“Every Sunday’s gettin’ more bleak, fresh poison each week. We were born sick, you heard them say it… Command me to be well. Amen, amen, amen, amen.”
I walk toward my two best friends at dinner when one jumps up to hug me and says, “Kinsey, you look so pretty and — oh my God — is that a cross necklace?”
The other sighs, “Oh come on, Ben, give her a break, it’s not that surprising.”
“Nick, you don’t understand, her parents own a book called Misquoting Jesus.”
“Well, okay,” he laughs, “fair. But still…”
“No I’m happy for you Kins, I really am, I just can’t believe we switched places.”
“What do you mean?”
“I used to be you — well, the Jewish version of you — so I get it. When I used to feel scared or alone or lost I would always turn to God too.” I know what’s coming next but Nick looks confused. “Why not anymore?” “Because I’m angry with him —” Ben snaps, a little too loudly. Our table falls silent. “I’ve been faithful my whole life and he betrayed me.”
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
This Christmas Eve, I took my sister Jillian to church for the first time in six years. I nearly cried when our friend Dan said, “Please tell BOTH of your lovely moms Merry Christmas for me.” Jillian had smiled, big. Maybe the congregation was changing. Maybe things could be different for her. Still, our newfound hope could not immediately erase our long-held fear. As we were getting ready to sing, she looked frantically up and down our row to see how everyone else already knew the words. Seeing the blue books in their hands, she reached for a Bible and started flipping the pages, when her boyfriend stopped her and said “No, no, here, you need a Hymnal.” By then I was already handing her one, having practically leapt across a row to grab the nearest copy; a guttural reaction to the look I saw in her eyes that I’d felt so many times in my own. The look of not knowing, of feeling lost. The look of thinking you’re an impostor, that any misstep could give you away. The fear that if anyone knew your whole story, they’d think you didn’t belong. The fear that you’ll never feel like you do.
Thy kingdom come, thou will be done, on Earth, as it is in Heaven.
September. Tuesday. 8:30 am. A 6’4 Texas cowboy in a lab coat stumbles into our chemistry section a few minutes late and sits down next to me. “Hi, I’m Triple! Like three.” Three weeks later, we talked about the transition to college and I laughed as I told him how I had a bizarre desire to go to church because of how much I missed Kentucky. “You should come to mine! And I lead a Bible Study on campus that meets tonight. We’d absolutely love to have you.” I sat for a few seconds, startled into silence. Stanford has a Bible Study? I have friends in California who go to church? It sounds silly, I know, but as my school had just been labeled the most LGBT friendly in the country, it had never occurred to me we could also have an active campus ministry. Does Triple know that I don’t actually have a church in Kentucky to miss? That I’d been to exactly one Bible Study in 18 years, and there I heard a girl explain that she “wouldn’t judge gay people on Earth, because God will punish them in Hell?” Could he possibly understand how I’ve never walked into a church without fear? He couldn’t. Not yet. But I trusted him. And when I raised my eyes back up to his, I wasn’t afraid. “We’d absolutely love to have you.” “I think I might love that, too. More than you know.”
Give us this day, and our daily bread, and forgive us of our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
I think my moms feel betrayed, too, but not by God. By the people who use His name to justify their hatred. By their own friends who say they would openly support gay marriage, but they don’t want to upset anyone at their church. By a country that believes only some deserve liberty and justice for all. They were both raised in conservative Christian homes, but left the church as adults because they didn’t feel they would ever be accepted for who they were. Accepted by God, yes, just not by some of the people who claim to follow him. They’ve adopted Ben as the son they never had: he visited us in Kentucky this summer after an extremely difficult time coming out to his own parents. He nearly came back with me for this Holiday Break too, because up until two days before finals, he didn’t feel comfortable going home. My family and closest friends have all been supportive, but Nick has been the most understanding of me rejoining the church in college. I think part of that’s because — for both of us — our religion or lack thereof is now a choice. He doesn’t go to church, but he could if he wanted to without a second thought. For the first time in my life, my church is explicitly accepting enough that I can go without feeling like I have to choose between a relationship with God and loyalty to my family. My sisters and my parents — let alone some of my gay friends in rural Kentucky — do not always have that luxury. Every time Ben goes to synagogue, he puts on a mask to hide part of who he is and prays no one sees through it. I do choose to go to church here, but as exactly who I am. It’s hard to understand a choice you can’t make.
And lead us not into temptation.
I open the door slowly to a circle of strangers, not sure I’m in the right place until I see Triple on the other side. “Kinsey! I’m so glad you made it!” I’m still nervous, joining halfway through the quarter, and suddenly realizing just how little I actually know from the Bible — Peter and Paul were different people right? But I begin to understand that while Triple is exceptional, his kindness is the rule here. To my shock, everyone else seems just as happy to see me as he is. We pass around Orange Peach Mango Juice, laugh that this is the first time Triple and I have seen each other without lab goggles on, and laugh harder when one of the boys suggests that since Jesus was God’s only son, we’re all technically “Sisters in Christ.” And already, it does somehow feel a little bit like a family. I sit back and swallow hard, thinking I would have loved this. I suddenly feel robbed, angry and sad that while everyone else in the room got to grow up in this kind of community, my family never felt welcomed in one. We are reading the story of the blind man, where Jesus’ disciples ask him who has sinned to cause the man’s suffering. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that one day the works of God might be displayed in him.”
But deliver us from evil.
The church I love at it’s best has deeply wounded me at it’s worst, and maybe that’s the very reason I’m now called to it. I have learned immense empathy from my parents, and that is what I take into church now instead of fear. My years of pain in the darkness could help me show others the light: God’s unconditional love that celebrates the value and strength of every single one of His children. A love that transcends all hatred. A love that makes no exceptions. A love where everyone belongs. Finally, I know that I do.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Whether or not you believe being gay is a sin, I implore you to accept that it is not a choice. It is not a choice to be gay, and it is not a choice to love someone who is. We must strive not only to tolerate differences, but to openly and explicitly celebrate them: it’s not that Triple was the first Christian who’d been kind to me, not at all. In fact, nearly all that I’d met had been. And yet with nearly every one until him, I was still afraid, because I feared their kindness was conditional. If any one of those Christians had openly affirmed that they believed gay people were equal in the eyes of God and the law, I might have started feeling safe in the church more than a decade ago. For every person you try to spread God’s word to who doesn’t want to hear it, there are a hundred who already want to listen, who you might be refusing to see. Look for them. Find them. See them. Until you do, you are both lost. How sweet it is to be found.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch, like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”