I have been having this conversation with a fellow queer Lee alumn. Our stories aren’t all that different in terms of our personal struggle with understanding who we are and feeling different from our peers. She grew up in the church, I grew up in the church. She was a student leader and so was I. We both tried to model compassion and understanding to the students we served. We both felt inadequate in our service to God. Both couldn’t attain perfection. Both struggled and fought against our faith of origin, coming to a crossroads.
But our paths diverge at a very crucial point- she isn’t a Christian anymore and I am still an absolute sucker for the Gospel.
My most vivid memories of childhood center around a church sanctuary with blue carpet and orange pews. A wooden pulpit. The bulky Texan transplanted to our mid-western town to serve as a pastor. A message of repentance, calling for admissions of guilt, surrendering to the guy in the sky who startled easily at the purview of our total human depravity. Sometimes a nice guy who one time reluctantly permitted us to slaughter his porcelain skinned, silky bearded son and then told us to never say he didn’t do anything nice for us. Old Testament schmold schmestament. A new law with some old law undertones. Yes, love you neighbor. But also don’t be a faggot. Or a Baptist.
I was raised in the church- a woman empowered within a specified radius of male authority. Scripturally rebuked into a closet I built in between the bones of my rib cage and underneath the beds of my fingernails.
But my faith was planted into the marrow of my bones, sewn up into every muscular fiber, and coded into the circulation of my blood stream. Open me up and my heart pumps to the rhythm of “Come Thou Fount,” my lungs expand and contract in time with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
I almost walked away completely once. Once every day for three years. A desert season. A sputtering disconnection. An act of surrendering myself over to the doubts, giving precedence to the anger and frustration.
Southern drawls oozing convictions I couldn’t bring myself to accept. Standing in a crowd of people lifting their hands and singing words about grace that they didn’t care to even whisper when the music had faded and it was them and their opinions to be heard.
I was a lost cause. A sordid soul. A discarded thing.
A crumpled, greasy laundry list of depravity, abandonment, baseness, contamination, criminality, debasement, debauchery, degeneracy, degradation, depravation, evil, iniquity, lewdness, licentiousness, perversion, profligacy, sinfulness, vice, viciousness, vitiation, wickedness, etc.
And when you have such a low opinion of yourself, how can you begin to grasp something composed of infinite goodness? How can you close your eyes and ask to talk to Love?
And why should I want to? I was always a misrepresentation of the Gospel away from losing my mind. Why should I want to join the ranks of those who named my “sin” as greatest of all? My kind of love didn’t mix with their pristine chapels and the husband God was waiting for me to get pure enough for before he was placed into a headship over my life.
I remember our conversations being one-sided for a very long time. I was a mumble and nod kind of gal and she was an eloquent, thought-provoking force. Unafraid of the silence, she sat with one leg tucked under the other and a head tilted in a way that I imagine they teach in therapy classes. Lower the chin just enough, gaze softly, fold and unfold your hands slowly, etc. It wasn’t the rehearsed thing I am making it out to be. It was genuine and loving and exactly what I needed to be brought back to myself.
When I started that therapeutic journey to accepting my sexuality, I also began a process of rediscovering my faith. It was no longer the hostile entity from which I needed to protect my vulnerable spots or otherwise submit to with sacked cloth and ashy cheeks. That laundry list of depraved adjectives no longer applied when I thought of a Savior slaughtered in the name of ripping up such lists and renaming/reclaiming me for a good and perfect will.
Even in talking with my friend who no longer identifies as Christian, I have a difficult time fully articulating why I abide in my faith. It is difficult to name something that feels like a second skin.
All that I can tell her is that there are these moments when it swells up inside of me and I am overwhelmed by something wholly other. That I stay amazed even after 28 years of ups and downs. That when I strip away everything that has gone wrong with the Church and I am just contemplating the Gospel, I can’t imagine not wanting to be a part of that story. And for me that is enough to keep engaging/struggling/dialoguing.
That I may identify as many things, but none of them will ever hold the weight of identifying as follower of Christ.
And that suits a queer gal like myself.