Easter for a (former) Christian…

wine and matzah...
wine and matzah…

On Monday Heather and I went to a Passover Seder. Even though I’m not Jewish, I found it powerful to be in solidarity with my friend, her culture, her friends and others around the world in remembering slavery, hardship, and the promise of a brighter future. She used a special haggadah (telling) focused on social action and solidarity with love and justice. I learned from various guests about differences in the Jewish community, their faith and family traditions, and shared (non)traditional food and drink. It was amazing!

Last night we went to a Maundy Thursday communion service held at our church. It was sparse; only a few dozen people. We listened to biblical readings, commemorated the Last Supper through wine and bread, and stood in solidarity with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It was solemn and intimate; such a stark contrast to the rowdy Seder we experienced only a few days before. But the Christian holy week is supposed to be muted. We walk with a man sentenced to death because his beliefs challenged those in power.

circle-wise-women-full-lighted-KE-12096After the communion service, we attended a candlelight vigil for a young woman who was hit by a car in our neighborhood. Her story is tragic. It was a senseless accident which robbed a father of his only daughter. They lived just a few blocks away from us and we felt we should stand silently with the Nepalese family. Once again, we were reminded that this week especially is a time of mourning and remembering. It is a time where community comes together because life has become too much.

Even though I no longer qualify as a Christian, I would be dishonest to not participate in this religious time of year. Christianity is a part of my history, my journey, and will remain part of my future. The Judeo-Christian tradition holds powerful truths; its essays and stories of humanity struggling with identity, definition, relationship and the unknown are timeless. It is also controversial, especially in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

One love; nobody left behind...
One love; nobody left behind…

My church is filled with religious refugees. A lot of my brothers and sisters have been hurt by Christianity. They were kicked out of their homes for being gay; they were told they were going to hell because they didn’t read the bible the same way; they were told they were evil and sinful for just being human. Of course only a few of us would show up to a Holy Thursday communion service. For many, this time of year is too painful. For others, it is meaningless.

Yet for me, the communion service was powerful. The Seder was powerful. This time of year is powerful. I’ve heard more than one person describe this as a “thin” time where spiritual life and daily life become intertwined and we have the opportunity to better interact with god/nature/earth/spirit. Because of my history, I have no choice but to sink into this thinness and let myself steep in the spirit of Jesus, the Hebrew prophets, the saints and the apostles. By participating in these Jewish/Christian days, I commemorate where I came from. I mourn for what I have lost. I am reminded of why I changed. I embrace where I have set my spiritual future.

Easter blessings...
Easter blessings from Seattle…

Many people in my church wouldn’t agree with my Easter experience; but almost all of them would support it. I found a community which can say “beyond our ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. Let us walk there together.” Nothing says more about this time of year than that.

Ending a relationship…

Not actually me.

I used to be a religious man. I was a Christian; a Catholic to be precise. I did my best to read the bible. I enjoyed the community of ritual. I even entered seminary for a brief time. I wasn’t perfect; far from it. But I tried, and repented, and tried again. When I was young, it was easy to believe. As I got older, I began to struggle with dualism and dogmatic concepts. My religious views said one thing. My rational mind said others.

Recently, a friend of mind told me that the Church was making it very hard to be a believer. In fact, he was considering Atheism. I told him that was a ballsy move. It was a similar statement of belief in an un-provable objective truth. He countered that the Church was making a good case for him leaning on the atheist end of agnosticism.

I found this to be a much better statement. And a true one.

Subtle, right?

For the last 5 years I have been struggling in much the same way. I would go to Christian services, but I could no longer say the words. I felt like a liar when asked to repeat the Apostles’ Creed or to sing the Gloria. It felt wrong to go through words and motions I no longer felt and no longer believed. Trust me, I tried to believe. I WANTED to believe.

It was sad.

It was like the end of a relationship where you hang on, not because you want to, but because you feel you have no choice. What would my family think? What about my friends? What about my church community? There was no more love. No more commitment. No more emotion. Just guilt and shame. And more guilt. And more shame.

yeah… it’s a hard sell…

But I had run into the same issue my friend had. The Church had made it too easy to lean on the atheist side of agnosticism. Not just because of the hypocrisy in the patriarchal leadership, sex abuse scandals, or outdated views on human sexuality. I had serious doubts regarding trinitarianism, the nature/concept of sin, transubstantiation/consubstantiation, and the existence of an afterlife. For those unchurched, these are foundational beliefs for any Christian. If you don’t believe in them, you are not part of the club. You are what people lovingly refer to as an apostate.

 

And then they damn you to hell.

Why won’t you just love me?!?!

I no longer believe in such things. But it still hurts. People who I love, because of their faith, are confident that I am going to burn in fire and torment for eternity. It doesn’t matter how much good I do in my lifetime, how much peace and love and reconciliation I bring to others, or how many good deeds I do. Because I am no longer a believer, I am going to hell.

This bothers me because these are the same people who say they love me. They BELIEVE I am so wrong and so flawed that I would deserve eternal damnation. Then they say, “But I don’t want you to go to hell. It’s just the truth. I’ll pray for you.”

That’s like a southern person saying, “Bless her heart.”

Trust me, that’s not what they’re really saying.

non religious does not mean non spiritual

So I do the only thing I can do. I forgive them. Just because I am no longer a religious man, does not mean I am no longer a spiritual man. My experience tells me I have emotional connections and responses not only to other human beings, but to my community and world. I find inspiration, beauty and joy in the mundane. I still encounter the peak experience. I have a need to explore what it means to be human. I recognize that there is an extra dimension to my existence, and I want to investigate what that is with a rational mind and an open heart.

I have found a church and community that encourages this. Unitarian Universalism.

These are their beliefs:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Much like a new relationship, it’s all sparkles and rainbows. It’ll be hard getting over my ex. But it’s time to move on. I’ll let you all know how things work out for the long haul. But at least I’m moving forward.