By Eleanor Anne Dote
Anne Lamott once wrote, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” Yet we crave certainty, don’t we? Something in us longs for a solid answer, a reason that allows us to rest knowing that what we know is foundational. We are like children on a cross-country car trip with our parents: everything within us hopes that we’ve arrived. Yet, we’ve only stopped for gas and a bathroom break.
When I first came out as transgender, that was where I was with my faith. I had built up a theology for myself that gave me the green light to start my transition. I had answers to disprove anyone who might question my standing with God. I was solid: I knew who I was in Christ, and I didn’t have to doubt it. And yet, the further I went on my journey towards becoming Ellie, the more doubt crept in. The more I began to see the reality that I hadn’t arrived; I was only at a rest stop meant to serve as a brief respite.
As I asked faith questions prompted by my transition, I began to open my eyes to the reality that I wasn’t alone. I encountered stories of others out there who experienced suffering, shame, guilt, and pain. Cue even more questions.
Sitting with the stories of those on the margins — those whose identities had been rejected by the religious leaders of our day — questions emerged that would plunge me into another season of growth. I had not, in fact, yet arrived: there was more to my journey, and my coming out and transition was only the beginning.
In my past life as an Evangelical pastor, there was a need — almost an expectation — that I have all of the answers. After all, I had student debt from a Christian college and hundreds of dollars worth of books on my shelf to prove that I knew everything, right? As a parent, that need was only exemplified in the eyes of my children, whose trust seemed almost predicated on the idea that I knew everything that there was to know. If they only had known…
One of the more refreshing things I have been able to do in recent years has been simply to say, “I don’t know — but that’s a great question.” After all, faith is questions, isn’t it? The more I stare into the world and listen to the stories of the people around me, the more I become aware of the fact that my experience is just one of many. I am one of an infinite number of puzzle pieces in the mosaic showing us who God is and what God calls us to in this world. We may never have the complete picture in our lifetime, but as we work on bring together each piece, we are afforded another glimpse, one more facet of getting to know God.
How do we make progress on this journey?
I honestly don’t have it all worked out. There are days when I turn on the news and wonder how God could even begin to love those people who are working so hard to battle my existence as a queer trans woman. There are times when I drive by the local Calvary Chapel only to scoff, wondering if God was even present in the church I called home for so many years of my life.
What I do know is this: we begin by listening. If I truly want others to listen to my story and expect that they encounter God in it, aren’t I also called to listen to theirs? If I am grateful for the patience and grace that the LGBTQ+ community gave to me while I endorsed their persecutors, shouldn’t I extend the same grace to others?
Too many times, especially in ministry, I find that the temptation is to preach. After all, that’s in the basic job description of a pastor, right? There’s always a word to put out into the world, always something to say. But the ones that grew closest to Jesus were the ones who sat at His feet and listened. We too must listen – to stories beyond what we think we know. Listen when it’s comfortable. And listen even when it’s not.
Jesus constantly drew His disciples and the religious leaders to the margins, places where they weren’t comfortable. That’s where He wanted them to release everything they thought they knew so that they could truly see God at work in the ones they had deemed unfit, unclean, unworthy. We all have to face our dangerous impulse to marginalize others, even those of us whose experiences of marginalization led us on journeys of deconstruction.
There are questions to which I still don’t have answers. Some days I wonder if I’m right about those who judge those of us in the LGBTQ community. Other days, I am convicted of the walls I have built in my own life. Walls that, truth be told, I have erected in hopes of avoiding the pain that I know such people can cause.
The journey isn’t – nor will it ever be – complete. As we march on towards the ultimate goal of knowing God in and through the world in which we live, may we remember this truth. We are not there yet.
Eleanor Anne Dote is a mother, partner, friend, blogger, author, Christian, and member of the LGBTQ+ community. Her recently published memoir, Walking Towards Cordelia: A Story of Becoming, Accepting, and the Journey to Get There, is available from Amazon. In her spare time, she loves spending time with her partner, Stephanie, her children, and her cats. She currently lives in Pasadena, California. You can find her at EllieDote.com.