like a string of old lights, or that the fact that I have to wait another year to engage in my favorite part of the Holiday (carefully selecting gifts for loved ones), or maybe a bit of all of the above. But after some thought, I realized there was something more of substance to what I feel following Christmas each year.
The true meaning and significance of Christmas is something so much deeper to me than family Holiday traditions, culturally driven commercialism, and what it has become in our society for many today. It is a day when I as a Christian symbolically celebrate the birth of Christ, Whose teachings are the Way, the Light and Life to me and in my opinion, the Greatest Gift God ever Gave humankind, but I am grateful for that each and every day, not only when it is "formally" observed on the 25th of December. That has always made sense to me, that we observe and celebrate appreciation for how Christ Illuminated the true Loving Nature of God and taught us a better way to grow closer to God in the midst of one of the darkest and coldest times of the year. His birth into this world truly does represent to me the coming of Light, a Light which allows us to catch an honest glimpse of and Know the Loving Creator more clearly. But again, even when there are no carols on the radio, decorations or nativities festooning the neighborhood, or candlelight services, that knowledge is always with me.
I finally pinpointed what it is; every year in the midst of the Holiday season, things, no, people - just seem to be a little brighter to me, if that makes sense. People who might not acknowledge me at other times during the year are suddenly quick with an unexpected smile and a generous wish of Holiday Cheer. People who are normally ill-tempered or irritable seem to lighten up and become more jovial; those who might not always take the time to lend someone a hand in need are more apt to do so. Long standing grudges are placed aside in the interest of maintaining the "Christmas Spirit," and I see a compassionate side to people who have not previously displayed it. Smiles manifest in places where frowns usually reside, and even those who elect not to engage in the entire shopping and gift wrapping traditions seem to be more giving of themselves, their help, and their time both to loved ones and those they do not know who are less fortunate. It's quite beautiful and miraculous to me.
And for the most part, it is all extended with sincerity rather than a sense of obligation or some paranoid fear that the "Elf On The Shelf" is watching them. Not only that, it seems as contagious as (albeit far more pleasant than) the cold and flu viruses which come calling around this time of the year. It's as if everyone gets "caught up in the Spirit," and for just a moment, lives are illuminated with a glimpse of Light which enables them to see the joy in being more loving, caring, generous, and kinder than usual.
Then suddenly, once everything has come and gone -t hings are back to the usual daily routine. I wish it could be that way the entire year round. And that's likely the main reason for the melancholy feelings always surfacing for me when it's time to pack away all of the traditions for another year.
As I previously mentioned, as much enjoyment as I get out of the traditions each year, the true "reason for the season" - the observation of the birth of Christ - is profoundly sacred and meaningful to me. It has been for many years, especially since that one Christmas Eve many years ago when I honestly called out to God from my heart with that tiny spark of hope that maybe, just maybe, I was Loved Unconditionally by God as I am, as a unique human being, bisexuality and all, and that God would help me to discover a sense of light, hope and joy in my own life. I vividly remember even in the drunken state I was at the time seeing the multicolored lights on the tree through tears of hope and of longing, and holding on to that ever so small but real shred of hope that there was a God beyond all of the dogma, persecution, and fear I had been taught.
It took a great deal of time, and I have told the story numerous times of all that followed and how I arrived in a place of being at peace with knowing that God is Love over time, and that there is nothing incompatible whatsoever about my being both a bisexual and a Christian, however unorthodox my path may be perceived by others. But in a nutshell, that tiny spark grew a bit brighter each day from that point on as I matured spiritually and elected to "let go and let God." Even through the darkest nights of my soul, the learning to tear down all of my old fears about God and approaching God and the teachings of Jesus with an open heart and mind and from a place of love, the coming to accept myself for the person God Created me to be and to be grateful for who I am, the reconciliation of spirituality and sexuality and gradually coming to discern meaning and purpose in my life, that tiny light, that tiny spark of faith led the way as it grew stronger at each turn.
And today I can understand, reason and find genuine meaning to what Jesus Meant when He said, "I am the Light of the World." His teachings of a God Who truly Loves and Accepts each and every one of us and only Desires that we express our gratitude and Love in return by being as caring, compassionate, forgiving, loving and kind to one another as possible have truly illuminated my own life. I see both Christ and all He taught as being pure light, a Light which emanates directly from God, the Source of all Light and Life. Just as the star supposedly led the Magi to the place where Christ was born in the Christmas Story, Christ's Way and Ministry - one of Love for God expressed through being loving to one another and fiercely rejected by the legalistic fundamentalists of His day who placed law over love - are to me the Light which shines and shows us the true Loving God. And that Light is, in my experience, the blessed assurance that we will never walk in the night. Even though there may and are times when the light seems dim should we allow fear to obscure it, it is always there.
