ANNALS of FAITH: Here I Raise My Ebenezer

RuinsI have sat down to write this post no fewer than six times over the past three months. Each time, after having written three or four paragraphs, I’ve stopped to look back over what I’ve said, muttered “fuck it” in frustration, then deleted it all. Afterward, I probably closed my laptop in a huff and, finally, returned to whatever it was I was doing before I felt compelled to sit down and start writing in the first place. Part of the reason why is due to the difficulty of describing exactly how I feel at the moment. The feelings themselves aren’t beyond comprehension, but finding words to describe them in the English language is challenging. There are times when it becomes frustratingly clear that the range of human emotion is far deeper and broader than is the pool of words with which we can express them and this has been one of those occasions when I’m vexed by some of the many holes in language. My biggest hope is that something approximating how I feel will emerge from the words I write here.

In any case, this is as good a time as any to admit that I’ve haven’t spoken to God in a while. I don’t really know why, to be honest. I don’t dislike God, nor am I angry with him, nor have I lost or forsaken my belief in him. It’s simply that I haven’t talked to him much in a long time. I rise very early each morning (by the standards of most) and I get a lot of inquiries as to why. About four years ago, I started waking up at around five o’clock every morning so I could spend an hour or so in prayer and meditation before sunrise. I did that from the second semester of my sophomore year of college all the way until I graduated and for a time thereafter. I looked forward to that time every day as, for me, early mornings are very still and contemplative. The bulk of my prayers centered on asking God to help me overcome my sexual orientation and to find a wife. There were other things I prayed for, but, in a way, everything tied back to that one big issue. In the crisis of faith that engulfed me in the year after I finished college and which culminated in my eventual outcoming, this early morning prayer time was one of the many casualties. I stopped praying in the morning because I didn’t know what I wanted to say anymore. And, honestly, I’m still not really sure what I would say if I did sit down to pray again. I do get up early still, so I guess old habits really do die hard.

On a different note, while I haven’t left God, I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to leave Christianity behind me. I’ve often wished I could just toss my Bible and my prayer book out the window and never be bothered with them again. I frequently feel that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to shake the tiresome dust of that institution called the Church, that is the source of so much grief, from my body and soul once and for all. You see, I might appear to be tough, but the fact is that a lot of things that Christians say really do cut me deep, even if they aren’t directed specifically at me. It doesn’t matter how much I try, I still feel wounded in my soul whenever a Christian says something hurtful or insensitive or bigoted about LGBTs. My knee-jerk reaction might be to be sarcastic or caustic or otherwise derisive toward the opinion expressed, but that’s mainly a defense mechanism I’ve built up. The words hurt, sometimes a lot and all that “sticks and stones” bullshit is just that: bullshit. The fact that those words come from people on my own team make them sting far worse.

On that note, this would also seem like a good time to disclose that I haven’t been to church in a while either. I haven’t had any desire to go. On Sunday mornings, I listen to radio shows while I sit in bed reading or writing and drinking coffee. And, I have to admit, that’s a lot more enjoyable than I’ve almost ever found church to be. With the exception of the lovely people at Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Church in Bixby, Oklahoma, church has for a very long time been something I’ve tolerated because I had to go, or was expected to go for one reason or another. Also, given the impression I have of Christianity in Korea, going to church here seems like something I want to avoid at all costs. Koreans are very traditional and conservative even without religion thrown into the mix; add the Bible to the 1950s-era thinking that predominates much of Korean society, and all I see are a bunch of conversations I just don’t have any interest in having, like “Are you married?,” “Do you have a girlfriend?,” “Are you looking for one?,” or “What do you mean you’re not ‘into women’?” No, thanks.

I think more than anything else, the locus of the radio silence on my prayer channel and my lack of drive to find a church is in the fact that I really don’t know what I want from Christianity–or, for that matter, from God–anymore. I feel like a lifelong soldier would if there were no more wars left to fight. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the desire to change my sexual orientation was really the elemental drive behind my faith for the vast majority of my life, up until this year anyway. I used to pray so hard for the strength to overcome my nature and now that I’ve made peace with it, I realize that most of my prayers were tied to that struggle. What am I supposed to do with that? It would be like repeatedly asking the salesman who sold you a car to change the microfiber seat upholstery to polished leather and then not only realizing that he’s not going to do it, but also that you’re actually quite okay with–maybe even preferential toward–the microfiber.

