Journey Story

Finding Something Greater Than Ourselves

by Chris Riffle

I wouldn’t say I grew up very religious. In fact, I don’t believe in God in the traditional sense. I do, however, believe in something greater than ourselves and so often, in our day-to-day world, this is something we tend to forget.

When I moved to New York City from Seattle I was scared that I’d feel like an outsider—such an insignificant piece of a large and fast moving machine. I moved because my then fiancé, Timothy Atticus, got accepted to Cooper Union, an art school in the heart of the East Village.

As a musician, I loved the idea of the extra motivation a big city move could bring.

I never was one to venture too far from the nest. I have two sisters and was the only sibling to stay in state for college, just a half hour from where I grew up. After college, I moved to Seattle and lived for quite a while enjoying the sense of community that Capitol Hill offered then.

I’d walk to work everyday, passing friends and acquaintances along the way. Plus it was such a supportive and wonderfully queer neighborhood at that time. I really couldn’t imagine finding this community in a city as big as New York. To my surprise, I found precisely this, especially in the East Village. From the local cafe I got a job at, to the open mics and gigs I was playing (probably most surprising to me of all) in a church on 2nd Ave a couple blocks from our apartment—there was no shortage of opportunities to build this community.

We hear so many stories about people coming to the realization that they’re different than what they think God wants them to be and how that difference can cause a rift between their spiritual beliefs and their identity.

The fear of our differences keeps us apart and keeps us from growing.

It can keep churches from opening their doors to understanding and it can keep the queer community from feeling accepted by institutions that have taught intolerance and homophobia. Being invited in and included in traditional spaces like churches and marriage is having a profound effect on us.

I remember first being drawn into Middle Collegiate Church by the sounds of avant-garde organ recitals pouring into the streets. I really connect with the values of Middle Collegiate Church and the minister, Jacqui Lewis.

When Obama got elected, I remember sitting in the pews surrounded by a community that transcended race, gender, sexual orientation, age and so many other boxes we put ourselves in. I remember feeling like all of us together had accomplished something unimaginable because we all believed in each other and something greater than ourselves.

Imagine what we could achieve if more of us felt welcome in community spaces like this across the globe.

Similar to classic lines to folk songs I grew up singing, my parents taught me that, “You can be anybody you want to be, you can love whomever you will…” My Mom was raised Catholic and my Dad Methodist. My Dad is a musician and for quite a while lived in a yoga commune outside of Seattle.

Growing up, I was always surrounded by a variety of people, often musicians and artists. It’s almost ironic that here in the biggest city in America, despite my fears of getting lost in the shuffle, I’ve been able to find a community with such a diverse group of people that can make me feel so close to home.

I think we are only beginning to see the positive changes that are in store.

So many of us in the gay community have known what it’s like to grow up not feeling accepted and ultimately not accepting ourselves. It gives me so much hope to see rapidly growing and thriving communities that preach this acceptance as part of their mission statement.

Check out Chris Riffle’s “Closer Where I Wanna Be