Sunday, May 1, 2011

On the Path to a Spiritual Home

Originally Posted on March 8-13, 2007

Alec Mapa has the best perspective on the next discussion for the class. In his stand-up comedy special on the cable channel Logo, Mapa described the “Filipino Catholic household” of his youth in San Francisco. After describing the various symbols and artifacts relating to his family’s faith, Mapa recalled turning to his grandmother and asking the reason for having a multitude of crucifixes, paintings and sculptures of various Catholic symbols around his house. His lala responded with one word: “protection.”

I would describe myself as a spiritual person. However, my spirituality is not one confined to a single house of worship. Also, a house of worship can be confining if you have other beliefs beyond the doctrine dispensed at service.

Being born Jewish, I walked a tight rope between anti-Semitism and classism. I was Bar Mitzvahed, but I never felt welcomed in the synagogue which I was ritualized. There was a synagogue just a few blocks away from the house where people in my community attended Hebrew School and was fully ritualized. Instead, mom sent my brother and I across the San Fernando Valley to a temple partially funded by our local City Councilmember, Joy Picus. Clearly, we were the “poorest” family on the membership rolls of Temple Aliyah in West Hills.

When I look back at my childhood home in Reseda, we only celebrated two major Jewish holidays: Passover and Hanukkah. These were mainly happy times, except, during Passover, I was always the youngest Jewish person at the table. Part of the ritual was the youngest Jewish person had to recite four inane questions in preparation for the “coming of Elijah” to drink his wine. I ended up doing this ritual for years…even after I turned 18.

While we were at our synagogue in West Hills, mom would go to a cinema near the temple for Yom Kippur. We were kept from school only to stand outside the cinema for hours while mom was inside praying. Frankly, I should’ve attended school. There was nothing to do for the children while their parents were inside.

Perhaps my biggest point of contention with the synagogue was the integration of politics inside of it. There would be this small light blue tin when you plunk quarters inside to help plant trees in Israel. This was a point of contention for me as I cannot equate my faith with a single country. Isn’t spirituality universal? Aren’t there any Jewish people living at or below the poverty level in our local community? Lastly, are those quarters really going to plant trees?

In my early adulthood, I went searching. Because of the anti-Semitism I experienced by other members of my childhood community, I felt that I would be better off being a Christian. In some respects, it worked.

Yet, I found plenty of dysfunctionality in the church. I can recall attending many churches affiliated with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. Part of it was that I was not born a Christian. Many argued of Jesus’ birth faith was the same as mine, but others would write me off as a wannabe goy. Maybe it was the variable doctrine based on another political wave: gay and lesbian rights. However, I fully immersed myself into the UFMCC churches to the point of calling Gen-X Bears a “ministry.” I’m glad everyone associated with GXB agreed five years later that it was more of a movement than anything the late Rev. Troy Perry would endorse.

As a gay man, I know how much of a powderkeg I am as I walk into a house of faith. Some say I am a sinner or an infidel. Others believe I am welcomed into the House of God unconditionally. Frankly, I’ve experienced more of my share of prejudice to know that sitting in a pew can be very uncomfortable for me, regardless if the air conditioning works.

One thing I am grateful for. I have a friend who is an ordained minister. Not one who got his collar through the mail, but one who studied to become a pastor, works congregations, preaches whenever he can and is considered the pastor for our local bear community in The Cities. We talk about other things outside of faith, which makes our friendship balanced and enjoyable. Dennis, along with his partner Daniel and our mutual friends Dan, Scott and Erik, are among a group of faithful bear-identified gay men whom I am privileged to associate with…whenever I get the chance to see them.

My take on the spiritual realm of home is quite simple: the experiences of the past and present are a part of the spiritual path I walk on today. Symbolism and houses of worship are wonderful, but how can you express faith if you do not feel comfortable, welcomed or protected in their presence?

To further prepare myself for the discussion for Monday on the “spiritual home,” I decided to observe a group of people who were doing exactly that. On Sunday morning, I attended All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis for the first time. In my mind, I thought: “perfect! An all-GLBT church! Great choice, Randy!” I knew a couple of people who attended this congregation, so I knew I was not going in a complete stranger.

However, it did confirm a few things for me based on my previous experiences with the UFMCC. It was “church,” but it wasn’t comfortable to me. Perhaps the feelings I had from previous MCC congregations seemed to exist in this one. I witnessed plenty of cliquishness and the lack of welcome by the staff and congregation. Though I was only there to observe, it felt like it was the only thing I could do with some success. The only exception was prayer, which was very necessary in my case.

However, the UFMCC is a prime example of a denomination designed to create “church” for those seeking a spiritual home when their native faiths refuse to embrace them. The fact is that there are GLBT people who are looking for a brick-and-mortar place to pray, share communion and fellowship. There are only a few UFMCC congregations who own their own buildings and extend various services from their church. The Minneapolis church is one of the few.

There is still the question I need to ask: does it take a brick-and-mortar location to become one’s spiritual home? For many people, they would say “yes” without flinching. However, in our discussion yesterday, we challenged that notion outright. We agreed with something I proposed in my last post on this subject: the want of a spiritual home may not necessarily be inside of a congregation.

Switching gears, there was an epiphany last night. Though I heard the phrase “we are a part of a bigger story” before, but I never knew the exact context that came from. Perhaps it is a spiritual story, a family story, a community story, a country story…or all stories rolled into one. However, these stories can change if the paradigm of one’s existence changes. For example, coming out from a family who refuses to believe their child is gay. In my case, this story is about how I felt uncomfortable in my birth faith because of the hate on one side and the classism on the other. The story may change, but it becomes a part of a larger story.

Indeed, we are a part of a larger story. The congregants at All God’s Children MCC have their own stories to tell, but they share a common story when they walked into that church last Sunday morning. No matter the temper or the stage where the story is at, the common stories we share are indeed part of this magnificent story that is still developing every day.

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