I still have not reached a consensus at what receives more of a shocked reaction or an initial eyebrows-raised if not aghast "you have to be insane" expression in response: when I tell other Christians that I am a happy, unrepentant, grateful, secure in my faith, and at peace "B" in the LGBT Community, when I explain how I can successfully maintain and live peacefully in committed, caring and honest relationships with both a woman and a man, or when I tell others in the LGBT Community that I am a Christian. I went through various times in my life before being open about all of the above where I wondered if I should. There was enough fear and apprehension associated with coming out to and fully accepting myself, let alone sharing the truth of who I am with others. But it was in the midst of that very process when I discovered the very reason why it was imperative that I share the full truth of who I am with - or at the very least, not ever conceal it from - as many as others as possible, regardless of whether I was met with acceptance or persecution or how uncomfortable I perceived the thought of doing so to be.
I recollect times when I was initially coming out to myself as bisexual, and how there were others who were encouraging and inspiring to me in that they had let go of any doubt, guilt, fear or shame concerning their sexuality or sexual orientation, and how it was a non-issue. Through their sharing, it assisted in affirming to me that there was in fact nothing unnatural about my sexuality or sexual orientation. I remember the other LGBT Christians who reached out to me, and shared their faith, spiritual journeys and testimony, and how those stories assisted in my own faith journey. I recall the acceptance and sense of peace and belonging I felt when I was blessed in knowing there really were other bisexuals such as myself for whom bisexuality means that they feel the need for committed, loving intimate relationships with both a female and male partner, and who had been able to successfully sustain these relationships while still remaining true to their beliefs as a Christian. And I remember the sense of joy and encouragement I experienced before any of that when I searched online and discovered this online magazine and knew assuredly that I was not along in my journey.
Those are but some examples, although there are many other moments like that I experienced. In merely being honest about and true to who they were Created to be, not only were these individuals who reached out to me, either directly or indirectly, more at peace with themselves and those around them, their support made my life a bit brighter. In their courage and faith to fully be, regardless of whatever consequences or persecution they might have had to face in the process, I found a beacon of hope. I began to realize that I too am a valued child of God, and that there is nothing flawed or bad about who I was Made to be. I saw them as angels of light masquerading in human forms, rays of hope, and vessels through whom God was answering my trusting but frequently desperate inner prayers of asking, seeking and knocking. I felt a true sense of belonging, as if there was a place for me regardless of how different I was from the "mainstream."
And once I did finally arrive at a place of being at peace with myself and with God, I was driven and felt the need to be able to pass that on somehow, as those feelings of peace had been a blessing to me. I thought of how I had encountered and still encounter in my life others who were struggling through the darkness the same way that I once did and how I want to help the Love of God to shine into their lives in the same way others had helped to guide me, to assist in illuminating a path out of that darkness and into the Light which God Wants us all to know.
While I feel it is wonderful and necessary for us to give to charities which support the cause of greater LGBT support and acceptance, whether those donations be monetary or merely volunteering time, I honestly feel that the most effective method of allowing God's Light to show through us is just through being true to who we are, with courage, and let our actions speak louder than words.
I want my life to be testimony to the fact that I am at peace with God through my being at peace with myself, and fully living the truth of who I am in a way which is loving and respectful of all others. I want my actions as a Christian who also happens to be bisexual shine brightly as I strive to practice the teachings of Christ to Love my Neighbor as myself, to care for those in need, to strive to always practice forgiveness and compassion, and return hate with love. I want to proclaim my faith through doing my best to exemplify what I feel to be the true teachings of Jesus in the Gospels to the best of my ability. I want other LGBT individuals who are still living in fear of God to know that God is Love and There for them too. I want to take the Light that shone from God into my own life and share it with those who are still lost, alone and afraid in a place of darkness as I once was. And it is only through trust and faith in God that I have been able to work towards being able to accomplish that.
I want to refer back to one of the passages I quoted at the beginning of this article as I feel it is relevant: "Those who do what is true come to the light". I can honestly state that up until the point where I was finally able to be true to the person God Made me to be and feel a sense of gratitude and joy about such that I was still suffering from an absence of light. It took being honest with myself and with God about who I am, and once that process was accomplished, refusing to hide or edit or censor who I am from others for me to really begin to experience the sense of peace and joy that I know God Wants us all to feel.
In being honest with myself and with others, I was enabled to be fully present without having to be concerned about closets, or watching what I said around which person, or feeling as if I had to "hide" anything. Unfettered by those mental chains of limitation and fear, I discovered that I was better suited to carry out whatever purposes God help in store for me.
Was it always easy? No. But the courage to do something doesn't mean you don't have any apprehension, it just means you allow faith to override those feelings.
Did I lose a few friends in the process? Yes. But I later discovered that true friends accept you for who you are rather than who they wish you were.
