Wedding Banned.

It has been about a year since my Confirmation and I can already say that I love the Episcopal Church. There are plenty of reasons, many of which I’ve documented herehere, and here.

Not only do I love the national church, but I really love the church I attend, including the priests and congregants I’ve met. At this point, I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a more genuine, unconditionally loving congregation. While no church or denomination is perfect because no people are perfect, the Episcopal Church at least recognizes this and works together to improve.

As a former Southern Baptist, it has taken me time to understand that it really is OK to question things within the Church. This is great, though, because at this point in my life, I know I couldn’t be part of a church where I felt like I had to sit by silently as I witnessed things I disagreed with, or even experienced discrimination myself. 

Given my affection for the national Episcopal Church and my local congregation, it is difficult to say, but there is one aspect of the Episcopal Church that has thoroughly disappointed me: the position on same-sex marriage taken by the bishop of the Diocese of Florida.

Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard has banned Episcopal priests from performing same-sex marriages in the diocese. 

This is regardless of what an individual priest believes on this so-called “issue,” and it’s not just priests in the diocese who report to him: Even an affirming priest from an affirming diocese can’t come here and perform a same-sex marriage. As someone who is getting married in a few months, this hits very close to home.  

This is possible even though the national Episcopal Church supports marriage equality because these regional bishops are permitted to ban same-sex marriages in their diocese. Bishop Howard is one of the relative few who have actually done it. 

“The nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage are linked to the relationship of man and woman. The promises and vows of marriage presuppose husband and wife as the partners who are made one flesh in marriage,” reads a statement co-signed by Bishop Howard after the national Episcopal Church decided to allow marriage equality. “When we were ordained as bishops in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, we vowed to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church of God.’”

Even before that national meeting, called the General Convention, where the Episcopal Church made this decision, Bishop Howard issued a letter that he required be read aloud at all churches within the diocese, indicating that his position on marriage equality would not be changed. 

“As your Bishop, I want to be clear about where we are as a Diocese as General Convention approaches. The policy of our diocese concerning the 2012 trial-use liturgies for blessing of same-sex couples remains the same. This liturgy is not approved for use in the Diocese of Florida.” 

And yet, in that same letter, Bishop Howard said there would be great consideration when making such decisions. 

“Some of our work this summer will surely get attention outside our church in the press and on the internet. Often these stories are told from a perspective that lacks attention to the great deal of reflection and prayer that go into making difficult decisions. Rarely does careful and prayerful consideration make good headlines or sound bites.” 

How does someone go into a meeting with an open mind while also essentially saying his opinion will not change? Those two things are incompatible. 

There is one way lesbian or gay Episcopalians in this diocese can get married in the Episcopal Church: They must physically leave the diocese and go somewhere else. 

Same-sex couples in a diocese that has banned same-sex marriage, like this one, can be referred to another diocese that does allow same-sex marriage. I don’t find this to be acceptable or helpful. 

Why would I want to have a random priest to marry us? If a priest or minister is going to be the officiant, I’d want someone who knows us. And why should I be relegated to certain physical locations and venue options solely because I’m marrying someone who happens to also be a man? Also, isn’t this option likely more costly?

It’s funny: conservative Christian pastors love to talk about how they fear being “forced” to perform a same-sex marriage. Yet, in this case, priests who would love to perform same-sex marriages are being forced not to in these non-affirming dioceses. They’re actively being hindered from fully proclaiming Christ’s love to all people. 

Compared to other denominations, the Episcopal Church is progressive on many issues, including marriage equality. But this is discrimination by Bishop Howard

According to the Episcopal Church itself, marriage is a “sacramental right,” like baptism and communion. But rites like baptism and communion are different and more important than marriage because they “…were given by Christ and are understood to be necessary for the Christian life of all persons.” 

I can be baptized in this diocese.

I can be confirmed in this diocese. 

I can be a church member in this diocese.

I can take communion in this diocese. 

But I can’t get married in this diocese. 

How does this make any sense? If things like baptism and communion are more important than marriage because they were given directly to us by God and the bishop’s issue was truly theological, wouldn’t he want to “guard the faith” by denying us these other more important sacraments as well? 

If LGBTQ folks, including married ones, are able to take part in the sacramental rites given to us by God, why can’t we also be married in the Church?

