This is a continuation of my first post on this topic.
The last post was mostly about my decision to pursue ministry and the specific type of ministry I would like to do. This post is going to go back to the beginning. To my childhood, that is, and explore my faith journey from there to here. Hmm. Maybe I should subtitle this entry There And Back Again–A Faith Seeker’s Tale.
My childhood experience with religion and faith is quite a bit different than the experiences of a lot of people I know. For one thing, I was never forced to go to church. My family is traditionally Apostolic Christian, but that was really in my great-grandmother’s generation. My grandmother HATED being forced to go to church and broke her own family away from it when she had children. My mother, aunt and uncles grew up in a non-religious setting–as did I.
That said, I was always drawn to the church as a child. I yearned for whatever it was that I thought church and religion was. I went to church quite often–on my own. If anyone invited me to go with them to church, or to visit their church, I was there. I even recall dragging my mother with me a time or two. I find it funny that most kids had to to be dragged kicking and screaming and I eagerly went (most of the time).
I wasn’t drawn to a particular faith. I wanted to experience them ALL. As an adult, I can clearly see where my interests in interfaith work stems from. I loved the differences of various denominations and churches. How one dressed, the music played, the size of the congregation, how one listened to the Word was all different depending on where you went to worship. It was all so fascinating.
I never had a bad experience with faith as a kid. That’s important. Everyone was so nice and welcoming to me. So pleased and happy that I wanted to learn more about them and their idea(s) of God. It was always especially impressive to them that I was a youth and would come on my own (without family support). In my later years of high school, I carpooled to school with my very devout neighbors. They were a true patchwork American family! Black father, white mother and a gaggle of multiracial kids–biological and adopted. Everyday, while waiting for their kids to get ready (I was always on time 😉 ), I would read this Bible for teens their middle daughter owned. It was called “God’s Word For Students.” I really liked it. It was very accessible to teens and was full of daily lessons for guidance. Of course, the parents noticed my interest and got me my own copy as a graduation gift. That and a little stuffed graduation owl. I was so pleased. It was the second Bible I had been given as a gift. The first one was from a friend’s mother. I would go to her mostly all-Spanish speaking Apostolic church several times a month. She gave me an adorable Precious Moments Bible with my information lovingly written in her beautiful, almost calligraphic handwriting. I cherish both gifts. They truly came from the hearts of the givers.
Now, I should make it clear that I did not always actually agree with what was being said in all these churches I visited. These were often quite conservative congregations and denominations, especially my friend’s Apostolic church. This eventually created quite a conundrum for me. On the one hand, I LOVED the communities I was welcomed into. Like I said before, everyone was so warm and genuinely welcoming and loving. But. I couldn’t always make myself agree or not question certain beliefs and teachings. This was especially true as my feminist identity emerged in high school and college. This conflict didn’t make me angry or bitter, but it did make me feel deeply disappointed. I tried so very hard to reconcile what I felt with what I was being taught.
I can recall being in college and joining a Bible study group for young adults. The young men and women were so nice. I really liked them. Problem was, I was really having a hard time at this point with what I saw as rampant misogyny in the Bible. My devout friends explained to me that saying the man was head of the household, for example, was NOT an invitation for a husband to rule like a tyrant. In fact, it was the opposite. He was supposed to “rule” benevolently with wisdom and kindness. They were sincere in their beliefs.And the men were very kind. But, again, I could not reconcile what they told me with what the text actually said. So I told them that some things I could never accept (from the Bible) and they told me, not unkindly, that I would have to in order to be a Christian. This was devastating. I felt like such a failure. I wanted so badly to believe, to be a “good” Christian, but I could not push myself that final step.
Later in college I did my work-study hours with Claremont’s Office of the Chaplains. This is the religious center of the Claremont Colleges. There are three chaplains that serve the religious needs of the students, faculty and staff of the five undergraduate colleges (5Cs): a protestant minister, a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest. It’s a great example of three mainline faiths coming together in harmony. This experience was incredibly important to my developing religious views. First, it was wonderfully interfaith. Second, it exposed me to nothing but positive experiences with these three faiths.
I often tell people that the Catholic priest who was there at the time, Father Wayne, single-handedly redeemed the Catholic faith for me. He was one of the best men I have ever known. He was extremely warm, very funny and a true activist. Totally anti-war AND pro-choice! I knew a faith couldn’t be all bad if Father Wayne was a willing member. When he eventually lost his decades long fight with cancer, the entire community mourned deeply. We all knew that something precious and unique was now gone. His family spent their time not mourning the passing of their son, brother, uncle and so on, as one would expect, but hanging out with his colleagues and the people he served. They brought photo albums with them and told us stories of Father Wayne’s life. They were so pleased to see how much he had been loved and the impact his life had made on others. That’s what I thought ministry was. I could imagine no higher calling. To be trusted with a person’s soul is such a precious thing and such a huge responsibility.
I met many people, many young people, of deep faith at the Claremont Colleges. Considering how liberal the colleges in general are, it was of no surprise that these young people were also liberal and progressive. There was no conflict for them! They were feminists, activists, QUEER and faithful. They brought their whole selves to the table and were welcomed. It hurts me to see so many people damaged by the Church and faith. Religion is about all-caps ACCEPTANCE and HOPE and LOVE. If your creator can’t accept you, than who can?? In my experience, the people who have walked the hardest roads in life are often those with the most faith.
When I was a kid, I almost always had my head in the clouds. This hasn’t changed. I’m a spacey person. I have an insanely active and HUGE inner life. My dreams-waking and sleeping-are larger than life. I easily adjust my worldview when needed and I am always open to new possibilities. I think I have always been close to The Spirit. To me, faith isn’t about rules and dogma or restrictions; it’s about freedom and possibility and potential.
I think my next post will be on how I “lost” my religion when my mother died and how I found it again, years later.