#Confirmed: My Heart is Episcopalian

I wrote this in August 2017 and didn’t post it.  Today I went to an Anglican church in Vancouver, and I sat there with tears in my eyes nearly the whole time because I felt excited about God in a way I haven’t in years.  I feel too raw to talk about today’s experience, but I loved it for many of the same reasons I loved what I wrote below.

To any other progressive old souls wondering if there’s a place for you in a spiritual community, TAKE HEART.


For about a year now, I’ve wanted to attend an Episcopalian church.  A couple of my friends who have been on similar spiritual journeys as myself left Baptist for Episcopalian churches, and they spoke glowingly of the freedom to doubt and discuss.  I wanted to see for myself, but I was scared that reality wouldn’t live up to the vision I’d built in my head.  When I did a Google search of Episcopal churches in the area and went to the first website, the very first thing this church wanted me to see was this:

“We believe that God’s love is always expanding and calling us to love one another in new and deeper ways. The love of Christ welcomes us all to fully participate in the life and leadership of the Church, regardless of gender identity, race, age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstances, family configuration, or difference of ability. Our community is made stronger by your unique presence.”

This was exactly the sort of openness that I was craving, but what if the website was a lie?  Finally, last Sunday, I drew up my courage and went on my own to a new church.

Y’all.  I found my people.

For starters, I’m apparently a medieval monk (no surprise), because the stone floors and wooden benches resonated with my soul.  There were only a few dozen (all elderly) people in the service I attended, singing rich hymns I didn’t know with warbling voices, and my soul ached with joy.  We said communal prayers and recited creeds, and the connection I felt toward Christians around the globe and throughout history was so comforting.  The leaders read Scripture passages from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the New Testament, and then the reverend (a woman!) stood and TALKED ABOUT CHARLOTTESVILLE.  She spoke about the horror of seeing the continued racism of our nation.  She spoke about how, in every generation from Jesus to today, sin urges us to create hierarchies and divisions.  She preached a combination of Jesus and liberal politics and I WAS WITH MY PEOPLE.

I don’t know if I can explain how important this felt?  It reminded me of how I went to seminary as both a Christian and a feminist, nervously determined to see if at the end of three years I could make them fit together.  How, by the time I graduated, I had studied the topic so much that I could no longer remember how someone could be a Christian and NOT be a feminist, and I’d found a community that felt the same.

My beliefs have grown further away from my Baptist upbringing (three main differences that I see:  I believe in the ordination of women, I’m fine with drinking alcohol, and I support gay marriage), but I’ve always stayed in conservative Christian circles.  This only leads me to doubt whether I’m crazy to hold such seemingly disparate beliefs, even when my heart sings at their beauty.  And then I walked into a different building in the same city and…there were a bunch of people saying, “Uh, yeah, we believe those things too.  Where is the problem?”  I felt FREE.

But back to how an Episcopal service resonates so deeply with me.  The sermon isn’t the main point.  The high point of the service is when the leaders consecrate bread and wine, and then everyone fell to their knees at the altar and waited for the reverend to place bread in our hands, to help us drink from the communal glass of wine.  It was receiving Communion in such a childlike way that there was no possibility of believing I’d earned it.

The whole service was so rich and deep, like diving into the deep end of a pool.  Maybe that’s a little pretentious.  I don’t actually believe that there’s any inherent superiority to an Episcopalian or a Baptist service.  Some people worship through praise music and three point sermons, and some people worship through liturgy and repetition.  There’s nothing wrong with either, but wow does it feel good to be in a place that offers you your soul’s specific fast pass to God.

 

Advertisements

Podcast Recommendation List | PART 5

‘Tis the season…to recommend podcasts!  I’ve found a LOT of nerdy podcasts to binge-listen to, and I hope some of them will be of interest to some of you!

best-episode-ever1| Best Episode Ever

TV nerds discuss popular finished shows, deciding on best and worst moments, how the series has aged since release, and ultimately deciding the, you guessed it, best episode ever.  So far they have covered Friends, Adventure Time, and 30 Rock, so these are definitely my kind of podcasters.

948152| We Can Do This All Day

A husband and wife duo analyze Marvel superhero movies!  They’re both professional writers, so they bring a knowledge of storytelling to the show that elevates this beyond simply fangirling.  They also ran a lot of other podcasts together under the company Storywonk, and they are also well worth checking out!

eUny1NlQ3| Excelsior

Sadly, the aforementioned husband and wife duo divorced last year, so they no longer work together.  The husband joined two other people to continue analyzing superhero movies (now both Marvel and DC) in this podcast.

