An Agnostic Christmas December 26, 2011Posted by Matt in Christianity, Christmas.
Tags: Christianity, Christmas, church of christ, experience, hopeful agnostic, Jesus, The Episcopal Church
It’s no secret to those who know me or who read this blog that I’ve undergone a period of spiritual change over the past few years. This is most visible in our change in churches, from the Church of Christ to the Episcopal Church, but for me the transformation runs far deeper than the denomination with which we associate. It goes from the morality espoused to the attitudes expressed to the very theological foundations upon which everything is built.
As I’ve said in the past, I came to the realization a long time ago that my idea of God had evolved a great deal and that the classic theistic description was no longer tenable, that I could no longer say I believed in that idea of God. Please note that this doesn’t exclude God altogether, far be it from that, but it does mean that the commonly taught descriptors of God no longer worked, so I was forced to recalibrate, to rethink my personal theology, so earlier this year I decided that the best phrase to describe my current philosophical state was “hopeful agnosticism.” Though I’m pretty unclear and questioning on the theistic version of God, I do wholeheartedly believe in something bigger than myself, working through and embodied by people throughout history. It’s a force of love and compassion, of mercy and radical forgiveness, one that permeates the fabric of reality and dwells in all people and things.
The Christmastime idea of Incarnation bothered me for a while, especially when looking critically at the evidence and coming to the conclusion that it may well be a myth meant to later bolster the claims of Jesus’s followers, because I had trouble accepting it and, truth be told, I still don’t accept it as fact, but I recognize something there in the experience of Christmas, particularly as embodied in our services at St. Timothy’s. There is something quite beautiful about the story of Christmas and, whether it happened or not doesn’t really seem to matter. What matters is the effect the story has on you. I can tell you that sitting in a pew at our church during the Christmas Eve mass is one of the most wonderful and moving experiences I’ve had, and in the end, isn’t that what really matters? Once we get past the sniping at each other over the factual nature of the account, isn’t the real meaning found in the effect it has on you?
That’s what I think at least. You can keep your reams of studies attempting to prove the unprovable, to know the unknowable. I’ll rest on the experience, the mystical knowing beyond knowing.
Something Negative From My First Year as an Episcopalian? December 8, 2011Posted by Matt in church.
Tags: The Episcopal Church, weight loss
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There are those of you out there who, after reading my overabundant enthusiasm for church, might wonder if there have been any negatives involved in our change to the Episcopal Church. Is there any aspect involved with our conversion experience that is perhaps not so good.
As I thought about this, I came up with one area in particular that has suffered in our change in churches.
It’s not theological or philosophical. It has nothing to do with worship or doctrine. No, this issue is one that is always present in every day of my life.
The Episcopal Church is bad for my waistline.
It’s true. I’ve put on about 15+ lbs in the past year since we began at St. Tim’s. Granted some of that may be due to an occasional lack of self-control around the desert table or it may be related to my rather sporadic exercise routines, but the relationship between the two sure seems to be real. Our priest is a firm believer in enjoying life and perhaps my recent weight gain is due to my having adopted that philosophy as well.
Regardless, I have resolved to do better….after Christmas, of course.
In the meantime, I’ve been engaged in a running routine for the past few months and have gotten myself into fairly good shape, but due to other indulgences, this has yet to show on the scale. So, at the New Year, I’m going to buckle down and really try to get myself back to a better weight.
Just wait, you’ll see. Last year the sometimes cantankerous and argumentative Matt was replaced with a kinder and gentler version. This year we’ll replace the current version with a more svelte one,
Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian, Part 6 November 30, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: acceptance, liturgy, non-judgmental attitude, role of women, The Episcopal Church, theology
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Over the past year, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, “Why the Episcopal Church?” and so I’ve pondered on this in past, wondering what it is about this particular branch of the Christian tree that attracts me to a great extent than the others. This is certainly not a complete list, but here are a few that I could come up with off the top of my head at work.
1. The role of women
As the father of two young girls, it pained me for some time in our prior denominational affiliation when I considered their limited prospects. I struggled with it for years before finally deciding that I could no longer remain in a group that still considered women to be second class citizens in the sight of God. In the Episcopal Church, they are active participants, with my oldest already serving as an acolyte, and in the future, if they chose, they could do anything they wished, from the priesthood to higher.
2. Their acceptance of everyone
Never have I been part of a church that so readily drew in and embraced all comers. At our prior church, I always found such joy in their racial diversity, a quality for which all churches should strive, but there remained an underlying attitude that kept some at bay. Though St. Tim’s does not have as much racial diversity, it does offer diversity henceforth unknown to me in a church setting, namely with gay people. I find it so heartening to sit with my gay friends in a church setting where there is no judgment, no damnation, no calling down lightning from heaven. Which leads to…
3. Their non-judgmental attitude
In our church we have people who self-identify as conservative and others, like me, who nearly fall off the left hand edge, but at the core of it all is an attitude of loving non-judgment, an atmosphere where we do not just coexist, we form a community. It’s really a beautiful thing.