You might be asking yourself why I’m writing all of this here instead of to the bishop. After all, wouldn’t it be more productive to have a conversation with him? At very least, it’s a great place to start, right? 

I agree. 

Even in their “minority report” after the General Convention voted to permit same-sex marriages, our bishop and the others who disagreed wrote this: 

“Our commitment to the Church includes a commitment to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We will walk with them, pray with and for them, and seek ways to engage in pastoral conversation. We rejoice that Jesus’ embrace includes all of us.”

Apparently, that “pastoral conversation” doesn’t involve the bishop actually conversing with us about this issue because I’ve tried to begin a conversation with him multiple times with no luck, only excuses as to why he hasn’t even responded. And I’ve been told the same thing has happened time after time after time with other local Episcopalians. And if he does respond, it’s to say he’s not discussing the topic any further. I’m pretty new to this whole Episcopalian thing, but it honestly reminds me of my Southern Baptist past and it’s certainly not welcoming.

Bishop Howard likes to talk about the importance of “evangelism.” Continuing to broadly discriminate against an entire group of people, in this case same-sex couples, hurts these efforts. 

How do you think I feel whenever I want to invite an LGBTQ friend to church? What do I say?

While I’m willing to see all of the good in my local church and with my local priests, and to understand the nuances of the denomination, not all people are willing to do that, especially if they’re new to church or have previously been hurt by the Church. All they see is that they’re being discriminated against for who they love. They aren’t necessarily going to try to figure out exactly who is doing it and exactly why.

And I don’t blame them one bit.

My wedding plans are set and I am exceedingly happy with them. Also, while it would be nice to have a priest we know marry us, I don’t believe God’s presence will somehow be missing from our wedding simply because one man has banned priests from performing the ceremony. God is much bigger than any one person and God’s love is much greater and much too powerful to be diminished by Bishop Howard or anyone else.

Discrimination is discrimination, though, and couples like us at least deserve the opportunity to have our priests marry us. So my hope is that this discriminatory practice will end sooner rather than later and that Bishop Howard will develop a more expansive idea of what loving his neighbors truly looks like in action. It certainly isn’t by embracing discrimination and refusing to discuss it. It is almost time for the General Convention again, and same-sex marriage is sure to be discussed. Hopefully things change even more in favor of equality. 

Before joining the Episcopal Church, I learned a lot about it and I’ve learned even more in my time as part of it. One of the things I love most is that we can ask questions and grow together. My prayer is that Bishop Howard will one day embrace this concept regarding this topic and eventually join the majority of the broader Episcopal Church by erring on the side of love and inclusion.

Because there should be no place for discrimination within the Church.

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Click here to share your thoughts on marriage equality with Bishop Howard.

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About Doubt

I’m a doubter. A skeptic.

Depending on what circles one moves within, this is either good or bad — rarely anything in between. If you’re a scientist, for example, a healthy skepticism is likely your friend. But if you’re a teenager asking questions at your Southern Baptist church, it’s more likely to be seen as your very own first-class ticket to hell.

For most of us, though, doubt is simply part of life. We doubt ourselves. We doubt someone’s (or everyone’s) motives. And yes, we doubt our beliefs.

Perhaps my natural doubting abilities are why I identify with the story of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. Chances are you likely know him as “Doubting Thomas.” Whether or not it should be, it’s kind of how he is known. Here’s the basic story:

Jesus appeared to some of the disciples after his resurrection, but Thomas wasn’t there. When he arrived, the disciples tried to tell him they saw Jesus, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” he tells them.

oh my god wow GIF-source

Thomas wasn’t playing around, y’all! So a week goes by and all the disciples are together again, this time with Thomas, when Jesus shows up again.

“Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

We Did It Mic Drop GIF-source

Jesus – 1, Thomas – 0.

But seriously, though, this is such an important part of the story to me. Yet again, we are shown that one of the people closest to Jesus was an imperfect human being. This time, it was someone who doubted. And let’s be honest: If someone walked up to you, no matter how close of a friend they are, and told you a story like that, would you believe them without seeing for yourself? Probably not.

Not only is doubt a normal part of life, it should be a normal part of a Christian’s life. The more Christians behave as if doubt is abnormal and means a person is less committed to following Jesus than they are, the more people are pushed away from the life-giving message Christians are supposed to be sharing.

