Connecting with Community through Suffering

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I consider myself to be part of three communities: the Jewish community, the LGBT+ community, and the community of my church in St. Andrews.

I started going to church at a time when I was feeling excruciating grief and was desperate to find a justification. Nothing felt more relieving than hearing how the world is not how God intended, that “Jesus wept” (John 35:11) alongside me in my loss. People are often brought to Christianity through a tragic event or a difficult time in life – “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50). My friend once said (to paraphrase) that it is a privilege to have a life easy enough that you don’t need to have faith in something better. The issue is clearly more complex than this, yet I feel this sentiment is echoed biblically in the popularly quoted Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Finding community and relating to others via Bible studies and theological discussions was an unexpected result of scrambling for answers that, at the time, I felt were only given to me at church. What really ‘saved’ me were the interactions with others and the ability to talk about my grief. Ultimately, my sadness was gradually resolved, which is perhaps what God intended. Everyone experiences pain and needs to communicate it; having those conversations in the context of religion and God makes them feel less vulnerable yet still sincere. 

Because Christians are not typically oppressed in the UK, the individual suffering within the community is usually separate from the experience of belonging to the religion. For Jews and the LGBT+ community, the identity is something you are born with, that you can’t change about yourself, that you are persecuted for, and can therefore be gruelling in itself. People within these communities often feel attached to one another because of this shared pain. My family was never religious – in fact adamantly atheist. Before I understood the concept of cultural Judaism, I would claim that I was “basically not Jewish” to my mother, to which she would always respond “you are Jewish enough for Hitler.” This notion that no matter how much I denied my identity I still could not escape discrimination infuriated me and eventually forced me to embrace my background. 

Jews very much emphasise putting community above all. In my school there were several talks from Holocaust survivors, which I feel very grateful to have heard despite the grim nature of their content. These talks pierced us with the burden that we could never forget what they did to us, that we were obligated to unite and look out for one another, and most importantly that we must never let this happen again. It is common for even non-religious or cultural Jews to have parents who would be deeply disappointed if they were to marry a non-Jew, despite a lack of faith. There is a sense of urgency, even stubbornness in this: we’ve survived such turmoil; we can’t let ourselves die out now; we can’t let them win. We bond with each other through the pain of our ancestors and we stick together, which is beautiful in a way. Unfortunately, this attitude can also be harmful. At school, we never learned about other religions. We even had a laughable ‘Diversity Day’ with talks from three types of white Jews and one Arab Jew, if I recall correctly. This attitude of being somewhat fearful and even wilfully ignorant of other cultures leads to intolerance and amounts to indoctrination. Of course, it is important to learn about one’s own culture and I am not suggesting this should be taken away, but we don’t live in a world where that is enough. It made some students think of other minorities the way we are so terrified of them thinking of us. 

Growing up queer is also a difficult experience for many – obviously it is easier in some environments, increasingly so as the population becomes more accepting. But regardless of how tolerant some people can be, there is still a huge number of people in the world telling you that something fundamental about you is ‘sinful’. This attitude is so deep-rooted in society that even the most accepting people will inadvertently make homophobic remarks. The shared experience of being told that you are abnormal in formative years is part of what allows people who identify as LGBT+ to understand one another in a way straight people never could. Ironically, it is often religious groups causing queer people to feel this way, despite an Abrahamic focus on “loving thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:18). There is an option to interpret the Bible as accepting of homosexuality, yet so many people who pride themselves on being accepting and loving in Jesus’ name choose to interpret it in a discriminatory way in the name of being ‘counter-cultural’. 

Sometimes belonging to these communities feels contradictory. Being queer and religious is unusual – though I remind myself the opposite should be true. “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11), and queer people should always have been embraced by the church. I am proud to be Jewish and bisexual; these groups have been through so much anguish and are still standing stronger than ever. Anguish can do that. My own pain brought me to a church community that has supported me emotionally for years, and eventually to a strong faith in God. As Oscar Wilde said, “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.” With hindsight I can see that my suffering brought people into my life who wouldn’t be here otherwise.

Adi Mills is a final-year undergraduate student at the University of St Andrews who studies Chemistry when she’s not sleeping. A self-proclaimed night owl, Adi takes pride in not knowing what 9am looks like. In between yoga and horror movies, you can find Adi outside enjoying a beer whilst having a smoke.

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