Black, White & Shades of Gray
By Equality Rider Crystal Cheatham
I think that my biggest fears in life pool around the prospect of failure. As a small girl, I was constantly terrified of getting in trouble. My parents believed in giving spankings. I can’t say that I don’t agree with that either, but, looking back, it wasn’t the prospect of “getting beat” that put the fear of God in me; rather, I was a goody-two-shoes because I didn’t like messing up. This helped because I grew up in the Adventist church. Rules were part of our everyday life; they embedded themselves in our lingo, the way we played, the way we worked, and so on.
As a teenager, it was frustrating to be pent up in my religion; however, as a rule follower, Adventism afforded me the luxury of seeing the world in black and white with no gray in between. I have to give it to them though – as a distinguished religious group, Adventists have managed to carve out an understanding of the Bible that allows life and all of its many intricate problems to be ironed away into yes or no answers. Religion as logic or a mathematical approach to life is safe. Given this set of rules, I never had to really think for myself.
Looking back, I realize that is probably why it was so hard for me to come out. My “homosexual” factor—the gay lesbian queer me—didn’t fit into the finely tuned, well working, mathematical understanding of life. If the Adventist church were a chocolate cake, I was the single ingredient that would never fit in with the flavors of the decadent dessert. I could have been an onion or garlic clove and the remaining question would have been—how to fit in the queer? And the answer would always be simply—you don’t.
A few months ago, I had coffee with a mentor, Reverend Beverly Dale. Our discussion about Jesus turned into an examination of the risks I was willing to take for my project, The IDentity Kit. She said that I was standing in the way of its success. Symbolically, we had envisioned my hesitancy to move forward with the project as a child standing on a landing, holding onto a railing. I was the child; the railing was my fundamentalist understanding of God and religion. Rev Bev asked, “What happens if you let go of the railing?”
“Rev Bev” had been pushing all of my spiritual buttons. In a previous discussion, she had asked me to approach God as if she were a woman. That suggestion alone blew my mind. It also made me even more afraid of the rule bending mayhem that was on the other side of that railing. I couldn’t imagine letting go of my mathematical approach to life, and so, over my coffee, I avoided eye contact with her. Tears pooled in my eyes as she pushed again, “What happens if you don’t need the railing to stand at all?”
It really did take me a while to work my way through that. I found that the Bible wasn’t full of comfortable moral endings like the ones I saw on TV. Instead, the Bible was one fascinating, fabulous scandal after another. This new view of the Bible meant that its ancient characters were every bit as passionate, confused and real as I am today. What’s beautiful is that God had a way of offering grace to each of their situations, and, contrary to the Adventist belief, his grace has just enough reach to cover my humanity too—my orientation, my gender identity, my me. With God at the center of my life instead of religion, I no longer believe in failure – only in progress.
I see now that the right way to live life is not one-dimensional or black and white. It’s not even muddied in shades of gray. I know it sounds cliché given that queer culture marches under the rainbow flag, but life is what it is—a spectrum, a multitude of colors, ideas, orientations, gender identities, and faith traditions.
That’s what this Ride is for me. I have broken through the crust of my childhood religion and I’m going to tell the whole world what it’s like to see the Bible in full color. My mission is to spread this light, this spectrum of colors. Adventism introduced me to the Bible and I’m excited to share with them what else I’ve learned. The Bible does include me, and, in including me, it also allows for all of us to enjoy a slice of equality.
About the Blogger:
Crystal Cheatham is a local Philadelphia singer/songwriter. Also look for her written work on gender identity and faith principles at www.YourIDK.com
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