Posts tagged ‘belief’

Part 4: Faith In Action

NOTE: This is part four of a five-part series about my faith journey over the last few years. You can find the first three parts here, here and here.

Did you know that sitting in public with a priest who’s wearing his collar can be fairly hilarious? Well, it can be.

It’s when I’m doing just that, talking about one thing or another, when he ever-so-gently suggests what I already know: The boyfriend and I need to actually come to church. Not too long after, we do.

Going to a new place with new people, especially a church, can be intimidating, even for me, the perfect example of an extrovert. (I’m really like half-introvert, half-extrovert, but don’t tell anyone.) Plus, the services are admittedly intimidating, even with those awesome bulletins I’ve mentioned.

This was totally different than what I was used to, but we went … and kind of dug it. We set a goal of going twice each month, but we’ve only missed maybe one or two services in the few months since. (Moment of realness: it helps that it’s not college football season.)

I should also mention that these two priests I’ve been talking about have been awesome advocates for the local LGBTQ community. They were vocal supporters of adding us to our city’s non-discrimination ordinance. Now, in the church setting, both have been just as wonderful. In fact, after one of the first services we attended, right after we got engaged, one of the priests casually introduced us to someone and mentioned it. I mean he was more comfortable with it in that place than I was! It may seem like a little thing, but it wasn’t. It spoke volumes.

Around the time we started attending, the church started holding “Cathedral 101” courses for people who were new. We began attending that, too, which only added to the welcoming feeling. This class and the services really brought to life a lot of what I had read. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to completely describe everything I like, but here are a few things, in no particular order:

I love the focus on Communion and how it’s done. 

Some people seem to think taking Communion weekly dilutes its meaningfulness, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. I look forward to it, even crave it. I can’t imagine not being able to take it weekly.

I also love its prominence within the service. It’s the main point. As much as I enjoy sermons, I love that there’s a focus on this shared, unified worship experience, especially through Communion.

I love how we take Communion, too. At first, perfectionist Kyle was scared of doing it wrong, but it’s really not that dramatic or difficult. The walk to the altar, kneeling, the words they say as they present the bread and wine – I love it all. It’s like, in that brief moment, you’re the only person there. I also love that I never know who will be next to me at the altar. It can be someone completely different from me.

I love the liturgy and liturgical calendar. 

Perhaps one of the furthest things from the Southern Baptist land I grew up in is this idea of common liturgy and a liturgical calendar. In my former world, Easter was one day. I’d never heard of things like “Advent” or “Lent.” And the preacher just preached on whatever the Lord had put on his heart [rolls eyes] for that Sunday. Unless it was a holiday. Then, obviously, you preached about the holiday, especially if it was a patriotic one.

First of all, I love that, if I want, I can know exactly what the scriptures for any given day/Sunday will be. I also love the idea that, around the world, this huge group of people is hearing the same scriptures and lessons. I also love the sound and feeling I get when we’re all reciting something together. It just feels powerful.

Some people seem to think that liturgy and the liturgical calendar diminish creativity and freedom. For me, it’s the opposite. Christmas is made better by Advent. Easter — all weeks of it — is made better after Lent. There’s a time for everything and the liturgical calendar really brings that out. Also, regardless of what the scriptures for the week are, I’ve listened to multiple sermons from the same day and they’re different. Different priests preach different sermons at different times in their lives, even if the scriptures are all the same. Moreover, each person listening may take away something different from the same sermon.

I love the use of the body in worship.

There’s a lot going on in an Episcopal worship service. It engages mind, body and spirit.

As for the “body” part, I love that each gesture has a specific purpose. It’s not just a “raise your hand to prove to us you’re worshipping Jesus” sort of thing. There’s generally a reason and history behind it.

We sit. We stand. We kneel. We hold hands. We cross ourselves. We bow. We genuflect (feel free to Google that one like I did). Does everyone do it at all times? No. Some people learned it all growing up in the Church, but there’s enough diversity in the congregation, at least where I attend, that people do different things as they’re willing and able, and that’s OK. But I love that it keeps you engaged in a different way.

I love the diversity of the congregation. 

This may be more specific to the cathedral I’m attending, but I love how diverse it is. I love how everyone is welcomed equally. People seem to actually help each other. This means different opinions based on different life experiences can be brought into the same conversation. I’m pretty new at this, but I feel like that can really come in handy.

I love “the peace.” 

At the end of the first big portion of the service, the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and we all say, “And also with you.” Then, we all greet the people around us, usually saying something like, “peace be with you” or just “peace.”

As a worrier and control freak, I kind of dreaded this at first, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I love the emphasis on peace and love. I find it to be, well, what Jesus would do and asked us to do.

I love the focus on social justice.

