More than ever before, I have noticed that people long to be inspired. Our facebook walls are covered with inspirational quotes, as are our Twitter feeds. People seem to constantly want to be inspired, comforted or even consoled by the remarkable words or deeds of another but, what if those words come from the Bible?
San Francisco is the perfect place to be when it comes to inspiration -- world-class art museums and artists, the ocean, the entertainment -- it's hard to not be inspired walking around this city. One of the beautiful things about San Francisco is that we are encouraged to be whoever we believe we are: gay, straight, kinky, poly, artistic, a hipster, a techie... but the one thing we are not encouraged to be in San Francisco is religious, from a traditional Judaeo Christian standpoint.
I find it fascinating that in a city as free as San Francisco, church, synagogue and practicing as a believer in a traditional form of religion and/or God is not a subject people bring up often or at all. In the most enlightened and compassionate circles, to say that you are religious, or a believer, you are deemed less than, weak, hateful or ignorant because you need God to believe in.
While in the South doing research for my book, one of the things that made headlines and the news was the opening of a new campus of a church called CrossPoint. What I found interesting was that every news truck was there to cover it -- ABC, CBS, NBC and more. I was intrigued to see a church of all things, be such big news. But again, I come from San Francisco, where the only church you read about is Glide during the holiday season.
In an unusual set of circumstances, I was invited to and accepted an invitation by CrossPoint to attend their first Sunday service of church at their new campus, located in the heart of Nashville. I go to a lot of events and openings, so why is it that it felt so strange to attend one that has to do with God? I got up early on a Sunday and did something I hadn't done in many years. I went to church.
When I arrived, I was shocked by how many people show up for church in the South. It was raining and snowing, but the parking lot was overflowing with cars. When I walked into the church, they had a children's area, a book store, coffee and cafe seating set up along with the platform in the sanctuary. There was singing and screens so people could see easier. The first thing I noticed was the age of the attendees, ranging from early 20s to 70s, all visiting with one another. There was a huge population of gay parishioners and people of every color. CrossPoint clearly welcomes all attendees and those attending were waiting to hear from Senior Pastor Pete Wilson.
On this Sunday before Easter, he had an interesting sermon. It wasn't filled with promises of fire and brimstone for those who were not believers; it was simply a message filled with hope and the acceptance that life is not always within our control and that while that can be difficult, it can also be something one can become comfortable with. I kept waiting for some tone of hatred and fear or a pitch for cash, but none came.
Due to my experience with religion as a child, I assumed that all religion has a hell or terrible after life that you will go to if you don't believe... that if you didn't conform to a particular mold, you weren't welcome and that God was cruelly judgmental and vengeful. None of what happened when I was a child happened on this day.
However, here is what did happen: I realized I was guilty of what most people are when it comes to church and people of faith: judging those who believe and the places without really giving it a fair chance.
It's funny. We live in a city where we are encouraged to try everything out, but God or religion is definitely not one of them. Practicing Christians and Jews are the minority here, spiritually. And that said, once I let my own pre-conceived notions about church go and allowed the hour to unfold, it was all very normal and nice. I met some of the people who work at CrossPoint, families who call it home and people who have retained their identity while still attending church.
When I returned to SF and told many of my friends and colleagues about this, some of them told me something interesting after. I found out several people I know attend church or have attended church but almost all of them do this very privately. Funny, right? Proud kinksters, working professionals, students -- people across the board and of a mixed demographic, with a spiritual life, looked at their church attending as a secret. They all explained how they are not ashamed of their beliefs, but are cautious of how others will treat them. Religion is a triggering subject for people and so is the topic of their being a God, once again, in the traditional Judaeo-Christian sense.
So many people have used the name of God and Jesus to enforce hatred and ignorance, that I understand why people, including myself, are suspect of anything religious. But, at the same time, if we are taught to be respectful of BDSM on a Sunday morning when Folsom Street Fair comes around every year, and some people call that their church, can't we accept that not everyone who loves God or Jesus belongs to Westboro Baptist Church. And not everyone who loves God is filled with hate?
This adventure, in the midst of a week of research, made me think for all of my open-mindedness, this is one topic I have definitely had a closed mind on for many years. I am still very private when it comes to what I believe or don't believe, when it comes to God and Jesus; this experience made me want to not always assume that if you come from a position of faith, it doesn't automatically make you anything, except a believer. In a world where so many people search desperately for something to believe in, how can I or anyone judge someone harshly for simply having faith?