A year ago, at age 43, I got baptized and joined a church after a lifetime of distrust and disgust with organized religion. I used to joke whenever I'd find myself entering a House of God for friends' and family members' weddings and baptisms and other celebratory events that I would most likely spontaneously combust upon crossing the threshold. I never did, but it was funny to think of God striking my heathen ass dead for daring to enter His house unclean, impure, unbaptized.
I didn't really believe all that. I knew God and I were fine. My idea of God, not the judgy, authoritarian, bearded white guy in the sky. My idea of God--not a he or a she, just the One source of energy that's within everyone and everything, the creator of the universe if you can wrap your head around that, which I cannot. For me, God is just shorthand for the energy that connects us. On my more spiritually uncertain days, God is simply the star stuff that make us who we are, star stuff that has been around since the Big Bang. On my more spiritually hopeful days, God is Love.
I didn't need a church to tell me that.
It was God's followers--the people who built the church and had the keys to the door and the certainty of faith to tell me and my gay friends how we should live our lives--those were the people I was afraid would hit some sort of prayer jackpot by getting God to strike me with lightning bolts whenever I'd find myself entering a church back in the days before I joined one.
My mom, a Catholic who left the church after she divorced her first husband, claims she baptized me herself in our kitchen sink when I was an infant. I think most people would call that taking a bath, but I accepted her gesture with gratitude. I wouldn't have had it any other way. It certainly beat being baptized by some religious leader who didn't understand me. At least Mom tried. We stopped going to church right after I was old enough to leave the nursery and start falling asleep in the pews, so I was completely homeschooled in my religious education by my mom who read The Bible and Shirley MacLaine's Out on a Limb with equal fervor. My friends would ask their moms why they had such a fear of snakes, and their moms would quote from The Bible. I asked my mom why she thinks I'm so terrified of mice and she said I was probably tortured with rodents in a past life.
I thank God every day for handing me over to my mom for the first 18 years of my life, instead of some of the other moms I met. Mom has her flaws, as everyone does, but she was a good fit for me. She made me feel like she would love me no matter what. Even when I was driving her crazy. Even when I felt my most unlovable. I could kill someone and she might give me a bad look, but she'd secretly think they deserved it. I could talk to my mom about anything. Sex. Death. Divorce. Anything. She didn't have the answers and often questioned why I cared so much about things I had no control over, but she never told me to quit asking questions.
Growing up with a curious brain inside my head, between ears that heard all the anti-gay, anti-women, anti-other rhetoric from the church leaders on the news was enough to keep me out of church. What brought me to it was my little girl. After attending my step-father's funeral in the fall of 2013, my then-seven-year-old, Katie, asked if we could go to church some time. I'm all about exposing my child to enriching life experiences, so I said sure, why not. I figured it'd be like taking her to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art or the Deanna Rose Farmstead or Wonderscope. Some place we could explore until Katie's curiosity sated and we moved on to the next interesting place. I figured I'd be there right next to her, able to talk her through it, to cover her eyes during the scary parts, and assure her the stories are metaphors--fiction--like the ones we tell about Santa and The Easter Bunny. I'd be there to erase the dogma from her mind before it got a chance to stick.
What I didn't figure was that we'd both want to keep coming back each week for more. How open-minded the congregation is. How the church encourages critical thinking and inspires curiosity. It was like taking my kid to storytimes at the library, only with the budget for snacks such as bread and wine.
Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, is nothing like any church I'd ever been to before. So when they asked me if I wanted to join, I said sure, why not.
My many irreligious friends think I'm insane. Well, insaner. They don't understand the point of rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning to hang out with a bunch of like-minded people who are so loosey-goosey about their religious beliefs that the only thing they take literally from The Bible is Jesus' command for us to love all people.
"I don't need a church to tell me to love people," my friends say.
And they are right. I don't need a church, either. What I've found is that my church needs me. Oh my goodness. I've been suckered into so much stuff, and I love it all. VBS preschool storyteller. Preschool Sunday School teacher. Set design for our kiddos' musical. Now I've been asked to join the rotation of greeters. We stand and the door and smile and welcome you. Who the hell am I to stand at a church door, welcoming people? But that's just it. I'm welcome to welcome people at this church. Me. The chick who used to joke that she'd burst into flames if she set foot in a church.
And it's all because I said, sure, why not. I think people in our culture could benefit from more sure, why not in their lives. So often we lump ourselves into categories, affix labels to our souls, when really, being open brings us understanding and connection.
I should share with you a little secret. I didn't come up with my sure, why not philosophy on my own. It's the exact phrase my husband Will said when I asked him to marry me. It was so brilliant. So simple. Such a perfect response to my spontaneous question. Actually, it wasn't a question at all. More of a statement, or an observation. We were just lying there in bed, the two of us, talking and laughing. Out of nowhere, without giving it any thought, I smiled and said, "We should get married," like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Sure, why not," Will said without hesitation.
It's like something outside of us knew we should commit to each other even if we were unaware. Neither of us at the time went to church or thought much about God. But now that I look back on it, I think our little sure, why not moment was God giving us a nudge.
I love being married to Will, even though before I met him I had shrugged off married life. I didn't think it was for me. It was too traditional. Too stifling. Too rule-oriented. I'd been though too many romantic rough patches to think I was capable of being a good wife.
In a similar way, I had shrugged off religious life. It was fine for other people. Just not me. But then when I sure, why notted my ass into this particular church, I discovered that religious life has meaning for me.
If you think you might find some meaning from religious life, but you also might be a teensy bit afraid you'll burst into flames upon setting foot inside a church, you're in luck. You don't even have to get up off the couch. I invite you to listen to this excellent example of what it's like to attend my church. Sure, the church is known for our charity, our social justice work, our peace-making deeds in our community and around the planet. But we've also got this awesome, literate pastor--Pastor Jonas, the man of faith who I finally trusted enough to baptize me. Jonas writes amazingly complex and insightful sermons about things like how God wants us to love Bruce Jenner. I'm not kidding. Listen to his sermon, "The Kin-dom of God" here.