I’m writing a sort of ‘spiritual autobiography’ for a group I am a part of at my church. I’m finding this a difficult task, since my spiritual journey has taken so many twists and turns throughout my life. That being said, here goes:
As long as I can remember, I have gone to church. My first memory of it was a smallish place called East Hills Christian Church, and I went there with my parents when I was young, but I’m not sure how young – grade school age, I’m sure.
The small church got bigger and outgrew its space, so they built a new church. It was huge, and I was a big part of it in junior high and high school, attending services on Sunday mornings and evenings, bible studies on Wednesdays, church camp every summer and various church activities throughout the years. I can’t really say how much I truly believed that God was a part of my life during that time. I was made to go church by my parents. I enjoyed it mostly for the social activities with other people my age, and I claimed to love God, although I don’t know if I really meant it or not. The reason I say this is because once I came out as a lesbian, it was really easy for me to leave the church and not look back.
I came out at age 15, and continued to attend church for a little while, but I was never very good at keeping secrets so my sexual orientation became an issue with the youth pastor. When I was age 16, he came to my house to talk with me. I remember that we sat in his car, parked on the street next to my house. His message to me was this – you can’t be gay and be a christian. Even at 15, I knew that I would never be able to change my orientation; or maybe I just knew I didn’t want to change it and being true to my feelings was more important to me than worshiping a God who would condemn me for those feelings. I stopped attending church at that time, and put God out of my mind. I was also kicked out of my house, and lived with an open-minded, kind-hearted member of that same church for about two months. It is to the credit of a teacher (who happened to be gay) at my high school who facilitated mediation with my parents that I was able to return home until I became an adult.
During that two-year period before adulthood, I participated in some church related activities at my Aunt Donna’s church, The MCC. I went because my Aunt was gay and my only true support system, and I wanted to be around other gay people. I had to do it in secret so my parents didn’t find out. This MCC had no pastor, was very non-traditional and did not really subscribe to much in the way of one particular faith belief. Instead, different church members led services each week and pulled from their own faith beliefs. One week you might hear about Jesus and the next you might participate in a native american ceremony celebrating the earth and nature.
It was at a dance at this church where I met a girl named Naomi. She was the 15-year-old, blue-eyed daughter of Marsha Stevens, an out christian singer who penned “For Those Tears I Died,” among other songs. They lived in Southern California, and I started visiting her on weekends. At 17, I went with her and her Mom to the Long Beach Pride parade and I heard the Reverend Troy Perry, founder of MCC, speak.. There were hecklers all around who were holding signs and shouting awful things at us. Reverend Perry out-shouted them all and it was in that park that I think I first believed the words spoken in John 3:16. It was at that moment I truly felt as though I believed, and that because I did believe, God loved me, no matter what. I think that may have been my first ever spiritual awaking. I felt whole and complete and like my life meant something. This did not last long, however.
I should also let you know that I dabbled in drinking and drug use starting around age 16, and later wasted a large part of my life in activities surrounding acquiring and using drugs. I wouldn’t even mention it except that it’s an important part of the process of making me who I am today. During the time when my parents had said ‘be straight or leave our house’ I started drinking pretty regularly. Then after I came home, an adult cousin came to live with my family for a short time, and he asked me to score some cocaine for him. I knew of a student who had a brother who did that kind of thing, so I asked her, and we were able to buy some cocaine. I did my first line with my cousin, and really liked how it made me feel. I continued to use it occasionally until my cousin left six months later. At 19 I started dating a woman who was, unbeknown to me, heavy into the use of meth. I remember going to a party at her friend’s house where they were passing around a mirror covered in lines of what I thought was cocaine. Not wanting to be the odd woman out, I did a line when it was passed to me. I immediately knew it wasn’t cocaine because it felt like I had just snorted crushed glass. Right after that, a feeling came over me like nothing I had felt before. After that, meth became the love of my life, my God and my religion. I devoted my life to it for the next three years. I realized I needed to quit when I looked at myself naked in a mirror one day and saw that I looked like a walking corpse. I was skin and bones with visible ribs and pasty white skin, bloodshot eyes sunken into my skull and virtually no muscles to speak of. I remember thinking to myself that I was going to die.
Shortly after that, I moved to South Texas, and into my parents house for a while. I detoxed and started college. I picked Mental Health as my major and started focusing on addiction studies. This lead me to AA and NA, and through my involvement with them, I found another MCC church. AA and NA taught me that I didn’t have to accept the traditional image of God taught to me when I was young. I could fashion my own image of God or a “higher power,” and put my faith in this new image in order to help me make better decisions in my life. The meetings were held at the MCC in Corpus Christi, and I started attending there as well. I really started to appreciate and enjoy the liturgy, the rites, and the camaraderie of the community. I also got involved with a group that provided weekend retreats that focused on exercises in christian community living. It was at one of these retreats that I was reminded that God loved me in spite of, and because of, who I was. It was something I had forgotten.
