Wednesday, July 31, 2013

(Don't) Give Me that Old Time Religion

Mark 6:47-51a (NIV)

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed. …
A college friend shared something on Facebook Tuesday evening and I’ve been unable to remove it from my mind. The link was an article with the headline “Gays On Mission To ‘Destroy Church, Military, Marriage, Businesses,’ Pat Robertson Says.” Though I did not click on the article, the headline and brief description seemed in line with what is typical of Robertson’s comments. The part that’s been eating away at me for 23 hours is what my friend wrote to explain why she shared the link:
We accidentally watched part of this over the weekend (that’s what happens when you start watching the DVR and turn it off at an inopportune time). People wonder why I have a problem with organized religion — THIS is the reason I have a problem with it. People like Pat Robertson and this garbage he’s spreading.
I had to respond, but I didn’t know which words adequately summed up my emotions. I offered the most succinct and prevailing thought: He doesn’t speak for me. As I expected, my friend responded quickly: “He doesn’t speak for a lot of people, but being in the LGBT community and having this stuff thrown in our faces on a regular basis by the religious right really makes me disgusted by religion in general.”

Again, I could not find all the words I wanted. In the hopes of not saying too much or further hurting already wounded feelings, I offered only this: “That's understandable. I'm in the human community and this stuff is disgusting to me, too.” And that’s more or less where our interaction ended for the night. But I still haven’t been able to fully move on.

She has an absolute right to her feelings. Robertson’s venom is routinely incendiary and seems to serve no purpose other than to rally those who already fully agree with him while seeking to diminish the humanity of those he opposes. I wanted to write about all the congregations and denominations that don’t stand for this sort of invective, but I don’t know what good it would do. No less a figurehead of organized religion than the sitting Pope, not less than a week ago, said of gay Catholics: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” But that alone is not going to remove literally decades of oppression, war, violence and murder — and we’re not just talking about homosexuality here — all in the name of advancing the cause of one flavor of religion at the expense of all the others.

I think you can believe in and follow Jesus outside the confines of a conventional church, but I also put a good deal of stock in the importance of a community of believers. There are plenty of reasons, and several positive personal experiences, though once I consider Jesus traveling with 12 disciples, I don’t need much more by way of examples.

It breaks my heart to see the way media moths like Robertson or Fred Phelps claim to be Christians yet in word and deed seem oblivious to the direct command to love our neighbors as ourselves. I’m in no position to tell anyone what to believe about sin and faith and Heaven and Hell (though I’m free with my own interpretation), but I think we all know human decency when we see it — and when we don’t.

That said, I’m fully aware there are folks who might read these few hundred words and consider them garbage spread across the Internet in strict defiance of God almighty. To that, I express gratitude there is only one God and it’s not them. I’m not trying to win converts to “my side” or do the grunt work of “saving.” I’m just sharing my thoughts about what my faith means to me and how it affects my role as a parent. A part of that is the role of the church, but it’s intended to come across as a personal account, not a testament to the wonders of being a modern Protestant.

I knew I wanted to write on this topic tonight, but I wasn’t sure what from the lectionary would correlate. Sure enough, the first passage I encountered was the section from Mark. The words Jesus speaks to those terrified disciples, on a boat in the middle of a lake, straining against the wind in the dark of night, are to me far more powerful than any televangelist or street preacher or Sunday morning sermon: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

The disciples were completely amazed, and so am I when I consider what God’s love has done and will do for me and my family. That anyone would stand in the way of another person, another loving creation of God, feeling that same amazement and comfort will never make sense to me.

The winds aren’t dying down here on Earth — not for a long time. I know what I need to help me get through day after day. I would hope other people can find something similar from somewhere similar, but all I can control is my own heart. And I can pray for my friends, my family and everyone else God cares for — the rest is out of my hands, which is exactly what I need.

A prayer for July 31:

Lord, come to me late at night when I am floating all alone. Come to me on a weekday afternoon when I’m trying my best to be a productive adult. Come to me on Sunday morning when I’m standing with my brothers and sisters to worship. In fact, don’t just come but stay by my side, forever and always. Show me what it means to love as you loved. Teach me how to be a force for peace and harmony. Give me the tools I need to advance the cause of unity, and to let people know how my life ha changed because of your grace. Work through me that I might live for you. Amen.

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