I became a self-titled Episcopal Church Geek as soon as I learned the proper order in which to extinguish altar candles, when I was 7-ish. My early days as an acolyte are blamed on my desire to be just like my closest older brother, who is five years my senior. But, once in, I was so enamored with being part of how church functioned that I never thought of leaving.
I was hungry for more.
It could seem cult-ish to say I’ve never questioned my faith, but in all honesty that’s the truth. Because the norm in my religious upbringing was that I was encouraged to ask tough questions of God, the Bible, the preacher, our beliefs, rituals, and more. The thing that allowed me to never question my personal faith was the fact that I had permission to question everything about it. The very freedom that I could so easily walk away meant that I had a reason to find out why it was important to stay.
I was 16 or so when I thought I wanted to be a priest, but it would take another 15 years before I would find my true calling as an Episcopalian. I’m still figuring out the whole priest thing.
This post explores some of the ways I am beginning to bridge my “in real life” disability and chronic disease advocacy work with my passion for helping The Episcopal Church truly welcome everyone. Continue reading Disabled Deputy On a Roll→
I have ankylosing spondylitis and several mental health issues. I asked my mother some questions about them impacting my life. Here’s what she had to say:
What was I like as a child?
You were always physically active – as a baby, stretching and leaning toward what you liked/wanted. You enjoyed crawling, walking, later bicycling. I enjoyed watching you do backbends and cartwheels at about ages 6-10. You wanted to be scored – 1-10 – as though in the Olympics. You loved kittens and puppies. You enjoyed holding them and carrying them around. You were inquisitive. You were very shy as a toddler, often hiding behind my skirts or my legs so you would not have to talk to people who addressed you. You enjoyed spending time with people of all ages as you became an older child. You became friends with adults and enjoyed learning new things such as tennis and fishing from your grandparents. I had come to believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”, so I encouraged your independence in going alone by bicycle into our village and forming many relationships with nurturing adults there. I allowed and encouraged you to be outspoken to the point of some thinking you were “too sassy”, but I believed that as a female in this society, you would need to be able to speak up and take care of yourself as you grew up. There could easily be a book about how you were as a child, so this will have to be an incomplete capsule.
+I’m on the school bus sitting behind an older girl. She is playing with her hair and I stare at her, intrigued. She turns around and says, “What are you staring at, white girl?” I blush deep red and look away, unsure what I did wrong.
+I still wear my brother’s hand-me-downs. I’m comfortable wearing shorts that reach my knees, jeans with holes in the knees, and shirts multiple sizes too large for me. But I begin to feel self-conscious because the other girls and some of the boys bully me. I am pressured to start dressing more like a girl and I begin to wear tighter jeans and shorter shorts.
+A new boy moves to town and he becomes my boyfriend. We kiss behind a building during a school field trip. We ride bicycles and play soccer together.
This past Sunday before church, a child in the pew behind me asked his mother why there was purple cloth over the cross. She said,
“Um, well that probably has something to do with the fact that it’s Lent.”
His mother and I both struggled with the proper words to explain Lent. Neither of us used Jesus language. We didn’t say that Lent is a somber period of time prior to Jesus being murdered and then resurrected three days later. We didn’t talk about Satan testing Jesus in the desert for 40 days. Instead, we explained that we cover crosses as a reminder to be introspective and thoughtful during the time before Easter. I offered that it’s a time to think about how we can make ourselves better people and the world a better place. Afterwards I thought about how, instead of filling this child’s head with jargon that he may remember but not understand, we sought to explain Lent in terms that anyone can understand – Christian or not, kid or adult, politician or constituent. This child can grow up and be or become who or whatever he feels called to be, whether that happens to be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, Agnostic, or Atheist. The list goes on.
I realize Christians, especially Episcopalians, do things that sometimes appear silly, even to ourselves. We drape crosses in purple fabric. Swing incense. Smear ashes on our foreheads. Drink wine or grape juice and call it Jesus’ blood. Yet, these symbolic or theological rites that have been in practice for millennia have powerful meanings that carry great significance in our spiritual journeys. Yet, I argue, it isn’t our rites that make us Christian, but our hearts. And we all have hearts no matter our religious identities. Continue reading The Human Family Is Bigger Than Religion→
We’re now in the season of Lent. For my friends curious about the oddities of Episcopalians and many other Christians, Lent is the period of forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is the time Jesus spent fasting in the Judaean Desert, during which Satan tested him. Many Christians use this symbolic period of time each year, which begins on Ash Wednesday (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – a powerful reminder that we are all family), to give up or take on a practice that heightens spiritual introspection.
