B…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved – Acts 16:31
This was the start of the alphabet we recited every day when I was in kindergarten at the small school run by our church of Pentecostal persuasion. It was posted around the perimeter of the room in bright primary colors. When I think about how my faith was formed in the early days, this image comes to mind. This collection of symbols attached to a specific ideology that we committed to memory.
This would go on to construct my vocabulary of faith, how I understood myself and my relationship to God.
Of course, there were other formative images that shaped that framework. I can still see the American flag and the Christian flag side by side in the sanctuary and remember sitting in a small circle as a child praying to receive the ‘gift of tongues’ or kneeling on my bed earnestly asking God again and again to save me to make certain I was going to heaven. The revival preacher had said that hell was for homosexuals and for people who had abortions, but if I didn’t repent, I could be there too…. I clearly remember all messengers from God were male, and we loved to sing songs about being victorious in the Lord’s Army.
F…For the wages of sin is death – Rom 6:23
G…Go into all the world and preach the good news – Mark 16:15
However, there was no childhood lexicon that prepared me for a crisis of faith that came for me shortly after college. My youth ministry career was cut short by the confession of same sex attraction and when it became clear that this was more than a short lived “struggle”, the dissonance in my life became overwhelming. I couldn’t reconcile my childhood version of God with my experience. Things fell apart. As poet William Stafford expressed, “Was I following the wrong God home?”
For many of us, we come to a place in our journey of faith, where we realize—we must find another way to spell out our beliefs in order to keep them. I had been living with inadequate definitions and desperately needed new words and rituals.
This long search led to a remodeling of my whole religious undercarriage. As Thomas Merton says, “Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and the heart has turned to stone.” I journeyed though difficult years of counseling, retreats, an ex-gay ministry, research, and eventually seminary trying to figure out what to do with these orphaned pieces of me. I didn’t know it, but all those cracks in me were actually the way light was getting in…and somehow in that holy dark I found acceptance.
H…He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul… – Psalm 23: 2
I…I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… – Psalm 139:14
As I reflect on my faith journey, it has been a long and winding path that has included sorting out the blessings and the curses, and many times a long the way, I would never have believed I would be sitting here today telling you that I’m married to a wonderful woman raising two little ninja toddlers!
And I would never have believed that, after losing a position as a youth minister due to my sexual orientation many years ago, that I would one day be invited to serve again as a deacon.
Through it all, I have found a much more expansive understanding of God with less patriarchy and more compassion, less fear and more wonder, less soldier more pilgrim, less other and more us, less heaven as glorious ending and more kingdom of God on earth!
Friends, the symbols and words we use to tell the Good News matters.
Thank you for the opportunity and be a part of this solid gold Body of Christ and tell the story with you.