If you asked middle-school Rika what her greatest dreams were, she’d probably tell you that she wanted to be a wife and a mother because the patriarchy. BUT – if you asked her deep down what her greatest dreams were, she would hesitantly tell you that she had always wanted to be a singer. Yes, I would say this but then just brush it off like it was no big deal because my voice was the worst. That being said, I would also run home after school every afternoon so I could secretly practice singing in my room. I would sit in front of my computer with my favorite songs on, and force my vocal chords to do what I wanted them to do. And somehow, after those two years of personal voice lessons I gave myself in middle school, I guess I have a decent voice? Either that or people have been incredibly kind in letting me sing publicly for the past seven years (if the latter is the case, continue to let me live in delusion please).
I was a junior in high school when I first started leading a worship band. I LOVED it. For me, it was the most personal and accessible way for me to experience God. Throughout my faith life, He had always been this far-off being in the sky that I could somewhat imagine when I read Scripture, but still felt like a storybook character. God was like a place you had always heard off, but could never picture with your eyes. When I started working in the worship band, the lyrics and music suddenly moved my heart and spirit. Learning new melodies and worshiping alongside my friends became the space where I could hear God – where I could feel Him.
Worship leading became one of my favorite things. I loved being part of something that helped other people access and experience God. I know I’m not the only one to find these spaces sacred, so to give that to other people gave me so much joy and purpose. Soon, I was doing this on mission trips, on Sunday mornings, in youth group – and I grew as a musician and as a believer. Even in seasons of doubt and pain, even when I wasn’t sure if who I was singing to existed, those places were safe and beautiful.
After coming out, I felt like those places had been stolen from me. I remember sitting in church one morning and trying to smile back as another member just glared at me from across the sanctuary. I didn’t belong there anymore. I couldn’t sit in a sanctuary as those on stage sang “Come As You Are” in public, while continuing to condemn me in private. That worship space was no longer safe, no longer sacred. I was hiding in that place, hoping to avoid those who were angry and disgusted with me. Now, I have to make clear that while there was a group of people who made me feel unsafe, there were also people who longed for me to stay – even my pastor being one of those people. But for many of you who know this story on a personal level, or if you have ever been the outsider, you know it only takes a few to make these spaces unsafe. And since some of these people were leaders, it became too much for me to stay. It was emotionally exhausting to come to church. I felt alone and unwanted whenever I walked into the sanctuary. The same people who had taught me my faith were teaching me to hate myself. I couldn’t experience God in that place anymore. He seemed far and distant and even if I could find Him, I was sure He wanted nothing to do with me.
We (my wife and I) knew in coming out that we would lose a lot – but I didn’t think about what it would be like to lose worship. To lose the spaces that kept me calm when I was doubtful or assured when I was afraid. I lost those songs that meant so much to me. I lost the corporate worship that would energize and feed me throughout the week. It wasn’t until musical worship was inaccessible that I realized how important it had been in my faith life.
A few months after we left our church, we tried out other places in hopes of finding a new church home. But every time we got to the musical worship part of the service, I would break down. It was so painful to be in that place and hear the songs that reminded me of what I used to have.
It wasn’t until this past weekend, at the TRP cohort, that I could be in that space again. Fully engaged and fully loved. There is something about being in a room with 40 queer people, loudly singing and expressing their desire to be near their Creator. I can guarantee you that if you ever enter into a space like that, you will feel the longing in your bones. Because for these people, they have all been told they don’t belong there. They have been told they cannot draw near to their God. They have been told they must repent before they can enter the sanctuary. Like me, their refuge was stolen from them and they lost something. But this weekend, we sang and we cried and we worshipped. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t crying out of anger or sorrow. You can be sure there were tears, but tears of joy and gratitude.
Now, this weekend does not mean that I am back on the Christian music train. I probably won’t attend a Christian music concert anytime soon or turn on top 40 worship songs in my car. There is still SO much baggage there and to be honest – I have lots of feelings about the Christian music industry. However, I can sing again. I can sing and worship and play on the days that I am mourning that loss and on the days where I am celebrating being loved by my Creator. Both days are still good days to me, and they are precious and valid.
Posted with permission. Original found here.