God, Sex, and My Divorce from Religion

May 18, 2012

Disclaimer: Run now or hold your peace

No parent wants to read about their child’s first sexual encounter under their own roof. And so for that reason, I caution my dad and anyone else who feels fatherly or motherly toward me, or anyone squeamish about teenage love to click away right now.

See you clickers in the next post. 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 . . .


For all who have stayed. Welcome. To the night I got naked. With a girl. In my brother’s bedroom. It’s a passion play that, like all good dramas, begins its slow turn much earlier.

She and I were best friends. On this night, we turned lovers, in a willful gesture that I learned was desire. It took over me as if I was watching myself on a movie screen. And yet, I lived each moment in the heat that spread in my heart, my gut, my skin, exploding my head. Each choice. And then the next. I was 16.

My dad was a preacher. My mom slept nearby on the living room couch. My brother was no longer. At least, not his physical form. He had died suddenly, nine months before, at 17.

The end of innocence

His room was intact. I would go in there from time to time, to make his absence real. And to pierce the mute, open doorway standing at the end of the hall, that no one walked through anymore, but which shone blue from the paint on his walls.

It had a bigger bed than mine, covered by the blue and red afghan our grandma crocheted. I would sit on it and stare out the window. Run my hand over coarse yarn and stare out the door. Stare into his closet. Velcro my eyes to the song lyrics he had written on the pad still on his desk. The cartoons he had drawn. His life still in the lines.

But this night, the scratchy afghan slipped to the floor. My best friend and I, we’d been to the beach. Heat from our sunburns made the room feel like day. Street lamp light sifted the darkness telling us it was night. All of it transcended time.

Resurrection mix tape

Dawn came. Then morning sun. Then sleep.

It was Easter Sunday. My dad woke us ten minutes into slumber, to get ready for church.

Pastel floral farm skirt and my favorite greenish cropped top. What I wore that day is sealed on my memory, as is the way the sun slanted through the windows and her next to me in the pew in black pedal pushers. Somebody preached. About Jesus dying for our sins. And coming back to life. While I flashed on fresh sins I could still feel. And felt alive in them.

The people here hurt for me and my family’s loss deeply. They wrapped me in love as much as I would let them. And I knew with fearful certainty that if they knew the sins I knew, they would reject me without argument. That was the day a new piece of my spirit struggled free, while my relationship with religion ground to its end.


As it happened, it was my job to drive Grandma to church. That wasn’t going to change. So I went, every Sunday, for the next three years until I left for college, smiling to see the folks that raised me in this community, and dying inside to think we wouldn’t be having this conversation if they knew what I knew about me.

If you’ve ever been a closeted gay teen stoic at church, you know that hyper-self-awareness can widen into silence and separation. Turn into rejection and resentment. Years into the shut-down, I became allergic to all things holy. The day, a decade later, that I sat in traffic behind a Christian fish symbol bumper sticker, and raged at the intolerant audacity of a blindly religious vocal majority, I heard the silence in my car stab back at me. My outrage, the silent echo suggested, might be a bigger fish to fry than the one on the bumper.

A modern chance

There was no where to go in the traffic. No one to hear but myself. I’d learned enough to know that inordinate venom is usually the tip off to a personal problem buried so deep you can’t see it. It was there, gridlocked behind the Christian fish car, that I missed spirituality.

If I were a preacher, I’d be fourth in a generational line of them, starting with my great-grandfather on my dad’s side. Church, before there was a building for it, used to be held in the very house that I lived in. My dad as a boy would set out folding chairs in his living room for the congregants, which, if you’ve ever crammed into a living room and shared stories and reverence, you know is a silly name to call each other when it feels rather like family.

I missed…a feeling. That family. The reverence. The sensation of awe and peace and wonder that my dad called “the spirit.” I missed people caring and loving and coming together just to be together in a sacred hour. As much as I had grown to detest all things related to a religious tenet that would kill me if it had a modern chance, I even missed praying.


And so there in my car, I cracked open and allowed myself to feel, allowed myself to wonder, and to wander through thoughts of God as God related to ME and not a religion.

That was the beginning of what has become an increasingly spiritual journey. I remembered the reverence with which I absorbed nature on the walks to school and in the national parks we traveled with my grandparents. I remembered the joy and gratitude of stewardship that my grandma modeled. And I remembered that I had as much fascination for a fundamentalist’s diehard faith as I had vitriol for what it espoused.

