Friday, July 24, 2009

I’m Going to...Church?

I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the July 19, 2009, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

See if any of this sounds familiar:

“I heard this really interesting speaker last week”

“There are just some of the nicest, most engaged people at”

Here’s a good one: “I had this insight last week during the discussion at Small Group...Ministry? I’m one of the...lay leaders?”

Maybe some of you recognize yourselves in such hesitancy. I felt a particular dilemma a few months ago, as I prepared for my first time as a...Worship Associate? I was excited about what I’d written and wanted to invite friends to hear me...what? What word comes next? Preach? Not exactly. Talk? They could hear me talk any time with having to get up early on a Sunday morning. Bear witness? Probably a fair analogy, but yikes – no. I couldn’t find any way to capture the excitement I felt about sharing the intersection of my creativity and my spirituality that didn’t also reek with historical and cultural baggage.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of being a member here – quite the contrary. I’m excited to have found a spiritual tradition that doesn’t ask me to leave any part of myself at the side of the road. It’s the language of organized religion and recruitment – known second cousins of coersion – that makes me shiver.

I must admit, I put off attending UU services for a long time, though not for the reason you might guess. As far as I could tell, Unitarian Universalism seemed pretty cool. I’d come here for School of the Americas Watch meetings, so I already knew the Society’s dedication to social justice. In the wake of September 11, Emily and I had wanted to be part of some kind of communal gathering, and this sanctuary was an instinctive choice. Heck, there’s even a Pagan Interest Circle. How many churches have that?

I put off coming here because the UU Church was my backup plan. It was the mythical land I held in reserve. My safety schul, if you will. Because what if I went and didn’t like it? What if I arrived only to find that I didn’t feel comfortable bringing my soul here? What if my last, best hope for finding spiritual community didn’t pan out?

For years now, I’ve had a singing job in the choir at St. Francis Lutheran Church. It’s a place that gives Christianity a good name. They’re very LGBT-friendly. Their worship is based in a vision of a loving god and a deep calling to make the world a more just and humane place. Everyone at St. Francis has always been warm and welcoming to me, and I feel like part of that community. Except for one tiny thing: I’m not Christian.

I’ve spent many a jealous Sunday in that choir loft, longing for a religious institution where I wouldn’t have to spin my sense of the divine out of a book that resonates only intermittently for me. I’ve found ways to make do. For example, it helps to recall another singer’s trick, where she’d mentally replace “god” with “dog”: “O Dog, we thank you for your unconditional love. After all, what is asked of us but that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Dog?” It also helps a lot to think of Jesus as a powerful shaman with killer PR. But such constant translation isn’t the same as finding a spiritual home – it’s visiting as a spiritual exchange student.

The first few Sundays I came here, I grew nervous as my fears about not feeling at home seemed well-founded. After St. Francis’s modest chapel and small congregation, I felt lost in the soaring architecture and large crowd. You can probably guess how that story ends, though, or I wouldn’t be up here.

So how do I reconcile my uneasiness with evangelism with my enthusiasm for the spiritual home I’ve finally found?

Even though I’m uncomfortable with the language of organized religion, I also know that when I invite people to think about joining Small Group Ministry, or to come hear me on days like today, I’ve got a Major Caveat Trump Card in my back pocket: “’s the UU Church.” I’m inviting them to a place where we have a shared conversation of discovery because the breadth and depth of the human experience isn’t neat and tidy. No one person, no one book, has the answers. Rather, we all do.

I get to tell people that this is a place about wholeness. One of the moments I love in the St. Francis service is the blessing they give at communion: “Live in forgiveness, claim your wholeness, and go in peace.” The phrase came out of the congregation’s commitment to affirming that everyone’s sexuality is sacred. For me, wholeness affirms that my spirituality doesn’t have to fit inside a box marked Lutheran, or Buddhist, or Muslim, or Pagan, or even Unitarian Universalist. As I walk my path, I carry my spiritual home with me, in a Linda-shaped box, because none of it has been left behind.

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