Graduate School

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I know I haven’t written on here in a good long while, it’s because I was going through the process of applying to graduate school. I was accepted and I’ve started my Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing (Non-Fiction) through Southern New Hampshire University. I’m so excited but at the same time it’s intense and to be honest this semester’s class is a little boring. But I have to get through the boring ones in order to get to the interesting ones, and so here I am.

This means that as well as getting posts about being Episcopalian, you’ll now also get posts about graduate school. I’m so thankful for the chance to go to college both in getting my bachelors degree and now for my masters. I don’t think I ever would have left fundamentalism if it weren’t for college which I know makes the case to fundamentalists that they shouldn’t let their kids go to college and that is a common line of thought in fundamentalism for precisely that reason.

My very first semester of college I had a sociology professor who challenged everything that I held dear. While I’m thankful for it today it was a very frustrating first semester and I barely passed his class, and I wouldn’t have without my college mentor. It would be years before I returned to college but the lessons he taught me stayed with me and when I was in a position that I could see more clearly, I remembered those lessons. Sometimes things that are worthwhile take years: things like college, masters degrees and leaving fundamentalism.

This semester’s class is called “Studying the Craft” and it’s about stylistics in creative writing. Like I said not really my cup of tea but it’s a required class so here I am doing it. It will still cause growth in me I am sure like every other college class I’ve taken. I learned so many things about life in my bachelors degree program and I know the masters program will be the same. Already I have wanted to quit and have told myself I’m just not graduate school material, but I’m persevering into week 2. I don’t know if these are feelings that all graduate students get or just me, but I’ll be here doing my homework, taking one week at a time until it’s done.

 

 

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Sacramental Waters

_4280358 copyI have been baptized three times. The churches I was in taught that baptism came after one had already believed in Jesus, as a public profession of faith, rather than it being the sacrament that marked your entrance into the church and your life as a Christian. I now believe that my first baptism marked my entrance into Christianity but it would be almost twenty years after I was first baptized before I would find that out.

In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness and the power of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, “Let there be light” – and light appeared. Genesis 1:1-3 TEV.

In the very beginning of the earth, water covered the earth. And then God moved over the water and things began to happen. Darkness and light were separated. In the very beginning of life, there was water. At the beginning of human life is water. The beginning of the Christian life begins with water; the waters of baptism. Water, the blessed water of the baptismal font, gives new life into the kingdom of God. Just as in creation, God moves upon the waters, except these waters grant salvation.

When we enter the waters of baptism, whether we are fully immersed in water or it’s poured over our heads, our new life in Christ starts. When we exit our mother’s womb wrapped in water, our new life in the world began. There is life in water. Our bodies need water to survive. That’s why we call it being born-again, because it mimics the first time we were born into the world, but through baptism we are born into a new world.

The waters of baptism are powerful. They are the same waters of creation over which God breathed and called forth life. They are the same waters of freedom through which God lead the Hebrews out of a life of slavery in Egypt and the waters of promise through which they walked into new life. They are the same waters in which Jesus was baptized and the same living water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well. In these powerful and living waters you were born. By those waters you share in the waters of creation, liberation, promise, and new life in Christ. In the waters of baptism you were bathed in the living water where you will never thirst again. Gamber and Lewellis, 2009, p. 16.

I remember a little bit from my entrance into the kingdom of God, it was a freezing cold creek in the middle of winter and I was fully immersed into a well-flowing creek. It was done on a Sunday afternoon after church when the whole church drove to the creek to witness the baptisms. I was barefoot and my feet got dirty in the creek bank. I was wearing a denim skirt and a cream colored top with little red flowers on it. These are the details I still remember twenty years later. I remember being immersed because I was scared. I’m thankful that I remember the details of this first baptism. I’m thankful now that I was old enough to remember being baptized.

When I first came to the Episcopal Church I felt like my baptism was illegitimate for several reasons, but one of those was because I had been immersed rather than have water poured on my head. Part of me wanted to be baptized again to get it done “right” but I was also embarrassed about my three baptisms and didn’t want to do that again. My priest wisely told me that it was legitimate and not to worry about it. But I am now at peace with my baptism, and now look back on it as a beautiful event and I’m sorry I ever regretted it or got baptized more than once, because the first one did the job. I was born again into the kingdom of God on a sunny winter’s day when I was ten years old. I don’t need to get re-baptized in the “proper way” because I was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, buried with Christ into his death, raised up in his resurrection.

