Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Faith of our Fathers

I had the most interesting thing happen the other day.

As background, you should know that very few of my extended family are Fundamentalists, and one of my grandmothers in particular had always been uncomfortable with my mother and I identifying as such.  I don't ever remember her being ugly about it, but I knew she wasn't interested in our new-found faith in the least.  She was also one of the ones most hurt by things we did in an attempt to "be a testimony".

In Fundamentalism, I was frequently taught that being in church every time the doors were open was not only what Spiritual People Do, it was also A Good Testimony.  Doing so made it clear to those around you that church - and therefore by extension, God - is the most important thing in your life. (Pay no attention to the fact that equating the Church with God is problematic.)

I remember frequently going to her house for dinner when I was young; apparently, many of those dinners were Sunday nights, because once mom and I converted to Fundamentalism, it became a point of contention. Instead of going to my grandparents' house, we now went to church.  My grandmother tried to compromise and have dinner earlier so we could do both, but it was still such a strained time compared to the way things used to be, and the tradition was eventually given up.

Some Testimony, eh?

A few days ago, grandma was at my house to help watch my child while I got a few things done around the house.  While the child napped, we talked, and all of a sudden she asked, "So, I understand that maybe you and [hubby] became a bit... disillusioned by your time at [Fundamentalist University]?"

What followed was one of the most enlightening conversations I've had so far along this journey.

My "heathen apostate" grandmother had seen right through Fundamentalism from the beginning.  She told me the insistence on control frightened her.  She said she didn't understand how people could ignore the poor and vulnerable while calling themselves Christian at the same time.  She was shocked at the way parents dominated their adult children's lives and the rules the University enforced on those same adults.  And she told me, among other things, an appalling story I hadn't known about from when they visited [Fundamentalist University] for my graduation. 

At the time, my grandfather had some medical issues that necessitated frequent trips to the restroom.  And as the ceremony was extremely long (this was the year that a new President of the University was installed) he had to get up at one point for another trip.  He walked up the aisle, reached the doors, and was stopped by two ushers.

He was told that the doors were locked and no one was to be allowed to exit.

They essentially told a grown man that he wasn't capable of understanding the solemnity of the occasion and intimated he was acting like a child who should be better behaved.  Those snotty superior ushers TOLD AN ELDERLY MAN WITH A MEDICAL CONDITION THAT HE WASN'T ALLOWED TO USE THE RESTROOM.

Oh yes, indeed.  Very Good Testimony.

Now, my grandfather was no troublemaker.  He was an upstanding businessman in the community, and if there was a rule, he followed it.

But my grandfather stood up to that bullying and said something to the effect of, "If you don't want to clean up a puddle right here, then you will let me out to use the restroom."

And they let him.

Needless to say, my grandparents weren't impressed with how they were treated.  They were kind enough (or perhaps frightened enough?) not to mention the incident.  I do remember them joking that the ceremony was "like installing a new pope"...

It's ironic, really.  I thought I was so spiritually superior to my non-fundy grandparents; now I realize they had a great deal more discernment than I did.   They saw the abusiveness and wanted nothing to do with it. In addition, I remember them being the kindest, most giving, and most socially active of anyone in my family - and certainly kinder than most people in my church. Even at my most Fundamentalist self, it gave me no small amount of cognitive dissonance that they were labeled as unbelievers.

Oh, and the most fascinating part?

I discovered my grandmother was raised in the denomination we've started to settle into and is a member of the same church we've been attending for over a month now.  I have more in common with her than I ever knew.

Fundamentalism robbed me of that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Vino, Veritas

The day I idealogically fell off the teetotaling wagon probably sparked the first flames of my eventual complete separation from Fundamentalism.  Because once you wake up from one part of the brainwashing, you start to be able to identify other parts...

It happened while was attending another institution of higher learning getting a degree beyond my Fundy University bachelor's degree.  (Though I suppose it could be argued that if I were a woman getting an advanced degree in a secular university, I wasn't that big of a Fundy, but that's another post.) I was offered an alcoholic beverage by a friend at a study session.  I piously proclaimed, "I'm a Christian, I don't drink" - echoing the words of a Fundamentalist evangelist I heard once who bragged of his testimony to his Marine buddies using those very words while holding a glass of milk. 

