Growing up, Sunday church was a traumatic weekly ritual. My mother would pack my siblings and I into the family station wagon like sardines, and take us to The House of The Lord. Like magic, pulling into the church parking lot instantly transformed my mother from a woman who was emotionally depleted to an energized soul ready for a “Jesus experience.” As this Pentecostal church began to rev up their otherworldly engines, all chaos would erupt for what felt like an eternity. Music aided the bedlam with harmful theology that sang how sinful and utterly hopeless humans were without the atonement of the blood of Jesus. It seemed to bring unquestioned relief and answers to a complex and wounded world, complete with a golden ticket to heaven.

Congregants would begin to scream, cry, run the aisles, speak in tongues, and get lost in a sphere I could never connect with.

In a recent therapy session I visited an old memory I thought would feel shameful, but as I began to talk about it, I instead experienced liberation. I recalled the stress of extreme emotionalism and the imminent threat of hell, and how this drove me to sneak out of the service every Sunday. My partner-in-crime was a teenage boy.

Our cue was simple – when the congregation’s emotional high on Jesus began a-churnin’, the coast was clear.

With our hearts beating and palms sweating, it was a race against time. As long as we could hear the music we wouldn’t be caught. Making out in church was serious business, and this was especially true as I was indoctrinated by a purity culture that taught me to disconnect from my body and demonize my sexuality.

Now I realize that I was brave.

As a 15-year-old I was courageous to reject harmful theology, explore my sexuality, and not fear the damnation of hell.

Not a single lightening bolt has struck my computer yet, so I’ll continue writing.

I can recall a similar experience of my heart beating and palms sweating years later; it was the first time I kissed a girl.

At 24, I was finally far from the tormented fear of hell in experiencing what I had really longed for, a relationship with a woman.

It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to reject harmful theology and trust that who you are is beautiful.

As an out queer person now, I look back at my teenage self and smile, because I understand that the bravery it took to kiss upstairs in church is the same bravery that’s vital to coming out. I can’t think of anything that would bring me closer to the gospel of Jesus than living into the liberation and fullness of who I am.

I encourage you to look back at what may seem like a ghost haunting your past and see if you can find a brave soul, a little humor, and liberation in your story.

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