Church camp when I was a kid was a place where everyone ran wild. "Safe" in the circlet of forest, our cabins mapped out in alphabetical groups, dirt paths between, our parents let all the kids run wild. They didn't know where we were or who we were with.
The problem was, I wasn't free there. I was haunted there. One person made the grounds a maze of bad memories and new tragedies. Unlimited access in a place where no one heard a little girl saying no, no one heard a little girl crying silent and flying out of body into thin air to escape.
Church camp for my kids will be different, so I say through gritted teeth and tension and anxiety. I watch them like hawks, send them everywhere with a "buddy", panic if someone is left behind. No one goes unaccounted for in a family already touched by the secret sins of a "safe Christian". Church camp feels about as safe to me as an obstacle course in an Indiana Jones movie. Only the treasure I'm trying to get through whole has 8 arms and 8 legs and it is 4 children who are too heavy for me to carry and too fast for me to keep up with and too excited about everything I'm terrified of.
The pastor smiles from the campsite across from ours, but all I see is the smile on another pastor's face smiling as he tells me what a hopelessly horrible person I am. I see the smile on another pastor's face when he taught that adultery was wrong while children were being turned into sexual toys under his very nose. I remember sweating under the heat of his thundering voice as he proclaimed homosexuality the most disgusting sin of all.
What if you were made that way by someone else? What if it wasn't your fault? What if you hated it just as much as the rest of the church? It was easy to hate it, and by extension, easy to hate yourself, so much that you thought the world was better off without you. Understanding our sin is easy, understanding the penalty is clear. Living with it is impossible.
But grace? Grace is hard. It doesn't fit into the nicely wrapped little boxes the church makes for it. "Believe, and you will be saved." That's what they tell you in the beginning. What they don't tell you is that they - as an extension of their "God" - will try to save you from every last inch of yourself. And while the process of sanctification through Christ is a lovely and holy and beautiful thing that is always consensual and incremental, the church does things a little differently. They tear your clothes from your body - those old clothes that stink of sin. They dance around your nakedness, celebrating as if you were a newborn baby naked in their midst. Never mind your arms crossed and spine bent to hide your shame. After that, they give you new clothes, clothes you might hate, clothes that probably won't fit you right, clothes that bind and pinch and scratch. Maybe clothes that are for the wrong season of your life. But those clothes are the only ones you're allowed to wear in church, so you wear them. You call it "your burden to bear" and smile just like them as if it's a mantle of honor and not a reminder of how the church raped you in order to admit you.
"Believe and you will be saved" is followed up by "and you must give up [fill in the blank with x, y, z]" and you find yourself rather quickly shepharded from a place of "acceptance" as a sinner to a place of shame if you continue to sin. As if sin were as easy to turn off as a water faucet. As if anyone, ever, anywhere, anytime, has EVER been able to turn off sin, defeat it entirely.
One day you wake up and you realize that God doesn't make bad people. God doesn't make mistakes. And if religion couldn't beat it out of you with all their tricks and sticks, is it ever going to go away? You wonder if maybe people are made this way. You wonder if maybe God is more opposed to hatred and violence than people and their "lifestyles". This God, the one who opposes hatred and violence? This God you could believe in.
It's just a whisper of possibility, but you hear it: maybe all this has been a great big Wizard of Oz smoke and mirrors play for power by the church. Maybe they don't have the answers, so they deflect and defend and demoralize. Maybe there is no one answer.
This new thing I'm learning - the dialectic - says I can hold two opposites true at once. I can believe that sexuality can be sinful while on the other hand believing it isn't always sinful. I can believe that God granted me a heterosexual marriage with children and that perhaps that won't be his plan for everyone. Did my marriage "redeem" my lesbian lifestyle of earlier years? Am I a "converted homosexual"?
I don't want to be called that. I am redeemed and converted to the way of love. I have the chance to join Christ in loving every. single. person. I ever meet. I have the chance to be the reflection of Christ's beautiful face of love, his open arms, his embrace, his protection.
Hear this, my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters: I will never try to tell what path God is calling you to walk. I will not show you the sliver in your eye because there will always be a plank in mine. I will not decide what things you do in private are sin. I will encourage you to love, not hate. I will show you love, not hate. I will sing to you: "Love; it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free!" If you have kids, I'll send mine over to play. If you invite me for coffee, I'll come. And I will come quietly and humbly, because all of us are walking through different storms, and all I know for sure is the way to weather mine. I will come hushed to the sacred meeting of souls, for our souls are all naked and all beautiful and all made in the image of God, and souls don't have sexual orientations or baffled bodies or scars or shame. And here - two souls touching each other gently in the ocean of life - we can be free and lovely and grateful and peaceful together.