I moved to Dallas/Fort Worth for a job after a few years, and began intermittently attending the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. It was the 2nd largest MCC church in the U.S. with an active membership of around 3000 people. I loved the formal, ornate services but I never really felt connected there. It was just too big, so it was easy to get lost in the crowd. I spent six years clean from drug use, and then had a monumental relapse that lasted for 10 months. To this day I can’t explain what happened, except to say that an opportunity to smoke cocaine presented itself to me, and I did not say no. This was, and continues to be, easily the worst 10 months of my entire life. I lost everything important to me, including my job, my home and several people I cared about. I just couldn’t stop. I was confused by this because before, when I had decided to quit, I just did it. I was uncomfortable for a few days, but overall it was easy to stop. This time, however, I just couldn’t. Drugs had become my God and my religion, once again. I finally had to move home again to remove myself from the temptation to use. I took a new job and white knuckled myself into recovery. I dreamed about smoking cocaine literally every night for a year, and every morning I asked a God I wasn’t even sure I believed in anymore to please help me through the day. Looking back, I am amazed that I was able to resist the pull, and I can honestly say that the grace of God held me close, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
Two years later, I had an opportunity to move to Georgia. I wanted to be closer to my sister and her family, so I stepped out on faith and made the move. Shortly after moving, I went online to find the local MCC. I printed out the directions, and on Sunday set off to find the church. I ended up lost and pissed off, having spent two hours driving around, unable to locate the church. The following Saturday night, I decided to try again, so I logged on to the internet and started typing the address of the MCC. Something made me stop. I erased what I had typed and then put ‘open and affirming churches in Georgia” in the search engine. I was surprised at the number of churches I found, and pleased that there was one not 15 minutes from where I lived. It was a United Church of Christ. I had never heard of them, but I was willing to give it a try, so the next morning, I headed off to Pilgrimage UCC for the first time.
I instantly felt welcomed and accepted at Pilgrimage. They were warm and loving, and talked about God in a way that made sense to me. It felt like a thinking person’s church, where you didn’t just blindly follow a set of rules, but were encouraged to use your brain as well as your heart to practice living a more Christ centered life. I felt at home there for several years. Although I was struggling with a faith crisis at the time, my wife and I were married there, in front of God and around 60 or so people, including my sister and brother-in-law, my Mom, my Aunt Jean and my Aunt Donna, the gay aunt who was my only ally as a teenager. It was important to me to be married in a religious ceremony in front of all these people, as if, somehow, God’s blessing made my marriage more real, to them and to me. We had to go to Connecticut five days later for the actual license, but I still count myself as married from May 16th, 2009, the day we exchanged rings and vows in front of our pastor, our friends and family and God.
Now, about that faith crisis I mentioned. It began on election day at the end of 2008. I experienced joy as I watched the president I had voted for win by a landslide and then total devastation when Proposition 8 was passed by California voters, taking away the rights of Californians to marry the person of their choice. How could God allow this to happen? How could God’s followers believe that it was EVER okay to take away someone’s rights? If this was the kind of God who people believed in; an intolerant homophobe who trampled on the rights of others, then I wanted no part of it. I started thinking that maybe God was a figment of people’s imagination, a mass delusion of some imaginary person in the sky who dictated how people are supposed to live. What proof is there that God exists? Isn’t it more likely that humans are desperately in need of something to believe in, and churches take advantage of this to lure people into their lairs and take their money, all the while telling them who to love and who to hate? The anger I felt was unimaginable, and didn’t go away. To this day, I have never felt such rage toward a group of people, and even now, my tolerance for people who believe gays shouldn’t be able to get married, or adopt children, or teach in schools or even attend church is extremely low. I have very little love for those who view me as a second class citizen, although I’m not quite as angry about it anymore.
I have continued to have this crisis of faith for almost three years now. Until recently, I have refused to go to church, pray, close my eyes when others were praying, or attend any activity with a religious tone. I was even irritated when I had to put my hand on a bible and swear ‘so help me God’ when I went to court to have my surname legally changed. I have felt spiritually numb.
Then last year, my wife and I adopted an 8-year-old boy. Little by little, I have felt my heart opening back up. I decided that even if I wasn’t sure I still believed, I wanted my son to attend a church and develop some spiritual beliefs so that when the time comes, he could make his own informed choice about God. We went back to Pilgrimage a few times, but the drive from our home was long and it was difficult for us to make it on time. We started “church shopping” and attended a couple of new churches I found online. When I inquired about its open and affirming status and whether or not my family would be welcome there, one church told me that I was welcome to attend, and that hopefully Jesus would come into my heart and my desire to push my ‘sexual agenda’ would go away. I must be getting better, because I did not immediately fire off an angry response about the audacity of viewing us not as the family we are but as people with a ‘sexual agenda.’ I mean, what the f*** is a sexual agenda, anyway, and why is it that when a religious person finds out you’re gay, they immediately start thinking about sex? It’s absurd!
Fortunately, we found Kirkwood UCC. My family and I have attended for a few months now, and love it’s open and affirming beliefs, and the warmth and kindness of the people there. I even like the small storefront building, as it reminds me of my first experiences with acceptance, way back when I attended my first MCC church, also located in a storefront. I love that my son, from the first day, has settled right in and become a part of the children’s ministry. Even though I am struggling with my faith, I feel like I am in a safe place, where no one judges me for my messed up beliefs and everyone accepts me right where I am, struggling or not. Today I can say I believe in God, but I don’t know where God’s place in my life is, or if I am even able to accept God in my life. I’m still a little (okay, a LOT) angry that God allows his followers to get so off message that it causes such harm to the psyche of gay people. That’s okay because today I am willing to at least suit up and show up. I really want to be willing to let God back in.
I’ll end this with a poem I wrote back in 1999. I think it describes my spiritual journey quite well. It’s called Faith In Madness:
I’ve walked the fire of my fears
Mile after mile of burning need
I’ve endured the pain
And fought through the shame of my sins
I’ve run away from love
And drank from its sweet, sweet cup
I’ve felt the pull of overwhelming passion
Swam the murky depths of despair
I’ve shared myself with demons and devils
And been embraced by the presence of God
I’ve been cornered, caged, labeled
Then found the ultimate freedom
I’ve wanted to taste the finality of death
And had a raging desire to live
I’ve stayed awake for days on end
I’ve slept through periods of my life
I’ve been broken, fragmented and complete
All at the same time
I’ve wondered what is left for me
And embraced life with a vengeance
That is mine alone
Through it all
I cannot say
I have not