I went to church recently. Not temple, (Christian) church. This is not the norm for me. The congregation I worshiped with is one I have thought about visiting for a while. In truth, it’s a flock I used to belong to and worship with regularly. This community gathers at what is now known as Life Journey Church, click here to visit their site, but used to be called Jesus Metropolitan Community Church (JMCC). For anyone who isn’t already aware, the Metropolitan Community Church is a non-denominational sect of protestant Christianity that is not only welcoming of the LGBT population, but also is affirming. As such, the membership is usually primarily humans from the greater gay community – although there are also plenty of non-gay folks who attend, as well.
I first learned of the MCC while as a teen I began coming to terms with my sexuality and was also a very active Christian person. This was a tumultuous time in my life because my family isn’t Christian and Christians generally don’t like gays. So, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what my future would hold and I anticipated being thrown out by one or both of these important parts of my life. As it turned out, only the Christians threw me out. (Not before putting me through the bogus-est of therapies. Calvary Baptist Church, click here for their site link, I think, had never had to deal with a problem like me.) During those difficult years, my backup plan was to run to the MCC for a kind of sanctuary, hoping that in my worst-case scenario, someone would help me. Had it come to that, I’m sure someone would have – luckily that wasn’t needed. This is in no small part because my family mostly kicks ass. I’m not sure exactly when JMCC changed its name to Life Journey or if the dropping of the “MCC” from the actual name indicates a separation from the larger MCC denomination, but I know I parted ways with the church after a chat with the then-and-now pastor, Jeff Miner.
The chat happened after a morning service. Something about the sermon hit me as being uncomfortable. This is probably due to my own personal development and spiritual growth and a growing feeling that Christianity simply wasn’t big enough. That morning, after the service, I filed in line with many others who hugged our pastor as we left the sanctuary, and while there I asked him about god greeting people at the so-called Pearly Gates. I don’t recall exactly, but his must have been mentioned in the sermon that day. I asked him if he thought it would be disturbing for a dead person to arrive at the gates to Heaven, expecting to see Ganesha or Vishnu or the Universal Mother or Nothing At All, but instead to be greeted by Jesus. He agreed that it probably would be disturbing. Our chat lasted only another minute or two and during that time he pretty well said that he believes god shows up in the manner expected by the soul.
That was the last time I attended that (or any other) church. I can play along in most scenarios when it serves a purpose. However, I couldn’t any longer rationalize buying into a religious practice that not only seemed too small for me, but the potential spirituality of which contradicted some of the actual religious structure. Pastor Jeff Miner is a fine person and a brilliant human being – everyone should get to know him. I mean it. But I couldn’t allow myself to continue to participate in a Jesus-centric mode of worship and living when the real and true Reality is that not only is Jesus not the “only way” for us to return home (and you bet your butt he isn’t), but also that whatever God is to whomever recognizes God, God will appear in that form. (Does that sentence read clearly?) I think I could be okay attending a church if it were a church that celebrated Mohammad and Ganesha and Zarathustra (Zoroaster) – equally. But that isn’t the case and it was the final nail in my Christian coffin that a “Jesus only” spiritual methodology had that element of hypocrisy. (Maybe hypocrisy isn’t the right word, but it sure feels like it.) “Jesus is the only way – unless you don’t recognize him – then god will manifest in another way.” Umm…. What? Really?
So I stopped attending and began developing myself as a Hindu. I’ve now spent more time as a Hindu than I did in my two stints as a Christian (couple years as a teen at Calvary Baptist and then a few more years as a young adult at JMCC), and I’ve yet to feel like I’m even remotely close (nor have even inched closer, at all) to outgrowing this path. Still, one thing I missed was my connection to the local gay community – which was primarily facilitated through JMCC. I don’t go to bars. At all, really. And aside from meeting people through other people or going to the bars or joining up some social group or something, the church was the next most logical way of connecting to my tribe. I missed that and still do. And so, I decided to be nosy and see what it’s like now. And I did that last Sunday. The building and many of the faces are mostly the same. The worship service is essentially no different.
