I remember when I was twenty or twenty-one years old I returned to church and gave a talk during a retreat about my experience as a twenty-something living a spiritual lifestyle. I wanted to send a message to these high school students that being “different” is okay – that believing in angels and saints, the rosary, the healing power of prayer, community – that those beliefs and my unyielding faith had guided me through some dark times. It may not be the “cool” thing to do in high school, but none of us are immune to struggles. That laying the foundation down now for a spiritual life would guide them farther than any drug or drink ever could. I remember I told them that I prayed while I went grocery shopping. Bagging apples (“Dear God, please, please, please help me through this situation…”), choosing a box of granola (“I’m really struggling right now and if you could just send me a sign…”), and waiting in the check-out line (“I just need to know that I’m on the right path…”). I remember I held up my bible – hot pink and covered in music and surf stickers – and told everyone that others had chastised me for defacing it; but it wasn’t ‘their’ bible. It was mine. And I wrapped up by telling those impressionable teenagers to deface their own bible. Draw in the margins. Highlight passages. Color on the cover. Pose questions. Write your opinions. You know why? Because the whole point is that being different is okay. And all we ever need to get us through is something to believe in.
I always wondered what it would be like to hear the call of a religious vocation. To hear that unrelenting voice telling you that your call is to dedicate yourself to the church. I never heard it, but I imagine that the voice isn’t all that different from the voice telling you that something isn’t right. That perhaps this body that you were born with, well, maybe it’s not the right one. Maybe the lines got crossed. Maybe God has a greater mission for you. Because God – The Universe, Spirit, God, whatever – really does work in mysterious ways. That it might be hard to see it now, but God’s mission for everyone on this planet is to live their truth. The truth isn’t on the thin, linen pages of a bible. It’s what is written between the lines. It’s when you start listening to the voice. And it’s when you start sharing the message.
I’m grateful for you. I’m grateful because your commitment to the church brought me two of the most caring and kind friends that I could ever hope for, unwavering in their bottomless compassion. I’d be a fool to say that you aren’t a part of my story. All of my beliefs and truths have been somehow shaped by you. This might infuriate you; How can someone who dedicates his life to the youth of the church have helped to create this? I also hope that it causes you to wake the fuck up. This is where our story ends. I wish you the best and hope that one day, you remember the words that I told those kids – that being different is okay. That supporting basic human rights is far greater than any book or religion. That our time here is short. That the messages in our hearts be clear. That we are all in this together.
I recently heard from one of those kids that I spoke to almost ten years ago. She told me that she still had her bible, covered in stickers. She still read it. She still prayed. But she stopped going to church. She said she got tired of hearing about how we should only pray for those who are different, instead of accepting them.
I heard what you were teaching all of those years. But luckily, some people heard me, too.