Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Second Sunday of Advent

When I was growing up, I was one of those kids (read: "dork") who loved church. I loved the sitting, kneeling, praying; the folding your hands and pondering quietly; the reciting of the mass, etc. I felt safe there and it made sense to me. I bought into it all hook, line, and sinker.

I understood what they meant when they said that "Jesus Christ was 100% human and 100% God." When I prayed to Jesus as a child and as an adolescent, I knew that he had walked the same path I was walking on earth, and I knew he had felt the sometimes insignificant (in an eternal sense) pains and dramas of trying to be a good person. The lessons of the church never felt oppressive to me. If it was an indoctrination, it was very peaceful and agreeable to me. It made perfect sense for example that God could be one, singular entity; but also equal parts of a trinity. It was not confusing to me that communion wasn't merely a symbolic representation of life-giving bread, but transubstantiation that made body and blood of bread and wine. (I was on board with all of that and with the fact that we didn't believe in Magic, and we didn't believe in cannibalism.) Furthermore, I loved the singing and the sitting together with my family for an hour a week, dedicated to some ideas that were bigger and longer-lasting than our human existence.

When I was in college, I attended the Jesuit Church on campus regularly. Going to church at home became a little harder as I started to notice how sexist some of the rituals were. I didn't like how often politics seemed to creep into mass. There was one deacon at my family's church who rarely gave a sermon about feeding the poor, nursing the sick, or volunteerism as a way to wage war on earth in God's name, but he never failed to mention abortion... outlawing abortion... and birth control was also always on his mind. At school, though, the Jesuits kept me in touch with my pal Jesus and his father, God. They focused on the message of living a good life on earth for not only heavenly rewards, but also the benefits uniquely tied to that type of simple living. My boyfriend and I would go to 10pm mass on Sunday nights and leave feeling full of gratitude, rejuvenated and ready to face another week of work and classes.

When I graduated from college things were spinning a little out of control for me. I realized that despite the love I had for my sweet, amazing boyfriend, I really was drawn and attracted to women. The trusting relationship I had developed with God lent to quite a bit of praying about what to do. The interesting thing was, my prayer revealed very different answers than the Roman Catholic Church was teaching. I knew inside myself that love was love. I had a well-developed conscience. I knew right from wrong. And after talking it over with God, it felt more wrong to lie, try to change myself, or "settle" than it did to "choose the homosexual lifestyle."

At that point in my life, I had the humility to accept that my decisions might be wrong in the eyes of God or my church or society. But if I was going to be this introspective and hard on myself, I felt the leaders of church and state must also be in touch with the limits of their "knowledge" of what God might believe. To borrow the words of Anne Lamott, "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image, when it turns out that God hates all the same people that you do." At a certain point, I acknowledged to myself, there was no (wo)man or bishop, or human ruler that could truthfully know God's opinion and I would not tolerate a religious or secular leader that was unwilling to entertain that perspective.

Then all the stuff unfolded about hundreds of pedophile priests... and then somewhere in there, my best friend dies. At that point I'm ready to walk away from church because it is just too much. Too much compromise on my part. Too much dishonesty and hypocrisy on their part. Too much following ceremony and tradition (not because it feels right inside myself) but because it is easier to fake it, go through the motions, not question the reason, not upset the apple cart. But I feel too "catholic" (and frankly too tired) to look for another church.

Then I meet Katy. And 2 things happen. The first is that I find someone that I really want to create a family with. And the second is, when I take her to my family's church, it is changed to me. It is much more offensive to me. It was as if sitting there by myself, all the little ways the church "did not agree with" or "did not support" it's gay parishioners went completely unnoticed by me. I didn't mind much if they were talking about (or just ignoring) me. But when they were doing it to her - it really pissed me off - and it seemed so loud and intentional and mean spirited.

If this was the "one true church" as I had been taught to believe, then I didn't need church - I decided I wouldn't do that to my (future) family. Still, cutting church out of my life left me a feeling empty - shouldn't you go and commune with good people for an hour or so a week to recharge your spiritual self before facing the next week's toils?

Katy and I tried to reconcile this and found a church to marry in. It was important to me that God be invited to that party. But this also marked the beginning of a different kind of struggle between 2 parts of me. Should I really leave the church - my church... my family's church because of their stance on "gay issues"? vs. How do I ask my wife to give these people the time of day? What is good for a little girl (an assumed straight girl) is not good for her adult self, her wife, or her planned but unborn children.

It is still an unresolved struggle. There is a part of me that wants to meet my family at church on Sunday... wants to go to coffee with them after mass, wants to be the same religion they are, wants to teach my son about the sacraments and communion. There's a part of me that just can't quite figure out how to handle communion: Is it their communion to give to me - and therefore I should follow their rules? Or is it my communion - a sacrament and gift that God gave me? Out of respect for my loved ones and for God, should partake when "the Eucharist" is blessed and offered to me? When I go back to my family's church for weddings and funerals? Or should I refuse? If I abstain, is it because I am rejecting the RCChurch or because they are rejecting me??? Do you see what a quandary I'm in?

For the last few years, Katy and I have been attending a Unitarian Universalist Church. A church we loved instantly. We walked into this church thinking it was a congregational church we might "try out," and we've returned nearly every Sunday for three years.

This UU has much more "God language" than many UU's (which is something that is important to me). And has a wonderful female minister that brings tears to our eyes nearly every week with her humility and poignant directives to BE BETTER humans and HELP one another and FORGIVE your enemies and yourselves, and to follow a great and amazingly difficult commandment to LOVE.


Sounds simple, right? It's only simple if it's half-assed. (The minister's sentiment, my curse word added for emphasis.) Love, if it's done right is a life long endeavor... Love yourself so you can live a healthy, productive existence and so you can take care of those around you. Love others- if you dare- because shouldn't we be living in less isolation with more frequent communion?!?

This is the first church Katy has ever known - the first church she has loved. This church has already seen us through some hard times. The first time we were pregnant and then a few days later we weren't. The time we thought our relationship might be falling apart. The several weeks after our friends were attacked and killed in their home. This summer, after that brutal event (when I was 8,9, then 10 months pregnant) our minister continued leading us in the usual benediction at the end of church:

Go out into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Hold onto what is good.
Return to no person evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted.
Support the weak.
Help the suffering.
Honor all beings.

It took 6 weeks before my voice stopped cracking during "hold on to what is good" and before I could say "return to no person evil for evil" without tears falling out of my eyes. And that's when I turned to Katy and said that I was finally ready to "sign the membership book." (She wanted to sign 3 years ago after about 2 Sunday services.)

The thing is, that benediction is has been guiding me though the simple questions in life... Should I really be speeding up to the assh8le who cut me off just to offer him a one fingered wave? But when you brush up against some example of real evil- how you react to it (even if only in the quiet of your heart) matters. And when you choose a spiritual leader, you'd better choose one with values you can lean on- that make sense to you. This benediction is only one part of the reason we love this church. These words cut to the meat of how I want to live my life. And if this is what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, than I guess that is what I am. It is very much in line with what I need and what I believe.

So we joined. And when JB was born they announced it in the service and in the bulletin. And when they plan the Christmas nativity at our church, they ask the most recently born child (male or female) to play the part of baby Jesus. And if that baby happens to have been born to a couple of lesbians... everyone there seems to get kind of an excited glimmer in their eyes about it!

1 comment:

C-LO said...

Hey Tracy, I was also a super (Catholic) church dork. I miss going to Sunday mass. But everytime I tag along with the fam, the sermon seems to be about abortion, or heathens, or money for the pope. It's not the same experience as it was when I was pre-gay. Glad you found a new spiritual spot that works for you.