Episcopalians recognize social justice as a significant theme of the Bible, particularly in the Gospels. They take this seriously, and, while not perfect, have often been on the forefront of society’s biggest and most controversial “issues.” They recognize that there are people behind “issues,” too. At very least, the diversity of opinion within the Church enables people to stand up for what they believe in.

I love that people aren’t forced to believe the same things.

Diverse opinions tend to be welcomed, even lauded. Unity does not mean uniformity of opinion, and through debate we can learn from each other. As I’ve previously quoted, “A church without controversy would be a dead church.” For me, that’s pretty progressive thinking, within or outside of the Church.

I love that you can have doubt and ask questions.

You don’t know everything? Join the club. Sometimes, you’re not sure about every little nook and cranny of what you believe? Welcome to the real world! The fact that the Episcopal Church is not only cool with doubt and questions, but welcomes questions is awesome.

There are things to be learned from wrestling with questions, especially as a group. And there are some mysteries of life that we’ll just never figure out. But we can at least discuss them and see what we may discover.

I love that logic and reason aren’t just welcomed – they’re essential. 

When you talk to Episcopalians or read about the denomination, you might hear about the “three-legged stool,” which is scripture, tradition and reason. While scripture plays a primary role in the Episcopal Church, Episcopalians believe that tradition and reason also have a place in our lives and in the Church.

I love that they allow science and new information to help them reach new conclusions on issues. 

As one of the books I read puts it, “Unlike some other Christian traditions, we have no problem with the modern account of the universe informed by science. We start from the assumption that all truth is part of the truth of God. Therefore any discovery in any field needs to be taken seriously.”

I love the Book of Common Prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer is really cool. I’ve only just scratched the service, but I really enjoy the “prayers and thanksgivings” section. Like the liturgy, I love that people around the world have been saying the same prayers for a long time. Of course we can (and I would argue we should) still create our own prayers, but having this resource is both unifying and just plain handy.

And no, the Book of Common Prayer does not replace the Bible, as I’ve heard some people claim. In fact, one statistic I read suggested about 70% of the BCP is taken directly from the Bible.

I love that they understand the Bible isn’t just a literal “rule book.” 

I don’t care what you’ve heard: Episcopalians really love the Bible. I’m pretty sure I hear more scripture now, in an Episcopal worship setting, than in my past conservative Evangelical worship setting. They take the Bible seriously, but also understand that the scriptures were written and received within a certain context. They understand that everyone brings their own experiences to reading the Bible. We all look through a lens of some kind.

The Episcopal Church also believes – and this was a sort-of epiphany for me – that Jesus is the primary Word of God. The Bible points to the primary Word of God, so it, too, is the Word of God, but the primary Word is Jesus.

I’m no doubt going to think of something I should’ve mentioned, but this hopefully gives you a good feel for what I dig about the Episcopal Church so far.

Basically, I’m sold.

Throughout this entire process, the Episcopal Church has felt like a very natural fit, so much so that I’ve decided to be confirmed! Tomorrow.

More on that, well, tomorrow.

 

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Part 1: Deep Dinner Chat

So I’m sitting in a restaurant with my boyfriend. I don’t know how it comes up, but it does. 

“I don’t know what I’d consider myself…I don’t really know what I believe,” I say.

Silence. 

I felt bad, but it was true. And he’s an awesome boyfriend, now fiancé, so there were no ultimatums given or anything. We were both just kind of surprised by the conversation, unsure of exactly where to go from there. I think I explained that, though it had crossed my mind at times over the last few years, there hadn’t really been a need for me to think about my faith at length.

I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew it was time to think about what I believed, particularly regarding faith.

So for the last few years, I’ve been on this journey, but it’s not one I’ve talked much about publicly. Naturally, my increasingly introspective nature leads me to think about why that is. I don’t think I have the complete answer, but I think I can summarize it: Fear.

I can confidently and comprehensively discuss LGBTQ issues with pretty much anybody now. For more than a decade, these issues have dominated my life. And while many conservative Evangelical Christians love to talk about how my sexuality is only one small part of the complete “me,” they’re also the ones who force many of us to focus on it because we’re constantly defending our love and our livelihoods. Fighting to be equal. Fighting just to live in peace. So while I certainly don’t claim to know everything when it comes to the LGBTQ community, or even myself within it, I can definitely discuss it. 

When I was a child and into my teenage years, before I knew for sure I was gay, there was something else I could discuss at length, something else that dominated my thinking and world: my faith. And I loved it. It helped me understand the world. It gave me guidance. Friends. A family of sorts. It gave me hope and love and fun. It gave me a chance to perform, write, and speak to groups. I realized I could be influential in others’ lives. It gave me a sense of mission.

But I also had questions and doubts. Big ones. Even before my sexuality became an issue, I learned that doubts and questions were not welcome at church. Disagreement was not welcome.

