Let’s Jump Right In, Shall We?
Well, since I’m starting this thing I might as well talk about stuff that has to do with who I am. And right now that’s an interesting topic.
I’m in a bit of transition at the moment, which will be having an effect on how I decribe myself. Not only am I moving in a couple of weeks – which will change where I’ll say I’m from – and taking on a slightly different role at work – which changes things about how I describe what I do – but on a more personal level I am making a somewhat fundamental change in identity on the religious front. (Now, those of you who have read my online journal may have read about this recently but I guess I’ll use this forum to describe it in a little more detail.)
For my entire life I have been a part of the United Methodist Church and have served at nearly every level from pew-warmer to being a two-time delegate to the General Conference (the denomination’s top legislative body). The church was where I found community, where I found belonging. Almost all of my friends in college were a part of the campus ministry group I was in and even now one of my, if not the, closest friend is a UM clergywoman. There’s just been something about being a part of a faith community that provides for that need for closeness, friendship, and support that I have yet to find anywhere else. I have had so many opportunities that have sprung from my involvement in the UMC as well: I got half off my tuition at college for being a PK; I’ve been able to meet and work with some amazing people; and I was even accepted as one of their own at a Methodist church in Malaysia when I was there for a few days in October 2002. Being a United Methodist Christian has offered, please excuse the overtly “Methodist” term, a connection with a number of people and organizations that I would never have known.
With all that said, however, I have felt a need for change. First of all, being a part of various local churches over the years, and working with many more, I have been witness to the often toxic environment that exists within communities that pride themselves on being supportive and accepting and healing. As a member of a parsonage family and also as a leader within the church, I found myself all the more susceptable to such unhealthy and sometimes harmful conditions. With that said, however, as much as I’ll be relieved to be further away from that, I hold no ill-will nor any grudges about my time in the UMC in general or any local church in particular. Also, I have seen first-hand how closed off the “open hearts, open minds, open doors” church actually is as a whole. Instead of being open to the movement of God and looking beyond personal fears, prejudices, and needs to be right and in control, I’ve experienced just how mean and hurtful the denomination as an institution has been to so many. While the past two General Conferences have done some great things, more positives than negatives if I am being honest, some of the negative things, I believe, are more telling. And while I can forgive the UMC and the individuals who make it up for the actions of the church, though hard, I no longer desire to be a part of it.
Second of all, and at the heart of it, is my personal beliefs in God. All of my complaints about the UMC are more like excuses when compared to my struggles of belief. For the past 6-12 years or so I have struggled with my identity as a Christian. When I was confirmed I honestly think that I only went through the process because my friends did and it was the thing to do at that age. I never really felt it. Around that same time, I often felt so uncomfortable that I would excuse myself to go to the restroom when it came time for the sermon – though I always enjoyed it, and would stay, when it was my dad preaching. It just never felt right to me. It came close in some areas but for the most part the message of Christianity didn’t speak to who/what I felt God to be and how the Divine was/is present in the world. It would take too long to explain it right now but suffice it to say that I see God as being bigger than the box that Christianity has created. It’s been so long since I’ve been truly moved during a worship service (no offense, Beth), so long since I’ve felt that sense of community, so long since I’ve been able to feel like I really belong in the pew or that the particular religious affiliation truly described me. For too long I’ve been more or less pretending to be someone I’m not. And I can’t do that anymore. So, I am going to start looking elsewhere.
I’m not sure what that means yet. My religious studies throughout college and my travels around the world have really shown me where God is and how valid and meaninful every religion’s expression of the sacred is. While there are concervative and liberal theologies – and I consider myself to be the latter – I feel it is important to look at religion through pluralist eyes rather than exclusivist or even inclusivist ones. While many religions seem to be inclusivist and thus more moderate in their views on the validity of other faiths, it doesn’t go far enough for me. I believe there is something to be learned from all faith traditions and that no single religion has a monopoly on the “truth.” Thinking this way makes me feel as though I should be a UU – after all, I did a survey once that said I was more compatible with that than mainline/liberal Protestant Christianity – but I can’t say yet for sure. Time will tell where I will find myself and where I will feel like I fit.
I know that’s a lot for one post, and it’s some pretty heavy stuff for an opener of this blog but I have to be true to myself and honest about who I am. Otherwise, what’s the point?