SASW-albumart4| Story and Star Wars

The divorced husband also runs several podcasts on his own, including this series analyzing the storytelling beats of each Star Wars film.  It’s nerdy and educational, and he’s also got ongoing series for Harry Potter (Dear Mr. Potter) and Lord of the Rings (There and Back Again) that I hope to get to soon.

1200x630bb5| Good Christian Fun

I am LOVING this podcast by two Christians diving back into the crazy Christian counter-culture of the ’90s and ’00s.  Sometimes scathing, sometimes fond, this podcast covers everything from Left Behind to VeggieTales to the OC Supertones.  If you listen through the entire episode, they have a running “What is the worst Christian song?” game to close that is a hilarious and horrific blast to the past.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Jesus’s Death is Meaningless without a Resurrection

I think this will be one of those blog posts that is seemingly obvious and perhaps overly nit-picky, but I want to share a detail that deepened my theology anyway.

My favorite professor at DTS was adamant that Jesus’s death was meaningless without his resurrection.  This is not a new idea, since Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17:  “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  So far, so obvious.  But ever since it was pointed out to me, I’ve noticed how often faith is shared that focuses entirely on Jesus’s death.  It’s present in the songs we sing (from hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” to praise songs like “At the Cross”) where our joy and salvation is supposedly found at the foot of an execution instrument.  And it’s present in sermons and small group conversations where Jesus’s death is used as a shorthand to encompass his entire act of salvation.

Recently, a thought experiment dropped into my head.  Let’s say I am in a firing line about to be executed for my crimes.  A gun is pointed at me, and I’m crying and begging to be spared.  When the shot rings out, I am shocked to find that someone else has leapt in front of me to take the bullet in my place (in this scenario there is only one bullet in the whole world and therefore the punishment is over).  What is my honest reaction to this?  Yes, I would be momentarily grateful to still be alive.  But I would also feel grief that someone else took my place, rage at the incompetent executioner, and most importantly of all, GUILT.  I would forever feel guilty, knowing that my life had cost someone else theirs.

Now imagine that as soon as someone else takes the bullet for me and I fall over their body crying in shock and disbelief, they pop up, alive again.  “I’m alright,” they say.  “I took your punishment and an execution is recorded, but I’m alive again.”  What’s the prevailing emotion now?  JOY.  Now that gratitude goes on and on, and of course I’m going to want to follow that person around because of 1) their sacrifice and 2) their power.  But there’s no longer guilt, just joy.

I suppose that’s the subtle difference that makes how we speak of Jesus’s salvation so important.  When we disproportionately focus on Jesus’s death, we are emotionally cued to experience guilt.  But when his death is followed by resurrection, there is joy and freedom and grace.  It is very easy to start practicing this; just take an extra second to say “Jesus’s death and resurrection” every single time you talk about Jesus’s work of salvation.  It can drastically shape our view of God and our view of ourselves.  It did for me, anyway.

Transgenderism and Church Membership

On Sunday, my home church is voting to update its constitution, and if it is approved, I will no longer be a member of the church.

Here are the proposed changes to the section about gender and sexuality in full:

We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female.  These two distinct, complimentary genders together reflect the image and nature of God.  Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.

We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning and that is the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture.  We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.  We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and woman.  We believe that marriage ceremonies are Christian worship services that celebrate the covenant made between a man and a woman before God.

We believe that any form of sexual immorality, including but not limited to adultery, fornication, homosexual or bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography is sinful and offensive to God.

In order to preserve the function and integrity of [CHURCH NAME REDACTED] as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a biblical role model to the church as a whole and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, those who serve the church as volunteers, and all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief and conduct themselves accordingly.

Although I have many grievances with these statements, some as foundational as my basic belief in the church as a place of radical grace, I will vote against it for two basic reasons:

  1. I do not believe transgender or transexual people to be a “rejection of the image of God within that person.”
  2. I am deeply worried against qualifications of church membership extending beyond some few core Christian doctrines.

Is Being Transgender a Sin?

I have expressed my opinion on homosexuality elsewhere, but I have not yet expressed my theology of transgenderism.  The thing is, while I can see where Christians read the Bible and can come away thinking it is a sin (though I believe the issue is not so straightforward, again, see my other post), I do not see similar evidence against transgenderism.

