Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Come Follow Me

Jonah invited me to a progressive Lutheran church to hear Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) give a sermon of sorts. Jonah had heard about it from a friend of his he works with.

It's weird going to a different church when you've been a Mormon all your life. I've been to many different churches in my life, and there are many things I like and dislike about the ones I've been to (and frankly there are things I both like and dislike about LDS church services as well), but every church I have been to just reminds me how ingrained Mormonism is in me because none of them feel like home the a way a Mormon ward does.

The music was okay. There was a lot of that kind of Christian rock you hear. I found much of it kind of trite.

Jay Bakker's sermon, however, was quite good and helped me see some things I've always known from a different point of view. He had a great sense of humor (almost irreverent by Mormon standards, but I liked much of what he said). The main theme of his sermon was that Christianity is many ways has become exclusive rather than inclusive, and in many ways, I agree with him.

He talked about several Bible stories which I knew well. Things like asking a tax collector (Matthew) to be his disciple. In that time tax collectors were among the most hated and untrusted people, and if you wanted to be a rabbi's disciple, the norm was for you to ask to be their disciple, not the other way around. Another story he told was when Jesus had a meal with some people that the Pharisee's considered unclean and how many people doubted that someone who would spend his time hanging around the lowest of the low, the biggest sinners, could hardly be the Messiah. Or there was the story of another tax collector, Zaccheus, who fell out of a tree in trying to see Jesus, and Jesus demanded that he make him (Jesus) and guest in his (Zaccheus') house that evening, and people murmured that Jesus would allow himself to be the guest in the home of such a sinner. There was also the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews would go out of their way to even avoid Samaritans, and the woman was at the well at a time when others wouldn't be likely to be there because she was probably rejected even in her own community (some speculation says she may have been a harlot), and yet Jesus was asking her for water when it would have been considered unclean to do so.

The point is that Jesus spent his time with those that the religious leaders of the day excluded. Jay Bakker said something that really resonated with me. He said, "Jesus didn't say 'Come follow me' so that people could feel guilty or bad about themselves or rejected or judged or put upon. He said "Come follow me' because he loved them."

It was interesting. Jonah introduced me to his friend as his boyfriend and told him I was Mormon, and his friend, who is also gay, was interested in attending a Mormon ward because he is still searching for the right religion for him, and I was embarrassed because it occurred to me that if he and his partner were to attend a Mormon ward, they would more likely than not be made to feel unwelcome or at least uncomfortable. I'm not saying there aren't wards out there that would welcome them with open arms without batting an eye, but I think it would be the exception. And that made me kind of sad. Even if Mormonism (or other Christian religions) believe that homosexuality is a sin, I think it is contrary to Christ's teachings to make people feel excluded because of that.

Jay's main message was that he really wants to rally around those who feel like outsiders without judgment and bring them closer to Christ. I think it's a good message. After his sermon, we watched a Christian music video, and the main theme was a woman who had fallen on hard times and was sinning and doing stuff that she knew she shouldn't be doing and feeling lost and alone and wanting someone to reach out to her. It showed her trying to summon the courage to go back to church and being ignored by its members (not even maliciously, but because they just weren't paying attention) and losing her nerve as a result. At the very end, she's at her job (as a waitress) crying at a table that a group of people has just left, and one of the stragglers takes the time to sit down and find out what's wrong.

These things also reinforced in me just how important fellowship is, and I admit that I am not always good at that myself.

I guess my main point in sharing these thoughts is that I see a lot of self-loathing among my fellow bloggers because they don't feel they are living up to some standard they have set up for themselves. They hate themselves or think God must be sorely disappointed in them, and I just want to remind them that God loves them and always will.

One of the biggest ironies of coming out of the closet is that those feelings of self-loathing and guilt and frustration and torment that I felt so often when I was active in the church are gone, and I am happier than I've been in a long time. Now I do not say my choices are for everyone, nor do I even say they are right, and I certainly would never want to be accountable for saying something that might cause someone to veer away from the path towards eternal life. All I'm saying is that one thing coming out has really taught me is that God's love for me has never altered. In fact, in many ways, I feel it stronger. I am absolutely convinced that I am doing the best I can under the circumstances life has dealt me, and I am at peace with my relationship with my Father in Heaven. I have stopped hating myself because I fall short of some ideal of perfection that has been instilled in me. I am still a good person. I still do good things. And God still loves me. I still even have a testimony of the truthfulness of the LDS Church even if I am choosing not to follow some of its precepts. I do not know how all of this will turn out in the afterlife. All I know is that I am happy and very okay with where my life is now. I don't fear like I used to.

Just food for thought.

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