Published September 15, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
By my late 20s I was dying inside. I had no career, no sense of home. I had groupies from my teaching and activism, my public life, but few people I could actually trust with my heart. Partying offered respite but the emotional and physical hangovers were getting worse. Religion was nowhere on my radar except as a big fat problem for women and queers.
That did not stop God.
For reasons I could not understand, I pulled out my presentation Bible from 3rd grade and put it on my nightstand. I went to the Catholic supply store to buy saint figurines, prayer cards, and pendants. I got on my knees and prayed! Prayed to that which I railed against and could not believe in.
My girlfriend at the time was agnostic, but had a rich religious history. Ten years before she’d been, as she described it, born again. She attended a Bible college and “discipled” younger people in her evangelical church. All of which fell apart when she came out.
My best friend was wild about Mary. She had become Roman Catholic in her 30s, in spite of her childhood as a “scientific atheist,” her feminism, and her lesbianism.
But I couldn’t talk to either of them about what was happening to me. I was scared and the words would not come.
So I started religion-shopping, alone. I attended unprogrammed Quaker meetings and wept. I read a lot of Thich Nhat Hahn. I helped to found an “emerging church” space funded by Lutherans but without any Christian messaging.
Finally, I started to come out. I came out as having a call to parish ministry. I came out as a Christian. It was infinitely harder than coming out as gay.
But, more than a dozen years later, here is what faith has done for me:
- Freed me to be foolish.
- Given me access to a tremendous collection of poetry and prose and thinking about that poetry and prose.
- Let me talk publicly and insistently about love all the time.
- Provided me with a sustainable venue for my work around justice.
My life has not been all rainbows and unicorns since coming out as a person of faith through the Christian tradition. In fact, my faith has put me in very challenging situations, personally and professionally.
But because I can now be foolish, I do not have to be perfect.
Because I have the Bible, I have an astute reflection of human behavior as well as hope to turn to when I am discouraged.
Because congregations hire me to talk about love, I can insist that love be the foundation of relationships, personally and professionally.
Because my sustainability in justice work is no longer contingent on an ego inflated by others or clever sociological or political arguments, I am resilient in the face of the world’s despair.
God, as a noun or a verb, is a mystery. Faith in that mystery has saved my life.