I love what Ian S. Markham & C.K. Robertson have to say about doubt:

“It is often said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. When we think about God, we do so from the vantage point of humans. We are small entities in a vast universe; we are trying to work out what the source and creator of the universe is like. We should approach this project with some humility. Our vantage point does not permit certainty. We are called to think, struggle, and discern the truth about God and God’s relations with the world…we are all on a journey of faith. This journey will have many twists and turns. Sometimes our sense and experience of God will be strong; at other times, God will seem to be further away.”

I’ve written about my faith journey before and have likely referenced that I actually have a much better, firmer understanding of what I believe because of my doubtsQuestioning things means exploring things, and exploration is an opportunity for growth. You know who doesn’t grow? People who think they’ve got it all figured out. As author Rachel Held Evans has said, “In the end, it was doubt that saved my faith.”

Amen.

Life ebbs and flows, so it is only natural that our spiritual lives will, too. Through it all, though, God is with us. Even in times when we aren’t so sure, God is with us. If God made us, don’t you think God understands our nature? And if Jesus understood Thomas’ doubts, don’t you think he’ll understand our doubts, especially when he knows we don’t have the same opportunity as Thomas?

At the end of the story about “Doubting Thomas,” Jesus says those who have not seen and have still come to believe in him are blessed. Even in Thomas’ belief in Jesus as the son of God, he still had unbelief about this one thing until the truth was revealed to him. We have no reason to believe it is any different for us. In fact, through Thomas’ doubts, we received, what I believe, is one of life’s key lessons: Doubt is OK. I can’t say it enough. It seems it’s not the doubt that’s the issue, but what we do in response to it.

So if you are a Christian who doubts, join the club. Like, literally. Find a group of people that doesn’t just tolerate doubt, but deeply understands it and accepts it as part of life. By exploring our doubt, in relationship with others, we can find our way back to belief.

A Bittersweet Birthday

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A few weeks ago, I had a dream about my mom. All I remember was that the conversation was relatively normal and I had this overwhelming feeling that we could’ve really gotten along had some things been different. What are those “things”? I’m not sure. Probably some things on her part and some on mine.

She would’ve turned 53 today. Truth be told, during what would become the last few years of her life, I didn’t really care to keep her filled in on my life anymore. I didn’t really feel like she deserved it and I didn’t really feel like she even paid attention, so it was, for me, a chore at best.

Another hard truth is that if she were still living today, I can’t promise I’d feel differently about it. At that point, I was tired of trying. After all, it would be her death that would cause me to give any of this additional thought.

I believe we should all relentlessly work to understand ourselves and the world around us, but I also believe some things will always remain a mystery. One thing I’ve come to understand (and try to remember daily) is that my thoughts and actions are just that — my thoughts and actions. How I treat others does not have to be based on how I perceive their treatment of me. Rather, how I treat others can (and, at this point, I think probably should) be based on how I believe others should be treated given their inherent dignity and worth as human beings and as children of God. To be clear, this doesn’t mean we’re all just human punching bags, ready and waiting for people to repeatedly take advantage of us. Also, it’s a relatively recent change in thinking for me, so I really, really suck at it right now. But I’m trying.

Here’s the great news: While I don’t know that I would treat my mom differently if she were living today, nor do I have the opportunity to take what I’ve learned and apply it to our relationship, I can encourage others who have similar relationships with their loved ones to consider another perspective. These days, I’d love the opportunity to introduce my mom to the man I plan to marry, for example, but it’s not even a possibility. Perhaps, for others, it’s not too late.

But one day, it will be. And “one day” might come on a random Friday morning, when you least expect it.

And hey — if your relationships with your loved ones are “peachy keen,” as my mom would say, fantastic. There’s something else most of us can do to honor the woman I knew as my mother on her birthday: Sit back, relax, and drink a beer.

Of Little Faith

“You of little faith.” 

This phrase is so common for us today, one doesn’t need to have been raised in a church to have heard it. Others might know it as, “O ye of little faith,” especially if you were raised in a King James Version-based congregation like I was.

In our society, we use this phrase so often, it likely rarely makes sense when we use it. Maybe you’re perpetually running late and someone doesn’t believe you when you tell them you’ll be on time.