Most of my Sunday school class was baptized that day, it was the trendy thing to do when you reached our age and we didn’t want to be outdone by each other, so in the act of ultimate one-upmanship, we all got baptized. We had all said a pretty little prayer asking Jesus into our hearts so that was all we needed to do to get baptized. Even as the pastor baptized me I had my doubts as to if I were truly saved or not. This would be a recurring theme with all of my baptisms.

My whole fundamentalist life I was told that baptism was for people who had already prayed a magic prayer “ask Jesus into their heart” so that they could be saved from the lake of fire that tortures its occupants for eternity. Thus the point of asking Jesus into our hearts was to make sure we had our “get out of hell free” card in God’s cosmic game of Monopoly. The Bible verses that seemed to indicate that baptism was a part of our salvation were either ignored or explained away, and we were taught that baptism was only for those who had already believed, and thus it was called “believer’s baptism”.

I prayed the magic prayer more times than I can remember, and I never felt like I had done it well enough. I ended up being baptized three times because I felt like I “wasn’t truly saved” the last two times and had to get baptized again. The grace tattoo on my wrist even bears a date of 03-03-08, the day that I thought I had become a Christian. What I never realized until I was thirty was that was my baptism, the very first one, at the age of ten in that freezing cold creek in the middle of winter, was when I truly became a Christian, although I had no idea what that meant and sometimes I still wonder.

Like Rachel Held Evans says in her new book, “Searching for Sunday”, baptism is the very beginning of our faith journey (p. 35). Baptism…a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The waters of baptism are the beginning of the journey of faith, our birth into the kingdom of God. The point isn’t to avoid hell (although I don’t believe in a literal eternal fire pit in the sky), the point is to be resurrected. As the pastor who performed my first baptism said, we are raised to walk in newness of life.

We come into this world via water in our physical birth, and we come into the kingdom of God via water, our spiritual birth. Birth involves water whether physical or spiritual. Until now I’d never realized the significance of my baptism, and now when I walk into the church, dip my hand in the baptismal font, and make the sign of the cross, I can remember my baptism, and be thankful for its significance.

I used to wonder if my baptisms were legit because they happened in a fundamentalist church and I was immersed in the water, and they didn’t believe that it brought me salvation. I wondered if the intent mattered but my priest told me I’d received a sacrament whether I’d recognized it at the time or not. I’ve been baptized three times so obviously I didn’t need baptizing again but I felt that it needed to be done again for a while, and some others have struggled with that too. I guess I’ve been a Christian from the very first time I was baptized, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Rachel Held Evans writes:

I’ve wrestled with the evangelical tradition in which I was raised, often ungracefully. At times I’ve tried to wring the waters of my first baptism out of my clothes, shake them out of my hair, and ask for a do-over in some other community where they ordain women, vote for Democrats, and believe in evolution. But Jesus has this odd habit of allowing ordinary, screwed-up people to introduce him, and so it was ordinary, screwed-up people who first told me I was a beloved child of God, who first called me a Christian. Evans, 2015, p. 15.

I was immersed in the water, just like I was when I was born, which means it’s just as special and symbolic and life-giving as my children’s baptisms which were done in the “proper” way, in church at a baptismal font with blessed water being poured over their heads three times, once each for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At their baptism there were promises made. I have come to realize that both mine and my children’s baptisms were both done in the proper way in the end, because it got the job done and it brought us to new life. It made us Christians and granted us entrance into the kingdom of God.

References

Evans, RH 2015, Searching for Sunday: loving, leaving and finding the church, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.

Gamber, J and Lewellis, B 2009, Your faith your life: an invitation to the Episcopal Church, Morehouse Publishing, New York.

Persecution

I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe that Christians in the USA today are persecuted even though some of us think that we are. I also think that it’s highly insulting and offensive to Christians in other countries who are being beheaded and suffering other atrocities to pretend that we are, in any way, as a privileged majority, suffering any kind of persecution. Christians are also not the only people around the world facing persecution, I mean just look at the refugee crisis.

I believe that we actually have a lot of privilege by being Christian and I think that it’s very important that we recognize that privilege. I’m seen as one of “the poor” and I have a house to live in with running water and electricity and food. I’ve experienced homelessness and it’s no fun, but right now even as one who is considered poor, I am so privileged that I am not in the position of many others around the world.

As the privileged majority and as followers of Christ, it is important that we be honest about things which means not pretending to be persecuted when we are not. The argument I’ve heard the most to prove Christian persecution in this country has been the argument that prayer has been taken out of schools. The truth is that prayer hasn’t been taken out of schools, we are just not allowed to require that prayers be a part of the school day and force kids who aren’t Christians to pray. Children who are Christians are allowed to pray at school and I’ve personally seen it on many occasions in my experiences with U.S. public schools.

