I have a checkered past, at least religiously speaking. My father was fairly anti-religion and my mother was a go-with-the-flow sort. I didn’t attend my first church service until I was six years old.
Given my precocious nature and since my father was so against religion, I was intensely curious about it. When my family moved to a small town in Kansas, my best friend was the Baptist minister’s kid. I’ve since developed a habit of being befriended by Preachers’ Kids.
When I reflect on the people who have been spiritual mentors to me, family and pastors have played a lesser role than friends, a Buddhist nun, and those preachers’ kids.
Preacher’s Kid number one, Holly, introduced me to the Baptist faith. After explaining to me that one doesn’t splash in the baptismal font, she got me involved in her church. I went to youth group with her, and she convinced me to go to my first ever church camp as well as get saved. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with all of those things, but I knew it was important to Holly so I should probably pay attention. Holly sparked my curiosity about faith even further. Yet, since I only attended with her occasionally, religion was still just out of grasp for me.
When I was a young adult, first out on my own, I began attending a Methodist church with my boyfriend. Church going became more of a regular occurrence for me during that time. I learned to appreciate hymns and prayer. I began to demystify religion for myself at that point. Once exotic and foreign to me, it became comfortable . . . perhaps a bit too comfortable.
When the boyfriend and I broke up, my church “family” broke up with me. If I dared go to church, folks wouldn’t look at or even speak to me. It was painful and hard for me to believe that in a community of 500 believers, not one of them could find anything more redeeming in me than being a member’s girlfriend. When I stopped being his girlfriend, I stopped being important.
And religion stopped being important to me.
The next several years were somewhat tumultuous. I was not only struggling with a sense of self as an adult, but also with my own spirituality. While organized religion wasn’t important to me, my spirit was. From the age of 28 to the age of 35 I was going through quite the identity crisis. During this time I went to work at PBS, where everyone in my department was Catholic.
I’d been to Mass and many of my friends growing up were Catholic. This rowdy group of former preschool educators were oddly comforting to me both in their professional and religious backgrounds. Like Holly, faith mattered to them. More importantly, people mattered more to them. While I wouldn’t get close to their religious practices, I did get close to them. Even from my distance, their comfort in their faith comforted me.
Nonetheless, I was still searching. I read books on paganism, mysticism and Buddhism. I learned to meditate, anywhere. Given the long commutes I endured during my time living in the Washington, DC area I learned how to seek quiet on the Beltway and the subway. The lurch and flow of traffic had its own rhythm. The high pitched thrum of the lightrail had a soothing quality. In those moments, which were often the only ones I had to myself, I found space to breathe and think.
When I moved back to Missouri in 2006, I found a meditation group. The woman who led the group was a Buddhist nun. She was a tiny, quiet person with a shaved head and round glasses. Our small group met on Saturday mornings in a yoga studio on Walnut Street. It was during those meditations I came to terms with my sexuality as well as my spirituality.
Of the things that shaped me as a person of faith, oddly enough coming out of the closet was probably the most notable. It likely goes without saying that being gay and Christian isn’t easy. Many Christian faiths reject or even persecute gay and lesbian people. As I was coming to terms with who I was, I once again found myself in the lurch of spiritually. Where was it, exactly, I was going to fit in?
I’m told the Preachers’ Kids have me on a rotation. As I was asking myself that very question, a Preacher’s Kid simultaneously appeared in my life. As she is also gay, I was surprised when she told me she went to church and was very active in her church. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.
I don’t know whether she tricked me or I was finally ready, but she got me back through the doors of a church. In 2007, I started regularly attending National Avenue Christian Church. I even became a member. While my time there has not been without its ups and downs, I’m beginning to learn that those ups and downs are very much a part of what shapes us not only spiritually, but as people.
While many of wonderful pastors I’ve come to know have guided me along my crooked spiritual path, life experiences, friends and even co-workers have been on that path with me. Their experiences, along with mine, have done the most to make me comfortable in my spiritual skin.