Bearing My Cross
In case you're wondering where I am right now, I'll give you a little hint:
Yup, I'm in NYC! I get to rehearse and perform for a beautiful NYC-based theatre company that culminates in a festival at the Lincoln Center. And I couldn't be more excited and blessed! Specifically, I get to perform in this:
I've dreamed of performing in NYC for so long, and now that dream is a reality. A step closer to achieving on Broadway is always appreciated! I couldn't wait to tell everyone the good news - my mom, best friend, colleagues at my job, and friends in the theatre and church communities. Everyone shared my joy, but when I shared the exact performance details with my church friends, it got rocky VERY fast. When I first shared the news that I would be performing in NYC with my church community group, they were thrilled, and I got plenty of likes. But when one person asked if there were details of the performance to share with the group and if anyone was interested in coming up to NYC to see me, I obliged. That's when the likes stopped coming. And I was both confused. And, quite frankly, hurt. It wasn't until one good friend of mine told me that the topic of the festival and the theatre company itself may have stalled the likes because of its content matter. LGBTQIA+. Pride month. Rough waters for Christians, indeed. It's no secret that I struggled with this. I shared a message on the chat, explaining that I understand if nobody wanted to come up and see me perform because it deals with LGBTQIA+. But I knew deep down it wasn't enough. Tears streaming down my face, I told my group that I was saddened and hurt by the lack of likes sharing the details of this performance and how much this opportunity meant to me. But I also shared something with them that I still struggle with as a Christian: SHAME. I believe that my professional acting career is a blight in my church community because of the vast stories I get to tell through performance and the characters I portray, even those of the LGBTQIA+ community. And in the eyes of the church, that's a capital sin to even associate with the LGBTQIA+. In the eyes of my church friends, my performance opportunity with the LGBTQIA+ theatre company and festival was a capital sin. And worse still? My professional acting career is considered a capital sin due to the people I interact with regularly. And yet? I still carry my cross. Given this opportunity and the tall, brick wall I come up against in terms of my fellow Christian's beliefs and teachings about the LGBTQIA+ community, it's just a bit heavier these days. But here's the thing I want to ask: If Jesus called for us to "love one another," why are we still selective in who we exactly love? Especially if it's only people who look like us? Especially if it's people who share similar ideas and likes as we do? Especially if it's people in a good job and well-respected neighborhood like us? Especially if it's people who align with the identical political credos and ideologies as we do? Especially if it's people who are doing the "right things" as Christians as we do? I hate to say it, but Jesus wasn't selective in who he loved. He loved and interacted with the least worthy of individuals in society - prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, invalids, and more - along with the righteous. Yes, there was shame and even going out of his comfort zone on his part, but that didn't stop him from sharing and expressing God's love for the outcasts of society that they genuinely deserve alongside the righteous. Jesus wasn't selective or even turned away in fear from the lowest members of society. He reached out to them and poured out his love for them all. In other words: Jesus died to bear the weight of ALL the sins out of the most significant gift any one of us needs. And that's LOVE. As a Christian, I must bear my cross, and on many days, it's a pretty damn heavy thing to lift and carry when the whole world may be against you. But you know something else? It's even heavier when your church community may not see how you love, understand, and tolerate all walks of life as a "good" and "responsible" way to be a Christian. It's not a clear path to Christianity, and it's dirty. It's not a safe path to Christianity, and it's dangerous. It's not a straight and narrow path to Christianity, and there are lots of twists and turns. It's not an easy path to Christianity, and it's friggin' hard. And I'm feeling dirt, twists and turns, and roughness of Christianity lately. My vocation is an obstacle to my fellow believers, especially loving every human being. I wish I could ask my friends from my church this simple question: "WHY?" Why is it so hard for you to love the LGBTQIA+ community as I do? Why is it a challenge for you to accept my career as a way to question, encourage, inspire, and change the world for the better? Why are you so afraid of loving even the least deserving of beings when Jesus Christ himself did so regularly and faced shame, rejection, and ridicule from the "righteous"? In this week's blog, I'm sharing the observations and reflections on why it's a struggle to bear my cross and how all of us believers can take a step forward to show love for EVERY SINGLE PERSON without shame or hesitation.