“O ye of little faith.” 

Maybe you tell your coworkers you’re going to finish a project wth a seemingly impossible deadline on time and they don’t believe you.

“O ye of little faith.” 

Maybe you tell your kids you’ll play with them outside, right after you finish washing the dishes, but the kids aren’t buying it.

“O ye of little faith.” 

But think about why Jesus tells Peter that he has little faith. Think about how crazy it all is. This story — probably one of the most told stories in the Bible — really picks up when Jesus is walking on the water out to the boat. The disciples think it’s a ghost! And then — as if that’s not weird enough — Peter decides to put Jesus to the test and Jesus takes him up on the offer.

“Come,” Jesus says. So then Peter hops out of the boat and starts walking on the water, too. But what happens? The moment something changes, Peter realizes what’s happening, gets scared and starts to sink.

I have to admit that, today, in a way, I find myself having little faith, too, perhaps in that sinking moment.

Berke M. M. Bates — a state trooper in Virginia — would have turned 41 today. Bates was up in a helicopter yesterday with another state trooper — Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen — monitoring events between protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The helicopter crashed and Trooper Bates and Trooper Cullen died. We still don’t know why the crash even happened.

On the ground at those protests yesterday — between white supremacists and counter-protesters — 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when 20-year-old James Alex Fields Junior drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting white supremacy. Nineteen others were hurt in the crash, including five people who were still in critical condition this morning.

Reports say one man gave Heather CPR while another held an oxygen mask to her face until they could get her out of there. But she didn’t make it.

In another incident yesterday, multiple white men started beating 20-year-old Deandre Harris, a black man, with poles in a parking garage. He has eight staples in his head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth. Throughout the day, others recounted similar attacks on social media.

So today is a day of little faith for me.

Little faith in my fellow Americans.

Little faith in the justice system.

Little faith in many of those in the Church.

Little faith that our government will do anything meaningful to help stop emboldening hate-filled, fear-filled people.

Today, I see yet again how violent the waters are, and I have little faith.

In humanity.

But since when does our faith rest with humanity? Sure, we may seek to have faith in each other, in our government, in our world — but our faith does not rest there. Our faith does not begin there. Our faith begins with the man who called Peter out onto the water. Our faith begins with a man who can perform miracles and can enable us to perform them, too. Our faith begins and rests with Jesus.

And I admit, even knowing that, days like today can be hard. Days like today, you may not want to be called out onto the water. You might just want to sit at home and think. And be angry. And heartbroken. At very least, it’s tempting. And maybe today’s not the day, but maybe tomorrow is.

And, when you feel the time is right, there are things we can learn from Jesus and Peter in today’s gospel.

First, we must realize that faith isn’t just about belief. It’s about doing. People like to say they are, “stepping out in faith.” But really, stepping out is faith. Even when we aren’t sure if our actions will help anything, we can still act faithfully — we can still faith. And really — isn’t it even more faithful when we aren’t completely certain of exactly how our actions will help, but we do them anyway, knowing they’re guided by the Holy Spirit?

This is where I should mention a reality that may be a bit difficult for some to hear: Many of those white supremacists yesterday call themselves Christians, too. They think that what they’re doing, what they’re advocating for, is a Christian ideal. They may even think that they are being led, by faith, to do God’s work in the world. To us, that may sound crazy, but to them, it might feel real.

So how, then, do we know when we are acting in faith? How do we know when our actions really are guided by God? A good place to start is to ask yourself this question: Is what I’m being called to do something that will create or cultivate love and inclusion in the world and among God’s people? 

It is critically important, especially now, that we, like Peter, don’t just say we have faith, but that we back that faith up with action. Because if there’s another thing this story teaches us, it’s that with Jesus and through Jesus and in Jesus’ name, we can work miracles. But the minute we begin to overthink and shrink bad inside of ourselves — the moment, perhaps, that we become too rational — that’s the moment we begin to sink. Miracles, after all, are inherently mysterious.

Like Peter, we will fail. But, with God’s help, we can get back up. And like Peter, we don’t have to rush out to try and conquer the world or solve problems on our own. Faith begins with a single step out into the unknown. A step out of our comfort zones. That’s where freedom is. That’s where miracles are. That’s where love is. Because that’s where Jesus is.

