In the third installment of factors leading to seminary, it seems good to talk about the denominations along the road and the gifts that each one gave me for the journey.
But as I started writing this entry, I realized it was waaaaaay too long. So I’ve divided it into two parts. The second half will come soon…
As I’ve noted in past writings, the single greatest gift from the denomination of my youth was a love for the Bible. But perhaps just as key as this love for scripture was the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. I had no idea that the teaching had begun with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. But I came to accept my obligation as a follower of Christ for studying scripture and coming to my own conclusions.
Perhaps this is where the strength came from to look more deeply into socio-historical criticism and word studies as I began to wrestle with the clobber passages. Having been fostered in a safe space to ask many different questions, I took my Baptist spiritual formation and dug deeper when faced with the contradictory messages of eternal security and the idea that homosexuals could not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Eastern Orthodox (Russian)
In other places I’ve written about my flight from the church once I figured out that I was gay. But the next spiritual influence along the journey was one that I really didn’t see coming. As a college freshman I began studying Russian language and culture at the University of Kentucky, and with these came my first glimpses of Eastern Christianity.
The history of Kievan Rus’ and Russia cannot be told without reference to the adoption of Christianity and the influence of Eastern Orthodoxy. But no classroom discussion prepared me for what I experienced as an exchange student when I walked into the Church of the Dormition (Успенский собор) in Vladimir for the first time.
I stepped into the 14th century world of Rublev icons with babushkas, standing and kneeling and touching their heads to the ground. A choir sang the Divine Liturgy as people came and went, milling around with no apparent connection to what was going on at the front of the church.
It was in Vladimir that I first experienced the comfort of lighting candles before icons as I prayed. And it was here that I learned the Easter greeting:
Христос воскресе! / Воистину воскресе!
Christ has risen! / He has risen indeed!
Say it to the right person and you might even enjoy the triple kiss on the cheeks…
As I approached my 30th birthday, I felt ready to take another chance on the Church. And in answer to a prayer, God presented me with LGBT-friendly, Charismatic congregation. As a Southern Baptist I had learned a great suspicion for tongue-talkin’ "holy rollers." But questioning church teachings on homosexuality had opened the door for questioning dispensationalism and its distrust of charismata (spiritual gifts) as well.
From the Charismatic/Pentecostal tradition(s), I learned to trust that God moves in ways that I don’t understand. Prophecy, words of knowledge, healing, and prayer languages all became a part of my experience. It was also in this period that I first began to understand the idea of spiritual gifts that come together to form One Body with Christ as head. Though I cannot embrace much of the fundamentalism that came along with these teachings, over time I have let go of the parts that have not proven useful.
No, I was never a neo-pagan myself. But my best friend in DC is one and we used to discuss our respective traditions practically every day over lunch. Through our friendship I came to appreciate feminine images of God and to look with new eyes on the Creation in which we live. It was also through this relationship that I came to respect people who interact with the Divine in other ways – to see a real spirituality in traditions outside of my own.
Stay tuned for part two…