Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Church and Me

Greetings from the 'sphere! I'm sorry to have been absent for so long - I've experienced a renewed focus in my Unborn Child and have decided once and for all to get this thing out of me. I'm nearly a third of the way through, due in part to my self-imposed deadlines to get chunks of the story to a good friend for review, (and soon another good friend for literary critique - though he doesn't know it yet).

I've barely logged into Facebook, I haven't posted a Tweet for days, and even had a week off of my story this week to focus on my other love - trivia. But by tomorrow night I will be a third of the way through it - or at least the skeleton.

This story is largely about faith - the desire for faith, the need to believe, the rationalization of the equally terrible and wonderful aspects of life - not faith in any one specific direction, but a study on faith itself, and what it can create for us. And as this allegory exits my brain and orders itself on paper, it has started teaching me as well, as I look at this thing that's been in my head from an outsider's perspective.

This story has brought to the surface all the vastly opposing, contradictory feelings I have for the Church. And while I say Church as a single entity here, I know I'm making an enormous generalization - but Church is far easier to type repeatedly than the sterile term "organized religion."

The Church and I run hot and cold - we have had our differences, but periodically I find myself returning to it. It's always a new experience, sometimes boring, sometimes insightful, sometimes refreshing - but it's never the same experience twice, probably because what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. (There are those very faithful that will stalwartly tell you otherwise, but that's another blog).

Some of my earliest memories of having a religious experience occurred at Lutheridge. This is a Lutheran Summer camp that I attended from around 8 years old through high school. It was at this mountain retreat in North Carolina that I first learned to equate the Devine with nature. We were taught to see Holiness in sunsets and sunrises, in the freezing cold creeks of the Appalachian mountains to the white water of the French Broad River, to the simple hikes to our meals. We were taught to find love and warmth in song and dance, and to appreciate those feelings as a gift. Because of Lutheridge, I understood the idea of divinity manifesting itself to us all the time if we just stop and listen, as at sunset Vespers and Morning Watch in the cold, dewy grass of this mountain refuge.

This feeling of harmony with nature, this finding of God in that harmony was a stark contrast to Sunday church services with my Grandmother. There you were to stand when you were told to stand, sit when you were told to sit, sing when you were told to sing. During Sunday School we would make crosses out of popsicle sticks and hear stories of Jesus' miracles. There was no spirituality here, only what had always been done.

Then there were those times I was on my own, walking through the woods, playing in the Saluda River, biking for hours with nothing but me and my thoughts and the world around me seeming at a distance. It was during these times that I could sometimes stop for a moment and recall those feelings at Morning Watch - there was divinity in the air around me. This was always a passing feeling, and only a few times in my life has it completely overwhelmed me as it seems to do to so many every Sunday. But it is a joyous feeling, this communion with the spiritual. It can't be brought on, but it happens from time to time.

And yet, for sixth and seventh grade I attended a Southern Baptist private school. Here I was taught that other religions were wrong, and that we were to either try to convince them to join the "correct path" or to pity them for their looming trip to eternal fire and brimstone. As a child who was searching for something - anything - I was easily swayed by revival weeks and prayer corners with school officials. My desire to fit in and believe overwhelmed my fear of telling anyone I was raised Lutheran. I even remember how one day in class the Science teacher was briefly touching on the world's religions. The subject of Lutheranism was raised, and a student asked "What do Lutherans believe?" The teacher actually told her that she didn't really know. I am not going to get into the birth of protestantism and why they are called "Lutherans" - but let's just say that the exchange between the Baptist teacher and student was at least a little ironic.

But discovering around the end of my seventh grade year that I was likely gay, I knew that if I told anyone I would either be expelled, told there was no hope for me, or prayed with for hours on end - likely all three. God loves everyone, as long as you are born attracted to the opposite sex, was my stance as I got older.

I swung from near Zealot to near completely anti-church within a year. I was disgusted by the fact that I was gay, felt tremendous guilt over it, but simultaneously hated the church for furthering myths about who I was. I saw the church as a hateful, judgmental establishment, aimed at growing membership - as long as those people fit into their societies. (Why are there still "black" churches and "white" churches? This astounds me).

It was a few years later that I discovered the predominantly-gay Metropolitan Community Church. If I didn't fit into the "straight" churches, I surely didn't fit in here. I went to three sermons and backed out. This is another story for another blog.

It was shortly after my brief run-in with the MCC that I began going off and on to the Unitarian Church. For years this seemed to fulfill my spiritual needs - all was okay here, all was accepted, we were all on our paths to find God as we saw Him or Her. I went back and forth to the Unitarian church for years, until I came to the conclusion that it was like drinking non-alcoholic beer. It filled a need for community, but spirituality was reduced to intellectual exercise. To me, this is just as bad as dissecting the divine with bureaucratic Dogma.

Now, as the ELCA has decreed it okay for non-celibate, monogamous gay men and women to serve as pastors, I'm raising an eyebrow once again to the Lutheran church. I'm tipping my toes in those waters once more, and may even go to church soon. I have no desire to mold my spiritual beliefs to fit a system. Like any relationship, this will have to happen organically.

One question I haven't directly addressed here is this - do I believe in God? Without going into my explanation (which is my own and no one else's) I say yes, I do. I firmly believe in a divine presence. There is no doubt here.

I do not have this belief because I need it. I have it because I believe it. But I don't feel the need to justify it to anyone else. I don't feel the need to justify it with myself. I don't need to point out the perfection that is nature, that is our majestic universe, to illustrate logic or illogic in any direction. Logic is as pliable as faith. They can work with each other or against each other, and they can negate each other. So where spirituality is concerned I choose to throw them both out the window, and simply believe. Anything beyond that is simply filling in the blanks, and we're all quite adept at filling in those blanks.

The Church and I have some mending to do in our relationship. But with faith, all things are possible.