Saturday, April 17, 2010

Find your flavor.

When I was four years old, a very nice lady came to my childhood home and asked my mother if I could ride the bus with her and her family to church. My mother agreed, and I was then thrust into a belief system that shaped my young faith for years. The church I attended was an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. They believe many things that I still hold as theologically true - Christ as the son of God, salvation for all bought with a price, and new life for all who believe. They also believe a lot of things that I don't agree with. They encourage men to have short "manly" hairstyles and women to have long hair, they feel women should dress in horrendously hideous items of clothing that are an abomination to the fashion world, they feel that women should be subservient to men, they feel that children should be spanked as punishment for disobedience, and they believe that all of these outer statements of faith are essential to be "in the world but not of the world" so that the dirty, unsaved masses can see that they are different, set apart, holy.

And that's where I have to get off the IFB boat and run. Really? Holy? Let me tell you what is holy.

Holy is devoting a portion of your life to planning community service events, where people come together to cook or help or otherwise give of themselves to those in need with no other catalyst behind the effort but their desire to share God's love. That's holy.

Holy is pure light and life in a child's smile, the boundless joy and pride in a parent's heart when they see their baby's first steps. And holy is loving that child enough to respect them as an individual and gently guide and nurture them with loving hands. (If God spanked you every time you did something wrong, would you listen to Him?)

Holy is a pair of loving and committed adults that view themselves not as leader and follower, but as a team. As equals, bound by a sacred promise of fidelity. As a symbiotic relationship of strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out and encourage one another to be their personal best. That's holy.

Holy is working to shape how the governments of the world treat all people so that they are treated as God sees them - equal, worthy, precious. That's holy.

I don't really want people to look at my culottes and decide that I'm different. I'd rather not turn people off with my weirdness that they see on the outside before they even get to know me. (Let them get to know me and see the weirdness on the inside, that'll turn 'em off for sure!) I'm not afraid to talk about my faith journey, with anyone. I'm not shy about being thankful for the many blessings on my life that I credit the hand of the Almighty with giving to me. But I don't need long hair, culottes and a quilted Precious Moments Bible cover to share those things. I just need me. God decided that I was enough to save, I was enough to redeem, I am enough to nurture in spirit, and so then it needs to be true that I am enough to share my relationship with Him with others.

The sad part about all of this is that I believe these things with all my heart, and have felt this way for years. But for years my passion was stifled in churches where I was just too weird. Too radical...too *gasp!* liberal. So I kept quiet. I tried to experience and claim a fullness of faith that just was too much for the mold they wanted me to stay in. It was like there was a religious glass ceiling and I was only allowed to go so far in most churches. Any further, and I'm out of bounds. I had to question...if I was out of bounds, why was God giving me passion for more? Why would He fill my heart with so much love and compassion for others but then put a cap on how far I was allowed to go with it?

The short answer is that He didn't. Denominations and the bylaws therein are man's invention, not God's. They're all just flavors of the same ice cream. There is value in all, and they are all different because different flavors will appeal to different folks. I just hadn't found my flavor yet.

I didn't find my flavor until I was 34 years old. I found my place among people who, like me, believe that all are equal, all are loved and all are people that God longs to have a relationship with, just as they are. Black, white, brown, young, old, single, married, divorced, gay, straight, handicapped, bald, whatever. There is enough love in God's heart for all, and there is a judgement-free place in a pew for you in the UCC. I love that. My denomination works tirelessly for social justice and equality, two causes that are dear to my heart. We believe that God is still speaking to us every day, and that resonates in my heart because I can't serve a God who is finished and bound up in 66 books. I need a God who is actively engaged in the day to day activities of all people, masterfully orchestrating a symphony that sings a song of life and joy and light and praise through sorrow to Him. We're not "in the world but not of the world". We are the world, and we are His. And every day we are blessed to hear the language of God in the nuances of life.

Everybody has that dimension of their heart that longs for spiritual influence. So I'm writing today, for anyone who feels adrift, alone, hungry, lost, unfulfilled. Find your flavor. I don't care what it ends up being, just find it. And grow in it, revel in it, allow your personal spiritual fulfillment to quench your thirst for more in life. It's Saturday afternoon, so you have over 12 hours to find a place to start your journey on Sunday morning. Google is your friend. Get out there and learn and listen and be. I don't care if it's Pentecostal or Mennonite or Lutheran or Catholic. Just find a home for your heart. You'll be glad you did.

P.S. To the fundamentalists who influenced, encouraged, and nurtured me: thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. You introduced me to a God that I might not have otherwise encountered. You provided a sturdy springboard for me to jump from, as the Spirit made me hungry for more. Without you, I wouldn't be who I am today. Please don't take it as a sign of disrespect that I have chosen not to live the way that you do. I understand you feel that you need to do what you do, and I respect that. I feel I need to do what I do. I am content to agree to disagree on the minor things because I know we will always agree on the major things. A wise HS principal of mine said that "The main thing is to always keep the main thing the main thing" and I completely agree.

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