Lent isn’t just what precedes Easter; Easter couldn’t happen without Lent – the two events really go hand in hand. My interpretation is that Jesus’ time in the desert led to his most powerful, socially unacceptable actions – one of the reasons I love the guy so much. His time in solitude and introspection opened him in new ways to be a bold face of God, even – and especially – in situations that made others extremely uncomfortable and angry. He healed those who didn’t deserve to be healed, said things in synagogues that bothered people enough to drive him out of town, engaged in activities that weren’t appropriate for the Sabbath, and loved those who weren’t loved by anyone. And it was really tough on him; he spent a lot of time in the days leading up to his crucifixion in solitude and prayer. He did radical things in the name of God which led to his punishment of crucifixion.
I have often thought about how, as Episcopalians, we go through the same calendar – rituals and roller coasters of pain, hope, fear, miracles, grief, joy, death, and resurrection – every year. I like having a calendar, because no matter where I am in life I can go to an Episcopal service and find the familiar; and with the comfort of a liturgy that repeats itself in cycles I can come back to the same passages year after year and review my ‘christian growth chart.’ Continue reading I Might As Well Try This Jesus Guy→
Why I am sticking with a church the Anglican Communion is afraid of:
I can be who I am, openly, and expect full inclusion in the life of the church – that means female or male or trans*, gay or straight or queer, black or white or tan, democrat or republican or libertarian, old or young or middle-aged, famous or not, etc.
I can be ordained as a deacon, priest, bishop, or presiding bishop as a female. And I can be ordained and have a husband or wife. And sex. And children.
I know I can find comfort in the liturgy at any Episcopal service I attend. It’s the same every week. I can follow the service in any language and know what’s being said. It’s predictable. Did someone say BCP?
We are adaptive to the changes of the modern world and take prayerful action to be part of today, not yesterday. We are constantly considering the scriptures as they relate to the world today so we can remain relevant.
We allow room for embracing beliefs and practices of different religions and cultures. My faith is stronger because of this. The Episcopal Church does not close its doors or punish and condemn its members for appreciating a range of beliefs and ideas. In fact, I think one of our strengths is our collaborative spirit.
I’m encouraged to question anything, knowing that chances are I’ll then be able to engage in a loving, powerful conversation where both I and my priest/friend/bishop/committee will learn more about our own faith journeys.
Our governing structure is largely democratic. Lay people’s votes carry the same weight as those by clergy, with one exception for bishops – but all political changes are debated and voted on by many committees as well as by both laypeople/clergy and bishops before becoming church law.
We don’t operate as a church that requires a middle-person between people and God. We don’t like hierarchy in that way. We trust people to have an open relationship with and to be able to communicate freely with God without an intermediary.
We’re a missionary church in everything we do, by definition and official corporate title. And our job is not to convert people to think like us – that’s not our interpretation of being evangelists. We show the love of Jesus with no strings attached because that’s what the gospel is. That’s what we are called to do – love.
We really know how to hug. Have you hugged an Episcopalian today?
With Rev. Megan Anderson and the Very Rev. Brian Baker
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Born in the 1960s into conservative but open-minded families (Hala in Egypt and Asra in India), we grew up without an edict that we had to cover our hair. But, starting in the 1980s, following the 1979 Iranian revolution of the minority Shiite sect and the rise of well-funded Saudi clerics from the majority Sunni sect, we have been bullied in an attempt to get us to cover our hair from men and boys. Women and girls, who are sometimes called “enforce-hers” and “Muslim mean girls,” take it a step further by even making fun of women whom they perceive as wearing the hijab inappropriately, referring to “hijabis” in skinny jeans as “ho-jabis,” using the indelicate term for “whores.”
To us, the “hijab”is a symbol of an interpretation of Islam we reject that believes that women are a sexual distraction to men, who are weak, and thus must not be tempted by the sight of our hair. We don’t buy it. This ideology promotes a social attitude that absolves men of sexually harassing women and puts the onus on the victim to protect herself by covering up.
I understand Asra and Hala’s stance completely, in fact it is something I thought about most when deciding whether or not to wear a hijab recently: the fact that it is often enforced as a patriarchal, women-are-sex-objects-we-must-keep-them-hidden-and-protected idea. Furthermore, I am aware and agree that the religious texts – verses in the Koran – have been interpreted in many ways to suit particular agendas, as is the case with almost any religion. I fully support the efforts by so many to continue to make all religions fit into today’s time, including efforts by many Muslims and non-Muslims to educate people that the interpretation of the need to wear the hijab is a subject of hot debate.