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.



Why I’m Not Making Out At Chick-Fil-A Today

I find myself caught in this horrible circle: I tell myself every day that I don’t want to post, comment or write about Chick-fil-A and marriage equality. And then I see things that annoy me. And here I am.

First, I’m really frustrated that the fight for my equality is now being waged in the context of a fast food chain. Talk about demeaning. There was a point when the comments/reactions made sense and then things just sort of nose-dived into extremism. So now, here we are talking more about chicken than about the logical reasons I should be able to get married to the man I love one day just as men and women do each day. And somehow, freedom of speech has now become the main talking point, it seems. I get that some groups were actually challenging the CEO’s freedom of speech, so I can definitely see it being a part of the conversation — just not the entire conversation.

Next, I spent Wednesday sick in bed, occasionally checking social media to see TONS of updates from “friends” who were going to CFA to show “appreciation” and from “friends” who were aghast at such a display. I saw update after update from gays about how true Christians would have organized clothing drives for the needy or donated to food banks or given money to homeless shelters. And then, two days later, someone decides that the best way to stand up to Chick-fil-A is to have a bunch of people go into the restaurant chains, kiss members of the same sex, take pictures/video of it and put it on Facebook. Talk about vanity. Really? Take a picture of yourself kissing your significant other/friend of the same sex inside a restaurant? Really? I love my boyfriend and I love to show him affection, at home and in public. But not arbitrarily. It cheapens the action and it cheapens the cause. I see nothing productive happening from a “kissing day.” They already knew we were gay, guys. They already knew we existed. They have gays that work there. I just don’t get it. I mean I see the points others have made in support, but so far, I find it all faulty.

But wait — this doesn’t mean Wednesday’s “appreciation” day was perfect. Oh no no. Where do I even begin? OK — let me think of this as a follower of Jesus. I’m pretty sure I’ve been trained enough for this. And I use “follower of Jesus” instead of “Christian” very specifically. Chick-fil-A is already making plenty of money. Half the people who went were probably already planning on clogging their arteries there sometime this week anyway. Just not on Sunday, of course. The biggest, most widespread message I’ve heard from “Christians” is that the point of this day was to show “appreciation” for the CEO’s public stance. Some went to apparently support his right to free speech. Others went because they agree that gay people shouldn’t exist. And yes, that’s what this CEO is essentially saying, no matter how he sugarcoats it. But part of this message has also been that Christians “love everyone.” It’s “love the sinner, hate the sin,” as I’ve so often been told. When Jesus wanted to prove a point, though, did he go to the people who supported him to show more support? No. Jesus seemed to think — from what I recall — that one shows what’s right and supports what’s right simply by demonstrating these ideals naturally in life. And one seeks out people in love to show them. Not to ram a message of hate down their throats, but to support them. He preferred the black sheep, not the religious leaders. What did all those preachers I heard saying that in sermon after sermon think it meant? You can’t just SAY you love everyone and follow it up with words and actions of hate. Well, you can. But then I’m not sure you’re paying attention to that “WWJD” bracelet. Instead of reaching out to the gay community to start a dialogue about things or to spend a few bucks feeding a homeless dude or donating canned goods to a food bank or even donating a few hours of time to spruce up a community, “Christians” decided to go eat. There must be Christians somewhere else in the world thinking that Americans are dumb as hell, just as there must be a group of gays somewhere else thinking we’re silly, too.

The bottom line is this is all silly. This is a deviation. This is not a “we can coexist moment.” I’m tired of “Christians” claiming that there’s some sort of massive gay oppression of Christianity going on. THINK about what you’re doing: You’re outwardly being hateful, saying we shouldn’t exist, and demanding laws to demonize us and keep us unequal. When we fire back by BOYCOTTING a FOOD chain that donates MILLIONS to continue said OPPRESSION, we’re attacking you? No. We’re fighting back against YOUR attacks. Wanting equality isn’t attacking. It has nothing to do with you. I don’t know how many different ways to say that my marriage won’t impact you at all. I guess if I wrapped my words in a hamburger bun, it’d be easier for you to “appreciate.”

I don’t understand why people can’t just THINK. Reverse the situations. We’re not trying to gain marriage equality and stop YOU from getting married. We’re just trying to show our love in a legal forum. Religion has no place here — not for everyone. This doesn’t even make sense if you think being gay is a sin. America isn’t run on “sins.” It’s run on laws. Laws to protect everyone.

And as for the gays — making out in a fast food restaurant, taking a pic, and running off does nothing. It makes you look just as silly as the bigots who think they’re simply “appreciating” a company for supporting oppression within governmental constraints.

I don’t want to join your church. I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t want to indoctrinate your kids. I just want to get married one day. And instead of being anywhere near a discussion on that, we’re writing about food. Typical America.