Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallow's Eve

How lovely to enjoy a holiday rather than fearing it (or at best, snobbily ridiculing it). To work for an employer who understands the lightheartedness of the celebration and is not threatened by it.

I can't say it any better than this blogger did, so I'll stop trying.

The Gospel of Halloween

What a joy to finally be free of the fear of death and hell this Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wandering Part 3

I think we may finally be close to finding a permanent church home.

It's such a relief to be part of the Body of Christ again.  To look forward to Sunday's spiritual refreshment instead of dreading picking over a list of yet another church to try.  And honestly?  In some ways, I wonder if I've ever really functioned as part of the Body until now.

When we walked in to this church, we felt immediately at home - despite it being dramatically different from anything we have ever experienced - and we really haven't had the desire to go elsewhere since.

Truth be told, however, we initially tried this denomination in desperation.  We had been through just about every Protestant/non-Baptist/non-Pentecostal church in town, and couldn't find *anywhere* that worshipped and glorified God instead of manipulating and glorifying man. I was reassured enough to walk in the door once my research revealed that this denomination is a main branch of the Protestant Reformation and believes in the cardinal doctrines of the faith.  Not exactly what I'd been taught about Episcopalians to this point in my life.

I can hear the gasps now. EPISCOPALIAN?!?  As my own mother said - "They're practically Catholic!"  Well, no.  There's liturgy, sure. But remember, I work for Catholics.  It's like saying they're the same person because they're both blond and wearing a blue shirt. Besides, Catholics aren't that bad, so I don't see a huge problem.

Why does this church feel like home when it is So. Very. Different?

  • Scripture-drenched worship.  More scripture than any Fundamentalist service we have ever been in, hands down - even more than the relatively decent Fundamentalist halfway-house church we left behind.  The solid orthodoxy in the prayers and homilies.  The beauty that makes me weep every week. (The rector probably thinks I'm a headcase - which I am, but that's another post.)  The Gospel is truly proclaimed in multiple manifestations throughout the service.
  • No guilt trips.  Ever.
  • The people were kind to us from the minute we walked in (in both Episcopal churches we visited, actually).  And not that syrupy-sweet "nice", I mean really kind. Loving, even.  They weren't blustery, judgy, or fake.  They were genuinely interested in who we were and what we did and how we got to town.  They had no qualms about admitting they forgot our names from last week and asking again.  They didn't latch on in cultish desperation like some other churches we visited.  They exuded a depth of character we were drawn to.  We felt no ulterior motives for their actions, and the interactions were much more emotionally healthy. What a refreshing change from a church where everyone is trying so desperately hard to appear perfect.

We have membership classes coming up in a few weeks, and I'm very interested in learning more about the nuances of Episcopal theology.  I am well aware that I might fuss over a few points once I really sink my teeth into them.  But you know what?  That's ok.  From what I've read, you can be an Episcopalian and have some relatively out there or alternatively some pretty orthodox beliefs.  The unity of the Body is so important that you spend your time dialoguing rather than separating over triteness - which is so completely opposite of Fundamentalism that it's mind-boggling.

And the opposite of Fundamentalism is a good start.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Suffer the Little Children

I saw something at church today that I have never seen before.  It's dreadful, really, that this was so out of the ordinary for my religious experience.

What, you may ask, could have engendered such shock? 

It started with newborn twins in the service today.  Yummy, squishy, redfaced newborns in stereo.  That in and of itself was a joy, but it was nothing compared to what happened at the Great Thanksgiving.

When the Celebrant saw them brought to the Communion bench he smiled a grandfatherly smile.  He kindly welcomed them and their mother.  He put his hand gently over each little fuzzy head and blessed them, making a small cross with his thumb on each red wrinkly forehead.  The babies slept through it all, but I was awakened to another vast spiritual chasm between Fundamentalism and true Christianity.

In Fundamentalism, I was not used to seeing men in leadership be gentle.  Preachers usually yell throughout their sermons.  They make rude and obnoxious statements about people who vote Democrat, don't have guns, are gay, etc.  Women are denegrated with inappropriate jokes or, at best, patronized.  Children are maligned by these men as little tyrants with wills to be broken - by force as necessary.  The vulnerable are either ignored or verbally beaten down. Everything is made into a fight.

Yet here was this man gently, humbly, and lovingly treasuring these precious babies.  No hint of roughness.  Not a whisper of antagonism.  As the Great Thanksgiving continued and I approached the bench, the same man gently offered me the Bread with words of comfort.   The man after him who offered the Cup just as gently reminded me that Christ's blood was shed for me and reassured me of God's love.

How did I not realize before that Fundamentalist leaders in no way exemplify the Biblical example?
 "A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth." - 2 Timothy 2:24-25
Now that I've truly seen it, I can't think of any leader in my old life who could have been characterized as a servant of the Lord.  What a tragedy. May God spare his sheep from such wolves.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Blessing of Animals

On a lighter note, my horse and I attended our first-ever "Blessing of the Animals" this week.

In some Christian traditions, a special service to bless animals is held to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.  Usually, one ends up with a church parking lot full of dozens of dogs, cats, birds and other animals - it's a wonder anyone thought this was anything close to a good idea.

"Pixie" behaved herself quite well, mind you. Even when someone's German Shepherd exuberantly lunged at her in an attempt to make friends.  In fact, she took the blessing and the holy water rather regally.

