A Closer Walk, Part II

Well, it’s almost a year since I joined my new church as a member, and over a year that I’ve been attending.  I still enjoy it, and I’m very glad I went back.

Progress report: I’ve gotten more involved with the church by making Facebook posts on behalf of the church on our page, ushering,  participating in a video interview, and I’m about to join the A/V team.  I’ve gone to a few game nights, Lenten soup suppers, and we even have a sci-fi lovers social group, which I’m in.  I think it’s so cool for a church to have that.  I’ve also met several other members interested in writing.  One of them even published a book.  So, I guess it’s fair to say that the social aspect is still a big part of why I go.

How am I doing in my “walk”?  For one, I pray more often, though not everyday.  When I do pray, I try to really focus on what I’m communicating to God.  I don’t just say the words in my head.  For instance, if I’m praying for someone’s surgical procedure to be successful, or for an illness, or physical and emotional pains to pass, I put myself in that person’s place.  I think about how I would feel as I talk to God about them.  I think that’s important so that you connect with the Holy Spirit rather than just rattling off a half-hearted request to a far-off God.  It goes back to my doubts about God hearing prayers that I mentioned in Part I.  I think that we’re connected to God and to one another through the spiritual plane.  The words are just the way we form our thoughts and feelings. They’re important, but not necessarily the part to which God responds. I believe He responds to our souls’ stirrings.

I won’t tell you that I don’t still have doubts about prayer and God’s involvement in our lives.  I do. But I feel a connection, nonetheless.  I think, sometimes, it’s hard to feel it with so many distractions and demands on our time. I push through it though as an exercise of faith.  Isn’t that what faith means after all? To accept what we can’t see, hear, touch, or even feel emotionally or spiritually, at times. It’s a process, and an enriching one.

One of the doubts that gets in the way of my personal connection with God is the conflict between my traditional upbringing, with its strict adherence to the letter of the law of scriptures, and my changing beliefs. Specifically, being gay and knowing that the Bible says things against homosexuality.  Sometimes I think that maybe the early church leaders “edited” the scriptures that had been passed down to fit their own beliefs and to keep control of the masses.  I watch the skies for the expected lightning bolt when I even think that. I’m still working through all that.

A recent development in that department came a couple of months ago.  My pastor writes occasional articles for the local paper, and who do you think saw one of them? My mother.  The pastor mentioned her same-sex spouse in the article. I never got around to telling my mom that the church I’d chosen was a gay church. The cat was out of the bag.  She wrote a bunch of scriptures down for me to look at and gave them to me when she was here visiting.  She mentioned the article and said “you know it’s not the Lord’s will”, regarding same-sex marriages. We briefly debated the issue and I promised I’d look at the scriptures.  I have yet to do that.

I will have to read them and prepare a response.  That will be Part III of this post, and hopefully an open discussion with Mom.

A closer walk

First post in a long time.  I’m going to make them regularly again.  And this time I mean it.  Ahem.

I recently started going to church again.  Don’t worry if you’re not religious.  Neither am I.  This is far from an evangelical endeavor.  I merely want to share some of my thoughts and feelings about God and spirituality.

A little background to start: As I used to tell people, I’m not a “born again” Christian.  I’m a born and raised Christian.  Been in church as long as I can remember, and before that.  I remember accepting Jesus when I was about 7 or 8 along with my brother and a friend in our living room at my mother’s guidance.  No bells or whistles went off, and I honestly didn’t feel any big weight lifted off my shoulders or even a warm fuzzy feeling.  I was pretty young after all, and pretty well behaved.  Not that much to confess.  I did feel like I’d just done something important, though, and that it was a commitment.

I stayed true to that commitment for most of my life, with a period of deistic distance. More on that later. I did the Sunday School and church thing with my family as a child and young adult.  I don’t regret or resent it like many people do.  At least, not the church-going itself.  More on that later, too.  I actually enjoyed Sunday School and youth group as a teen, and I even liked the monthly mission nights when we had guests tell of their experiences on their mission trips for the church all over the country and the world.  I always wanted to travel, (Still do.) and this was a chance to hear about how people lived in other parts of our nation and around the globe.