However, the resemblance of my story to his ended there.

Rather than respecting my firm stand for the Lord, and being impressed with my devotion...  well...

He laughed.

That was probably the one response I never expected.  He LAUGHED!  And not scornfully either -  he actually thought I was joking.  Then he said, "Christians are the biggest drinkers in the world.  Irish Catholics, anyone?"

And, you might also be surprised to learn, he wasn't the least bit interested in my protestations that Catholics "weren't real Christians." He followed with something about the fact that Jesus drank wine.

Praise God, I was stunned into enough honesty to realize that abstaining from alcohol wasn't the amazing testimony to unbelievers I had been taught it was.  It was actually a stumbling block.  And maybe, just maybe... he was right.

Exit #1 off the Fundy turnpike.  No wonder Fundamentalists hammer this issue so hard.

I occasionally, guiltily, tried some wine after that point at family gatherings, but my conscience wasn't freed on the subject of alcohol until I listened to a lecture about the medical benefits of wine in heart disease and high blood pressure.  A half glass of wine for women/full glass of wine for men daily is strongly recommended by cardiologists.  Huh.  That seemed to fit under the medicinal use of alcohol that even hardcore Fundamentalists had to admit to.

But that was just wine, not any alcoholic beverage. And I still wasn't completely sure that "new wine" wasn't really grape juice, hesitated to say that Christ himself drank wine, and stuttered when asked if drinking wine was intrinsically a sin.

You see, in Fundamentalism, especially in the Baptist kind, alcohol of any sort is strictly prohibited. Even taking NyQuil or cooking with it could be frowned on in the right circles.  I had been indoctrinated that drinking alcohol is not, under any circumstances, something a Good Christian would do.  It is somehow assumed that any alcohol consumption leads immediately to drunkenness, so even drinking in moderation is a Bad Testimony - and being seen purchasing it is the Worst Testimony Possible even if you're just using it for a Jerry Baker gardening recipe.

Since this is one of the prime evils a person can ever engage in, there are a lot of mental gymnastics and twisting of Scripture to fit this relatively recent human tradition. Sermons and even entire books are devoted to attempting to prove that the "wine" in Christ's first public miracle and at the Last Supper was just grape juice.  Anyone who says otherwise is a godless compromising liberal only interested in indulging his taste for demon drink.

But last week, something was pointed out to me that makes the translational arguments irrelevant.  And the reason is so shockingly simple that I feel like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.

The wedding at Cana occurred just before Passover.  Go read the Gospel account - it's there.  It is clearly stated that a few days after the wedding, Christ went up to Jerusalem for Passover.  The Last Supper was also celebrated at Passover.

When is Passover?

Sometime in the spring.  Around April.

When is the grape harvest?

Fall.  The grape harvest is in full swing here, and it's September.

And here's where the absurdity really becomes apparent.  There is no possible way to have fresh, unfermented grape juice in the spring 2000 years ago.  None.  Grapes aren't ripe then.  They ripened 6 or more months prior.  No refrigeration then, no canning, no pasteurization.  No Wal-Mart with cases of Welch's available at all seasons.

It doesn't matter what your preconceived translational bias is.  Wine is wine, not grape juice.  New wine is wine, not grape juice.

I hadn't even been aware that subtle doubts still lingered until this blew them all away.

So this year, I really, really enjoyed the local wine festival.  No, I didn't get drunk.  Yes, I think Christ approved.  I received the wine with thankfulness and I celebrated His first miracle by enjoying it. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

For the Love of All That is Holy Communion Part 2

I think I'd like to revisit this topic  - and not just because I still can't get over Communion.  In retrospect, I feel the first installment was too heavy on the soul-wearying time communion used to be instead of the soul-feeding time Communion is now.   And if I hope to help woo Christian Fundamentalists away from worshipping their man-centered religion to worship the one true God instead, then they need to see the God they're missing out on.

