Melissa Bedford is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia. This article was posted in an earlier form on her blog The Lost and Found.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, our minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia. She was helping organize the interfaith worship at Mid-Missouri PrideFest and wanted to know if I could give a reflection on:
“How my LGBTQ identity and my faith/spiritual identity mutually enrich one another and why my sexuality and faith call me to celebrate the fullness of who I am.”
Wow, at first I was a little intimidated, but I thought it would be good for me to explore these relationships, and I quickly replied, “Yes!” What followed was two weeks of writing little pieces here and there, but nothing cohesive or what I would consider acceptable. The night before I was to speak, I had just returned from working the Missouri State Fair, and I was exhausted. Apparently, exhaustion is what I needed to calm and focus my mind because it was then that I took all of my notes, all of my bits and little pieces, and created “Spectrum of Light: A reflection of a whole person.”
This was a difficult writing assignment because it forced me to look inside and compare and contrast aspects that I had never thought could or would be connected. Although now that I am writing this, I see it as a perfectly comparable subject. In the process of connecting dots, I realized that these aspects of myself were more intertwined than I had realized and completed a whole person — the body and spirit.
Initially, and still to a point, I feel like my metaphor of light is a little lost among the life experience and is not fully developed in the current version. Perhaps one day I will expand on this metaphor. For now it will have to work because honestly, I feel if I continue to work on it now, it will become cheesy.
So, here it is: “Spectrum of Light: A reflection of a whole person.”
Confusing as it may seem, I was born and raised into a Catholic, Baptist and Jewish family. My parents could not agree, nor did they want to choose the religion that all three of us girls would follow. Instead, they set us free to explore and search out the religion that called to us. Perhaps because I was the oldest I seemed to take this search very seriously. I went to Mass with my Catholic grandmother, I participated in Jehovah's Witnesses Bible studies and I attended evangelical youth groups with my friends. This search for my soul and religious home fulfilled places in my heart that were yearning to be filled with light.
At about the age of 16, I started to become aware of my sexuality, and I was confused and worried because I found women more attractive than men. I felt as though I was going against everything that I had searched out in my religious journey. I began to hate myself and felt as if I was going against everything that I had discovered. Guilt-ridden and worried, I fell into myself and tried with all of my heart to ignore the piece of me that was dying to quite literally “come out.”
At 17, I could not ignore myself anymore, and I finally came out. Until I sat down to write this reflection a week ago, I did not realize that this is when my religious journey shifted as well. This is when I stopped seeking traditional Judeo-Christian religions and when I stepped into the world of energy work, goddess ritual and pagan practices. Things that once seemed absolute and carved in stone soon became abstract possibilities full of new pathways to explore.
Light is the medium that stimulates sight and makes things visible. Overly simplified it is a complex mishmash of electrons jumping in and out of orbit. Humans are like electrons of an atom when we jump out of our comfort zones, "our orbits"; we create a chain of energy and light simply by moving from one perspective to another. When I felt overwhelmed and trapped within my comfort zone pretending to be something I was not, I was forced to jump out of orbit, and for a long time I jumped in and out of orbit a lot. It was as if I had lied to myself for so long about one part of me that I had to search out the whole person all over again.
Things settled down, and about five years later I settled down into a comfy relationship with my wife, Katie. Four years into our now 13-year relationship, Katie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We weren’t attending a church of any religion at that point, and she, being newly diagnosed, was searching for community and support. A lot of debate ensued as to where we would find this new church community. I was skeptical and had become content within my orbit. Ultimately she pushed me out of orbit and dragged me to a Unitarian Universalist church because, and I quote, “Their banners outside have all these really famous historical Unitarians that I really like.”
What I discovered immediately upon walking through those doors was a feeling that I had not felt in years. While that initial jump was forced, an onslaught of jumps followed on my own accord. I had found a place where I could be myself, not only as an openly out lesbian but as a seeker of faith who could integrate all that she has discovered on her journey without judgment.
I have become a whole person. Being a Unitarian Universalist allowed me to integrate all that I was before I came out and all that I am now. As a UU, I am free to question and encouraged to seek. I have learned that we are all jumping in and out of our own orbits at our own pace, creating a spectrum of light that stimulates sight and makes things visible.
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you’ll consider sharing. Here’s how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.