I’ve always been one to value education, logic and reason. More and more, I felt these were also not welcome, so I, in turn, was not welcome. As I got older, I started to notice other things, like misogyny and racism. Things just didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem like the Christ I had read about, whose love, compassion, grace and peace I thought I had at least occasionally felt. I realized I needed to leave. As you can imagine, once I realized I was gay, I knew that was it. 

All I knew about “other” non-Evangelical Christians back then was that they were few in number, were all wrong, and were giving into “the world” to make people more comfortable. That’s what I had been taught. Fortunately, I was going off to college and didn’t have to deal with any of it, so I didn’t.

While away at college, I was able to really come into my own. The big, bad, liberal university I spent my entire childhood hearing about turned out to be an awesome, caring community that allowed me to meet other people, learn new things, and gather valuable new perspectives on the world and the people living in it. It solidified what I already instinctively knew: Higher education and interaction with people who were different from me were good things, not bad things. My biggest regret about college is that I rushed through it. 

My drifting away wasn’t entirely my childhood church’s fault. It was inevitable. So-called “Christians” have repeatedly been the most hypocritical, hate-filled, fear-filled people I’ve encountered. And some of the nicest, most caring people I’ve met have been people of other faiths or of no faith. Plenty of “Christians” pushed me farther away. I have to say, though, that I never doubted my childhood church’s love for me. There are certainly reasons to be thankful to them, though I have to wonder what would’ve happened had I known I was gay back then and been open about it.

So there I was, at that table with that adorable man. For years, I hadn’t had to think about my faith, so I didn’t. But it was time. What did I believe? And if I did really still ultimately think I was a Christian, there really wasn’t any welcoming place for me, an openly gay man, right? Turns out, there was, but it would take time to figure that out.

Gays, God, Government.

I recently read some reaction to President Obama’s announcement that he now supports marriage equality and I think it’s typical of the conversations happening across the country right now. Marriage is a tough nut to crack because – for many – the religious meaning outweighs the civil meaning. And in those cases, many people forget that some don’t even believe in a religious meaning to marriage. The main person in this conversation argued strictly about whether being gay was a sin. I responded and felt it important to share it – not because it’s the definitive answer on the issue, but because life is one big conversation. Enjoy.

I want to say that I completely understand we will not convince each other to think differently on this issue, however I still feel compelled to explain my part, just as you have done with yours.

The original link [my friend] posted wasn’t about what God says about gays. It was about the leader of the country’s stance on an increasingly less controversial (at least, according to the most recent poll numbers) issue in the eyes of the law. People will argue that America’s law is based on Christianity, but the bottom line is the founders were fleeing religious persecution and wrote the Constitution so that people could practice religion freely and have the rule of law still reign. Surely, their religious convictions influenced the law, but many of them realized their convictions were not the same as others’.

This means that whatever your belief is about what the Bible says can stand as true in your mind and the minds of millions of others in this country. But it also means that just because one’s Christian perspective is that gays are wrong and gay marriage is wrong, does not mean it can be legislated as such. In times past, when this has happened, society has shifted (Christians would likely say “away from God”) and changed the laws or Christians themselves have shifted on an issue as well. This issue is no different.

The issue at hand in this post is NOT whether being gay is a choice or is genetic. It is not about what the Bible says about it. It is about what’s right in the eyes of the law and the Constitution. It’s about rights in a country, not rights within a religion.

Also, what God says about gays is debatable. Regardless of what some may think, the Bible’s meaning is ALWAYS an interpretation. This is just how it works. Humans always interpret things themselves, even if they’re hearing it straight from the source. In grade school, we all read a bunch of stuff from the past. And in those cases, our teachers told us that a work must be taken in the context of which it was written. For some reason, people forget this fact when it comes to many religious texts. Also, ALL Christians – in one way or another – pick and choose what they believe still holds “true” in the Bible. The Bible says pig is bad, we now eat pig. The Bible says don’t work on the Sabbath. We do. The Bible isn’t a huge fan of straight couples living together before they get married, but they do ALL the time. When it’s convenient, we allow the realities of life to overtake our so-called Christian convictions and play them down. When it’s something we’re uncomfortable with and we’ve never had to face, we’re sometimes extremely convinced our way is the right way. It’s just human nature.

To summarize, the point of the president’s message was clear: He’s in favor of gay marriage. Yes, he also said that he doesn’t think that view conflicts with his Christian faith, but that is his personal interpretation of the scripture. The religious ramifications of his statement are surely separate from the legal ones – the ones that matter when you’re talking about rights in a secular country with such a diverse group of people. Gay marriage doesn’t restrict the rights of Christians at all. It just opens up rights for others who don’t believe like SOME (an increasingly smaller group) Christians do that being gay is wrong. Right or wrong in the eyes of God does not equal right or wrong in the eyes of the law. Not in this country.

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