One particular passage stands out to me right now, and it comes from the book of Matthew: "And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' But when he heard it, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matthew, ESV 9:10-13) I hate to say this, but we're all sick. Yes, ALL of us are sick. It's not just because of our physical or mental ailments, but how we put on a pretense to the rest of the world regarding how people see us as Christians. It's especially true with how we go about loving one another. We keep to our specific groups of people we want to love or consider worthy of love. And it's not just love. What about empathy? What about respect? What about tolerance? What about kindness? What about generosity? What about understanding? Aren't we all worthy of these qualities and gifts, not just a selected few who we believe are worthy because we like them? That's not Christlike love; that's favoritism, and I know Jesus was against bias, among other things. Do you know what's sad about this? It's happening in churches across the country and even the world. We're guilty of showing bias towards certain groups of people because their lifestyles, opinions, and choices do not align with our own or even God's. We're distancing ourselves from the sinners when we're the ones that are the true sinners for not showing love and grace towards everyone, no matter who they are or what their beliefs are. No one is above reproach for this. Even yours truly does this on a frequent occasion. I need to ask forgiveness when I distance myself from certain groups of people who aren't worthy of love and ask for clarity and wisdom on how to love and show compassion from a distance. Even if it's saying, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." So, how does this relate to my latest opportunity? As stated earlier, anything involving LGBTQIA+ or Pride month is a bone of contention within the Christian community, and it's often a topic that divides families on any given day. The same is true within my church community, even though it's not as explicit. If I remember correctly, my pastor talked about how his daughters were at the school library one day, and the librarian told them she was hiding those books from the girls because she knew they were Christians and seen as homophobic. This statement frustrated my pastor greatly and told us that even though he may disagree with the LGBTQIA+ lifestyle, it doesn't immediately brand him or anyone else as homophobic. He even told me in an email that I continue to love my LGBTQIA+ friends, which is what I do regularly. And a good friend of mine had her LGBTQIA+ neighbors over for a game night, and when they asked how she felt about them, she told them truthfully that everyone needs a Savior and God's love. Yet, people in my church can't see the LGBTQIA+ community as human beings, let alone show them love and grace, even if they disagree with their way of life. Allow me to put this in a language you can understand: You may disagree with what the LGBTQIA+ community stands for, but you don't have to engage in their way of life if you don't want to. However, it would help if you didn't treat them as social pariahs or the plague. Jesus reached out to the least of people, loved them, and extended grace towards them, so what's stopping you from doing the same in a Christlike manner? Look at it this way: The Bible tells us we should be reaching out to the poor, hungry, lost, and sick, yet we need to do more for every individual we encounter. What about reaching out to and doing more for the women going through abortions due to health, rape, incest, or personal reasons and not blaming them for this happening? What about reaching out to and doing more for the homeless teenagers and children without a roof over their heads because their family dynamics are unsafe due to domestic violence, addiction, and, yes, being LGBTQIA+? What about reaching out to and doing more for victims of gun violence, especially teachers and students, and community members forgotten by the rest of us? What about reaching out to and doing more for people impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault and not insisting it was by the grace of God that this occurred for your salvation? What about reaching out to and doing more for the BIPOC communities targeted for their skin color, traumatized and victimized by over 400 years of slavery and disenfranchisement, and distrusting God's word because of the supposed views of slavery and dominion over the lesser of individuals? What about reaching out to and doing more for those struggling with mental and emotional health problems without leaving it up to God to help with the entire healing process? What about reaching out to and doing more for the LGBTQIA+ community, loving them for who they are as human beings, and not forcing them to change their makeup to have their souls saved? And, more importantly, seeing them as worthy of God's love and grace, no matter what their walk is like currently? What about reaching out to and doing more for the AAPI community doing their best to live their American dream and being abused and mistreated just by how they talk and live their lives? What about reaching out to and doing more for the singles in the church community who are struggling and helping them see that their value and worth isn't just in being married or having a family and that it's okay not to follow the vast majority of Christians who are getting married and having a family? In layman's terms, we need to do more for every individual out there that is worthy of God's love, no matter how different they are from us. We shouldn't be biased against these groups of people just because they don't act or think as we do. Who knows? Maybe just being around them may give us a perspective we never thought of before, and this piece of wisdom can apply to our walks with God. Sometimes looking at different points of view does wonder for our minds and hearts. And what better way to get a new perspective than from signs and messages you see from other churches and social media?
