The act of laying hands to pray over me became a form of violence I could no longer endure.
Around 16 or 17 I officially came out to the Church I was attending at the time. The pastor, youth ministers, and the woman (who I will refer to as Sara) who oversaw the Children’s Ministry, said I needed prayer.
They led me to believe that I should feel ashamed of the fact that I was attracted to other boys. That somehow my gayness meant I was shying away from my faith. While I have blocked out most of what was said to me from my memory, I’ll never forget what Sara said to me.
“I just want to swaddle you,” she said as she stood over me as tears were rolling down my face. I was young, confused, and felt overwhelmed by all of the messages they were spewing my way. They threw scriptures my way like bullets, with each piercing away at my self-acceptance and love for myself.
For those of you who don’t know what swaddle means, here’s a definition: an age-old practice of wrapping infants in blankets or similar cloth so that movement of the limbs is tightly restricted.
At the time, the Church kept wrapping me up in blankets of prayer that aimed to restrict my spiritual self. I felt trapped and unable to move in my faith. I even attempted to pray the gay away but obviously that was merely a reaction to the spiritual trauma I was coping with.
So I left the Church and swore that I would never return. In the midst of my justifiable rage, I stopped praying. After spending years of my life devoted to the Church’s teachings, (I even taught Sunday school for the pre-school kids at the Church I grew up at), the greatest lesson I ever learned from the Church was that those who stood at the pulpit and those who claimed to be people of Christ, were merely humans grappling with their own darkness.
Now at 23, I have finally devoted myself to going on a quest for spiritual freedom. I have forgiven Sara, the pastors, and the members of the Church who turned their backs on me, although their teachings told me that their “God” never would. During those dark days, my faith wandered because I was suffering from abandonment. The people, a place that once served as refuge, tossed me aside because I refused to change who I knew myself to be.
Many people now assume that I do not believe in “God”, and in some ways they are correct. I don’t believe in the socially constructed version of “God” that aims to enhance the white heteronormative version of what it means to have a relationship with the Divine. I do not associate myself with any organized religions of any kind; studies show that many people in my generation no longer associate themselves.
Even more importantly, I do not believe in the Bible. Although I am a fan of aspects of the bible, you know, the parts that tell you that “thou shall not kill; thou shall not lie; love thy neighbor; honor thy parents…” like any book meant to provide guidance, I dismiss the parts that do not align with my spiritual beliefs.
My definition of god (or as I prefer to call it, the Universe): a higher power, a force beyond time and space that created all beings with unconditional love.
My definition of spirituality: a way of existing in life that allows you to explore every once of your light and your darkness, a moral compass that you use as a means of finding direction in order to serve your calling(s).
My definition of faith: a trust that is not blind but intentional; trusting that the Universe will continue to align your path as it is meant to unfold, knowing that every step and misstep serves a greater purpose.
Today on Super Soul Sunday, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor said, “Spirituality is an individual process…” and in a different segment she went on to say, “Probe the shadows of our lives and embrace the darkness.”
More than ever before, as I prepare to finish undergrad, I am leaning on my faith because the unknown makes me afraid. Where will I end up after college? Will I land that full time job? Am I even worthy of the degree? All of these questions cross my mind and make me question my calling. Rev. Brown Taylor Brown encourages us to embrace the darkness, and then I had the biggest “aha” moment of the day.
In my TEDx Talk, Embracing Yourself, Embracing Your Potential, I said that embracing yourself is the act of learning to love every ounce of your darkness; recognizing your flaws while appreciating your strengths and all of your beauty; and granting yourself permission to be seen as you are.
I have neglected my spiritual self so much so that I avoid talking about it in public. I sometimes get a lot of anxiety around this topic of discussion due to my past experiences with the Church and those who claimed to be people of god. Hence why I refer to my god as the Universe. I am no longer going to shy away from the darkness that surrounds my spiritual beliefs; I’m going to embrace it.
My spiritual wellbeing depends on it. I cannot be a man of faith and a man who fears the dark. So while my spirituality is constantly evolving, I just wanted to explain why I left the church and define my own spirituality.