On a slightly different front, I also don’t know exactly what I believe or don’t believe anymore. I do still adhere to the Nicene Creed, so I suppose I am still a believer, at least according to the church fathers who met at Nicaea and Constantinople in the Fourth Century. Nevertheless, there are a great many things that Christians believe about which I’m either unsure or that I emphatically reject. Then, there’s the host of characteristics of Christianity in the Twenty-first Century that just downright disgust me; things like fundamentalism, apocalypticism, social conservatism, religious nationalism, and the corporate Christian media complex. John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and their ilk disgust me, as do the people who follow them around licking their heels and lapping up their bile. Megachurch pastors, bishops, and Christian self-help “gurus” on the speaker circuit who build multi-million dollar mansions for themselves and fly around in private jets disgust me too, as do the chicaners who sophistically label that “basking in God’s blessing” instead of calling it what it really is: greed and vanity. If I ever do hesitate to tell people I’m a Christian, it’s not because I’m ashamed of Christ; it’s because I’m ashamed of Christendom.

Despite all this, though, as I survey the sometimes-grotesque chaos that is the modern Church, I do see things that remind me of the faith’s fundamental goodness. On a visceral level, there are a great many dear friends who are rock-solid believers and of whose existence I remind myself whenever I’m having a particularly disillusioned day. It’s source of comfort I’m blessed to have, as I know of people who have left the faith for want of knowing anyone who could affirm its goodness. I look at Francis’ ascendance to the papacy and almost cry from the image of Christ I see in him, and I’m not even Catholic nor do I recognize papal supremacy. May God grant him many years. And these aren’t the only sources of comfort either. Thankfully, for every negative aspect of modern Christianity, I feel I can find at least one positive. So even though I do often feel an urge to leave the Church behind, I remember that I while I may not always love Christians, I do love Christ. And if Christ loves the Church as a bridegroom loves his bride, then I have to find a way to love it too.

Lord, have mercy.

Most have heard Reinhold Neibuhr’s Serenity Prayer at least once. It’s quite simple, and powerful in its brevity: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” The problem with that prayer is that sometimes it gets answered, as it was for me. There are things about me that I’ve realized are beyond my ability to change; one of them is the fact that I get the hots for men, not women. Some parts of the Church aren’t ready to hear that yet, and maybe they never will be. But, whatever. I’ve accepted my inability to change that, too.

I guess the biggest question–and the one for which I have no answer at present–is what comes next. I feel as though my faith is a chaotic mess of toppled buildings and broken down walls, like a city in the aftermath of plunder by a marauding horde. A smoky haze hangs over an eerie silence, for all the people have been put to the sword or carted away. Everything that was built has been reduced to rubble, at least partly because the foundations were faulty, and here I stand, in the middle of it all, wondering what I’m supposed to do next. Where do I go from here? How does a man fit into a Family that more often than not tells him he’s broken in need of repair simply because he’s predisposed to love differently? How does a person who’s agnostic on so many things find solace among people who so often demand certitude and ideological purity? The hell if I know.

I do suppose, though, that here, upon the vacant ruins of my faith and with the very stones that were thrown asunder, is as good a place as any to raise my Ebenezer. With true cinematic flourish, I lift my eyes to the heavens with the positioning of every stone, praying, “Hither by Thy help I’ve come,” probably the truest prayer I think I’ve ever prayed. I suppose I could also pray, in the words of that semi-cheesy song by Bebo Norman, “Let my ruins become the ground you build upon.” I may not know what to say to God on a grander or more eloquent scale at the moment, but I do still love him and, if the rumors are true, he still loves me back. I don’t want to be a fire-starter or an agitator for the rest of my life. I simply want to live it in a community of faith that accepts me for who I am and that assists me in finding the courage to change the things which can and should be changed, a list quite lengthy I’m sure. For the time being, I just hope that isn’t too much to ask.

2 thoughts on “ANNALS of FAITH: Here I Raise My Ebenezer

  1. Pingback: PERSONAL FILE: When It’s Nothing But a Heap of Stones | Roygeneable

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