The first week after returning from GCN conference is usually the hardest for me. It always seems to take me at least that long to settle back into the movement of the real world, one in which I'm not surrounded by a gaggle of gays who share my affinity for argyle sweaters and Jesus. This year was different though. My love for and faith in the latter (Jesus) has changed and shifted dramatically since the last time I attended conference in 2011. Since then, I've lost the most influential person in my life, taken more arduous seminary courses that forced me to ask questions many of my friends would never think to ask, and gotten married. In short, I came to a conference a different man, and those differences were irrefutable at times throughout the weekend.
Saturday morning of the conference, it hit me. This rage that was comparable to Sally Field's highlight moment in Steel Magnolias suddenly surfaced. It was there for many reasons—struggles in my relationship with my mother, difficulty in my relationship with Frankie (normal growing pains as most of my friends have called them), confusion as to my vocation and call to ministry. Mostly it was there because of apathy. Here I stood in this sea of people who all appeared very engaged in worship, whose love for God was palpable, and I didn't feel an ounce of it. I couldn't escape the numerous theological questions that had been running through my mind since I started seminary, maybe even before. I felt that my understanding of God, faith, and church was so incompatible with that of my surroundings that I simply started to shut down.
I walked out of that service right in the middle. A good friend was seated by the door and walked out to the lobby with me (maybe he was already out in the lobby... it's hard to remember the small details like that). I hadn't cried at all that conference, not until then. It hit me, and it hit hard, this emulsion of envy and rage: envy of the faith of my friends, and rage towards the God who seemed okay to let me wrestle in ways unknown by many around me. I have a past, and I can't seem to let it go. I can't seem to forgive myself for my own shortcomings. Even worse, I have a hard time believing that anyone else, much less God, could forgive me of this past. I know from experience this is a common struggle for many Christ-followers, so I do have some solace knowing I'm not alone. Even in that moment, in that lobby, I was not alone.
Still, I was angry. I was envious. In that lobby, I leaned into my friend for an embrace, but this was different for me. While he wrapped his arms around me, for the first time ever I think, I could not return the gesture. Instead, my arms were straight at my side, fists clenched, body shaking. I was holding back the fury building within me, scared that if I let the door open even remotely, there would be no stopping me. In a similar Steel Magnolias fashion, he offered to let me hit him, to unleash my pain outwardly on him, and while I appreciated the gesture, I wouldn't do it. When you grow up in a family where physical abuse is commonplace like I did, you take no pleasure in releasing it upon anyone else, especially anyone for whom you care deeply.
I'm jealous of people for whom faith seems to come easily. It frustrates me when I feel alone in certain faith-related questions, something that happens often in my life. As a formerly-Southern-Baptist-turned-Methodist-now-Churchless-seminarian-married-to-a-pagan gay man (try saying that ten times fast), my theological framework is anything but simple. Most days, I even confuse myself (ask my husband, it's quite amusing to see it in action). So times like those shared during worship at conference are hard for me. While others are able to sing the songs and hymns with passion and vigor, I get hung up on nearly every line, questioning its superficial and subliminal theology. I'm frustrated by the overuse of masculine or patriarchal language. I'm flustered when any component of worship appears half-assed (a former mentor always said worship should be done with as much excellence as we can muster). So yeah, to anyone whose week revolves around going to church, I envy you. I miss the days when I could just go to church, days that are long gone for me.
Since I started my internship with the Marin Foundation this year, I've found much camaraderie with others who share in my wrestling, both straight and gay alike. Queer people often share similar questions of faith, most of which stem from our shared orientations. Was I born gay? Did God make me this way? If so, why does Scripture seem to speak against homosexuality? Does God really love me? Does God hate me, despise me, abhor me? Did Jesus know what it feels like to be attracted to the same sex? Did he experience between his anatomical sex and his internal gender identity? Does he really get me? Was his experience of ostracism really comparable to my own? Is there any place I really belong? The questions keep coming, and sometimes, they do so without answers.
When we face those situations, it's easy to grow weary, to give up, to succumb to spiritual darkness, malnutrition, and desolation. If you're in a similar place to me, you're not alone. Personally, I don't know what direction in which my faith is headed. I don't know what will become of my beliefs. But I know that I walk this journey with countless others, and in that fact alone I find solace. At any given moment, there are others who live in the tension alongside me, who share my affinity for questions, for doubt, for wrestling. Hopefully you will also find safe haven in this knowledge.
Keep fighting. Keep questioning. Embrace your rage and envy. Wrestle with God until, like Jacob, you find and receive your blessing. Find peace. Rest. Know you are not alone. You are loved. Always.