Growing up, I had no notion of religion, except that we had a Christmas tree in our house and often lit the menorah with that tree in the background. My father was born to a Lutheran father and an ashamed Jewish mother, and raised in the Lutheran church. My mother was born to Jewish parents, but only my uncle attended Hebrew school, and in the end, the family could really only be identified as “cultural” rather than “religious” Jews. I was taught that “you don’t need to go to a building to pray to God” and that organized religion was a Ko.ol-Aid my parents were going to feed us.
When I got into high school, my best friend attended a local Presbyterian church and what we wanted more than anything was for my dad to let me be a teacher at the summer day camp with her during the summer before our sophomore years. I remember reaching back behind my seat in the car to where she was and she held my hand as I nervously asked him if I could do it. We were ecstatic when he said yes. That summer was the turning point in the souring of our friendship. All the other counselors were lifelong church members except myself and two other girls. As a result, we were cast out – relegated to second-class citizens in an organization supposedly dedicated to the Christian ideal. I spent that summer teaching things I’d never learned to young kids who were sweet and adorable and had no idea I had no idea what I was doing. And in the end, all I learned was that church is where I found out that I wasn’t good enough – for my best friend, for the kids I was teaching, and more profoundly, I clearly wasn’t good enough to be Christian.
In college, I took a course focused on Judaism. I liked what it had to say, but not enough to create action towards joining any specific community.
When I came out and moved away from home, many things changed. I learned that community was not something you are born to, but something you gravitate to. Something that speaks to you. And at that point in my life, finally learning to be comfortable with who I was and what I wanted, I realized that religion was not about church and cliques, but about my relationship with God. It was a relationship I could choose to have, choose to participate in, and choose how to express. Unfortunately, I was insecure enough in my relationship not to pursue it, because my girlfriend at the time was completely opposed to any sort of religion and I wasn’t strong enough to follow my heart on my own.
When I met H, she already belonged to a local church. Ever the skeptic, I asked her about her church’s stance on gays and lesbians – as members, but also as ACTIVE members. None of this “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit. She assured me it was different than I had experienced. And I had been to an MCC church and not been impressed, mostly because I don’t like the idea of having to go to a “separate but equal” church. So I went with H to her Episcopal church.
I’d love to say I had some sort of religious revelation right there the first day. But I didn’t. I’m a skeptic and an analyst by nature and I spent a lot of time wrangling with my scientific side. I struggled with my Jewish background, wondering if I was abandoning my history by choosing Christianity. But the more I read, the more I loved the story of Jesus as a historical figure – a revolutionary, a “maverick,” an “instrument of grace.”
And a funny thing happened. This church – it became home. Not in an epiphany or a revelation, but simply by being there, being accepted, and being welcomed. I chose Baptism, for myself, and for our (at the time) future children, whom I wanted Baptized. My religious community was one of my choosing, and while I hope my children will desire to choose the same community, I will fully support whatever community (if any) they should choose to participate in.
A good friend of ours, who is not sold on Christianity, asked us to be sure we wear our “No on Prop 8” buttons to church. H’s answer to her again affirmed my choice in making this place part of my home. Our church has actively participated in the “No on 8” campaign, our Dean is one of the most outspoken religious activists locally for GLBT inclusion and rights, and a No on 8 rally was held at the church.
Every day, I’m more and more proud to be a member of the congregation – in my path both spiritually and personally to becoming a more aware participant in our community. Every time our Dean speaks on behalf of the GLBT community or shows up at a Pride event, I am reminded that my early experiences with faith communities do not have to be where my spiritual journey ends. This may not be right for everyone, but it’s right for me and my family.
Today, I surfed over to our Dean’s blog to find this. Let us all, regardless of our beliefs, be instruments of grace.