I don’t know about you, but I have been obsessing over Tina Fey’s new sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In fact, I just binge-watched the entire first season for the second time. While I realize sitcoms are not for everyone, what I find so moving about this series is how deadly serious it can be. Kimmy is held hostage in an underground bunker for 15 years, trapped with three other women and a male religious cult leader who takes over their lives, their bodies, and their brains. Not funny stuff. They are finally freed, and Kimmy decides to begin a new life in New York City. Having lived in a time capsule for 15 years, EVERYTHING is new to her.
This story sounds familiar to me but in the reverse. Mine started in New York City where I dived deep into Evangelical then Pentecostal Holiness churches at the height of the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the 1980’s. I was told that Jesus could heal me of homosexuality, and if I simply followed the teachings of my earnest leaders, I would find a straight path to heaven and heterosexual normality. I also started attending an ex-gay support group, a gay-to-straight conversion organization that relied heavily on Bible teachings to instruct its members on how to live holy lives. I ultimately spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents trying to de-gay myself. In short, I was Kimmy Schmidt, not in a bunker, but trapped in a Biblically-induced coma.
By the time I came to my senses and began to come out of the closet, I found I could no longer read the Bible. It had been taught to me as a weapon of mass destruction used to pulverize anything that was not heterosexual and especially anything that was not masculine. I learned that to be feminized in anyway was unholy, an abomination, a perversion. Much of what I learned in gay reparative therapy sessions was actually about gender–how to butch me up because there was no greater sin than being seen as feminine. A by-product of these teachings was that I regularly received toxic doses of misogyny and sexism, something that I really didn’t need to go to church to learn.
I had to reeducate myself; I had to take matters into my own hands. But instead of throwing the Baby Jesus out with the Bible Bath Water, I decided to slowly, systematically, and creatively approach the very texts that were used to terrorize me. Through the years I have been able wrap my head and heart around the Bible including discovering dozens of stories about gender non-conforming (gender outlaws) in many books of the Bible.
Three years ago I met Dr. Jennifer Bird at the Society of Biblical Literature conference, and we immediately clicked. We got to hang out for extended periods of time over the last three years, and we laughed and laughed. Smart, insightful, a brilliant scholar, and an excellent communicator, through watching Jennifer teach her students, I experienced hope for a new generation of people emerging from churches dazed, confused, and not sure what to do with their faith and their relationship with the Bible.
Yesterday I received in the mail Jennifer’s new book, Permission Granted–Take the Bible into Your Own Hands, a book that would have been unbelievably helpful to me 15 years ago when I emerged from my Biblical bunker. First thing this morning I started reading and only put it down long enough to write this post. Oh, she is funny, as she talks about her earnest desire to be a good Christian including the time she “dated” Jesus. And I LOVE her tone. She is not mocking anyone, or pushy, or disrespectful of her past and people who take the Bible completely literally. She is kind, thoughtful, and vulnerable.
If you, like me, were trapped in a Biblically-induced coma and have been uncertain what on earth to do with all those Bible verses and teachings that stockpiled in your brain, Jennifer’s new book will help you to face those places where you may be afraid to return. She is a Bible scholar who knows the original languages, and she is a brilliant teacher who understands that students need to think for themselves. This is the book about the Bible for adults, and it might be just the one you need at this point in your life.