When I was thirteen, I got Saved at Jesus Camp.
I had gone to the camp because my best friend, Rachel, told me there were cute boys there. When I got there, I never found the cute boys. In fact, the complications of boys and friends and being thirteen are what put me in the perfect position to be discovered by Jacqui, the short, curly haired counselor, ready to show me the emptiness in my life and lead me to Jesus. Jesus. Perfect. Christianity. Perfect. And Jacqui was kind of cute.
My parents’ picked me up Saturday and I read my bible the whole way home. The bible that my dad had found for me on the shelf when we read it was a requirement for the camp. It said, “To Ray, on your birthday, from your father.” It had never been opened. Except to read that little note on a December day in 1986.
Now it was highlighted, underlined, and post-its stuck out the side. When I decide to do something, I do it. Especially when that something is Getting Saved.
I came home from that camp and spent the next five years living my life for Jesus. I learned how to play the guitar. I read the bible cover to cover a few times a year. I preferred books that had been translated from German. After high school, I joined a evangelic missionary program. I packed my guitar, bible, and a backpack and left Boston for Nashville.
As a missionary, I went to India, Thailand and Malaysia. We visited orphanages, schools, hospitals, and slums. We told anyone who would listen about Jesus, gave them bibles and set them up with churches there. I smuggled bibles through customs. I encouraged people to leave their families for Christianity. And they did.
Eventually, my missionary work was over and it was time for college. After a short stint at a Bible College in the Northeast, I ended up back in Nashville, studying Theology. While writing at a local coffee shop between classes, I started meeting people. People who soon became friends. People who challenged me in a new way. One of my closest friends was a Pakistani Muslim who smoked. He was also a democrat. And a writer. His name was Masood. Suddenly I found myself questioning. Wondering. And there was one question that was becoming harder to answer. One that I was being asked more frequently. One I had heard before but never answered with more than just a simple no. Because that was my truth. Was I gay? No. I wasn’t. Was I starting to fall apart? Yes. A little bit. I began wondering if the complication in my life wasn’t really complication at all, it was just this big exhaustingly wonderful fight against who I really was. That perhaps it was time to just let that go, and find myself. Whatever that might mean.
It was a process. A complicated process. One night I dreamt about my friend Katelyn. We were at a party and I introduced her as my girlfriend. I woke up. In a panic. Not a panic to defend myself. But a panicked realization that though Katelyn was not actually my girlfriend, I am definitely gay.
If I accepted who I am, I had to deny who I had become. There was no way to be gay and born again. It didn’t work. It couldn’t work. I would need too much of a defense. And what would I do? Convince the entire evangelical church that they were wrong? They are, but who I am to be listened to? And they certainly wouldn’t hear it from a woman. A gay woman.
I had friends. Lots of them. Christian friends. From my church, from my missionary group, from my Theology major. I was the Encourager. I was the first one there, on the phone, or on their doorstep with music or to lead them in prayer. If I accepted that I am gay, I had to not only walk away from all of that, but I would also have that door slammed in my face.
I was right. I eventually came out in 1999. I was kicked out of my church. I was the youngest member of the church. The first woman to ever preach in the church’s history (when I was only 17). I was a Sunday School teacher, Bible Study leader, and a leader in the youth group. And they wanted me out.
One of the elders told me he wouldn’t even share a meal with me until I admitted that I was living in sin.
He wouldn’t even break bread with me.
Here’s what I know. I know it’s about so much more than just a chicken sandwich.
It’s about who is welcome at the table.