However, while we were waiting to be blessed (and standing a safe distance away from the 70+ dogs), I began to discover that my horse was actually there to *be* a blessing instead. Children materialized with awe-struck faces and loving pats.  An elderly woman from a local assisted living facility who had owned horses "her entire life" was delighted by her - and my horse melted into her hands.  Everyone who came to see her walked away with horse-sized smiles.

After all the blessings were completed, the pastor and deacon came back by.  My horse seemed particularly interested in the holy water, so the deacon kindly offered her a drink.  Pixie promptly stuck her nose in the bowl...

...and flipped water all over her.

Yes, my horse blessed the deacon as well. *snicker*

I'm a troublemaker no matter where I go.  Seriously, the Fundamentalists have got to be glad to be rid of me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Testimony Of Women

Being a female Fundamentalist is no picnic, let me tell you.

Following all of Fundamentalism's written and unwritten rules is hard enough.  But when you're a woman, the rules are double.  Minimum.

I remember hearing constantly that women should be certain things and not be others. For example,  I was once told that it was a sin for a woman to laugh too loudly. I was denied a job as a wrangler at camp because I was a woman.  At Fundamentalist University, male students were allowed to do a great many things female students were not - like go off campus their first year without an upperclassman accompanying them, for starters.  Most women's sporting events were not allowed to have a "mixed" audience; the reasons I was told were #1 - not enough faculty chaperones available and #2 - nobody wants to watch girls sports anyway.  I got in a great deal of trouble once for asking why the men's sports teams received money to purchase uniforms when women's teams did not. (I wish I still had the reply letter I was sent, it was atrocious.)

But those are the relatively innocuous differences.  I heard multiple sermons on women dressing modestly because it was a woman's fault if a man had lustful thoughts.  I heard a lot fewer telling men to control themselves, and I never heard it was primarily their responsibility.  I heard endless sermons on wives submitting to husbands.  I rarely heard sermons on husbands loving their wives and never ones telling husbands it was wrong to abuse their wives and what abuse looked like.   I saw rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence victims get blamed and told to forgive and "move on".  I was told women were not as spiritually minded as men - in fact, I beat myself up with that enough to actually believe it for a while.  But, God bless my Bible Doctrines teacher at Fundamentalist University - he actively repudiated that particular belief in class one day.

And see, that's the real difficulty with this topic in Fundamentalism.  On the one hand, many Fundamentalist men sincerely think they believe that women are equals and that they treat them that well. They say that women and men are equal, just with different roles.  See?  Isn't that egalitarian?  I used to fall for it, sad to say.  It was the gag for my conscience every time it would scream in protest during a sermon, because "...he doesn't really mean it that way."

But you know what?  When I finally started looking at their actions instead of their words, I realized the truth about Fundamentalists.  They *don't* believe women are worth as much as men.  How else could one explain the constant belitting, unfair restrictions, and most of all, rampant abuse of women?  How does the Tina Anderson case make any sense other than that Tina was a young, powerless girl and everyone else was a man?

Just this morning, I saw this little gem posted on a friend's social networking wall.  Go ahead, listen if you want to be depressed:

"Look at them. Out there, all around you. Women competing with men. Oh, you see them everywhere.  Climbing telephone poles, loading trucks, directing traffic, driving heavy equipment, operating gas stations.  Now a Christian woman automatically senses the inappropriateness of such behavior to her testimony."

Seriously? This was aired September 30, 2011.  Not September 30, 1951.

The best part is that I know firsthand that the Fundamentalist University associated with the speaker has women on the campus security force who direct traffic.  I've seen women on the grounds crew driving heavy equipment and loading trucks.   The school has admitted women to and has graduated women from majors like criminal justice, carpentry, accounting, and pre-med.  Even if you happen to agree with the sentiment that women shouldn't be doing those things, the hypocrisy is astounding.

And then it keeps going.  Worrying about who your kids like better?  Really?  Requiring validation from your children reveals severe emotional insecurity.  That's actually something called covert incest.  The rest is so snide - and frankly, so very sad. Her recommendations for wives have nothing to do with being righteous and have everything to do with rolling over and playing a dead floormat.

Frankly, I was despondent after listening to this.  I felt worthless.

And then I went to church.

As the pastor and deacon came in at the beginning of the service, I noticed the deacon's stole.

It was decorated with the names of Biblical women.

Mary of Magdala.

With every name I read, the chorus of women grew louder and clearer in my head.  These women of faith sang of a God who loves His daughters and knows their contributions are not inferior - and they're certainly not competition.  How does Mary's Magnificat "compete with" Joseph?  How does Ruth or Naomi's faith obscure Boaz? How does Esther's courage demean any man except the deservedly villainous Haman? The answer is that they don't.

It was as though God reached down to comfort me and reassure me that women are valuable.  "Look how many great women of faith I told you about!  Remember them! Don't believe Satan's lies!  Look!!"  What an amazing difference to be in a church that doesn't hate women.

If you really think about it, the Fundamentalist line of thinking actually demeans men - they are treated as such fragile creatures that they can't handle anyone in any position of power other than themselves.  You know what it means when someone has to be in control all the time and can't allow competition?  Means they're an abuser, that's what.

It is not of God to make women constantly worry about overshadowing or "competing with" men.  God asks all of his children, male and female, to do what needs to be done - not look around first to see if a man approves or is threatened.  That's the very definition of "the fear of man", yes?  And its snare nearly swallowed me whole.  Praise God that he crushes traps and releases His daughters from prison!  Alleluia!