By: Ráchel Herbert
I love Jesus and I cuss—a whole lot. Normally this is only when faced with the frustrations of work, racist people, or when dealing with the “blessed saints” on Rt 75 who drive like they are Stevie Wonder with the power of a mustang under their foot. In my past, I would have felt supremely guilty for cursing at all, moreover the frequency and vehemence with which I do it now. However, my ability to accept some of the rougher parts of me while still feeling like I am a passible Christian is a fairly new development.
I was raised in an immigrant home with old school Caribbean parents. We only listened to CCM music (think Integrity in the 80’s or LarnelleHarris), thought that the sun rose and set on anyone in the media who claimed to be Christian, had family devotion time every Saturday morning, and boys of course, were verboten. We watched Superbook, Psalty, and the Doughnut Man. You had to believe everything the pastor said, and if you read the Bible and prayed enough, then you would always be alright.
I believed it too. Lock, stock, and barrel until – things weren’t alright. Times would get desperate, and when there was a word of prophesy from the pulpit, it was always for a friend of the pastor. I started to think that God only cared about the important people, but not my family who was often in desperate need of a direct word of hope.
Still, this was all I knew, so I persisted. Youth group, Autumn Blaze, and retreats filled my middle and high school years. And while I treasured these times, the friendships that they cultivated, and the community, the dissonant chords started to become louder as the beliefs that being in this culture required became harder to espouse.
I started having gay friends – and miraculously didn’t become gay myself. I saw girls who got pregnant and got abortions because they couldn’t take care of the baby. They later went on to do things with their lives that would have never happened if they had that child as a child themselves. In college, I met my first transgender person, and surprise of all surprises, they weren’t they horror show I was promised. I started to have intimate friendships with people who were of a different faith or of no faith at all. They were regular people with all the goodness and the evil inside anyone else that I’d met.
I can’t pretend that I understood where everyone was coming from, but the thing that stuck out to me were that they were just people. No better or worse than I was. Did God automatically hate them, but love me because I was born heterosexual, cisgender, and miraculously never dealt with pregnancy? Was I better than they because I was part of the “everyone is going to hell but we” crowd?
In the last year of my 20s I moved to Texas. This move is the most blatant act of God in my life that I have ever seen. My family had been begging me to leave my NJ home, and move to Dallas for 10 years. By this time, I was basically ambivalent towards church and God knew that I would have to basically die before I left my home. So, the bottom fell out. My long-term, emotionally abusive relationship went down in flames and as a result, I seriously contemplated suicide. I developed self-destructive sexual behaviors, and didn’t eat for months. Anxiety became part of the mix, and panic attacks ensued over a job that required I work 70 hrs a week just to stay afloat. I had a cancer scare, and discovered PCOS had developed. It got so bad that I stopped having my cycle for months toonly then bleed for an entire month straight. I thought that I was being punished for my many transgressions and not being as faithful and pure as I should have been.
Then, my father got sick. At one point, we thought we were going to lose him. I finally said that I could not forgive myself if he died and I wasn’t there to say goodbye – so I quit. I packed my bags and finally moved 1,600 miles away from the only home I ever wanted.
When I arrived, dad was fine, but my body promptly fell apart. While in New Jersey, I had developed an eating disorder which caused me to gain over 100 lbs and combined with the stress that I had recently gone through, my body couldn’t take it. Upper respiratory infection, ear infection, pink eye (of all things!) and rhabdomyolysis ravaged my body. I eventually got better, then tried to find a job, but couldn’t. The 11 subsequent months of unemployment caused my savings to go down to nothing, but gave me the time to rest that I needed. In that quiet, God was able to get my attention long enough to speak to me. Not often and certainly not with an audible voice, but answers in my heart started to emerge to daily life questions.
This would become important because that tug in my heart refused to let me stay in most churches. I’m in THE Bible belt y’all, and the push to live a Stepford life is strong down here. Believe this way, sing this song, read this book. Check these boxes and you know you’re doing it right. However, the truths that my heart started to know and what was taught in most churches didn’t mesh. It was so bad that even my place as a woman in this world was challenged. Now, my highest calling in life would be to get married and have children. I couldn’t do this. I started to believe that I couldn’t remain a Christian if common sense, free thinking, a love for all people, and just being real could not be part of the equation.
One day I was on Facebook and saw an ad for a minister of music position at a local UCC church. I had never heard of the denomination, so I looked them up. I went to their website and saw a picture of the front of the building where a banner was hung.
I read it and got the shock of my life. Love is love…women’s rights are human rights…Black lives matter, God is still speaking—WAIT—WHAT?!? It’s like everything that caused me to feel out of place was openly celebrated in this space. Intrigued, I decided to go that next Sunday.
I walked in and was taken aback. I have historically attended what would be considered mega churches, but this congregation was small. No more than 20 people.
The service was also something that I was not expecting. From hymns out of an actual hymnal played on pipe organ, to interlude music that sounded like it came straight out of a world music festival, to a sermon focused on making sure that EVERYONE regardless of age, gender identity or sexual orientation, family structure, or level of faith knew that they were welcome. I was taken aback. Where had I landed?
The differences didn’t end there. Announcements after service that the Faith in Texas group was meeting with spiritual leaders from other religions floored me. Discussing if we should make our sanctuary a refuge for at risk immigrants was mind blowing. The focus on social justice in every homily, and the fact that the Bible is taken seriously while not necessarily literally (think Jonah actually being swallowed by a whale and then vomited up – shaken but unharmed) was all new.
I walked in that door 2 years ago and never looked back. I can’t say that I still don’t get rattled every so often by the different perspective I end up hearing in the sermon, but I see the heart of God in those people for allpeople. I also don’t know if this will be my permanent church home, but at home I have felt. Welcomed and allowed to be me.
I love Jesus and I cuss…a lot. I have found that my faith, although still in chrysalis phase, is becoming, developing, growing, into a lifestyle that I can commit to. No boxes to check, no set way of being, no need to hide when I question.
It’s scary because I’m walking away from the only real way of believing that I’ve ever known and my perfectionist side has spasms about the very idea of not having strict guidelines to measure myself against. However, I’m finally confident in knowing that God is big enough to handle my roundabout journey since He promised that as long as I was seeking Him, I would find him. And that promise is good enough for me.