Not being allowed to force our beliefs on another human being is not persecution, it’s basic human rights. Even God doesn’t require people to believe, God gives them a choice, and there are some who choose not to believe. If God themself allows people the privilege of choice, why should we try to force our beliefs on others? We should be living in such a way that people see the beauty of God’s way and want to be Christians, but we’re too busy claiming persecution, or fighting imaginary wars on Christmas, or pitching a fit that the government passed a bill saying we can’t do what we like.

Christians in America enjoy massive privilege, and it’s time for us to realize that and own it and strive to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves, without claiming fake persecution. The persecution complex isn’t cute and it actually hinders our message because people can see through the bullshit. Let’s change the world by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. And maybe if we do that, we might one day experience what persecution really is.

 

Syrian Refugees

A man once asked Jesus who his neighbor was, and Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who stopped and helped a stranger in need. Today I am still asking who my neighbor is, although I know the answer, because I don’t like the answer and I am trying to get out of loving particular neighbors.

I’ve been trying to get out of loving Syrian refugees, not because I don’t want them here, I think they should be here but sometimes I let some of the fear and the hype get to me. I’ve tried staying silent rather than talking about the situation because I “didn’t want to get involved” but I’m sure there were many people who didn’t want to get involved when pregnant Mary was looking for a place to stay and birth Jesus.

I am supposed to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself. If I were a refugee, I’d want doors open to me and my children. Doing justice means not remaining silent. Loving mercy means seeing these people as human too and being compassionate to their predicament. Walking humbly with God means trusting God with this mess. Loving my neighbor as myself means that I have to care.

And on Sunday I’ll kneel and confess that I have not loved my neighbor as myself, I’ll strive to do better because that’s what repentance is. On Sunday I’ll be getting confirmed, which means a renewal of the baptismal covenant, and when the Bishop asks: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” I’m going to reply with: “I will, with God’s help.” Then he’s going to ask me: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” And again I will reply: “I will, with God’s help. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 417).

I’m supporting the refugees because I believe it’s the right thing to do, it’s loving my neighbor as myself, and treating others as I would like to be treated. That’s what I’m called to do as a Christian, and I will, with God’s help.

The Sacred and the Profane

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I’m learning that food is sacred, which is a relief to me as someone that struggles with eating disorders. If eating is sacred, then maybe there’s some help for me in overcoming my struggles which have seemed relentless lately. Maybe if I can change my attitude regarding food and actually believe that it’s sacred, I can get through this.

‘In the Biblical story of creation man is presented, first of all, as a hungry being, and the whole world as his food.’ (Schmemann, 2000, Kindle location 80 of 2220). Schmemann then goes on to say:

Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into his body and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all-embracing banquet table for man. And this image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. It is the image of life at its creation and also the image of life at its end and fulfillment: “…that you eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom.” This is what happens when we partake of the Eucharist, we are eating spiritual food, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Schmemann, 2000, Kindle location 85 of 2220).

Hunger is part of the human experience, it’s something we are supposed to feel. Hunger is also part of the Christian experience. There’s a reason I was craving the Eucharist even before I knew what it was I was craving, it was because I was hungry for Jesus and didn’t know how to fulfill that hunger. Sara Miles explains that the need of the Eucharist is the same sort of craving as we feel when we feel physically hungry (Miles, 2007, p. 60), and I know that when I go to partake of the Eucharist it doesn’t matter if I have just eaten or if I haven’t eaten yet…I feel physical hunger and thirst for the Eucharist, and I feel full when I’m done. It’s a sacred meal and it gives spiritual nourishment.

Maybe if eating is sacred then I can connect with God instead of the food that I crave. Maybe instead of eating a bowl of ice cream or half a bag of chips I can pray when I have those cravings. I guess that means I need to do a fast of sorts. You are what you eat is true in the profane as well as the sacred. It’s why I’m so large in real life. It’s why when I started partaking of the Eucharist weekly, I began to thrive spiritually because I was finally being fed with the body and the blood of Christ. As I consume Jesus I become more like him because you are what you eat. As I consume more food than I need in order to try to comfort myself; I become bigger because you are what you eat.

Maybe, just maybe, the sacred can overcome the profane.

References:

Miles, S 2007, Take this bread: a radical conversion, Ballantine Books, New York.

Schmemenn, A 2000, For the life of the world, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York.

