Sunday, October 28, 2007

Much More Than Good Timing

I've always been one to tell people to pay attention to their sixth sense. Saturday night was another night of no sleep. So there I was early Sunday morning up and hungry for some food. I decided that I would get up, run out and grab a bite to eat and then come home to finally sleep. However, when early morning comes around I shift into awake mode because I usually I'm an early riser. I made myself do a brisk morning walk to the restaurant, picked up my order and in the back of my mind the whole time was the thought that I should get myself to church. That thought was nagging me the whole time and, sure enough, I had more than enough time once I got my food to hail a taxi to speed me to church.

I was attending regularly up until my last semester and stopped because between work, classes, reading, studying, researching my thesis online and writing it, I literally had no time. I worked during the week. I studied in the evening in my office and, on the weekends, I'd get up, grab breakfast and head straight to the library of Sogang University to to research, read and study.

My family is, predictably, of Southern Baptist faith as my whole family comes from rural Georgia. Now you can love me or hate me for what I'm going to say, but I never jibed much with that tradition. I found it to be overly simplistic in its view of the world and even as a preschooler I was asking questions that would send my aunts into a panic. That led to me being a very vocal atheist by the time I reached high school. My mom, cut from a more tolerant cloth, would indulge my debates with her but would always fall back on her faith. You can't really debate faith. You either have it or you don't. I didn't and she did. Simple enough and we both left our debates with a mutual respect of the other which is something I rarely see these days when it comes to religious discussions and debate.

Anyway, I took that perspective with me to university. However, it had softened to agnosticism because if it was unreasonable for more reverent believers to tell me I was going to hell, it was also unreasonable of me to insist there was no hell for them to go to. Because, honestly, a lot of "Christians" seem to not headed straight to the Pearly Gates but instead in the opposite direction.

What it boils down to was I realized I just didn't know. When I was an undergrad in UCLA's Department of Philosophy, Marilyn McCord Adams was there. Reverend Professor Marilyn McCord Adams is a major heavyweight in religious philosophy. That I could appreciate even if I was still trying to figure out where I stood. I knew it was a great thing to have someone with her achievements and depth of knowledge in my department. I'd pop into her office and peppered her with the same questions I'd ask my mom. She too answered me with a quiet and dignified confidence but also with the weight of her studies behind her.

Unfortunately, my parents passed away. It didn't help when I got simplistic explainations from my family. I know they were trying to console me. However, a less than sophisticated read on life's mysteries wasn't something I had the patience to sit through when I'd just lost both parents. It didn't help that I'd honed my skills under some great philosophical thinkers. After a few deft cuts of the verbal sword through their arguments, I said as much and it stopped. I emailed Rev. Prof. Adams about five years ago on my loss, and she replied with a depth of analysis and good advice that most people lack. That directed me in positive direction.

I eventually softened my stance on religion as time went by. I had too many close calls and too many fortuitous moments that "chance" seemed to be a less than accurate or honest way to describe the timing. However, I had a big problem with the high level of intolerance flowing from a lot of the churches out there and felt that I could only go to a with more progressive than not views on the issues of women and homosexuality. That narrows it down to very few denominations. You're welcome to express your views on the topic in the comments, but I stand firm on not patronizing a church that ostracizes an entire community of people. So, in keeping with my views, I started going to the English service at the Anglican-Episcopal Seoul Cathedral. As I said, eventually school demands became so great that I had to stop going or risk flunking out of my last semester.

I went back yesterday and the guest was none other than the former presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, Right Reverend Frank T. Griswold. He's famous for supporting the election ofRight Reverend V. Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The controversy is the fact that Robinson is openly gay.

Honestly, it was great just to have a service delivered by someone who had my accent for a change. Later had lunch with Bishop Griswold. I got to speak to him on topics ranging from Rev. Prof. Adams, gays in the church and my own personal history.

Here is a quote from him in the NY Times:

To Bishop Griswold, the uniqueness of the Anglican Communion rests in great part in its willingness to accommodate divergent views. But people are so upset over this issue because it is about sexuality, he said.

"Sexuality is a free-ranging force that can overwhelm reason and is therefore dangerous," he said. "Some people feel that if sexuality isn't carefully circumscribed, it will subvert all sorts of things."

Bishop Griswold, who says he has read the Bible twice a day for years, said the passages about homosexuality referred to certain behaviors, not to what he called "patterns of affection."

He recounted that his understanding of homosexuality was affected in the 1960's by a couple in his Pennsylvania parish. One man had multiple sclerosis, and his companion's selflessness in caring for him convinced Bishop Griswold that such love did not contradict biblical teachings.

"In the Gospels, Jesus says, 'I have many more things to say to you but you cannot bear them now,' which suggests to me that God's truth is always unfolding," he said. "If we can accept that there are new truths that science brings us, or new discoveries in medicine, why is it when it comes to sexuality, there is no new truth?"

Bishop Griswold added: "A number of those most upset about our seemingly ignoring Scripture, though they are solidly heterosexual, have enjoyed the mercy of the church in the case of their own divorce and remarriage, which is something Jesus commented on."
You can agree or disagree with that. Honestly, this will be the first blog where if I get comments that disagree I won't bother to reply. Don't get me wrong because rude or insulting comments won't get published, period. But disagree all you want because I know that many do. As we all know, people have had religious debates for centuries. I'm not going to spend a century debating this. My view on it is clear. I'm sure I'll always have religious and spiritual views that alter with time and experience. As my last vicar, Rev. Webb, wrote to me:
It is indeed good to hear that you aren't grounded in theological or spiritual certainty - such people scare me!
Needless to say, I'm very happy to that I went to church yesterday. I had no idea he'd be there. That's much more than mere good timing, I'm sure.