The world needs compassion. The world needs hope. And those who are marginalized need us to stand up in faith and call out hate and discrimination and fear when we see it. They need us to act. Not just when it’s convenient for us, but especially when it’s not. After all, isn’t that at least part of what love is? Isn’t part of how we show love by showing it when it’s needed the most, which isn’t always when it’s the most convenient?

I don’t know about you, but some of the most powerful, love-filled moments in my life have been totally unexpected and totally inconvenient for the person doing the loving, whether it’s me loving someone else or someone else loving me. As usual, that’s where the Holy Spirit tends to lead us. Into the darkness. Into the hopelessness. Into the valleys. Because that’s where faith and hope and love and the message of a savior who offers all of that — and more — is needed the most.

So let us always go forth in love and peace, ready to do the work God would have us to do, even and especially if feels tough or inconvenient for us. Especially if it means stepping out in faith into uncertain waters. Because that’s where miracles happen.

Part 5: Confirmation

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

Today, I’m going through Confirmation. If you’re like I was just a few months ago, you’re asking yourself specifically what that is. Yay, Google! You can find the Episcopal Church’s explanation here, but let me attempt to explain it:

Confirmation is when a person makes a (new or renewed) public commitment to Christ and the Church via a special service that includes the laying on of hands by a bishop, whose blessing is passed on from a line of succession dating back to Christ. For my Evangelical friends out there, you know when you finally walk up to the front of the church, tell them you want to be a Christian, pray “the prayer” to “accept Jesus as your savior,” and then they present you in front of the church? It’s kind of like that, only they make sure you’re mature enough and ready to make that decision.

For lifelong Episcopalians, Confirmation generally happens during the teenage years. Baptism happens before that, usually when you’re a baby. There are misconceptions about all of this, especially from Evangelicals, but I get it now.

For Episcopalians, Baptism is something God does, not something we say or do. During Baptism, parents and godparents say they’ll make sure the child is brought up in the faith. Here’s how one book put it:

“Just as a baby has no choice about being physically born or adopted into a family, but hopefully will grow into an awareness of what it means to be part of that family, even so in Baptism the child is ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit … and marked as Christ’s own for ever … amidst the many changes and chances of this life that come our way, we can take comfort in the fact that we are beloved by God, not just for a moment but forever, and that the bonds that connect us to our Creator and Redeemer do not dissolve. Baptism is the visible sign of that wondrous grace!”

So, then, Confirmation is when you choose to make a mature public recommitment to the faith. For me, while I made that commitment at a young age and have already renewed it in some ways, this really seals the deal.

But it does not mean I will magically be perfect. It does not mean I will always agree with everything the Episcopal Church does, that the diocese does, that my local church does, or that people in it do. It does not mean I’ll suddenly be cured of doubts or will magically have it all figured out. I am, after all, still a mere mortal. Womp.

Before all of my conservative Evangelical friends reading this send out a search party for my soul, let me say a few things:

I did not and do not take this journey lightly. I reached this point through plenty of discernment that included prayer, reflection and conversation.

Having a different take on things than you doesn’t mean I suddenly care nothing about scripture or about Jesus. I chose to do the hard work. I dug in. I researched. And while I’m sure not having to think too deeply about one’s faith might be comfortable, I’m now at a point at which, like my journey as an LGBTQ person, I’m thankful I’ve had a longer road to travel to get to where I am today with my faith.

I’ve grown, y’all! But I also can’t imagine I’ll ever be like, “OK yep — got it — I know everything now with absolute certainty! That was fun.” It’s a lifelong sort of thing.

And you know what? I don’t think I would’ve gotten to where I am today had it not been for my sexuality. While I was already headed out of the Southern Baptist door before I knew for sure that I was gay, my sexuality forced me to leave even beyond what I was initially thinking. It forced me to actually read and study, especially when I began to ask the big faith questions again. Also, let’s not forget the totally smart, hot boyfriend/fiancé of mine who got my faith engine going again.

So no, I am not simply “ignoring scripture” or “giving into society.” I have just come to different conclusions. I’ve changed, and in many cases expanded, my views. I’ve embraced the idea of a loving, compassionate, peaceful God who wants me to share that with others, not some fearmongering God who wants me to say yes to him just so I’ll scratch by in life and not physically burn forever in hell. I get that it may not be in line with what you think, but it’s definitely in line with what I think and with my experience.

