31 March 2013

Happy Easter! I grew up in the Presbyterian Church that my mother co-founded. It was a comfortable, non-dogmatic, religious upbringing and one that centered on God’s grace and love. I never rebelled against it because there wasn’t anything that I particularly needed to rebel again. It wasn’t like I couldn’t play cards or couldn’t dance or couldn’t drink. 

As I got older, I began to question more and I also found myself moving to the Episcopalian Church and its more progressive, inclusive message.  There are all these things we can’t know that I struggle with: the usual “If God exists, how could he/she allow [throw in any atrocity here] to happen?” or the much more existential question of if I believe in Jesus, then what does it mean to truly live a godly life in his image? Why do so many conservatives cling to their notion of Christianity that is so antithetical to mine? How can we both be right? What about all the hypocrisy and violent acts that are committed in the name of God and/or Christianity? The Episcopal Church seems to let my intellectual and faith sides co-exist and one doesn’t have to trump the other.

I’ve never had trouble reconciling God and evolution or had trouble justifying all different types of religious faith. I just figured that God was big enough and omnipotent enough to speak to you in whatever language/faith you best received him/her, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism,  Islam... or none of the above: we all know secular humanists who carry out Jesus’s message far better than people who claim to be Jesus’s followers.   And, it may come back to haunt me at the Pearly Gates (if Heaven exists, and I’d like to believe it does), but I have never, ever felt compelled to try to convert someone to my way of thinking or to Christianity. That just seems disrespectful. 

Last year, I started a class offered through the University of the South’s  theology school called Education for Ministry (my fellow Episcopalians may be familiar with it). It’s the equivalent of a Masters degree in theology over four years (though we don’t have the write papers or take tests so I don’t actually get the Masters degree). I wanted to read and discuss the Bible from a primarily historical perspective and this was the closest I could find. In our first year, we’re studying the Old Testament. Well, as anyone who has really studied the Old Testament can attest, you can’t get through the Book of Genesis without stories conflicting left and right, so for me  (not that I believed in it anyway), any notion of the Bible’s literalness went out the window from the start. And, may I add, I'm convinced you only really need to read the Old Testament and the collected works of Shakespeare to learn everything you need to know about human nature and that it doesn't change... 

What I believe— and this has only increased as my religious questions have also mounted— is that what matters is that we love each other and that we be kind to each other. That’s really what it comes down to to me now: Kindness. I value it in people I meet and I desire to be kinder in my own life because I know what it feels like to be treated unkindly, I know what it feels like to feel unloved, and they are both horrible. I also know what it feels like to be treated kindly and to be treated with love and to know that kindness ought never be confused with pity. 

Everything I’ve read about Jesus, in whatever way/role you want to believe he existed, focuses on his kindness and his love for the disenfranchised. I honestly don’t know how any lesson to be learned from Jesus can be interpreted as anything other than to serve, love, and help your fellow man, especially those less fortunate than you, with compassion and kindness. ALL of your fellow men, not just the ones who think, look, or believe like you do. 

It’s easy to write that from my lofty perch here and much harder to put into practice. The church I go to now serves lunch to more than 100 homeless people every Monday and shares my thoughts about Jesus and social justice, so today’s $10 goes to my church. I’m not saying the name of it here to respect the privacy of my fellow churchgoers, but I’m so thankful to have found a place that welcomes me despite all my doubts. 

March 31: My local Episcopal church.

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