Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord , I will be joyful in God my Savior. — Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)
The month of February was Black History Month. March calls the world to celebrate the women in our lives.
In April, Phoenix will celebrate PRIDE (too hot here to do that in June). At the end of May as a veteran, I will be thanked for my commitment to uphold and enforce the constitution of the United States. In June, my children will send me cards for Father’s Day (they celebrate Mother’s Day with their moms). Many hats — one woman.
The other thing that happened in February was the beginning of Lent — a 40-day journey of reflection and rejection that ends on Easter Sunday. In my youth as a Lutheran, Missouri Synod, I was taught the importance of Lent and how I was supposed to reflect on my life and the sinful nature of who I am.
I learned that the best way to encourage that reflection was to give up something, let go of something, or reject something for Lent so that my mind would be unhindered in finding incentive to get in touch with or be closer to God. I am a living witness that rejecting caffeine from my life did not get me any closer to God nor did it endear me to my family, co-workers, and friends. However, clearing my schedule in the morning to spend that extra hour with God makes a huge difference in my faith walk.
To be fair, as a woman of many talents who wears many hats, I often wonder how I made it this far still believing in the God that created me just as I am. My parents were very religious and faithful to their denominations. My mother became a devout Lutheran when I was 5 years old. My father was ordained as a Baptist minister and started his own church when I was about 8 years old. No matter whose house I was in for that weekend, attending church was mandatory.
As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, it was a sacrifice of praise for a maximum of 1 hour. As a Missionary Baptist, the sacrifice could last 12 or more hours — Sunday School at 9, worship at 11, afternoon service at 3 and evening service at 7 (any good Baptist worship service must last for at least 2 hours).
I’ve been baptized 3 times. The Lutherans sprinkled me, the Baptists (my dad) dunked me and a womyn’s retreat in California thought it would be a great idea to “wade in the water” of some cold river in northern California. Each experience was different and each one brought a moment of enlightenment for me about the nature of my relationship with God.
I was raised in what could be called a good Christian home, despite the dysfunctional relationship between my mother and me. My parents were believers in the same God; they just had different ways to approach and worship God. All my aunts, uncles and cousins were believers.
There were occasions (aside from funerals) that we all went to church together and praised God together. Then one day I entered the ministry for a church that focused on ministering to the GLBTQIA community. You would have thought I used one of the FCC’s 7 deadly words in the middle of the sanctuary.
As I began my coming out process, the Lutherans asked me to repent or be excommunicated. I did not, could not and will not repent — there’s something Martin Luther and I have in common. The Baptist pastor and his deacon’s laid hands on me to pray away the gay demon that was clearly possessing my good Christian soul.
Until about 2012, my dad would tell me how he was praying for me to walk away from this “life choice” and return to being a good Christian woman that was ready to settle down, marry a man, and have babies of my own. I believe my dad had his own personal epiphany and decided to stop saying such brutal things to me.
I still get nervous in some churches because my mother threatened to disinherit me and have me either institutionalized or deprogrammed. Eventually my mother had her own moment of enlightenment about the deprogramming. Nevertheless, as my mother, she held on to the power to have first right of refusal over anyone with whom I was in a serious relationship.
Being a Black, female, lesbian, veteran, and considered a single parent in some circles does not earn me a red badge of courage. Being a recovering Lutheran (Missouri Synod), Missionary Baptist, Charismatic, Jesus Freak will not guarantee me a special seat at the Great Banquet Table of Life. What assures me that I am connected to God is the assurance that even in my moment of apostasy, I never let go of my relationship with God — because God never let go of me.
I was raised to love the Lord and to give praise in every circumstance and situation.
The Lutherans didn’t want me — well, praise God.
The Baptists thought I was demon possessed — well, praise God.
The charismatics and the Jesus Freaks did not want me in their prayer circles — well, praise God.
The feminists (there was a period when I was a member of NOW with my girlfriend at the time) claimed I was too Christian for them — well, praise God.
Certain GLBTQ Christians said I was too fundamentalist for them (I was once called a screeching, Black, Baptist, Banshee, Bitch in a congregational meeting) — well, praise God.
Rejected at so many different turns and places, but still I praise God for the journey. My faith has propelled me over these and many other hurdles.
For many years, my parents and I agreed to disagree about the theology behind what the Bible says or does not say about my sexuality. My oldest brother said I was a lesbian because of the people I associated with (what he said was something very racist and I can’t bring myself to put those angry words to print).
Because I know I am a child of God, I know how to rise above the hate-based lies of the world.
I understand the fear-based Bible thumper that is trying to get me to change my ways — because I used to be one of them. I had my road to Damascus moment and God revealed to me not only who I am but most importantly, whose I am.
I’m no expert in telling others having a similar journey how to hold on to their faith. I just know to hold on. Looking back at how so many people tried to hinder me, I count it all as a blessing because it made my faith stronger.
At every challenge, I put on one of my many hats and remind myself to hold on. When I see the rocks coming, I brace myself because I know God is a shield about me. I know that when I stay strong in my journey, I will be true to my destiny and remain blessed through eternity.
Serving as one of four Co-Pastors for Casa de Cristo Church and Apostolic Center in Phoenix, Ariz., an inner-city ministry that is Spirit-led and Bible-fed, Pastor Charlotte Strayhorne is a graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been in active ministry for more than 35 years.
Known in the LGBTQ community for her activism and leadership for equality and justice for all, she is a recipient of the City of Phoenix’s Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award. Her love for the theatre earned her an ariZoni for Best Supporting Actress as Calpurnia in the Hale Center production of “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
With deep family roots in Cincinnati, she is an ardent fan of her Cincinnati home teams but her heart bleeds purple for the WNBA Phoenix Mercury. With travel destinations from Indiana to Italy, she has been consistent in sharing her exciting message of love for God.