Last Sunday I was confirmed in the Episcopalian Church. This feels like a major statement considering that I’m a lifelong Presbyterian but I’ve never been particularly exclusive denominationally, finding truth and beauty in nearly every expression of the faith that I’ve been exposed to. When I was in college and succumbing to alcoholism and drug addiction, I would emerge from a long dissolute run, sweating a liquor cabinet of fumes, overcome with despair and self-contempt and return to the Presbyterian church of my childhood, confessing as I went. In those days I didn’t know what the cure was, I just knew it had to be spiritual in nature because nothing in this world could help me, so I began with penance, thinking that if I was sorry enough–and I certainly was sorry, I would be released from my bondage after an appropriate and severe punishment. But the Presbyterians were entirely too forgiving so I marched over and joined the Baptist church, submitting to full immersion, hoping the cure was in the water level. I credit my time with the Baptists for introducing me to in depth bible study and expository teaching. Ultimately it was many years before I understood that only the Lord could relieve my suffering and that my part was to simply let Him. Simple, yes. Easy, no. I had to come to the end of my own ways and means, my own self-will, and then sit in the ruins of my own making for awhile. In the years of my recovery the Lord has taught me a great deal about life and faith and, in particular, community through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have deep relationships among my family and friends but am a person who tends to solitude and even more so as I age. The awareness that my solitude has become isolation usually occurs at the grocery store where I have animated discussions with myself over what I came for or what else I might need and get sidelong glances from the people around me, clearly puzzled (or maybe alarmed…) by the absence of a telephone. In AA I discovered the beauty of coming together with a diverse group of people around a common purpose, to get and stay sober. There the playing field is level and we are all “friends among friends and workers among workers” according to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. So it is with the body of Christ where our Lord calls us to devote ourselves. Nashville is considered a belt buckle in the Bible Belt but I have a number of friends who don’t go to church, saying that they can’t find one. It’s impossible to walk more than a block or two here without trespassing on church property so what they are really saying is that they can’t find one that suits them. I get that. People are difficult. I am difficult. But we are exhorted to live out our faith in the community of fellow believers and I would add, fellow believers not of our own choosing. Rich Mullins used to say that the church was the hope of the gospel. I too have a strong sense of calling in regards to church membership and I believe that in my years here the Lord has led me to three churches. One church seemed an obvious fit for me–and it was. I was loved, taught, tolerated, befriended and included there and continue to feel connected even though I have been elsewhere for many years. The second church was, on the surface, not an obvious fit. My son, Henry was invited to go to their kids club on a Wednesday night, loved it and asked if we could start attending. We visited the following Sunday, which was Missions Sunday-not one of your more compelling worship events. We were different from the majority of the members there, in lifestyle, in politics, in income, in dress and thirty minutes into the service my husband looked at me and said “You have got to be kidding me. No way”. At the same time I had an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit, telling me “This is the place”. So, with numerous fits and starts, we began attending and over time it became apparent to all of us what an oddly perfect fit it was. We had great friends, great teaching, great pastoring and, we were (mostly) appreciated for our differences. It was the first church that my nice Jewish husband became comfortable in. It was the place where my son was so deeply mentored by the older young men in the youth program that he decided to become a discipleship group leader himself and has consistently grown and thrived in his faith–even as a teenager. It was also the place where I led worship once with Steve Winwood (who was also attending there with his family) and had the nearly out of body experience of hearing him play organ with his characteristic double Leslies on my favorite hymn Come Thou Fount. I was constantly reminded of the foolishness of judging a book by its cover but even in the people who were decidedly “other” from us in every way I understood the multi-facets and vibrancy those differences brought to the whole. Our likemindedness is Christ and we are His ridiculous priesthood.
Over the last few years my theology has begun to change and though I am mostly reformed, I am not entirely sold out on the Westminster Confession. My friend Bill speaks of knowing the truth verses being known by the Truth. Knowledge is important but if knowledge trumps experience, it is empty and didactic. At this stage of my life I can honestly fit my faith into one short verse from Colossians: Christ is all and in all (3:11) or, as Brennan Manning puts it, “There is only Christ and He is everything”. My desire is less for information and more for formation, less like Martha, more like Mary. To that end, the beauty and repetition of the Episcopalian liturgy which is built on the scripture, the common worship, the symbolic gestures and the centerpiece of communion have given me a rich experience of worship and a place for practice, regardless of my spiritual fitness at any given time. I’m attaching a piece I wrote for my church newsletter after attending the membership class that elaborates a bit more on my decision to receive confirmation. I’m also attaching a demo of a song that I wrote around the Colossians verse called Everything. We are nearing the home stretch on the new album and have added another gospel song: Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed On Jesus. And that is just another way of saying there is only Christ and He is everything.
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