Tuesday, December 30, 2008

a straight girl's closet diary

When I was twenty-three, young, angry, and ready unleash my venom onto the world, I packed my car full of all my earthly posessions and drove it from Oklahoma to Boston to start a new life and find adventure. At that point in my life, I had way more spiritual doubts and questions than I had answers. I decided though, that I would give God a second chance and that we would start fresh in our relationship without any baggage. So when I got to Boston, I randomly visited churches near where I lived, which at the time happened to be Central Square in Cambridge. I didn't pay attention to denomination, other than to make sure that they were not Southern Baptist, because I was still so angry at the whole Southern Baptist culture that I wanted nothing to do with it. However, living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it was astoundingly easy to find a church that met my criteria.

So one Sunday, I walked into First Church UCC in Harvard Square. From the moment I entered, I felt at home. They read more scripture during the service than any church I had previously been. The choir sounded like it could have been at my Southern Baptist church growing up and we sang the same hymns and prayed the same type of prayers. I think I came back for only a few Sundays until they announced who they were going to call as a pastor. The pastoral search committee had finally found a pastor and "her name was Mary." I was delighted at this news because I still hadn't actually heard a woman preach and I wanted to believe that God could use women too. I knew I had found the right church - until the speaker continued that Mary and "her partner Ann" would be coming soon to be voted on.

At this point in my life, I had never earnestly thought about homosexuality. Okay, so in college, when I got really mad at the Southern Baptists and decided to become a full fledged Democrat, I might have supported gay rights just to play devil's advocate. But I hadn't actually known a real live gay person, at least not one who was out. And I knew that this was the sort of thing that would make everyone from my Southern Baptist college think I was going to Hell (a place I also doubted). I knew my parents would never approve - so I just didn't tell them. However, this was a decision I had to make not on other people's opinions, but what I earnestly believed. I searched my heart for a prejudice I could not find.

Instead, I felt that a part of me understood what gay people go through. I remembered what it was like when my parents got upset that I wasn't sure I believed in God anymore my senior year of college. And I realized then that my worst fears hadn't been what God would do to me, but what they would think and the separation that would come in a relationship with them if I didn't share the same cultural context. I cannot think of anything more normal or human than to struggle to be yourself against what the world tells you that you should be. I cannot think of anything more Christ like than succeeding. I felt that the Jesus I knew would accept everyone for who they are and have them over for dinner. I could not then and I cannot answer today what changes Jesus might make in someone else's life, but I know that it always begins with acceptance for who you are as a whole person. I also felt convicted that if God made someone a certain way, He wouldn't turn around and limit what they could do, but want them to serve Him fully in their wholeness. So I found a home and I joined that church.

If you want to know how I got this title, it's because I realize that there are many closets, boxes, and chains on most people's identities. I'll confess to you that I briefly wondered if I was a lesbian for awhile when I was younger and it's because I felt different from everyone and didn't know where my place was. To be a lesbian, you have to actually find women attractive in a certain way that I do not. But to be a human being, you just have to struggle with feeling different and not knowing where your place is. Even when I was a little girl, I used to lie awake in bed at night and wonder "if my parents were as devout of Hindus as they are Southern Baptists and the missionaries came to visit me and then I wanted to believe in Jesus instead, what would it be like to have to tell them?" And then I would ask God if He were really there or if I only believed in Him because my parents told me He was there. Then, I would try really, really hard to imagine that I was alone in the universe and that God wasn't there. I couldn't do it as a child and I couldn't do it as a twenty-two year old agnostic wannabe.

Perhaps I should conclude this entry with one more tidbit. When I was seventeen years old and a high school senior and I wanted to know what to do with my life, ever so certain God would have an opinion, I remember getting a call one Sunday morning in a Southern Baptist church. I felt like God wanted me to be a pastor. I will never forget what I said back. I said, "I can't do that because I'm a girl and girls can't do that." I had never heard a woman preach before. It was so far outside my cultural context, I didn't even know who to talk to about it because I didn't think any pastor or youth minister or even my parents would believe me. So I settled for the things I was taught women could do and kept trying to find my closet.

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