If you're not familar with the current schism and debate going on in the Anglican-Episcopal church here are some links that discuss what's going on.

NY Times: Episcopal Head Defends Choice Of Gay Bishop
CBS News: New Gay Episcopal Bishop Furor
Times Online: Worldwide Anglican church facing split over gay bishop
David A. Tait, Ph.D., Rogers State University (an Adobe Acrobat document): The Illusion of Inclusion: Why the homosexuality crisis in the Episcopal Church is not just about sex.

Just 'cause, I'm posting a link to a post from the "A Religious Liberal Blog" because he agrees with me ;)

Also, here is a nice piece written in the Yale Alumni Magazine about Rev. Prof. Adams before she moved on to Oxford: The Queen's Professor

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  1. A nice post about your religious journey. I have recently struggled with my own atheism after the death of someone close to me.

  2. Well, I don't blog on it much. In fact, I think this is the first time I've mentioned it at all. I know I've mentioned bugging Prof. Adams before and alluded to it in this post: The God Debate. But I've not written about it because 1) it's still ever evolving, 2) I go back and forth on it with myself and, 3) I think, most important, I simply do not want to discuss it in this context.

    I've got a pretty low opinion of online "debates" because they tend to turn into rude exchanges with people who seemed trained in the talk show approach to tough issues which means name calling, insults and never actually discussing the issue, the facts or their reasoning. I've just been online for over a decade at this point. I find it to be a true waste of time discussion with people who are at a imbecilic level of debate.

    I'll write about it when interesting things happen like they did yesterday. Otherwise, I probably won't touch religion or spirituality much on this blog.

  3. Lovely post. I too moved from atheist to agnostic for the same reason of just not knowing.

    Today Zeus and Odin are myths and fairytales, but to those anicent greeks and norsemen they were their gods. So why is Christianity any different?

    Its been off putting that something that should be grounded in love comes with so much hate as baggage. That's just the sting from my brushes with organized religion.

    I'm glad there are churches like the episcopal church of america with more open minds and hearts.

  4. Zeus and Odin aren't any different logically-speaking. It's just funny that when I got my mom's point, a lightbulb went off. Now, rationally, I know that can be grounded in just me aging and trying to make sense out of life's challenges and miracles. But this works for me now.

    I can't and won't debate it, and I'll just say I agree with your point. I've just moved to a different position for reasons that aren't easily articulated and which simply involve that "leap to faith" Kierkegaard talked about.

  5. I grew up in a similar tradition and have just recently come to a place where I've started to call myself agnostic- but I really resist defining myself to anyone else in any way in particular.

    At the end of my uni days I went to hear a classmate give the lesson at a local Anglican church (and subsequently came down with mono after taking communion) but it has been one of the variations on the Jesus theme I've been more comfortable with recently.

    Continue in the struggle- rigidity in beliefs scare me, too.

  6. I don't take communion because I'm not THERE. I might be getting there, but I'm not kneeling to share in that tradition just yet.

  7. I'm so glad you had a chance to visit with Bishop Griswold! In spite of his somewhat controversial reputation in the U.S. and the Anglican Communion, he is a personal hero of mine. I vividly recall his final Christmas Eve Mass as Presiding Bishop (12/24/2005), when he was the celebrant and preacher at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Times Square, New York City (where I believe he is a member now, but I could be wrong about that).

    >> But I've not written about it because 1) it's still ever evolving, 2) I go back and forth on it with myself and, 3) I think, most important, I simply do not want to discuss it in this context. >>

    All valid reasons (especially #3). As someone who has moved a bit along the continuum toward parish life and supporting the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (I've decided the community is worth it, whatever the institutional difficulties), I'm reminded that many parishes are not growing because Episcopalians are notoriously unable to talk about their religion to friends and neighbors. Many (probably, most) of us are "going back and forth on it" and consider ourselves to be "ever evolving" so that sounds very familiar! Who are we, after all, to tell someone what to believe or where to worship, or what to worship, if anything?

    Hopefully, when individuals get around to visiting an Episcopal Church, the churches will still be there and they will find people just like themselves who are questioning, thinking, reasoning, and listening to one another; in other words, being typical Episcopalians.

  8. Well, that's the thing. I wouldn't call myself officially an Episcopalian yet.

    It is, however, one of the few denominations where I feel I can come to service, worship, reflect, and talk with people much more grounded in their faith. I feel at ease and in a lot of other churches I feel, frankly, surrounded by people who are a twinge too close to being insane.

  9. Jane, the first seven years of my life we were Church of Christ -- far worse than the Baptists. Next to us, Baptists were open-minded free-thinkers.

    Then my mother got sick of it all and we switched churches, and she might as well have been Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door given how her family reacted. But she was still a believer, and she and I had some right old fights over it.

    Come on over to my site some time and check out my post 'Getting Religion.'

  10. LOL...I think I have some family in that denomination too. I'm so far away from it all.

    I do get the wonderful chain emails with the Godly messages in them exclusively from some cousins. What's funny is the better thing would be an email written to me asking me how I am.

    I'll head over to your blog too.


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.