I attended the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference 2013 in Portland, OR. You may be thinking, “sure Whitney went to a Writer’s Conference, so she’s a writer, so what?” Well see, this wasn’t just any writer’s conference, this was a Christian-based writer’s conference. Let me help you connect the dots here…
I am a lesbian and I intentionally put myself into a situation where I would be surrounded by folks who likely would not understand or agree with my lifestyle, and I have not been in a situation like that (on purpose) for more than a decade.
I am not exactly sure what drew me to this conference. All I know is that I was staring blankly at my computer one afternoon, and one of Rea’s good Christian friends, a girl that I hadn’t even met in real life, posted a link saying that she was attending some kind of writing thing-a-ma-jig. The next thing I knew, I sent this Facebook friend a message asking her if I could tag along.
There was a part of me that thought that I either wouldn’t hear back from her or she would write back and say, “Who are you and why are you stalking me?” Lucky for me, Alyssa is a true Portlander and doesn’t own her own vehicle, so even though she barely knew me from Adam she responded enthusiastically, “YES! I would LOVE that!!” which can be translated in Portland-ese as: “Please tell me that you have a car because I could use a lift.“
It wasn’t until after I invited myself that I actually looked at the website and familiarized myself with what I was signing up for.
Oh God. Christians. Kill me now.
But it was too late, so I tried to rationalize why this would be good for me.
1) I will learn how to be a better writer.
2) I’ve been saying that I need to get involved in writing groups, and go to seminars, etc.
3) It’ll be good to see what those Wascally Wabbits, excuse me, I meant to say Conservative Christians, are up to nowadays.
When I picked Alyssa up on Friday night I told her that I needed her to be my safe place. She looked at me like, “are you thinking that you’re going to get stoned for sporting a faux hawk?” and then she smiled graciously and told me that she had my back. Alyssa is one of those cool, funky, nice Christians who believes that Jesus loves every kind of Sinner; even the Gays. Had it not been for Alyssa needing a ride, I probably would have skipped the Friday night event altogether because after reading the itinerary it just looked like all it was going to be was a time of worship and a few speakers encouraging us to write about God and stuff.
I was right.
Those who have known me for any length of time, know that God and Christianity defined me for the first twenty-three years of my life. I was involved in church and youth group and I eventually became a full-time missionary. It was during my time as a missionary that I began to question my sexuality, and since Homosexuality and Christianity aren’t the best of buddies, my time in ministry did not end well.
Eventually I felt that I had to choose between loving God and loving another woman, and after an excruciatingly painful internal struggle that nearly became the death of me, I ultimately chose to pursue my first same-sex relationship. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. I did not fit in at church, and I did not fit in with the totally “Out and Proud” gay scene either. I was just me; spiritually lost and emotionally alone for more than a decade.
For the past year I have found myself reconnecting with my Spiritual roots. I have been in a relationship with someone who has a very strong faith background, and she has inspired me greatly. I have started to read the Bible. I have started to pray. I have started to seek God for direction in my life. I have been going to church. Rea and I have found a church, Lake Oswego United Church of Christ, that loves and appreciates us regardless of our backgrounds or sexual orientation. Rev. Jennie Ott and her congregation have invited us in with open arms and allowed us an opportunity to rediscover our faith in a completely non-judmental and non-threatening environment and we love them for it.
All of this to say that Friday, April 5th 2013, was not the first time that I have had an encounter with God; it was merely a surprising and unexpected setting for me to feel loved and accepted by God.
So there I was, bright red faux-hawk, men’s suit vest, combat boots and all, in a room full of the most wholesome looking Christians that I’ve ever seen; eyes closed and arms raised in worship to God.
Oh boy, here we go.
That scene brought back a lot of memories for me having been brought up in an Assemblies of God, Pentecostal church, but not all of those memories were bad. I missed this. As much as I wanted to remind myself that I was an outsider in that room, there was a huge part of me that wanted to be embraced and accepted by that crowd of passionate, Jesus-loving people. I had experienced great loss when I left my former life as a missionary to venture out into the wilderness alone.
My mind became flooded with memories and questions and longing and ideas for saving the world and whatnot. I had to resist the urge to grab the microphone from the worship leader and shout, “CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!” (I’m sure that Alyssa especially would appreciate that I decidedly did not attend the event in a drunken or chemically altered state, although that may have turned into a far more interesting story.) Instead I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to “just relax and stop thinking so much”.
So that’s what I did. I appreciated the time of worship, and the first two speakers. I especially appreciated break-time that included coffee and cookies. And then came the final speaker of the night: William P. Young, author of “The Shack”.
Paul Young is a very humble and unassuming man; he is short, stocky, grey-haired, balding and simply regular in every way. The first thing he admitted to is that he is an “accidental author”. He originally wrote the book for his children in an effort to paint a picture for them of who he believes God to be. So when his wife and children read the book and felt touched by it, he believed that the purpose of his writing had already been fulfilled. He had never even intended to publish the book, but through a series of events that can only be explained as a miraculous work of God, “The Shack” has become one of the best-selling Christian fiction novels of all time.
Paul Young remarked that many people had asked him if he believed that God had “used him, like a tool” to write the book. He confessed that he had been abused and molested from his early childhood into his teenage years, and therefore he was not a fan of “being used”. He went on to explain that God does not seek to have a relationship with tools because tools are inanimate objects. God seeks to have a relationship with His people, and then He entrusts them the tools that they need in order to better serve Him. In that way Paul Young believed that God, in His love, had blessed him with the words and given him the freedom to express his spirituality in a way that many ordinary people, like himself, could understand it.
Paul Young said much more than just that, but I was unable to hear him for a majority of his speech because I was having a silent conversation with God.
God: “I have given you a story to tell.”
Me: “What story is that exactly?”
God: “Your story.”
This revelation was shocking to me, considering that I fully expected that if God were going to speak to me in a Conservative Christian setting, the first thing that He would say is that I need to repent of my sinful lifestyle and follow Him. But that is not what He said. Instead I felt a complete sense of peace in that I am exactly where He wants me to be; I am, right here and now, on the absolute right path. Writing is the tool that God has blessed me with, and now He has asked me to share my story.
Yeah, kinda HUGE.
I am still processing all that I feel that God was doing in my heart over the weekend, but for now I will conclude with this:
The Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference was flat-out amazing and I recommend it to all of my fellow writing comrades. The workshops were very practical and informative and I left with a much greater understanding of what kinds of steps that I will need to take in order to pursue a career as a professional writer.
It was also refreshing to realize that (at least the group that I encountered over the weekend) Conservative Christians have become much more open-minded, loving and accepting than they were ten years ago, and that is a step in the right direction as far as I am concerned.
Of course there was a moment when I outright asked one of the speakers (privately) if he was a homosexual because I couldn’t possibly go through a two-day event without thoroughly embarrassing myself, but that is another story entirely…