Did I attract conflicts? Occasionally, yes, I did. But I came to understand that those who would persecute me, regardless of what reason they might give, was only doing so out of a place of fear. Sometimes it manifested as righteous indignation aka "the Bible said it, I believe it and that settles it" (and the refusal to accept that it is merely their understanding of the Bible that "said" it), and other times, out of a lack of knowledge and empathy. But it always has fear as the root. I am hopeful, though in time, that God will continue to illuminate the lives of those living in that fear, and that any negativity towards anyone LGBT will evolve into greater understanding and acceptance as time progresses on. I can see that beginning now, in the world based on some of the milestones the LGBT Community was blessed with this past year, and more instances of acceptance and affirmation than hate and homophobia, as those who desperately cling to their fears and disguise and defend them as beliefs seem to grow weaker in influence, and those who feel it is time to let go of those old fears begin to develop more courage to speak out and a stronger voice.
So many wonderful and interesting things have transpired since I took that leap of faith and began the journey out of the dark place I once was, and even more so once I was willing to be open and honest not only with myself but others. I have been able to give others hope by sharing my faith journey with them, but there is far more to it to me than merely offering hope and encouragement to other bisexuals or other LGBT individuals. In being at peace with and true to myself, I find that it enables me to be in a joyful state which helps me to reach out and hopefully shine some light to others in a dark place regardless of what their sexual orientation is.
Maybe it's just a smile or a kind word that helps to brighten someone's day. Or perhaps being encouraging and hopeful to a friend or loved one dealing with a difficult situation that prompts them to see things in a better light. It could be injecting a humorous thought into a depressing conversation that lightens the mood a bit. Or, it could be offering help and assistance to another who I might not share the same beliefs or has a difficult time understanding my perspective, but I do so because that is what I feel God Calls me to do through what Christ's Teachings tell me is the best way regardless of whatever challenge I might perceive to accompany such. I just know that when I am happy with myself, I have a tendency as I feel many of us do to radiate joy and good feelings. And I think that is one reason God's Love and Grace is so abundant should we open up and receive it: the happier and more at peace we are, the more joy we can assist God in bringing to others.
God is the Source of all things, all Love and all Light. It is believed that in the beginning, God said "Let there be light!" and as far as I can see, God Has kept that light shining brightly; it is we who must be willing and open to it. God is the Light that has and continues to illuminate our understanding. And most importantly, based upon my experience, I have come to believe that we have a calling to be bringers of that light to others around us. Those of us who are Christian and LGBT have our own special source of light to shine, as well.
For all of the strides towards a greater and more illuminated understanding and acceptance of the LGBT Community, there are still far too many dark corners in need of God's Light. There is still prejudice; there are still, sickeningly, those who label us as abominations, some who celebrate hate crimes and AIDS as what they interpret as "divine retribution," some who want to legalize their hatred into federal and state laws and disguise it as "defense of their beliefs," those who promote junk science to try and "fix" something God Created just fine as it is, and all other manner of horrific manifestations of homo, bi and transphobia, too many to mention.
Worse yet, there are so many of our number who are still residing, however uncomfortably in the chains of fear, self-denial, self-loathing and false guilt and shame which are the symptom of this collective misunderstanding, fear and hatred. I have known a great many people who are homosexual who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years as an escape from the inner pain when in fact love and acceptance does exist. Although I am an out bisexual and my relationships with my female and male partner are honest and open, I have met far too many other bisexual men and women who feel as if their only alternative is to live a double life of fear and betrayal, pledging fidelity to one person while maintaining strings of discreet encounters-often unsafe. I had a transgendered friend take their own life out of fear that they would never find true peace and acceptance once and I have witnessed far too many times the horrible consequences of internalized homophobia as well as seen more occasions of those who feel as if God could never Love them as they are than I care to see. I have met other LGBT Christians who still struggle with fears and concerns.
In my opinion, each and every one of us who is LGBT and Christian carries our own unique potential to act as a willing vessel for God's Love, a beacon and a ray of hope shining God's Light to those in need. We cannot fulfill that role in the most effective manner possible if we ourselves are trudging through the darkness, so to me it is an imperative that we always strive to allow God's Light to shine on us even at times should our mind drift to dark places, and then ask for guidance on how to best radiate that to others. If we have the will, God will show us a Way.
I am constantly grateful to all of those who allowed their light and the joy that God gave them to shine into mine, like rays of hope. They helped to not only guide me out of my own darkness but encouraged me to share that light and Love with others. And I only pray that I can be a ray of hope for someone else in return.
As we move forward into a fresh new year, don't be afraid to let God's Light shine fully on you, and allow you to experience freedom from the darkness of fear, the freedom to fully be who God Created you to be and true to who you are, and the sense of joy and peace which can only follow. And once that light shines into your life, you will then know that you have the gift of the potential, and the trust in God to allow your light to shine into the life of another, like a ray of hope to guide their way so that they may come to know that they need never walk alone in the darkness again.
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