I grew up blessed to have two responsible, loving parents in a completely stable environment. I never had a need that wasn’t met, but my wants were satisfied with reserve. Now, I’m grateful for that reserve. Mom and dad were very concerned about my academic success, and they pushed me to do my best constantly. No matter how much I resisted them to try to be a child of leisure, their persistence left its mark on me. I had my failures as to my study habits and my class attendance in college, but I persisted in getting a couple degrees from the best college in the world. Somehow, I even managed to make Dean’s List and President’s List a few times. There was a whole lot of alcohol infused happy time sprinkled- well… fire-hose-blasted in those last 3-4 years of college too.
I spent the first 30 years of my life a pretty typical white, middle class, southern, conservative, Baptist boy that liked hunting, fishing, playing in the mud, and college football. Democrats were lazy, entitled baby killers, and God turned his back on them. I knew this because the preacher told me. He had God’s direct phone number and couldn’t be wrong. Right? I’ve already talked a little about what happened to slow down the hunting, fishing, and mud playing. The conservative Baptist parts though, they were partly influenced by the wheelchair, but more so by other factors.
I was out of work for about 3 months in the summer of 2011. Against all my better judgment, I left my dream job where I had a direct position of authority over the performance of democracy in Mississippi. Politics, politicians, back-stabbing, and lying finally held me in its jaws as an innocent bystander, and so I turned in my resignation without a place to go already lined up before it had a chance to chomp into me. I loved what I did. My job responsibilities were the things that motivated me to keep going, to attain the two least valuable college degrees you can possibly get; political science and public policy and administration. (Get your kids into engineering or a trade school. Stay out of liberal arts.) When a new republican administration came to power at my office, I saw wholesale change. Suddenly, our black employees and interns were replaced with whites. Dedicated, intelligent people were replaced by people who were republican candidates that lost their races and were rewarded for their effort, or they passed out flyers during the campaign, or their mama or daddy had deep checkbooks.
While I was out of work that summer, I spent a lot of time figuring out that I really suck at video games and was really good at watching TV. One day, after I’d fried my eyes getting repeatedly killed on Call of Duty, I flipped on the History Channel and became enamored with a several hour long show on the history of the bible. When it talked about the gospels that didn’t get included in the bible and what was written in those not included, it shook my foundation.
According to it, after Jesus ascended, the disciples dispersed to go tell the world about what they’d experienced. As with the story of the blind men describing an elephant, it stands to reason that each of the disciples not only had different experiences with Jesus than the others did, but they also interpreted the things that all of the disciples experienced with him differently. The followers of each disciple believed that they knew the true story, and they basically battled it out until the winners’ stories were deemed accurate over those of others.
Not only the battle to be heard affected the makeup of the bible, but some of the gospels were not written until years after the disciple’s death by someone or some group of individuals that may or may not have even known or were alive during the disciple’s lifetime. It was written and edited many times by the Catholic Church over the millennia as well. I think history has shown that to not exactly be the least corrupt association. *cough, cough* inquisition *cough* child molesters *cough cough* etc…
I started questioning what I’d been taught and what I believed as irrefutable fact over my entire life from when I was a toddler with the little white bible that I took to Sunday School before I was even old enough to read. What exactly could I believe? Who was right? Was there truth in the lost gospels? Is there truth in the included gospels?
Then, as I trod cautiously down that path looking for more answers, more questions started revealing themselves to me. Why am I a Christian? What if I had been born in Southeast Asia and I’d been raised by Buddhist parents? What about if I’d been born in Egypt? Muslim? If I hadn’t been so lucky(?) as to be born in the bible belt, what would my religion be, if any? There’s a lot of the luck of the draw at play in those questions since you have no choice in where or to whom you are born, if you’re black, white, rich, poor, gay or straight, book smart, handy, mentally ill, physically disabled, kind hearted, or an Ole Miss fan.
The one thing that really grabbed me and held me, giving me comfort, confidence, and hope is from the great commandment In the gospel of Matthew. It says:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It’s all about love. You love God and then you show that love by loving the world around you. Jesus gave no qualifications about loving your neighbor unless… That is also a common trait through most of the religions on earth. At the unadulterated core, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, from the little I know about them, all center on doing good works and showing love to the world. That’s not to say that there isn’t the blood from millions of deaths attributable to each of these groups. Speaking as a Christian, my God is perfect, but I am not.
All that being said, in 2013 after the preacher at the Baptist church I’d been attending started a sermon off by saying that he couldn’t tell me who to vote for, but he was going to tell me why I should vote Republican, I quietly left not to return. My political views had already been reshaped by my spiritual reawakening along with my work experiences and other factors. I have a good understanding of the need for a separation of church and state, and why we need not only freedom OF religion but also freedom FROM religion. I don’t look for expressed directives from the pulpit as to which chad to partially punch out on election day.
In the fall of that same year, I found a spiritual home that welcomes me, loves me, and gives me the comfort of not having to two-step around my political ideology to fit in spiritually. I went from a room full of middle class white folks to a gathering of folks as diverse as the outside world. Everyone is welcomed and loved. There are gay, straight, black, white, single mothers, homeless, addicts, interracial couples, poor, wealthy, and anyone anywhere in between on any given Sunday. I leave there with a sense of peace and refreshment that I never remember getting with any sense of sparse regularity from any other church I’d attended. The small Episcopal gathering is my desert oasis. I regretfully don’t get to attend as much as I want or need since moving to Vicksburg when I got married to my beautiful Jana, but when I do get to go, Father Chuck welcomes me like an old friend even though I’m a bulldog and he’s a black bear landshark rebel from the evil town of Oxford.
My transformation is too long to lay out all at once. So, check back for the continuation in future installments.