Sunday, March 2, 2014
Do everything in love. ---1 Corinthians 16:14
A few weeks ago, I ran into my former pastor in Walmart. I ran into him often there, as well as other members of the church I used to attend.
He asked his usual question: Are you attending church anywhere?
You know what? In the past, when he asked me this, I stammered, blushed and could not look him in the face when I answered, "Not yet."
The truth? I wasn't looking for a church to attend. I had spent five years in this particular church and, after all that time, never felt welcome. Hey, I felt that, after that long, I ought to have felt comfortable, a part of the church family. But I did not.
This time, when confronted with his query, I---from somewhere inside me---just smiled and said with no shame, "No, sir, I'm not."
He just smiled and shook his head. But he didn't seem---as I'd expected---judgmental. Just smiled.
Want to know what finally gave me courage, backbone, to face him without shame?
I'd written a book. The book is now published, and it's titled Glory Lands.
I'm proud of this book.
And I'm not incorporating a buy link, because I'm not here selling it, but facing why I wrote it.
This book, in a way so powerful that no one but me could ever know intimately, freed me of years and years of perceptions of what is 'godly', what a minster is, what his job is, how much of an impact he /she should have on my life.
I'd been raised in a religious community. Southern Baptist. Thou shalt not drink. Thou shalt not dance. Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not. But thou shall judge thy neighbor, even though the good book says thou shall not.
I'd spent years where every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday were spent in church. And that didn't include Vacation Bible School and church camp. Round-the-clock church in which the Sabbath was round-the-clock, 24/7.
It would be so damn easy for me to judge ministers, given all the force-fed religion. Every book I read, every single book, represents ministers as evil, all of them hating and judging, everyone of them hating homosexuals, everyone of them condemning divorced folks, everyone of them denouncing alcohol, denouncing everything. Especially Southern preachers.
But, even with all my religious upbringing, I still recalled so clearly many men who were ministers of the gospel---ministers of many different denominations---who were so far removed from this stereotype that I felt a need to present a portrait of a man who was such a pastor.
And he was my character, Pastor Charles Haddon Logan in Glory Lands.
I'd read one too many books of preachers as the ultimate bad guy in the big scheme of things when homosexuality was involved. All presented as devils, as scripture-spewing monsters who condemned all gays to hell.
Then I thought of my mother.
A beautiful woman, an image of what a Christian ought to be. A woman who never taught me that folks came in different colors, they didn't come in different genders or religions. They were just folks and they were to be respected----all of them---by me.
This wonderful woman, my mother, was an 'outcast' from the religious community, our church, when I was growing up. Because she smoked. Yes, she was one of those women. And yet she was and is---to this day---one of the most beautiful models of love and grace and a true non-judgmental spirit.
And get this. Of all the folks at this church who condemned her...oddly, beautifully, the minister did not. No, he did not. He treated her equally, he saw the soul of her, not what she did outwardly. He respected her. In his mind, her smoking was a far lesser evil than the gossip of the people who pointed fingers at her.
This man was a true minister.
I chose to write Glory Lands after hearing a first-hand account of an incident that had taken place years ago in a rural east Texas community. A cold-blooded act committed by a sheriff in the town. I wondered what a man with so much prejudice would do if he encountered homosexuality in his town. And, using this man from real life (name, town, year changed), my story was born.
But what if this man of prejudice met head-on with a pastor? A man of the ministry who had always felt so secure in his beliefs? A man who not only taught love every day, but was now forced----upon the threat of losing his son, who was a homosexual---to back up what he preached?
The writing of this book was a necessity for me. To answer so many questions in my head. To teach me that religion isn't bad. Religion has some bad folks in it, just like everywhere else. That all folks who call themselves Christians aren't monsters who hate everyone. That love and faith are not within walls of any building, but in hearts. That true faith, although many through the years have turned the very name into a mockery, can be a loving thing.
The book was for my mother. For me. For ministers like Charles who get a bad wrap and get thrown into the mix with 'men of God' who really are prejudice and who really do condemn folks for their sexuality or race. This book was for preachers who are forced to see themselves painted in fiction as caricatures of evil. For men who just happen to minister but really, really do embrace love for all mankind. Who really do believe in equality.
Men like my Pastor Charles. (who, for some reason, was always Clive Owen in my head...lol).
I had to come to terms with myself while writing this book because, while I can't stand to see judgmental folks lump everything 'different' into a melting pot of things they can't tolerate----I realized I was doing the same thing by condemning all ministers just because they were...ministers.
And, having written this book, I was somehow freed from that embarrassment at having to admit to my former pastor that---no----I did not attend church anywhere at this moment. I was liberated from that feeling that I was not a 'good' person because I didn't sit in a pew on Sunday mornings.
Having searched my soul to write this book, I came to terms with a lot of things. And---although I don't practice religion in an organized congregation, and although I might do lots of things that some would consider sins---I feel that, if there really is a role and it really is called up yonder someday, I figure I'm as worthy to be called up as anyone else.