It’s been a year now that I’ve been in Crossleft, a Progressive Christian site. Why have I stayed? For the most part it’s because Crossleft dovetails my two prevailing interests: an interest in liberal and progressive politics and an interest in a more progressive Christianity. I’ve learned a lot from reading the bloggers in this site. A few years ago I was in a painful church conflict that really shook my faith in God and Christianity. A small part of me though, still wants to believe in God and Jesus, so I’ve embarked in these past few years to try to figure out what parts of this Christian faith do I still believe. During this time, I found Crossleft. I’ve always felt that Crossleft has been like a Godsend to me.
In order to better understand why, a little of my history is in order.
I grew up Catholic. The first time that I ever felt close to God was in Jr. High School. I was taking CCD classes for Confirmation, and it made me very fervent to be closer to God. I read all I could about the Jesus and the saints and the church. I found out about Pope John XXIII and Vatican II and grew to love that vision of church. My mom had a book about St. Francis, and it became one of my favorite books. When I prayed, I really felt like I was talking to God and I prayed every night for my friends and family. Every month I’d go to confession. I remember once when I my family had for one night a statue of the Virgin Mary that was traveling from household to household for us to pray the rosary. I never found out what was special about that statue, but I remember how special my prayers felt when I did the rosary that night.
That fervent belief lasted for several years, until college. I have no explanation as to why my faith faded at that time. I had my disagreements with John Paul II, but I knew many Catholics who disagreed with the Pope and still remained faithful churchgoers. After I left, I encountered the priest in the church I went to. He looked at me and apologized for not knowing me; he had so many people in his congregation, he didn’t know who I was. And I had to admit, in the years that I had gone to the church, I had not gotten to know anyone other than the people who I went to school with.
For a brief period I stopped going to any kind of church. Then the evangelicals found me. A college friend invited me to her church, the San Jose Chinese Alliance Church. Gradually I began to make friends and stayed because of those friendships. When I told them that I was a liberal Democrat, they told me that it didn’t matter whether a person is liberal or conservative, so long as that person was in a personal relationship with God. In my first few years I did feel like I had a relationship with God. These evangelicals were sincere about their faith, and they deeply cared about following the Bible and doing the right thing. Their fervor rubbed off on me, and I joined Bible Study groups and learned about Romans, Ephesians, Mark, and Genesis. A group of us followed the pastor when he moved to Los Altos to found a new church, Grace Community Convenant Church. And the first few years in that church were wonderful too.
There was a flip side however. Though I was initially told that a person’s political affiliation didn’t matter, it turned out not to be quite true. While the members had a diversity of political views, a majority were fairly conservative and they made it clear that they didn’t like liberals. At first I was fairly open about my opinions, but gradually I learned to keep quiet. I witnessed times where a group of people would gang up on an individual and use peer pressure to get that person to conform. These incidents bothered me, but I was too afraid to go against the group. And then I got into some conflicts. The things that I observed happening to others started happening to me. The gossip, the talking behind the back, the loss of friendships. Church became like a bad high school experience. I kept getting into these frustrating Abbott and Costello type conversations. As a typical example, here is an example of a conversation that happened when they found out I was dating Lisa:
X: You shouldn’t be going out with Lisa!
ME: Why not? I like her.
X: No you don’t. You’ll be unequally yolked.
ME: I don’t care if I’m unequally yolked.
X: Yes you do. Why don’t you ask this girl out instead?
ME: I have asked her out. She’s always busy.
X: Don’t worry about it. Just keep asking her out.
ME: Why? I like Lisa, not her.
X: You don’t like Lisa. Just listen to what I said.
ME: So you don’t want me to go out with someone whom I like and who is willing to go out with me? And Instead ask out someone I don’t like and is too busy at work to go out?
X: Don’t think about it. We know what’s the best for you.
After a while I just stopped listening. I stayed for two more years in that church, but a place that I was once fond of became a place I felt miserable at. It really disillusioned me, and I still struggle with feelings of bitterness. From this experience, I learned that it’s better to think for myself and be wrong sometimes than to have a group of people do my thinking for me.
For a long time, I stayed away from church. After a while I started missing going to a church. I believed in God before went to Grace. Why should I let this experience take that away? So I decided to do something that I had always wanted to do… visit churches of different denominations. I visited a Quaker meeting, a Greek Orthodox church, a Lutheran church. For several months I stayed at a Unitarian Universalist church and really enjoyed their company.
I eventually wound up in an Episcopalian Church, where I’ve been attending for about a year now. I really like their idea of via media, this sort of combination of the Catholic service and Protestant theology. It’s a chance for a fresh start. They’re an older congregation and they’ve been very nice to me. I haven’t made any close friends yet, but I’ve been making an effort to invite people to dinner and get to know them better.
Right now I am not this Christian of deep faith. I no longer really pray apart from when I’m in church. I struggle with feelings of anger and forgiveness. When I first started posting on Crossleft, someone asked me if I believe in the Apostles Creed, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure anymore. The only thing that makes me a Christian is that I still believe Jesus is the Son of God. I have no logical reason for this. It’s just something that I hold on to.
I read Crossleft because I see in these people a group of fervent and sincere Christians whose progressive politics is an outgrowth of their fervent relationship with God. Crossleft is this diverse group of Christians who’ve had their own struggles with God and church, yet still believe and have charted their own course with God and Jesus. It’s a place where I feel safe to say my own opinions and disagree and have respectful debates, and that’s important to me. I admire the Crossleft bloggers for standing up to the Religious Right and for calling them out on their inconsistencies, although I also worry for them; I’ve learned that when people are challenged, they often retaliate and they often do not fight fair. I’m grateful that Crossleft has allowed this nominal Christian to blog at their site and to allow me the room to find my own voice.
One of my favorite books is Strength For The Journey, by Diana Butler Bass. Bass went through struggles at various churches before finding her own voice, and she wrote a paragraph that I empathize with. I end this post with that paragraph.
“I do not know how or where I learned it, but I had learned not to say what I really thought or truly believed or most desired…. The way of safety is to say what others want you to say, to repeat words of those who hold power. And if you do that well enough you might gain a modicum of control over your own life. By age thirty, after a decade of higher education, I knew everyone’s words but my own. Holy Family had given me a place to use my hands and, very tentatively, hear the words forming within. When I left, I had only just begun to realize that I might have a voice of my own.”