And before my non-Christian or non-religious friends prepare for me to try to convert them, let me say a few things:

I’m not going to try to convert you. I’m just going to try to live my life by the values I hold dear as best as I can – I imagine a lot like you.

Secondly, there are millions of Christians out there, many of them in the Episcopal Church, who are likely much different than what you think of when you hear the term “Christian.” They believe in facts and science and reason and in helping people. They believe in love and peace and sharing it with others. They’re cool with doubt. They try not to fear or fearmonger. They don’t take every bit of the Bible literally. They don’t see it as a “rule book” that’s used to beat others up. And, just like you, they do not have all the answers and they recognize that.

There is a wide range of opinions on a wide range of things, all under the umbrella of “Christian.” I didn’t really realize that growing up, maybe even until a few years ago. The fundamentalists or extremists we all see on TV aren’t all that’s out there.

Finally, this does not mean I’ve suddenly become St. Kyle. I will fail you. I will fail myself. In other words, I will be human. One of the biggest reasons I don’t really talk about faith stuff in too much detail, especially right now, is because I think people are out there just waiting on someone to say they’re a Christian and fail. Frankly, that’s no way to live — on my part or on the part of those people. We’re all going to suck at life sometimes. That’s just the way it is.

I will never be perfect. I will never know it all. I will never be certain about all things, faith-related or otherwise. But as I previously said, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt — it’s certainty. And in the same way that I cannot speak for the entirety of the LGBTQ community, I also can’t speak for the entirety of the Christian faith or for the Episcopal Church. I’m an individual. My journey is my journey and yours is yours.

But I will always strive to be better and to learn more. I will strive to help others and love others and show peace to others. I will try to remember that everyone is created in the image of God, has inherent worth, and deserves dignity and respect. I’m not better than anyone else and they’re not better than me. When I fail, I will do my best to learn from it and do better next time. And I know I will, with God’s help.

I know that my naturally inquisitive (and cynical) nature played a primary role in helping me get here, but so did my sexuality. So did my fiancé. So did various people who were open with their faith journeys. So did the priests at my local cathedral. And so did my doubt. As Rachel Held Evans said in another one of her books“In the end, it was doubt that saved my faith.” Funny how that works out.

So while a lot of things are still unknown and will always be, and while nothing is perfect, I’m pretty excited about all of this. I’m excited to feel more comfortable in referring to my church and my priests. I’m excited to make new friends. I’m excited to learn and grow. And I’m excited to do it all with the man who got me thinking about all of this again, who has for some reason agreed to marry me. It’s all pretty great.

Hopefully, you’ve benefited from what I’ve had to say in some way. I’m always here for my friends who have questions or just want to chat. And with that, it’s only right that I end with this: May the peace of the Lord be always with you!

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.

 

Part 3: Lessons Learned

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

As I began to learn more about the Episcopal Church, I noticed that if I ever casually mentioned it to anyone who wasn’t Episcopalian, I’d hear all about how it was “Catholic lite.” But the more I read, the more I found the Episcopal tradition to be quite different from Catholicism. It seemed that most people just saw the collars, heard some words, and saw the worship style and assumed it was the same. They took a look at the cover of the book without bothering to read it. I, however, saw meaningful differences. But I digress.

I want to share some of the impactful things I learned through a couple of books, beginning with Welcome to the Episcopal Church by Christopher L. Webber. On the Bible:

“The Bible is not a set of instructions that can give us simple answers to all questions or a text with which to prove points. In the first place, the guidance the Bible gives was provided for a society very different from ours and still in the early stages of growing in knowledge of God’s love.

In the second place, any set of words is open to various interpretations…God, being ultimately responsible for both the text of the Bible and the nature of human beings, presumably understood that in creating both and made allowances. The authority of the Bible is not that of a dictator or rule book…If God had wanted us to have a rule book, surely a better one could have been provided than this. The Bible is something quite different; we go to it not to find specific words to answer our questions but to find the Word who created us and knows our need before we ask.”

