Growing up, Sunday mornings meant getting ready for church. I’d wear my Sunday best and find my seat in the mahogany wood pews covered in blue fabric that matched the blue carpet in the church sanctuary. We’d come back for the Sunday evening service and then again on Wednesday nights.
As a kid I didn’t quiet understand all the rules our religion of Christianity fed me, but I knew I felt something move in me. Something benevolent, something made of love, though love hardly seemed an adequate word for the big feelings I felt.
Then I’d witness things occur around me by Christians. I’d hear the elders in my church use the N word when tucked away in their private circles. There weren’t any Black people in our church – something I wouldn’t notice until later. I’d hear Christians tell me gay people were wrong and God didn’t approve of their “lifestyle.” I’d listen to words that seemed to contradict the feeling of love I felt. How can something so big, so vast, so loving also be exclusive, authoritarian and judgmental? I wondered these thoughts on Sunday and everyday. It was confusing and I wondered if maybe I was broken because I questioned what so many agreed with.
When I became old enough to decide where I spent my time I stopped going to church. Not because I was any less spiritual, but because the religion that seemed to want to teach me about the world was leaving some people out. They were my gay friends, my Black friends and then my atheist friends. Where did they fit into a religion that was so neat and tidy and exclusive? Where was their love? Did they have to become someone else to be worthy of God?
My Dad was an atheist and this pulled me apart as a child. Pastor told me that Dad (and everyone else) who didn’t invite Jesus into their hearts would burn in hell for all of eternity. So I did my best to encourage Dad to give Jesus a chance. I didn’t want him burning in hell for any length of time, much less eternity. As a little girl, I was scared for Dad so I asked Jesus if I could put enough of Him in my heart to account for Dad too.
Religion has some beautiful, enriching qualities.There is ritual and community and service. Things that cause humans to thrive. Yet it became a source of shame, guilt and misery for me when I was left to the task of reconciling what I heard with what I felt. I had to back away and get a bigger view of God. God didn’t seem to fit in the judgmental words I heard. What if the Bible had been misinterpreted or misunderstood by the men who decided how to translate and decode it so many years ago?
The uncomfortable feeling of not being able to reconcile the version of Christianity I was taught with what I knew love to be cut me in half. Did I now have to turn my back completely on this benevolent force I feel course through my veins in moments of quietude, in moments of connection or as I look into my newborn’s eyes because my religion doesn’t seem to align with how this invisible force feels to me? Is what I’m feeling religious?
As an adult I see how similar we all are. We all need the same basic things – love, connection, freedom, authentic expression. Recently I’ve seen Christianity weaponized on a larger scale. Bible verses shared on social media validating the poster’s racism, homophobia, xenophobia (insert judgmental view here). It’s like I’m back on the blue church pew listening to some person tell me who is worthy of God’s love and who is not. What has to be done, who you have to be, how you have to act. It’s this odd passive-aggressive judgmental weirdness that bottoms out my heart. I keep scrolling, but really I want to say something. I’m writing this today because I need to say something: please stop using Jesus or God to validate your need to keep things as they are and to ignore the pain, suffering and oppression of so many in our country, in our world.
Spirituality is as deep and inexplicable as the multitude of Universes that surround us. There is something beautiful in all religions. I have many, many wonderful memories of the church I grew up in. The wonderful friendships made, the deeply moving moments that were able to show up in the soft folds of routine. These moments live in me while I allow the others to be a source of education. Religion fosters community and can bring value to the community. The church – the sanctuary – the temple – all symbols of deep held beliefs and also center points of goodwill, outreach and containers that hold the deepest prayers, pain and gratitude of the human hearts who visit. I’ve been fortunate enough to sit in some very sacred sites all over the world and have been moved to tears with the energy of love, the pain of human struggle and the miracle of the Divine held within them.
With all it’s beauty, religion can get very dark and ugly too. For me, religion is modus operandi of love. The meditating Buddhist monks lifting the vibration of the planet with their devotion. The Christians forging on and standing in front of enemy lines of hate as Jesus would do. The Muslims sharing their history and wisdom. The Indigenous people fighting for Mother Earth. There are so many to list and so many I am completely unaware of, but when religion falls off the tracks of love it has disconnected from it’s purpose. Love is all-inclusive. Forever and always. If we see it falling off the tracks, we’ve got to say something. This is me saying something out of love, from my pain I’ve transformed, and from the pain I’m witnessing today.
This is my Sunday sermon for today. If you’ve read though all this and if you agree or not – I hope together we have just gained even more insight on the simple yet eternal nature of love with this shared communion. My heart is my church – the space where I get to be totally imperfect and love myself to wholeness anyway because it is the connection to the Bigger Love. My life is my altar – the place I get to practice and share and celebrate and mourn and make mistakes and keep going anyway. Thanks for visiting with me today. May we all know love, may we all know peace. Love you, love me, love us all.