I have been a member of this church for exactly one year. Writing the title of this post made me giggle because I could never have imagined a future in which that would be the title of a post of a blog I started to journey through my life as a Mormon. For my one year anniversary, I wanted to write an epic post to summarize the first year, plan for the second year. I wanted to write an inspiring and reflective post about my experiences. Really, not much came to mind except that I hoped they bring cup cakes to Relief Society.
For the past year and a half, when I’ve needed a sprinkle of inspiration, I’ve turn to my friend and minister at Plymouth Congregational Church, Peter Lucky. To say that the man changed my life is to say nothing. I owe so much to him and I’m grateful for the many people who were brave and bold while I traversed the murky waters of conversion. So, I went to the Plymouth website to peak at some recent sermons, and I found this gem: Why I’m Still a Christian.
(For my Deaf readers, and for those who would rather read the sermon, I’ve posted the text in the next post.)
Still a Mormon
I think the title is telling. His use of “still” is deliberate, I’m sure, even though he never once mentions it in his sermon. Still a Christian. Considering my experience with Christianity, all the way back to my wee tot days in CCD, “still” leads me to believe I had the option to leave. And I think I did for a while. But I got to come back, and still be a Christian. That one word tells me that, no matter what we have to go through (or are going through right now), I get to make that choice. And considering the fact that I’m writing this post exactly one year from my baptism, I am still making that choice.
Peter talks about belonging. What does it mean to belong? What does it mean that I belong to this church? He says:
The problem for many of us when it comes to belonging, in terms of a tradition of the Christian faith, is that we equate belonging with believing. That you have to believe in order to belong. So, that becomes a stumbling block for most of us. It becomes an intellectual hurdle for us to belonging because we feel like we have to believe all these things before we can belong.
He summarized my conversion in 70 words (yes, I counted).
Belonging is primary for Christian theology. It’s primary for the Christian faith journey. The sense that we belong, not to ourselves, but we belong to God. And through God, we belong to one another as part of a community. And we belong to a tradition, to a past. So our lives are inextricably bound up with a sense of belonging in God and in and through each other and in a tradition.
The Gospel of John expresses beautifully that sense of belonging in the New Testament when Jesus, in the Gospel of John in the 15th chapter, as he’s preparing to say goodbye to his friends the disciples says, “Abide in me. I abide in you.”
Abiding is not just “let’s hang out together.” It’s “let’s belong to one another in God.”
Again, I am called to identify as a member of this church – that I belong here. Belonging to this church, to this faith, to this conversation, I know that I belong to God.
As I reflect on this year, I think about the people I’ve met, the people I’ve come to love, and the people I’ve learned to listen to. I think about the prophet and the apostles, and the words of these men of God. I am not sharing anything new when I say that I’ve struggled and that I’ve challenged, if only in my own heart and mind, the words of these men. But I also recognize that, through God and because of God, we belong to each other. Whether we like our companions or not, we are on this road trip together. And there is comfort in that companionship. I wouldn’t want to do this alone.
Belonging means conversation not only with each other but conversation with our tradition. Think about it, every Sunday we read together from this ancient text as Christians have done for hundreds of years, and our Jewish ancestors hundreds of years before Christ, reading aloud ancient texts and gathering of a public community.
Why? Not because we slaverously agree to obey the text, but because the text is in conversation with us and it is the interchange between the ancient text and the tradition and our lives today that the conversation takes place. Because we belong to that text and that text belongs to us. It is who we are. And the prophets, and the good news of the Gospel, and the great theologians like Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoffer, voices that are part of our tradition, they are our conversation partners. And through them, God speaks to us today in our world and in our time.
You can like a text, dislike a text. You can like a theologian, dislike a theologian. But at the end of the day, they belong to us and we belong to them.
At the end of the day, we all belong to God. This is something I’ve always been aware of, but didn’t always trust. I know that sometimes I didn’t believe it was true. I trusted my independence more than I trusted belonging to God. I let my ego and my intellect stand in the way of my ability to let go and say, “God I belong to you and you belong to me.”
I think about my own testimony and, for the first time, I see it as a conversation with God. It’s my holiest conversation. Sometimes I struggle sharing my testimony outside of the safe space of blogonymity, but I can see that opening up that conversation is to share something that’s mine with someone else. Then, it belongs to both of us. I mean, really, that’s exactly how it happened for me. Many many many many many people invited me to join the holy conversation of a testimony so that I could know that I belonged, with them, to God.
The best news of all about belonging, and it is totally paradoxical, is it’s those places in our lives that we are bound to one another and we are bound to God that we have that sense that we belong, not to ourselves, but to God. It is those moments that we experience our lives as wondrously and marvelously free.
For one amazing, challenging, life bending, wonderful year, I have belonged to this church, and learned to trust knowing that belong to God.
With so much love,