Last week’s sermon dealt a lot with the book of Leviticus. More specifically, what made someone or something unclean. It was also noted that throughout the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, the Jews are referred to as the “children” of god – never as any other kind of people. Always children. With that idea in mind, spiritual evolution was discussed throughout the sermon: We, as a collective, should be evolving beyond the child stage of development. Obviously, most of the references to these children of God are in the Old Testament, where much of the do’s and don’ts of Christianity fall as well. So there’s an association made here between being a child and needing rules. So-called rules are for those who aren’t as developed and still require (benefit from) a structure being imposed upon them. It sounds sweet to think of yourself as a child of god, but it’s not exactly a compliment. We’re told Jesus came to do away with those laws – to fulfill them – as a means of saying, “Guys, grow up! Stop being children.”
One example discussed in the sermon to illustrate this is the notion of something or someone being unclean. In those ancient days, observations were made: A bird flies. A mammal walks on the ground, and a fish swims. This is natural order. Natural order is, naturally, ordained by god at the time of creation – when He supposedly made birds to fly, mammals to walk, etc … And so, the math follows, if something deviates from this so-called natural order, there’s something terribly wrong. Thus storks and bats (the examples in the sermon) are unclean. Storks are birds that do fish things. And bats are mammals that do bird things. They violate god’s laws of nature and are therefore unclean. The photo in this post is of a Cheez-It product, CRUNCH’D, a cheese cracker – cheesy poof mixture that surely violates the natural order of all creation.
In just about as many ways as animals can be unclean (violate nature), so can humans also. The main example in the sermon, as it tied into the scriptural reading, was leprosy. The verses read by the congregation explained the process of suspecting and diagnosing leprosy. The process could last as few as seven days or as many as 21. The possibly-afflicted could end up being cleared. But if that soul were unlucky and actually had leprosy, then the rules required that person to wear torn clothing, keep visibly messy hair, sleep outside the limits of the city (a very dangerous thing), and wherever they walked they were required to cover their upper lip (with their hand) and shout ahead, “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!” to broadcast that an untouchable person was near. It was understood that even their breath could spiritually contaminate someone else. To anyone, modern or ancient, scared of catching leprosy it probably doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea to have all those rules in place. You could easily know whether you were in danger of being dirtied by someone else. In those ancient days, though, leprosy wasn’t the only thing that could designate someone as being unclean. If you had any physical blemish what-so-ever then you were unclean. This included people who were disabled – whether from birth or due to age or an accident.
The catch here isn’t that unclean people were forced to do all the aforementioned things. Those are all pretty degrading, but the real rub is that they weren’t allowed in the presence of god – weren’t allowed into the temple, as such. So, someone with scoliosis or spina bifida or whose growth plates were injured as a child and had one limb shorter than the other – all unclean. If you’re autistic or have a hump in your back or are in a wheelchair – you’re simply not good enough for god, for life.
How screwed up is that? And it doesn’t stop there. Like birds that dive and swim as a fish would, men who love men (as women were designed to do) were likewise stepping out of the line and file intended at creation’s start – unclean. Same goes for women who love women as men were designed to do. And god help you if you were transgender – except you would be too unclean for god to help. Then, as we all know, Jesus came to be among humans and not only touched lepers but also made great efforts at setting the record straight on what supposedly defiles a person and what doesn’t. Thank god for Jesus. Right? Not me. I mean, not really. I don’t doubt that Jesus was one of humanity’s many guiding lights, but I don’t go any further than that with him – not anymore. If Ganesha can’t score me front row seats in Heaven, then I don’t know how somebody with half as many hands is going to do it.
So, it was a good lesson delivered in the sermon. For sure. And it was nice to be with those like myself. For sure. But my visit to the church served mostly to remind me of why I no longer follow the Christian Dharma. As heart-felt and genuine as I think a lot of it actually is for those congregants, it still felt almost wholly juvenile and somewhat ridiculous. It felt emotionally imbalanced and smelled of enslavement – tragic for a path preaching freedom through Christ. If Christians are people who have been washed clean and set free through Christ’s blood, then why in the world do so many of them feel threatened or “against” so much of life?
And now my conundrum: I obviously can’t worship there. So much of everything said or practiced under that roof makes me roll my eyes so hard I get a migraine. And besides that, I’ve been clear that it stopped being a good fit over a decade ago. But it was nice to be around other gays – something that happens very rarely for me. Although, these gays aren’t the ones I have the most in common with, whatever that means. I’m just not sure I want a ton of friends who attribute every life challenge or misfortune to Satan or who think they need someone else to pay for their own actions. Plus it’ll be something my husband will never join me in because he has zero tolerance for that kind of bullcrap. So… Do I return? I’m thinking I might – for entertainment, if nothing else. But surely there will be something else.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti