I left FCC for the 19th time this year. Many folks have heard of my mental health struggles over the years, and some of the older members of church have seen or heard of me being in an erratic mode. People couldn’t see that I had and am still growing and healing ~ very well actually. Due to this, I felt a sense of rejection, judgement and stigma with some FCC folks. There were quite a number of instances when I was avoided and even judged.
In some conversations, I also saw disrespect. Folks didn’t take me seriously or see me as capable of making meaningful contributions. I was truly hurt and disappointed, and decided to turn to another faith tradition which was not LGBTQ-affirming because at least I felt love, friendship and welcome there.
The other issue was my race as an Indian. There are many times when I attend FCC on-site that I’m the only brown person. I am not sure if this is a true factor in my sense of disconnect, as some have alluded to, but it might be. I’ve heard racist sentiments, but nothing targeted at me directly or explicitly.
Ultimately, I felt it was impossible for me to fit in the FCC community or make genuine friendships. Even though I was in ministry, I had decided to leave the church completely when my time of commitment was over.
I had all these attitudes in my heart and mind: “I will never have friends here”, “I will always feel ostracized”, “They’re like that because I’m Indian”, “FCC is not truly inclusive to people with mental health conditions” or at least not inclusive to some, as some who hide it well are accepted. “It’s all big declarations of inclusivity and ‘first realise everyone’s equal’, but it’s not true in reality.”
I shared all these negative emotions with a friend, and he said my thinking that I cannot find community in FCC is bullshit. Yes, there have been brown people who have left for the same reasons as me. Yes, there were instances of disconnect, but maybe I should consider that people are going through their own struggles ~ and it has nothing to do with me. All I really need to do is participate if I wanted community. It cracked open my heart and I decided to engage more in FCC life, and what a blessing this has been.
Once I decided to show my authentic self to others, and not hide behind or dwell in sour attitudes, many of my cell group members showed me warmth and care, and I felt more at home. I won’t name anyone since they have all been so kind and loving.
What I learnt was, even though folks may have felt uncomfy with me, I need to do three other things besides get involved wholeheartedly, which are:
(1) I need to show stability and reliability to gain trust. A lot of people’s concerns about me were valid. It’s hard to feel comfortable or safe with an unstable person, and I am not a victim.
(2) I need to embrace the messiness of community life. Like Jesus, who washed the dirty feet of the disciples out of love, I know that there is “NO LOVE” in my heart if I don’t remain in community through the messy ups and downs, which will surely come.
And thirdly, and most importantly,
(3) I need to pray and fully trust God to build bridges with others. It’s not about my efforts to change always. Jesus needs to be at the centre of all relationships for there to be true hope, joy, love and peace.
As I reflect on Christmas, I am wondering about how Jesus experienced rejection and unwelcome even at the moment of his birth. Rather than focus too much on others making room for us, I believe that each of us needs to realise that we are all innkeepers, who decide if there is room for Jesus.
Is there room for Jesus in our hearts?
Is there room for Jesus in our thought life?
Is there room for Jesus in our schedule?
Is there room for Jesus in our words?
Is there room for Jesus in our actions?
We can call ourselves Christians, but if we do not take the hard steps to live out our Christianity through actions and heart transformation, it’s all just empty words and labels.
I talk with conviction, but I am far from having arrived. Ultimately, we all need to soak in God to speak God, partnering with Her to shape us into being the saints we are called to be.