I was a little “luke-warm” toward God the last couple years of high school and through the college years, just due to scholastic distractions.  But I still attended church regularly.  It was during a year and a half break between colleges, while still living at home, that I had a faith renewal.  One of those guest speakers in the missions department, was giving the main message one Sunday.  He spoke of several times in his life when, what could be described as miraculous events, occurred, like a very large man (angel) appearing behind him and a companion when facing several menacing would-be attackers.  I don’t clearly remember the other incidences. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I thought about it.  I reasoned that if I really believed in this whole God thing, then couldn’t the missionary man’s tales be true?  I opened my mind to the possibilities.  I went to nearby Minsi Lake after church and looked to the seagull-filled mostly sunny sky and I felt liberated – from doubt.  It would return.

In the meantime, though, I delved into scriptures and prayer, and self discovery like never before.  It really helped me to grow as a person.  I would pray the whole way on my half hour commute and found that I repeated the same things everyday, so I started to try and rephrase things from day to day.  Much to my surprise, doing so often made me realize the answer to my prayer, whether it was what I was looking for or not.

The down side was that I started to get a self-righteous, pious attitude.  I only listened to Christian music, and at work, Focus on the Family started the daily line-up of biblical sound bites pumping through my headphones.  The Christian Right movement was steadily increasing its entanglement of The Church at that time.  I was nearly sucked in before seeing the light.  To think, I almost voted for Bob Dole.  Thank God, I departed from the political invasion of Christianity.

Between national politics, church politics and moving out, my church going days were soon to see a hiatus.  My home church had gone through a split a few years earlier, after which we got a very warm, loving, and bright younger pastor.  My family and I loved him.  But the old people who sit in the back with their old money, saw fit to send him packing.  Even my parents emigrated to another church then, and I had moved 45 minutes away to Allentown.  I tried a few different churches, but the disillusionment was too great to overcome my fatigue of working two jobs, so Sundays became just a chance to sleep in.

I didn’t throw out the baby Jesus with the bath water.  I maintained a belief in God.  I just wasn’t really “feeling” it.  At times I was borderline agnostic, but the doubts never totally took over.  I guess you could say I was a Deist, believing that God exists, but feeling like his major work was done and he didn’t get too involved in things down here.

It was during this time of reduced influence of Christianity in my life, that I first dared to think what I always knew.  What if I was just gay?  No psychological or moral solutions.  It just is.  Now was the time for resentment to set in, but not against my own church or any pastors, or even my parents, too much.  It was just the teachings of Christianity that have been held for centuries.  Being gay is a sin, and any kind of pre-marital sex is immoral.  I could’ve had so much fun.

For years, I just attended my parents’ new church on holidays and once in a while got out my Bible and read a chapter a day, for two or three days.  So when I returned to church, I’ll admit, it was largely to seek social connections.  I’d found a gay friendly church.  In fact, straight people are scarce in those attending.

I joined as a member on Easter Sunday with 6 other sinners.  Lightning did not strike a single one of us.  I’m glad I joined and I want to stay involved, but it would be dishonest to say all doubt is completely and irrevocably dispelled.

Sometimes, I still wonder if God hears my prayers word for word.  How can he hear billions of thoughts and words at once?  I can believe that we are connected through the Holy Spirit, though.  Maybe it’s the actual words, or maybe it’s more of a spiritual stream of emotion and energy.  Either one is pretty miraculous.  I can even believe in something more abstract, but I believe in God and I believe we all have eternal souls.

Another challenge is a feeling of resistance, even rebellion, when I hear that we’re supposed to put God first in our lives, in everything.  Am I not honoring God by working on things that will help me be complete and reach my potential?  Like writing.  Should I go to a Wednesday night Bible study, or write another blog post about all this?

Tomorrow will tell.  I have much more to say on the whole subject.  Comments are welcome.