Don't you see? The war against Christianity, the Bible, and God are because of our inner sins we refuse to acknowledge, driving people away. Jesus' spreading the gospel to reach out to the least of individuals, those we deem a lost cause, is almost too much for any Christian to bear. It's as if going out of their comfort zone to talk and get to know an individual who is different from them by how they look or what they believe in is a monumental challenge. Yet, Jesus did that regularly, and he ended up saving many lives because of a special kind of love we need to aspire to every day. And that is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. We may not always see eye to eye with each individual who doesn't walk a Christian walk. Still, if we can allow ourselves to be willing to share that unconditional love and understanding of the lives people walk without judgment or even prejudice, our lives will be that much richer. And we shouldn't let our need to control everything and even everybody, AKA fear, rule our lives. We will miss out on meeting some incredible human beings with the stories and struggles they endured that may somehow inspire us on our walk with God. Sometimes God calls us to go out of our comfort zone, and it may be a way to challenge our upbringing and what we were initially taught on our Christian walk, including meeting people from all walks of life. It's okay to go out of your comfort zone. It's mandatory to do this in our walk with God. They don't call it "walk by faith" for nothing. (Whew! This week's post is pretty heavy and more transparent than I ever thought it could be, but I'm glad I shared this with you. I need to remind you that these are my observations and reflections, and you are welcome to disagree with me on anything. We're all learning on our life's journey, and we should appreciate hearing different perspectives. However, I will not tolerate any disrespectful or offensive language toward me or anyone else. We need to be kinder and more understanding toward one another, and if you choose to do otherwise, I will block you.) I don't know who needs to see this, but it's important to me and my Christian walk that I say what has been in my heart for now. To everyone at my church who knows of my journey, my theatre community, or anyone who knows me, hear me out. I was hurt by not receiving the support I needed when I got the offer and shared this with you. I get it - you're not supportive of LGBTQIA+, especially as more and more churches are becoming more tolerant and open to welcoming these people into the body of Christ out of an act of unconditional love. But here's the thing I must ask you to see: This career, this vocation, is my calling from God, and I wouldn't be anywhere without His grace and blessings. One person told me that my career is a way to show empathy to folks, and I need to regularly seek divine guidance on being a light to those who may not know God. I shouldn't be ashamed of this path I've chosen and the countless times I've gone out of my comfort zone to share the stories and voices of lives we don't often hear about regularly. Or even if we do, I breathe new life and meaning into what it means to be human and how the world could be if we all learn to love one another. What do I want the most from my Christian family I so appreciate and love deeply? I want support for this journey, even if it's telling the stories that go against the gospel. I may not actively engage in the lifestyles of these characters, but I still consider them human beings, and I'm asking the same for my Christian family. See this unique opportunity as a way to acknowledge the existence of the LGBTQIA+ community, and respect them as human beings who are living their lives. Be willing to go out of your comfort zone and attempt to see the different people I come across the way I see them - as individuals who are worthy of love and understanding. Help me understand why you're so scared of seeing each walk of life as worthy of God's love, and allow me to bridge the gap between fear and uncertainty. Allow me to be taught the word of God that brings light and wisdom to those who need to hear the most, even those you are afraid of interacting with as I do. Remind me that it's not the applause, praise from critics, or even the specific company organization that determines my worth. I'm not that learned about the word of God and every piece of scripture in the Bible, but I do know this: Unconditional love, tolerance, and understanding are a big part of our walk as Christians. And as the song goes: 🎶 "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."🎶 Don't we owe it to every individual being that much, even those who we deem unworthy of God's love and who would rather stay in our comfort zone? I know not everyone will be able to come up to see me perform at the Lincoln Center, whether that's because of logistics or your personal beliefs, and I understand that. Or at least I'm trying to understand. But all I ask is for your continued support and love as I bear my cross as a Christian who just so happens to be an actor. Bearing my cross means regularly teaching others empathy, understanding, and unconditional love. What does bearing your cross mean to you? I hope unconditional love is a big part of it. We could all use it these days. And I do mean ALL of us.