To “reject the image of God” within oneself implies that God made you correctly and you are trying to change it.  I’ve heard that said explicitly, that “God doesn’t make mistakes.”  Except…he does.  Or at least, to avoid a theological minefield, because we live in a fallen world, babies are born imperfectly.  Babies are born without brains!  And in less dramatic cases, babies are born with irregular heartbeats, with blood diseases and cleft palates.  In each case, Christians affirm the goodness of doctors who do their best to “correct” the problem the baby was born with.

Lest one argues for a differentiation between physical and sexual issues, we cannot forget our intersex brothers and sisters who are born with both male and female genitalia.  God allows babies to be born who are neither exclusively male or female, and unfortunately, they are largely ignored in theology.  Such is the case for my church’s constitution, which leaves no room for their existence.

All of this is to say, my theology easily allows for a baby who is born with a gender that does not match its sex.  In every other case of a “problem of birth,” our cultural and spiritual answer is to do what can be done to fix it.  I see no reason for us to deny this privilege to men and women who were born into bodies that did not belong to them.

(If I have misrepresented the experience of transgender men or women, I ask forgiveness!  If you have the emotional energy, please know I would love to hear from and learn from you.)

What Doctrines Determine Church Membership?

For that issue alone, I would vote against these changes to the constitution.  But according to these same changes, my disagreement means forfeiting my church membership.  After all, “all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief.”  I don’t agree, therefore I no longer qualify to be a member of this church.  And honestly, if membership is determined by lesser doctrinal issues such as these, I’m not sure I want to be a part of such a church.

In my mind, belonging to a church naturally necessitates believing in core Christian doctrines:  that God is the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God revealed himself most fully to us through the Bible, and that God offers us salvation from our sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  In short, church membership should be extended to those who read the Nicene Creed and say, “Yes, that.”  We can, and should, have opinions about everything else.  But to make anything else into a matter of membership strikes me as excessively legalistic and exclusionary.  So for this, too, I will vote against these proposed changes.


I know that in many ways, my beliefs do not align with my Southern Baptist Church’s beliefs.  But I have found such beauty and encouragement in the fact that, although our opinions might differ about homosexuality or the role of women in the church, we can still meet together as sisters and brothers to worship the God we agree is more important.  It is incredibly sad to me that I will be denied membership of this church if these changes are passed.  But looking at the evangelical culture around me, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

The Young Pope is Both Sillier and Deeper Than You Heard

How did a television show that featured a pope dressing in medieval garb while “I’m Sexy and I Know It” played in the background end with me sobbing at the beauty and hope of it all? This series combined giddy camp (the fictional Pope Pius XIII infamously looses a kangaroo in the Vatican gardens and often tests his spiritual powers by commanding it to jump) with heartbreaking humanity (the selfsame pope struggles throughout the series with his pain at being abandoned and orphaned by his parents at age nine).  Perhaps most beautifully, The Young Pope insists that both the giddiness and the heartbreak are necessary to tell a story about humans and their relationship to God.

This is a show about hypocrisy without condemning that hypocrisy.  Our titular pope is a tyrant, determined to return the Catholic Church to an isolationist stronghold that needs no one while simultaneously desperate for the approval of his spiritual father and mother.  One of the arguably few “good” men in the show is a cardinal who participates in a graphic threesome (this is an HBO show), and the unarguably best “good” man is a self-confessed alcoholic homosexual.  On the other hand, our worst men are never allowed to be fully villainized.  The Secretary of State, though a political weasel, genuinely cares for the Church.  Even the most odious of characters, a cardinal accused of pedophilia, is humanized in a way that does not condone his sins but demands our compassion all the same.

A running theme in the show is the fear that the pope does not, in fact, believe in God.  This is a fear that he himself admits to, but it is not meant to lead to mockery or scorn.  Instead, it asks viewers to consider questions of doubt and faith, saints and sinners, and whether God smiles upon us at all.  Faith is messy, and that is something our pope learns when his commitment to law without mercy has devastating consequences.  It is only when he accepts the mystery of faith that he is able to let go of his past and find peace at long last.