To recap:

In Fundamentalism, communion was occasional and terrifying.  It primarily focused on me, my sin, and God's judgment, not Christ and His atonement.

By contrast, here are the excerpts from Communion that happens every Sunday at the church we're settling into:

The Great Thanksgiving

Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them to the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Celebrant: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

(sung) Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, 
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna in the highest.

Then the Celebrant continues:
Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.  He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.  On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me."

After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, "Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me."

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.

Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in Him.  Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.  All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ.  By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever.  Amen

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to sing...

(sung)Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day
our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom,
the power, and the glory
are yours, both now and forever.
From now until the end of time.

Congregation: We who are many are one body, because we all share one bread, one cup.

Post Communion Prayer

Celebrant and People:
Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.  Send us now into the world in peace, and grand us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Celebrant: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Alleluia, Alleluia.
People: Thanks be to God.  Alleluia, Alleluia

Can you believe that?   Can you believe that not only is Communion considered "the great thanksgiving", but... a celebration? I nearly couldn't when I first heard that manifestation of the Gospel. Communion celebrates assurance of pardon, not self-doubt.  It celebrates redemption, not condemnation.  It celebrates the acceptance we have in Christ, not the separation we have without Him.  And most of all, it celebrates Christ, not me.

Thanks be to God!  Alleluia!  ALLELUIA!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Living on a Prayer

I have mentioned that my current employer is a Catholic institution, so it should come as no surprise that there is formal employer-organized prayer here too. And the difference in experience is interesting.

In my old Fundamentalist life, I was party to plenty of prayer meetings. Usually, one or more people were charged with praying during that time. It was ostensibly unscripted, but most casual public prayers followed an inevitable format (despite feeling somehow superior to people who prayed “canned” prayers...). I opened with “Dear Heavenly Father”, I asked God to “just be with” a laundry list of certain people/situations, and I closed with “In Jesus’ Name”.

The prayers of the liturgical tradition are a different matter altogether. They aren’t mere laundry lists. They actually say something, and that something is usually quite deep. They are drenched in grace. They make my heart sing in worship to God and thankfulness for who He is - even if they're read in a monotone and maybe a little too fast.

Here are some examples:

“Let us remember in a special way all the countries of the world. Let us remember those countries who are struggling with the issues of oppression, natural catastrophes, large national debts, and corrupt governments. May God be with them and give them strength during these difficult times. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”
– Catholic prayer service

“We pray for all nations and people, and particularly for those suffering from war, disaster, poverty and disease. We ask you to be with our own country including our leaders and with those who serve. We remember all who serve the common good. Be with the nations, Lord, that divisions might cease and wars end.”
– Episcopal church service

“Let us pray for peace, peace in our families, in our workforce and in our world. May God guide our government so right decisions will be made. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”

“Let us pray for those who are unemployed and those who are homeless. May God help all individuals so his or her dignity can be preserved, work can be found and hope can be felt in hearts again. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”
– Catholic prayer service

“We lift up all those in need; those who are in financial difficulties, those who seek jobs, those who are hungry and those who need homes. We lift up those who face illness, those who live with pain, and those who live with sadness. We lift up care givers, and health workers and all who help those in difficulty. Be merciful to those in need, Lord, that help and healing may come.”
– Episcopal church service

There is more here than the content and poetry of the words. The attitudes behind prayers like this were shamefully foreign to me when I first left Fundamentalism but, fortunately, are becoming more second nature.

In Fundamentalism I *never* prayed for God to correct oppression in this world. I may have prayed for the leader of America, but never for any other country’s leader – and only that he would essentially be nice to Christians of my ilk. I certainly never prayed for homeless or poor people in general - they deserved what they got because of bad choices. I never asked God to bring unity and have mercy by stopping wars. The prayers are not only more beautiful and meaningful than anything I prayed before, they are more compassionate and loving.

Frequently I can’t help but break down in tears during the service, because these prayers are sweet water to a parched soul.