In Southeast Asia, if you’ve been examining a vendor’s wares, then turn away, most sellers will quickly pull out another item in a similar style or color and say, “Look! Same Same But Different.” This is such a familiar come-on that folks in those countries also sell a t-shirt with the words “Same Same” on the front and “But Different” on the back.
I was raised in a church that has a lot in common with the PC(USA), a church in the Reformed tradition—Same Same. My parents were missionaries in the Navajo Nation, and my father groomed me to follow in his footsteps. I loved my church, although not uncritically, and I fully hoped that one day I would receive a call from God—not to be a minister, because as a woman that wouldn’t be allowed, but to be someone who served in God’s kingdom.
What God called me to be was a lesbian, but by the time I was sixteen, I knew that there was no place for me in the church I loved. I spent almost the next forty years wandering in a spiritual wilderness. A rabbi friend of mine taught during a Seder, “When the people of Israel left The Narrows (Egypt), they entered the wide-open place, the wilderness. The wilderness belongs to no one; hence, it belongs to everyone. This signifies to us that spiritual teachings are for everyone. No one group can lay claim to any one teaching.” For me, wandering in a spiritual wilderness meant being taught by many traditions—among them Judaism, Tantric meditation, Buddhism and also Christianity, though not within the Church.
All that time, I kept trying to find a spiritual home. I finally realized that I was looking for a place that was “Same Same But Different.” I was looking for a place where the form was similar to what I grew up with—a liturgical service, some familiar hymns, and similar church government—but where the spirit was different. Most of all, I was looking for a Christian community that welcomed me as I am—a lesbian committed to social justice, who no longer believed everything that I had been taught was a requirement for being a Christian. On my first Sunday at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, the outreach elder said, “We welcome you wherever you are in your faith journey,” bringing on the first of many tears of reconciliation that I would shed.
I was looking for a community where I could fellowship and serve God in the world. I was heartened that the PC(USA) had by that time allowed LGBTQ ministers in committed partnerships to serve. Each time another step has been taken by the PC(USA) toward equality for all Christians, I have rejoiced, not only for myself but for others who, like me have been turned away from the community that should have been the safest, the most loving, the most supportive place for us. After all, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all of you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Surely that welcome, that comfort, must also come from Jesus’ church.
Now the PC(USA) is on the brink of another decision—whether or not to welcome us LGBTQ Christians fully by describing marriage as “between two persons.” At this time in my life, I don’t think it is likely that I will marry, but I see an inclusive description of marriage as essential to full membership for LGBTQ persons within the Body of Christ.
I have shared a little of the story of my journey to a place that is “Same Same But Different” for two reasons: 1) because I am a new member of the MLP blogging team and wanted you to get to know me a bit; and 2) more importantly, I believe that our stories are powerful, that they help to change people’s minds and hearts. In future posts, I plan to share other peoples’ stories—LGBTQ Christians in the Church; ones who have left church, whether with satisfaction or still longing for home; Christian allies; “straight” Christians struggling with whether or not they can be allies—to name a few.
We all have stories to share—that is our richness. Do you have a story you’d like to share? If so, please do leave a comment, sharing your story right here and now, or leave me a message, and I will contact you. I can also be reached through my website: http://www.annaredsand.com
Anna Redsand was raised in the Navajo Nation by missionaries in the Reformed tradition. She left that church at 25 because of its policy regarding LGBTQ Christians. She spent nearly 40 years learning from other spiritual traditions and also Christianity. She joined St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque three years ago. Anna is the author of Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living and The Silver Cup: My Journey from Loss of Faith, Through Exile and Beyond, which will be released in Spring 2015. Her daughter lives in Denver.