If Any Church Would Have Me as a Member….

“You can’t eat the bread if you haven’t accepted Jesus as your savior.”

This was from my grandmother, who had turned around from the pew in front of me in order to make sure I hadn’t gulped down the saltine wafer and grape juice—the flesh and blood of Christ—as they were passed before my pre-adolescent appetite.

I loved and love my departed grandmother; my relationship with her is one of those foundational emotional bonds that girds my being. And yet, this woman who was so important to me had no trouble reminding me that I was an unredeemed sinner who was pedaling his way to the smoldering gates of Hell.

My brain was quick to make the obvious connection: My grandmother, an otherwise endless source of love and support, had transformed into my Condemner because we were in church.

I am one of those born with that chromosomal kink who, despite all efforts to the contrary over many years, can’t seem to shake loose from an inclination toward the religious. Not the spiritual, which I define as the essential gut-feel that the Universe operates by erratic divine providence, I mean religious – holy scriptures, rituals, preachers, and yes, church.

I am also one of those born with that _other_ chromosomal kink who can’t get comfortable with two important components of the religious life: settling into a single religious discipline and attending church.

Sigh.

So…by default, my tribe is the pastiche of spiritual, religiously-inclined humanist artists who wander and ache and rebel and mourn and joke and indulge and imbibe and who otherwise feel like we’re missing out on something grand but who also feel like we’ve dodged a boulder-sized bullet. My tribe is the ‘Cafeteria Plan Believer’ – the group who uses whatever spiritual teachings pass the transom of our pre-occupied brains and cobble themselves together into a belief system.

Imagine a Frankenstein monster sutured together with religious iconography.

This serves me well as an artist (or at least it keeps my creative engines rumbling), but I can’t know what it’s doing to my spiritual development, which is, to my mind, integrally entwined with that self-same creative development.

I do know that during these past few and difficult years, probably some of the hardest years of my life (he wrote vaguely), I have turned to spiritual texts and teachings more than ever before. I have brought a daily practice into my hours. I have been remarkably serious about it. And as much as I long to tell my grandmother that I am now able to chew the wafer and drink the juice, I still just…can’t.

But, if there were a church out there I could belong to, the one that comes closest to my ideal is Nadia Bolz-Weber’s. The combination of disciplined adherence and open-armed admittance, the emphasis on tradition and resurrection and redemption, speak to me and my sense of what the religious should be.

I can’t know what my grandmother would have thought Bolz-Weber’s congregation, but I like to think that, in another reality, we could have broken bread there together.