In many relationships there’s a nice one and a mean (or less nice) one. My wife is definitely the nice one. I’m less nice. I wouldn’t say mean, but well, you know that part in Into the Woods where Meryl Streep is singing that amazing Last Midnight song? She says, “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.” Well that’s kind of how I feel. I’m not overly warm and I have a very low tolerance for stupid. I’m also brutally honest. Don’t ask a question if you don’t want the answer is my motto. My wife hates that motto. But she definitely knew what she was getting into when she married me.
Religion for my wife and I is super complicated. (the above paragraph will make sense shortly, hang in there)
My story- I was raised in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. They don’t like gay people or abortion. I was totally unaware of these beliefs growing up though, and I just thought church in general was boring. I also fought A LOT with my pastor during confirmation classes. As stated above I am honest and cynical. I had a lot of problems with the bible. Seemed to me there were a lot of holes. Like if Adam and Eve were white where the hell did Asians and African American’s come from? Why didn’t the bible mention dinosaurs? Noah’s Ark…for real? What happened to Jesus’ childhood and teenage years? And where were all the freaking women? These were just some of the questions I posed over the years and I was never quite satisfied with the answers I received. There were some things about church I liked. I thought the sense of community it provides is nice for some people. I liked singing hymns. I liked taking time each week to sit and have time to think and I always thought of praying more like meditating. I never listened to sermons and barely paid attention to anything about the service but the lighting, the music, and the symbolism were all comforting in a way. I also love Christmas. The Christmas story was one I never questioned. Well except for the angels in the dream. That was odd to me. I liked the religious overtones to the month of December, it made the holiday feel deeper. I also liked Christmas pageants and the living nativity. There were fun activities for kids during the Christmas season and I have fond memories of those. As I grew up and took religion courses and developed my own sense of self I don’t have animosity toward religion. I just don’t believe that the bible is anything more than an extremely important historical artifact. But I am respectful of those who believe otherwise, and I am not opposed to church in general.
My wife’s story– she was raised fundamentalist Christian. It was stifling for her. She was brainwashed. It took a long time to get over. She lost her entire family over leaving the church and the religion. Needless to say she has strong feelings about religion and church.
Enter the emergency department. We both worked in an emergency department, that’s where we met. I was a nurse. I was taking care of a patient who I will never forget. It was a little girl and she had cancer. She was going to be admitted to the medical floor and I had been taking care of her for several hours. At one point I walked into her room and she was talking with her parents. Her mom and dad were saying, “Yeah, but honey not everyone believes…” they trailed off when they saw me. She looked at them like they were stupid and then she looked at me, and said “Do you believe in God?”
Talk about a punch in the gut. I knew in that moment that my idea of God and her idea of God were very different. I do believe in a higher power and in fate, but the biblical God not so much. But she had cancer and she was so young, and then there was my baseline personality of brutal honesty…it was a tense three seconds in my brain. Her parents and her stared at me expectantly, and I finally said, “Yes, I do.” Even though everything in my being screamed “NOOOOO”.
She then looked at her parents and smiled the smug “I told you so” smile. Then she asked if I would pray with her and her parents for her admission to go well. I dimmed the light, and we all stood there hands clasped while she said a prayer for her admission to go well, for her fever to go away, and for her cancer to go away.
I never told anyone that story because it still unsettles me for many reasons. In that moment I felt surreal. I tell the people I work with “Everybody lies” on the regular. I know because I lied to that little girl. But then when we were praying together it felt like such a moment of connectedness and in my ten years in healthcare no one else ever asked me to pray with them or have a moment like that. It was intimate and that girl didn’t realize the chance she was taking by asking if I believed. Because I could have said No and then missed out on that extraordinary prayer. That was probably eight years ago, and I remember it vividly.
If I asked my wife if she believes in God I think she’d say yes. But it’s such a loaded question for her. And for a lot of lesbians. Because a lot of gay people were raised in conservative churches and for all the reasons I stated church holds a place of warmth and comfort for many people. But for us dykes it also is threatening and a place of discomfort and judgement.
I would never pressure my wife into thinking or believing anything about religion. I would never set an expectation for her to go to church if I decided to bring the boys. But if I decided to go then I would have to find a church that’s welcoming of lesbians, and even if they say it are they really welcoming? Are there actually gay families that go there? It all gets complicated fast. I don’t have the answer for my family right now. For me right now I think the yearly Christmas Eve service after the boys go to bed by myself is all I want to commit to.
For any lesbian or gay person struggling with religion, I’m sorry. It’s not easy. The whole Sodom and Gomorrah story kind of fucked things up for us. But seriously why didn’t the Cain and Abel story make it a little bit worse for people who commit murder? If murder and crime was protested as aggressively as homosexuality maybe our crime rate would go down. That’s the part that gets me. The picking and choosing of the bible stories and lessons. Anyway, I digress.
I don’t regret lying to that girl with cancer. Because seriously who wouldn’t have? I don’t regret the Christmas pageants and the Good Friday services over the years. I’m glad I have a solid understanding of religion. Religion and church can be such a welcoming and safe environment for people. I wish it could be that way for all gay people in all places of worship. We need safe spaces. We need judgement free zones. We need faith in humanity. We need compassion and kindness. Church can provide all of these things. But it depends on the church and it depends on the people there. That’s unfortunate. Maybe some day it will be all churches and all people. But that day is not today.