I have a CD set, Masters 1949-1976, of music by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Last week when I was playing it I was reminded of my theology when I was a teenager. The song that brought it to mind was That’s all. The lyrics pretty much sums up my theology of those days. I am a United Methodist now but started out in my religious life rather more evangelical. Sometimes refer to myself as a “recovering fundamentalist”. I have in turns been an ‘independent’ Baptist, Lutheran, Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Episcopalian and finally a Methodist. I was 12 when “I gave my life to Jesus” in the lingo of my first church. From the list of churches I have attended you might be fooled into thinking that I was deeply religious and spent most of my time contemplating spiritual matters. Or you might think that I changed denominations and churches out of deeply held beliefs. Nothing could be further from actuality.
I went to Goodyear Heights Community church in Akron Ohio because my mother wanted me and my brother out of the house for a week. The church had a summer camp that a neighbor knew about. There were many churches closer to where I lived including the Lutheran one in which I was later married. And that is how I became a Lutheran. The Pentecostal and Episcopalian phases were equally life driven. All through the many churches (there were several from each denomination) I kept the basic fundamentalism that I learned as a preteen. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about God and faith; I did. It was just that I couldn’t see anything other than the basic ‘truths’ I had heard when I first started attending a church. I also never heard anything in the churches I went to that contradicted what I had been told was the teachings of the bible or of God. And of course I never really thought about any of it in relation to the real world.
It is almost as if I was schizophrenic. When I was in school learning about evolution, the age of the earth or any other subject that contradicted what I believed was the inerrant word of God I placed that data in the real world part of my brain. What I heard on Sunday went into the church side. Occasionally, I did have questions when the two parts were in disagreement but under the pressures of hormones at first and then the need to support a growing family I managed to stuff the tensions. That lasted until the early 1990s. Then life bumped up against my fundamentalist beliefs. Strangely enough it was my beliefs about homosexuality that caused the problem. This was really strange because other than believing that homosexuality was a mortal sin I had no beliefs about it. Nor did I have any real world knowledge because that subject wasn’t taught in any school I ever attended. The only thing life had ever taught me about it was that “queers” wore green on Thursdays. This, despite my high school Trigonometry teacher. He always wore green on Thursdays. He did this specifically to refute that bit of street wisdom. God bless him!
But when I was in my 50s life came in the form of Gail who I met at work. Gail is a lesbian which in itself wasn’t a problem. I knew a lot of people that I believed were destined for hell. The problems came as I found out that Gail and I were very much alike. We certainly shared a work ethic and as we worked together I found myself liking her. Eventually I came to the conclusion that there was something wrong in my thinking. How could someone that I had so much in common with be destined for eternal punishment? If she was, why wouldn’t I be? It took me a long time to understand that in not believing Gail was evil (or an abomination) had put a crack in my fundamentalist belief system. It was then that I started to think about what I believed.
I was aided in the thinking part by starting to attend Asbury UMC. How could it not help to have Jeff Proctor-Murphy as a pastor? Having Tex Sample around was another goad for thinking. It would be nice to be able to say that I first went to Asbury because of the theology. I can’t. I went there because it was #10 on the list of United Methodist Churches closest to where I live and I tried it first. But maybe the reason I went back the next Sunday is better. I was so overcome with emotion on seeing all the gay and lesbian couples going to the communion table holding hands that I knew Asbury was THE place. It was a short distance from there to CrossWalk America, the Phoenix Affirmations and walking to Washington DC from Phoenix. All of which is what started me blogging.
I am completely surprised that I have been doing this for three years now (archived on Asphalt Jesus with all other CrossWalk America posts after 15 September 2009). I have finally figured out why I blog. You may have noticed that I am not the quickest thinker around. Writing a blog forces me to think about what I believe and perhaps more importantly why I believe what I do. The discipline of writing about the connection between the world and my theology forces me to think about that connection. My current theology is pretty simple. The Phoenix Affirmations states it much more eloquently than I can.
I wonder what my thoughts on the subject would have been if I had enough courage to talk to my trigonometry teacher about homosexuality.