I think they call this collection of attributes “humanist,” and maybe that’s what I was becoming. But what I knew in the moment was that access to spirit was no longer trapped in the church box. It was no longer separate from me and my heathen ways. Access to spirit is mine if I want it, even if religion has its party without me.

Thank God.

In the Pulpit with Ronna Detrick

In addition to stripping down and exploring through memories, I’m gearing up for Sunday morning in the pulpit with Ronna Detrick, spiritual adviser and conversation sparker extraordinaire, creator of sacred community through conversations on God and women. Please join us for her inspired invocation of the divine in all of us, as we talk about new ways of understanding and incorporating faith, beliefs, spirituality, and gorgeous, significant story.

Sunday Services you want to WAKE UP for!
with Ronna Detrick, Spiritual Director and creator of Inspired by Eve.
and guest, Pema Teeter, Story Charmer
May 27, 2012
10:00 am (PST)
We need congregation. We need sacred space.
 And we need conversation that is unscripted, unedited, and unboundaried.
 We need each other.

Dial: 530.881.1300 Code: 590920#

(Skype callers: Add ‘freeconferencing.5308811300′ to your contacts.
Once you’ve dialed in, locate the key pad and enter the access code. )

Smart, engaging conversation about topics that matter. Soak up community wisdom. Even worship. It’s divine.

I hope you’ll join us.

{ 1 trackback }

Originating Sin + Rewriting It: Eve in Conversation with Pema, by Ronna Detrick
May 23, 2012 at 11:14 am

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikki May 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Holy wow. Your story sounds exactly like mine. Apart from switch out a girl for a boy (girls came later.)

Going to do my best to tune in on Sunday. Ronna is doing incredible things and I keep missing her Sunday services (maybe still old-time resistance to showing up anywhere on a Sunday AM.)

Love to you, Pema.


:: Nikki
Nikki recently posted..Of gorillas in the pantry (or “MONEY matters.”)My Profile


Pema Teeter May 19, 2012 at 9:25 am

Wow, Nikki, your comment neutralized my fears sending this out there. Someone like me knows what I’m sayin’… ahhhh. Come on Sunday! It will be wonderful to know you’re in the pews. :)


Ronna May 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Whether you are a preacher as your lineage might understand, you are no less prophetic, evangelistic, powerful, and heard. This is a powerful story…that continues to be told – certainly in your life and in the ways you invite us to step boldly into the stories we most often avoid…at least their telling out loud. Courageous. Gorgeous. True. Spiritual, to be sure.

“Spirit” is present. And will be, for sure, on the 27th. Can’t wait!
Ronna recently posted..A Window to HeavenMy Profile


Pema Teeter May 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

Can’t. Wait. So looking forward to opening up the conversation and inviting spirit into it with you.


regina May 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Your story is powerful. Your writing divine. Your courage to write this out loud inspires me. I too will do my best to be a part of the congregation on Sunday.

Wow. Will, “wowing” after reading.

Love you, friend.


Pema Teeter May 19, 2012 at 9:29 am

Helps to have my biggest fan holding down the love fort while my heart takes the leap. xo*


Callahan McDonough May 19, 2012 at 9:21 am

What a wonderful, innocent, powerful, loving post. I celebrate you and your activating free will to choose a Spirituality/God that makes sense to you, that also honors (of course) your choice of sexuality, Life.
Peace n’hugs.


Pema Teeter May 19, 2012 at 9:37 am

Thanks for your celebration. You know, as I was writing this piece yesterday, I realized that the first play I wrote, called “Easter’s Exile,” is about a preacher, who on Easter morning, is singing hymns, “having a service of one” in lieu of attending his church, having sadly realized his faith has outgrown his religion. I had seen the play’s similarities to my life before, but it’s funny that 12 years after writing it, it took writing this post to realize the Easter morning connection.

Why wax on about this now? Your name reminded me. The characters in the play are named McDonough. :)


lisa May 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

this is brave and beautiful.
lisa recently posted..tiny memoir: flowers i have knownMy Profile


Pema Teeter May 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm

thanks, lisa. i love your beautiful blog. loved reading your tiny memoirs.


J May 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Thank you for taking a brave leap and sharing your story. I’m certain it resonates with many, myself included, on several levels. Sunday Services sounds intriguing… I will do my best to tune in.


Pema Teeter May 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm

sometimes it takes a community to take a leap. thanks for joining the conversation here. hope to feel you out there in the pews on sunday.


Gina May 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Beautifully real.
If at all possible, I’ll be in the amen corner on the 27th.


Dyana Valentine May 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm

essential. thank you.


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