The Young Pope is a beautifully evocative and highly stylized ten-episode series, full of symbolism that is equal parts cheesy and stunning.  The acting is incomparable, and the whole thing is a work of art, inspiring emotion long before thoughts can be ordered.  It is a show of contradictions, offering its audience a unique opportunity to step into the mystery of life, of doubt, of faith.

We Live in a Beautiful World

I have been watching this video several times a week for the last month.  It is a fanvid about Black Sails that presents many of the show’s most tragic scenes building in emotional intensity as a woman sings “we live in a beautiful world” louder and louder over the chaos.  I have a tendency to start accidentally crying while watching, and while I’m sure a huge amount of the emotional drive comes from being intimately acquainted with these characters, I’m sharing it here anyway.

It is the visual embodiment of my theology.

A couple years ago, I was quite obsessed with the theme of hope found in The Lord of the Rings (especially here and here), and in particular, this quote from The Two Towers:

Sam: It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

Frodo:  What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam:  That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

This was particularly meaningful when I was emotionally preparing to move to Greece and to work in an anti-trafficking organization.  It was necessarily personal and a little self-centered.  I needed to find MY hope, the hope that would allow ME to choose the scary option and walk forward.

This video about Black Sails?  It’s broader.  I think it touches me so much right now because there isn’t a personal tragedy I’m working through – instead I am surrounded by other people’s tragedies.  Husbands dying, babies dying, hurricanes, white supremacists, mothers with post-partum depression, friends with undiagnosable illnesses, and enough people with anxiety and depression to remind me that for so many people, we live in a scary and overwhelming world.

And…we do.  We definitely do.  That’s why this video shows scenes of betrayal, heartbreak, violence, fear, and death.  But the thing that keeps me obsessed with this show, and with this video in particular, is that in the midst of this awfulness, there is an insistent theme that despite all this, “we live in a beautiful world.”

I think this is the most beautiful thing that Christianity offers.  Christianity says yes, this world is broken, and you are guaranteed to bleed when you brush against anyone or anything.  But Christianity says that inside that brokenness is beauty.  God created the world and it was good.  When it was broken it did not become evil, it just became a good thing broken.  And a thing that is broken can be fixed, which is exactly what God promises is happening and will someday happen in fullness.

So I cannot help but be overwhelmed by this video.  I cannot help but say, in hope, YES to the fact that we live in a beautiful world while watching destruction.  There is nothing that inspires me more than staring into something ugly and affirming the beauty that it was, is, and will become.  Christianity is a religion of paradoxes, and this is the one that touches me deepest.

The world is horrible, and we live in a beautiful world.

Where Is Your Heart? QUIZ

I was recently sent this prompt originated by A. W. Tozer that is meant to reveal what our heart invests in.  I’m a sucker for surveys and self-discovery, so here goes!

Rules for Self Discovery:

1. What you want most

I most want to live a stress-free life.  It’s exhausting to be anxious all the time.

2. What you think about most

Honestly, for the past month, Black Sails.  BECAUSE IT’S SO AWESOME.  But to break that down, that means I’ve been thinking about history and the potential for alternate histories, which makes me think of potential futures if only people are brave enough to unite with oppressed people groups and demand freedom for all.  I’ve also been thinking about queer relationships and what love really means, and how love can inspire people to the best and worst versions of themselves.

3. How you use your money

I save it!  If I’m going to spend money, it almost always goes toward travel.  I guess that means I value new experiences, broadening my outlook on life, and enjoying beauty.

4. What you do with your leisure time

I read and watch TV, because when I’m not living my life, I want to live as many other people’s lives as possible.

5. The company you enjoy

I enjoy people who are smart, thoughtful, and funny.  If we aren’t laughing while discussing all the ways we could change the world for the better, then what’s the point of hanging out (I’m being only mostly facetious)?

6. Who and what you admire

I admire talented people who use their skills to create beauty or unity or something unique.  I’m thinking Lin-Manuel Miranda level here.  But in my day-to-day life, I admire people who are creative and living life outside the norm as well as people whose perspective on life allows them to find joy in the little things.

7. What you laugh at

I laugh at snarky tweets, my cat running through his cat-tunnel, Try Guys videos, and…most things.  I like to laugh.

This exercise is meant to reveal the idols in your life, which is very uninteresting to me.  I used to think that when I loved something too much, I needed to get rid of it in order to prove (to God? to myself? to my church?) that I loved God most of all.  Now I think these things are gifts from God, and if anything, I should bring God into them and love them all the more.