Becoming Episcopalian

It’s been one year now since I set foot inside the Episcopal Church, and it’s been an amazing year with faith that was once almost dead blossoming back to new life. I’m going to be confirmed soon which means that I’ll be a true blue Episcopalian. If I had a word to describe this year it would probably be reconciliation.

I’m currently working on a book titled “Becoming Episcopalian”. These are my favorite ten posts about becoming Episcopalian this past year.

Beautiful Liturgy – This was the beginning of the journey as far as church is concerned.

Witchcraft to Liturgy – Sometimes our colossal screw-ups lead us to the right path eventually.

Grace in the Sacraments – How consuming Jesus began bringing me back to God.

Cheap Imitations – This was written right after my son came out of the ICU.

Returning to the Lord – My first experience with the sacrament of reconciliation.

Feasting on Jesus – The Holy Communion has changed my life.

The Ugly Crucifix – The crucifixion wasn’t pretty, it was downright ugly but it can turn into something pretty.

Sacrament of Reconciliation – The cool thing is, this man I offended is sponsoring my confirmation for me.

Forgiveness – “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

This is my blood, shed for you – “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains”.

Food

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One day, I dared to write something anti-gun on a pro-gun Facebook post. I had complete strangers be rude, hostile and downright nasty. They looked at all my Facebook pictures and commented about how I was stupid and fat and obviously ate too much McDonald’s. There were also death threats and people telling me I should give up my newly acquired US citizenship. But the one comment I got the most was that obviously I ate too much McDonald’s and was “obviously” fat and lazy and therefore far too stupid to be allowed to have an opinion on guns.

I’ve been told by mother’s groups on Facebook that I’m abusing my children because I “refuse” to feed them organic food and that I could do so if I really cared about their health. I’ve been told that I myself caused my child’s autism and that they aren’t autistic they are just allergic to gluten and I should quit feeding such trash to them.

The thing is, people who don’t live paycheck to paycheck might be able to afford organic produce, but I’m on a food-stamp and food-bank budget and I cannot. It’s not that I don’t care enough, it’s that it’s actually impossible. Some women can afford diets and health clubs, I can’t afford either because diet food costs more and I eat what I’m given and I’m grateful for it. I’d love to go on a diet but the fact is that the food for any kind of diet costs far more, and I don’t have that kind of money.

My point is that access to healthy food is class based, we eat what we can afford and others eat what they can afford, they just happen to be able to afford better food than I. I’m not upset with those that can afford better food, but I do get a little upset when I’m judged by those who can afford better food as being a bad or lazy person because I simply cannot buy the food they are privileged to be able to buy. I’m privileged too, I have food to fill my stomach where many in the world do not, and I’ve chosen to be thankful for the food that I have rather than to obsess over food that I cannot afford. It means I can’t have the diet I want to and I can’t lose weight as easily as I want to, but I have food, and I thank God for that food.

“Give us this day our daily bread”, and God does, even when it’s not to other people’s satisfaction.

Waiting in the dark

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For the past year I’ve been in the Episcopal Church, I’ve been waiting for the judgmental hammer to fall, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been burned enough that I still wait in fear for it to happen. Especially right now when I’m seriously discouraged and my relationship with God isn’t as good right now as it has been. But hey at least I’m still talking to God which I wasn’t really doing a year ago in my hurt and disillusionment, so I suppose that is progress.

I’ve had a few things happen this week to discourage me. My car is broken and I don’t understand how I’m supposed to be without a vehicle when I have four kids. I can’t afford a nice used vehicle, I can’t afford to fix this one, and I can’t go anywhere. I haven’t a job because I’ve got no affordable childcare, and the things I’ve done to try to make a living haven’t really worked out for me. I know people who make good money off their blogs but I have been unable to gather more than $5.00 over the course of years I’ve worked on this blog, providing content that it appears at least some people like to read. Nobody is ordering any Avon. My book did make a little bit of money but nobody is buying books anymore. I know other self-published authors making money off theirs. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing wrong that I try the same things that others do but without success. Sometimes I wonder if God wants me living paycheck to paycheck from some weird reason.

Maybe it’s because I need to rely more fully on God, because God is the only reason I’m even getting any kind of money for the kids and I to survive, and maybe I’m ungrateful I don’t know but it make me feel so useless and like I have no value. I don’t know if it’s partly the bipolar that has me discouraged. But I like many others do get discouraged, and it’s those times in the dark where I get a little stronger although I cannot see it at the time and surely can’t see it now. But I know what has happened in other times, and so I keep going, thankful for my beautiful children and the fact that I have a house to live in, although I’m really, really pissed off about the car.