When we walked into St. Tim’s a year ago, I had absolutely no experience with liturgy, but despite our ignorance we eventually caught on and learned how the call-and-response style of worship worked. It quickly became such an integral part of our experience that I sometimes wonder how we ever worshiped in the past without it.
5. Their well-developed theology
As someone who considers themself an amateur philosopher/theologian and who is an avid reader, I have been nearly overwhelmed with the width and depth of theology employed in the Episcopal Church. It is rightly known as the thinking person’s church.
So, those are just a few aspects of The Episcopal Church that have drawn us in and embraced us on a deep level and I’m sure the list will continue to grow over time as we continue to learn (stumble?) our way through.
Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian, Part 2 November 15, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: Bishop Spong, church of christ, god is dead, hopeful agnostic, Nontheism, panentheism, The Episcopal Church, uncertainty
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There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demand that somebody free it.
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out
(Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, The Avett Brothers)
My drift to the left started long ago, dating back to my time at the very conservative Harding University, (this has been documented extensively in my Losing My Religion series) but it was some time later before I took those first difficult step on, as the aforementioned Avett Brothers might say, that road full of promise. Many had wondered aloud to me in those few years before we finally stepped away from the Church of Christ, “Why do you stay?” and, truth be told, that’s a tough question to answer. Growing up in the CoC, it becomes a part of your identity, a notion of who you are as a person. It’s as much a part of you as the color of your eyes. Moving away from the faith of one’s youth is like cutting off an arm or leg, leaving behind a feeling of uncomfortable incompleteness and pain, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce.
But it was not just the church being pruned from my life like dead branches, this issue went far deeper and far beyond even that. By that time I had spent years in study, searching for truth in books of all types, in conversations with other questioning friends, and in deep self-reflection on my own personal experiences and what they meant for the entire structure of my belief system. The foundation was crumbling from beneath and bit by bit the building was falling apart, littering the ground with notions of past ideals once held dear. And as those once concrete precepts crumbled to dust and were blown away in the wind, something became terrifyingly clear.
God was dead.
But this is not just any god, it was the theistic notion of god beaten into my head all those long years, the fear-riddled ideas pounded into my skull with violent zeal by preachers and teachers and peers had dissipated into nothingness. Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose writings have proven to be one of many great influences on my thinking, describes the theistic god thusly: a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside this world and invading the world periodically to accomplish the divine will. I wrote a short series on Bishop Spong and nontheism about a year ago and though it was quite enlightening to me, the vehemently negative (and incredibly insulting) reaction from others proved to be the final nail in the coffin for any personal conception of the god of theism. The way back had been barred and there was no return.
Recently a good friend of mine, a free-thinking person with little use for churches or organized religion, asked me, “What do you think of God?”
I stopped for a minute to formulate an answer to this all-important question, futilely attempting to sift through mountains of reading and reflection with my addled brain. It’s not an easy question to answer and I feel little certainty about any conclusion to which I might arrive, and to that extent, I tend to think people who are certain are most likely wrong.
After a few moments, I answered using a phrase that I had heard or read somewhere in the past, “I think the best way I could describe myself is a ‘hopeful agnostic.’”
I think there is something out there bigger than me, some cosmic force connecting us to each other and to the world and the entire universe around us. I don’t understand it, I can’t describe it, but I think it’s there. It permeates the fabric of reality, it swirls around us unseen, it flows through each and every one of us like a great rushing river with an infinite number of tributaries. It is being. It is love. Its presence fills us all to one extent or another.
I concede that there is little concrete certainty to be found in my personal beliefs. I don’t hold to traditional concepts of an afterlife to be pined for or to a divine, vengeance-seeking, lightning bolt-throwing being on high. I like it that way. I find some comfort in mystery and unknowing and in just living.
So, one year ago we walked away from our Fundamentalist background in the Church of Christ looking for something more, something different, something more accepting, and we found it right away in The Episcopal Church.
To be continued…
Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian November 14, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: church of christ, spiritual experience, The Episcopal Church
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If not for love I would be drowning
I’ve seen it work both ways, but I am up
Riding high amongst the waves
I can feel like I
Have a soul that has been saved
I can feel like I
Put away my early grave
Gotta say it now
Better loud than too late.
(“Amongst the Waves,” Pearl Jam)
The upcoming season of Advent is one of the holiest on the liturgical calendar, but for our family it has even more meaning than the commemoration of Jesus’s birth, it marks the beginning of our new life in the Episcopal Church.
The last few years have been interesting ones to say the least, both for my personal spirituality and for the future of our family. In 2009 I wrote quite extensively about my spiritual journey from the Fundamentalism of youth to our first steps away from the denomination in which we were raised, the Church of Christ. It was a deeply personal series and, along with the support garnered along the way, it helped us to begin the journey anew, to follow paths uncharted and perhaps find our way out of the wilderness.
The purpose of this series will be to tell our story from the past year, to look back and describe our feelings and experiences, to see where we (or at least I) are today on this lifelong spiritual quest, this search for truth and significance. I don’t purport to have any answers or to even ask the right questions, but this can at least give you a small glimpse into the gloriously messy state of affairs, our struggles and where we are today. I hope you will join me on the journey.