Yesterday, both my wife and I were confirmed into the Episcopal Church
. We said a few words, the Bishop said a lot of words and then he laid hands on us and proclaimed us members of the church.
The ceremony was simple. The journey was not.
I have always been a spiritual person. Even though my family did not belong to a church while I was growing up, we were believers. That God loves us and wants us to love others was the foundation of my moral upbringing. That Christ was the way, was also a given—but my parents did not teach us much of the Gospels or ask that we know our Biblical stories and lessons.
I had little textual knowledge on which to build my faith. Instead, I had only my inner feelings to guide my beliefs. I found comfort in prayer. I found meaning in the broad outlines of Christ’s story. But I was not religious. In fact, I was often contemptuous of organized religion. To me, personal spirituality grounded loosely in the Christian faith was enough.
Then one day I found myself in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I was 23, new to the city, unemployed and just wandering the streets. Even to the most irreligious, St. Patty’s is a magnificent sight. To someone like me, a little lost, a lot lonely, it was a beacon.
So I knelt in a pew and prayed. While I had been to church sporadically throughout my life, I had never really prayed in church before. It seemed such an odd thing to do. But there in St. Patty’s, under the buttresses in the glow of stained glass, it felt right. And afterwards, knees a little soar, head swimming, it felt divine. And I do mean divine. That was the day I became not just spiritual, but religious.
The troubles I had when I walked through those giant doors did not disappear when I walked back out. But they did become more manageable. Life itself became more manageable as I came to understand that there is a greater purpose to all of this. That conflict and pain and tribulation are not here to make us despair but are here to be overcome. Through love, community and true hope in a better world we can overcome suffering and deliver the grace and mercy Jesus promised.
I believe this with all of my heart. And each Sunday I gather with others as we confirm our faith in the power of Christ’s words and deeds. And promise to carry His mission of mercy out into the world.
To many who do not practice a religion and only see Christianity through the rhetoric of the Christian Right and the antics of Pat Robertson, my choice to be confirmed into a church must seem like a decent into the abyss of absolutism and divisiveness—or at least as a retreat from reason. But let me assure you, I do not find the modern world or the sciences to be inhospitable to my beliefs. I do not damn people to hell for not sharing my exact values. And I sure as heck do not think the Republican party is any more moral or godly than the Democrats.
But I do prickle when secularists bash religion. And I do think there is some wiggle-room in the separation of church and state. And, yes, I enjoyed “The Passion of Christ.”
But mainly, I think the teachings of Christ are good for the world, even if some interpretations of His words are bad. In fact, I think faith in general is good for the world. I think the true hope for us lies not in abolishing religion (as some secularists desire) or in returning the world to old scriptural interpretations (as some fundamentalists desire), but in brining religion forward into the modern world.
That is, in many ways, what the Episcopal Church tries to do. Even as we keep the old ceremonial traditions intact, our scriptural interpretation focuses on what the teachings mean for us today, with all our modern knowledge and all our modern problems.
I believe we can be modern and religious. People of reason and people of faith. We don’t need to choose. I didn’t.