On worship and theology:

“Worship for example, is inclusive, not exclusive, while theology, by its nature, excludes. Theology is concerned with defining issues and boundaries, with saying we believe this and not that. Worship, on the other hand, like great music and art, can be appreciated on many levels and in many ways. Art, music, and worship are difficult to define in words and it would be difficult to say that someone whose appreciation is different from ours is wrong. Worship, then, has the ability to unite, to draw us in and draw us together…

Theology relies on language in its attempt to understand religious experience, and those who worship God know how difficult it is to put that experience into words. God is always beyond our definitions.”

On the importance of reason, in addition to scripture and tradition:

“No matter how much some Christians may question reliance on human reason, they cannot avoid using their minds to do so. Neither Scripture nor tradition provides clear and certain answers to all questions; at some point, there is no way to decide among possible interpretations except through the use of the human mind.”

On “sin:”

“The attempt to identify sin with some outward enemy can also lead to such phenomena as racism, homophobia…and a negative approach to the world in general…sin lies in the misuse of good things rather than in the things themselves. The purpose of the spiritual life is to seek God’s glory rather than simply avoid sin. Nature has an inherent goodness that can be perfected by grace.”

On differences of opinions within the Church:

“Unity is not the same thing as uniformity, nor can it be imposed from above…Uniformity of opinion and vision might be more comfortable to some, but unity is made up of diversity. It is precisely in this clash of opinions and the debating of different visions that the mission of the church is clarified. A church without controversy would be a dead church.” 

I also read Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers by Ian S. Markham & C.K. Robertson. Here are some of my favorite parts, the first being about doubt and certainty:

“It is often said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. When we think about God, we do so from the vantage point of humans. We are small entities in a vast universe; we are trying to work out what the source and creator of the universe is like. We should approach this project with some humility. Our vantage point does not permit certainty. We are called to think, struggle, and discern the truth about God and God’s relations with the world…we are all on a journey of faith. This journey will have many twists and turns. Sometimes our sense and experience of God will be strong; at other times, God will seem to be further away.”

On the inherent worth of others:

“We are made in the ‘image of God’ — often referred to in the Latin as ‘Imago Dei.’ Every person is special. It means that we are all required to treat people with dignity. They are extraordinary creations of infinite worth.” 

On the importance of social justice:

“If you had to identify the single most important biblical theme, then I think any fair observer would say ‘social justice.’ It is the primary theme of the Gospel (Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but talks repeatedly about the dangers of riches and the importance of the poor); it is the major theme of the prophets in the Old Testament (just look at Isaiah, Amos, and Micah); and it is a central characteristic of the early church (see Acts 4:33-35)…this commitment is firmly embedded in Scripture. The Church is called to be an agent of change in society.”

On scripture:

“It is not enough to read a verse of Scripture on its own, divorced from its setting in the larger passage. Sadly, there have been many times in the history of Christianity when people have wrenched a verse from its context and used it to justify otherwise deplorable acts such as slavery, racism, even crusades and inquisitions. Even in less extreme situations, it is far too easy either to take a verse that supports our own biases or to react against a too-easy fundamentalist approach by dismissing all of Scripture as irrelevant. No, we choose to do the harder work. This means considering the passage surrounding a particular verse.

…While affirming the way that Christians before us have comprehended the Word of God in relation to their time and place, we must also ask what God might be saying to us now in our own context…God can do a new thing if we are willing to let go of our own presuppositions and dare to approach both Scripture and our own situation with fresh eyes.

…Everyone looks at the Scriptures through a lens of some kind.”

On diversity within the church, including diversity of opinion:

“The work of discerning ‘what is of God’ is hard. We need the range of perspectives. We appreciate the wisdom of those who push the question: What is the biblical basis of this or that innovation? We appreciate the insight of those who push the question: How can we further the work of justice in today’s society? Naturally, this can look messy at times. If you look at the church in Corinth and read behind Paul’s letters to that congregation, then you will see messy is the norm. And messy can be good. We would rather all stay together in conversation than keep aspiring for a purity where other voices are excluded.”

On the Bible and the “Word of God:”

“For the Episcopal Church, Jesus is the primary Word of God. As we shall see later, the Bible is the Word of God because it points to the primary Word, which is Jesus. It is from the Incarnation that we learn what God is like. It is the primary disclosure of the nature of God to humanity.”

That is a lot to digest, I know. And it’s only the beginning. Next, I’ll talk more about what I’ve learned, specifically by actually [gasp] regularly attending services.