Thursday, October 06, 2005

Autumnally Yours

I never can quite decide whether I love October or hate it. We're still having these crisp sunny days, but they sprout from chilly mornings that make getting out of bed so very unappealing. I feel like I'm steeling myself, "girding my loins" for the long grey months ahead, the interminable string of soggy mornings waiting for the bus and the equally dreary afternoons of blowing my nose and clutching a cup of tea in my office to warm my clammy fingers.

On the other hand, October does mean hot cups of tea in my office, and busting out the fun hats and scarves, and snuggling in under the down comforter. So it's a mixed bag.

It makes me pensive. I've been thinking about reconciliation a lot lately. As you know Bob, I've spent a few years trying to distance myself from the religion in which I was raised. Like a lot of people, when I found that I couldn't and didn't believe in it anymore I felt all grouchy and bitter about the whole thing. I thought I could just wash my hands of it all, but it wouldn't all come off. Damn sticky stuff, the religion you're raised with.

In the process of re-evaluating my religious beliefs, I was also revising my political opinions--because nothing's as fun as simultaneously breaking down all of your lifelong assumptions about God and government! Wow, I wonder why those first few years after graduation were so unhappy and tumultuous... Anyway, as I became more aware of issues of social justice I heard a mention of an intriguing church. The description I heard was intriguing enough to make me Google it, and the snippets I found about Keystone United Church of Christ added just enough to my curiosity to make me visit.

After much procrastinating, finally one Sunday almost two years ago we walked through Keystone's doors. Four or five people sat chatting in a cozy lobby area between the entrance and the sanctuary, and they immediately welcomed us in and got us each a cup of coffee. I was surprised by the small size of the congregation after all I'd heard and read about the good work of this group, but it was a pleasant surprise.

I was in for a pleasant shock as soon as the service started, too. The song leader, a woman near my age who simply stood and led us in song with a gorgeous voice and flute playing, opened the music time by noting that one of the hymns we would be singing contained gender-exclusive language. "Instead of singing, 'God will bring his people peace,' we're going to change it to be more inclusive and sing, 'God will bring God's people peace,'" she said.

I can see the way some of my old Christian friends would roll their eyes at that, but I was delighted. That was exactly the kind of thinking that had helped ostracize me from the faith of my childhood: once I stopped thinking of God as a cosmic-sized man, and started pondering the feminine aspects of God, it didn't seem like I could possibly be referring to the same God I'd grown up with. The Christian friends who were alarmed by any mention of a feminine aspect of God only confirmed my sense that I wasn't "thinking like a Christian" anymore. So to hell with it, I thought. I felt pretty sure there was Something here, Something you might call God, Something that grounds and contains and surrounds and sustains the entire span of existence; but apparently if I didn't think that Something was limited to one set of people's impressions of it (or him or her), I couldn't be a Christian.

That was perfectly fine with me, though it did make me inordinately resentful of Christianity--right up until the moment Melissa stood up and asked us to sing a hymn to God and deliberately refrain from gendering God therein. And from then on, every Sunday I heard Rich Gamble speak I thought, "Well, I can call myself a Christian if that's what it's all about." When they started organizing last year's Festival of Hope, two days of a craft market / rummage sale that tries to raise $10,000 every fall, every single penny of which is donated to organizations that are fighting poverty around the world, I thought, "Sure, I can call myself a Christian if that's what it's concerned with."

But obviously I've still been thoroughly ambivalent about the whole thing. I have so much baggage with that word, that book, that set of beliefs. Blah.

So when I heard they were starting a six-week group to study one of Marcus Borg's books, The Heart of Christianity, I signed up. I am intensely interested to hear what this group of people has to say about what the heart of Christianity is for them. If it doesn't rely on literalism and fear, what does it rely on? If it doesn't make claims about its own exclusive hold on the truth, what claims does it make?

Wow, this post is incoherent. We met together for the first time last night, and I will have more to say about it. Of course Marcus Borg says it all better and more succinctly in his book, but you know...I'll still hash it all out on my own.

And that's what October is doing to me this year.