Because I wanted to I stood on a stage and told a story of faith to a gathered audience of folks contributing to a local charity. There were ten stories told that night and you can learn about them at the Center Stage link at http://www.wcstoryslam.com. Mine was about allowing myself as many churches as I want, but holding in highest regard the one I find under my own personal sky. The video the producer took that night failed by the time my story came up (I was the closer), so I told the story once more to a group of gathered women in a private home and tried to videotape that. It’s a bit rough due to ringing telephones but it is a video. The text of my talk is as follows:
Under My Own Personal Sky
My faith hasn’t wavered much over the years. I’ve had the same sense of what I believe in since I stood under my own personal sky, alone and isolated, on the vast private estate of my childhood. I grew up in a place so big it had three lakes. There were 70,000 acres of trees out my back door. And it had a sky under which it seemed God himself heard me speak, answering with strong winds, teeming clouds and raindrops that pelted my skin.
I was raised Presbyterian, locking up the church with my folks every Sunday since Dad was head of the Session and Mom, the church secretary. I helped wash communion glassware and put folded tablecloths away after each fundraiser. Once we had a family of our own, my husband and I did the same with our children, teaching Sunday School and serving on committees.
Twelve years into raising our family Presbyterian I spotted an odd note on a congregational meeting vote card indicating the funds we were approving were being used in health insurance benefits that allowed abortions. And it bothered me that someone had highlighted this detail. There were other rumblings that led me to discuss with the minister just who we are. Turns out there are different factions of Presbyterians and some don’t like homosexuals, and some don’t like abortion, and some don’t like women to have certain roles. I was disappointed in myself for blindly following a faith that I possibly didn’t even agree with. Since when had my religion become so political?
I reluctantly decided that allying myself with folks who draw such lines didn’t feel right, and we started more often to attend the Quaker Meeting two blocks away to sit in silence, because after all, for me, checking in with yourself is the way to find your faith. To welcome silence, to stop each week and remember your spirituality, to be reminded of your own truths, is what makes sense to me.
About seven years after starting at the Quaker Meeting, I got a letter in the mail indicating I needed to come in to the Presbyterian church as a member in good standing to cast my vote. Apparently ideas like the one I’d seen on a congregational vote card had grown, camps had set up, and folks couldn’t tolerate one another anymore. I’d been gone so long I’d missed the big fat ugly fight that was culminating in a showdown next Sunday at 10:00am. Please be in attendance.
This letter urged me to make my voice heard in an attempt to salvage a community in crisis. Only when I got there it was like third grade… microphones set up for those ‘in favor’ of a break over here and those ‘against’ over there. Official proctors manned timers to make sure no one spoke longer than two minutes, red and green flags were held up to let speakers know when their turn could begin and end. I stood and said that I wasn’t too up on the specifics of the furor, but I was sure we should not let our differences divide us. That we had come together for a common purpose in the first place, and deciding that some of us were more right in our praise of God, or in our interpretation of the words we share in our effort to find God, could not be right. And between these imploring words, as I watched a divorce unfold, even though it had been me who left in the first place, I heard my own heartbreak.
Two days later I got a call asking me to be a deacon in the newly formed Presbyterian church. I assured them I was Quaker. They wanted pastoral people who cared, I was told. So, I said yes because I love the church, whichever one you want to talk about. Whichever one has us coming together to share the struggles of being human. I worked hard on behalf of my Presbyterian colleagues helping us get established again given that the minister, most of the support staff and nearly half the congregation had left to set up their own church elsewhere where they could more freely exclude whomever they wanted. I served eighteen months as a Presbyterian deacon even while attending the Quaker Meeting.
A few months later I was emotional as I spoke at the Meeting House. There is great respect for sharing honest thoughts there, and even I felt a reverence for the truth in my words. I said that in attending any church I appreciate seeing the faces of people who have known me for years. I don’t have much of an extended family so it matters to me that there are people from my past still with me in my life. People who have known me a long time and haven’t walked away. People who want to connect.
So I have my foot in two churches it seems, the Presbyterian and the Quaker…but I have my foot in a third church as well, one that straddles both, really… and that is the church under my own personal sky. It’s the one that tells me people are human no matter what religion they practice.
And so I am allowed two churches. I am allowed ten churches. Because sometimes I walk the beach on a frosty winter morning, alone except for the sunrise and I tell God my life. I tell of my struggles to do what is in my heart. I tell of my fears and my wishes and my heartaches. I tell God that I want more than anything to connect with the people around me and to feel them loving me and me loving them back, whatever religion that makes any of us. However many kinds of churches that takes.
And for that… I have perfect faith.