I don’t know that I even have a point to this post apart to paint a picture of what discouragement looks like and to say that for once, people have not been judgmental, they’ve been supportive. I’m not used to that and it makes the discouragement easier when there are people encouraging you rather than berating you. So to those who have been so supportive recently, especially those with whom I disagree with on almost everything, thank-you. The beauty of the Episcopal Church is that we don’t have to agree with each other to fellowship with each other and we all join the same meal at the same table in equality. The rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the tired and the energetic, the sick and the well. Ultimately, no matter what we believe or what we are going through, we all kneel at the same altar, before the same God, and partake of Jesus.

Why does it matter?

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When I dress goth; I come alive, because it’s who I was designed to be. I’m finally at peace after thirty years about my sexuality realizing that God created me that way because it pleased God to do so and that I was created in God’s own image. It’s a relief to finally know that I’m not an abomination in the sight of God; that rather I was created to be this way because God loved me. So, when people ask me why I feel the need to post about such things; it’s because these are things that I have struggled through, cried many tears over, done much seeking of God about.

I was taught growing up that my sexuality made me an abomination to God and that I wasn’t a Christian if I was bisexual because that was living in unrepentant sin and that unrepentant sinners don’t go to heaven, which in my case meant I was on my way to hell because that was the only other option. I no longer believe in the eternal inferno but I did until just a year or so ago and I was terrified of going there, and terrified of my children going there. I lived my life in constant fear of hell even though I was supposedly “saved” which meant that I had a ticket to heaven. Except that I couldn’t possibly have a ticket to heaven, I was just a fake because I was bisexual and bisexual’s couldn’t enter the kingdom of God.

When I was openly goth as an adult, the church worked hard to get me to tone it down telling me that nothing goth could possibly be right because it was a dark subculture and that dark automatically meant evil. I miserably worked hard to look far more conservative than I was and I kept up conservative appearances for a while but it was hard. I think now that it was far more displeasing to God for me to cover up who I really was in order to try to win favor from others, because that is, in reality, lying.

But anyhow, my point is that these things matter because they have been such huge struggles in my life. These are things about me that are a major part of my spiritual journey and this blog is where I chronicle that spiritual journey and in order for it to be authentic, these are things that I need to write about even if I am the only one who ever reads them. So I’m sorry if you’re one of the people who thinks that you just don’t need to know; the thing is that you are right, you don’t need to know. But I need to write it down for myself in order to be real, because if I can’t be real there’s really no point writing a blog. It’s part of what I appreciate about being Episcopalian (and I’m going to be the real deal soon); the fact that I can be who I was made to be.

Loving My Neighbor

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She knocks on my door and I groan, not wanting to let her in because word on the street is that she’s crazy, and truth be told she is a little strange. I don’t want to spend the time to talk to her, she didn’t even tell me she was driving over here and I figured that if she drove all the way over here that I should humor her. Never mind that Jesus says to love my neighbor as myself, and although she isn’t technically my neighbor, as in, she doesn’t live in my neighborhood, I know that Jesus didn’t mean just my geographical neighbors.

Here’s where being Episcopalian gets real, and can be hard.Just this past Sunday, and the one before that, and the one before that, and, well, you get the picture, I knelt and confessed that I had not loved my neighbors as myself. This coming Sunday I’m going to do the same thing. I intend to love my neighbors as myself, but I don’t. I don’t want to be bothered with the young lady at the door because I feel like I have better things to do than spend some time with a lonely woman created in God’s image. Except that that’s what God wanted me to do at that moment, and I don’t want to.

While I’m answering the door I remember my prayer saying that I am truly sorry and that I humbly repent. If that means anything, it needs to mean something now. I open the door and let the young woman in. I still don’t want to but I remember my promise to repent, and that means that if I’m truly repentant that I’m going to at least give this loving my neighbor thing a good shot.

This isn’t a story with a happily ever after ending, because although I now am aware of my failures in loving my neighbors, I still don’t always do it as much as I try. I still fail at loving my neighbor as myself even though I’m trying to be more mindful to do so. I still dread her knock on my door, but not as much as I used to. I’m willing to give her a little of my time these days, but I’m always relieved when I have something else that I just have to do. Which means I’m trying but I’m not doing that great.

True repentance means trying to do differently the next time. This Episcopal thing can be hard because I say hard things and then have to put action behind my words. But I think that in trying to put action behind my words, it gets me a little closer to what Jesus wants me to do, and brings a little more of the Kingdom of God to earth.