Coincidentally, Sunday was the opening of the Trinity “All Things New” art show, containing some of the artwork of our fellow parishioners. I happened to have contributed to this show a piece of counted cross stitch, which you can see below. The text displayed with this piece is as follows: “”The Lord Is My Shepherd” stitched by Jim Andris in 2013, design by Sandy Orton of Kooler Design Studios: Counted cross-stitch, embroidery floss on 14 count ecru Aida cloth, 11 1/4w by 16 1/4h inches, stitch count 154w x 224w. The 23rd Psalm has been part of my strength and my refuge since my father read and explained it to me at age five. When I saw this design of Sandy Orton’s, I knew I had to bring it into being.”
I’ve had a lot of occasion to reflect on my father. I’m proud now to say that I look on his life with compassion and understanding, although earlier he and I strove mightily to do just that. There were a lot of things that dad got right when he wasn’t on his occasional binge. Sometimes he and mom would gather into the Sunday morning bed first me, and then later brother, Tom, and sister, Vicki, when they came along. My parents worked hard six days a week, but at some point, mom convinced “Squee” to take Sunday off from the family grocery store. Dad used to make up funny stories about animals to tell us kids, and especially when we were gathered around on Sunday. These stories always had a moral. I think it was on one such occasion that dad undertook to explain to me the Twenty-Third Psalm. But the way he explained that psalm that day was easy to understand. We were to sheep as the Shepherd was to God. We could get into some pretty rocky and dangerous places, but we could trust God to get us out and into the safe pastures. It was a reassuring image, and apparently it stuck with me.
We all were also taught to say the Lord’s Prayer every night before we went to sleep. Though our bedroom configurations moved around as we all grew up, it was a not uncommon occurrence when we did all go to bed more or less at one time, that the three of us would say our prayers out loud, and then we would launch into a string of blessings: God bless mommy and daddy and grandmother, and our family dog, and the neighbors and Uncle Al, and on and on. As we continued, we would get to giggling, and sooner or later, dad would call out “Alright kids! Now that’s enough.” Eventually we would all calm down and go to sleep.
We also lived in terror of the occasional drinking binge dad would go on. He was frankly mean when he got drunk. He had a life-long struggle with drink, and this is not the place to go into it. But we did all suffer as a result. However, through all these difficult times, I never once felt that I didn’t belong in that family, in that place and in that time. Even when I was struggling with defining my sexual orientation and gender identity in my mid-teens, I always felt that I did belong in that little family community. I’ve always had community in my life, but the topic here is my community of faith.
I wish it were simple, this decision to become a part of a larger faith community, but it’s not. There are things about my current faith that rub me the wrong way. I’m a scientific-minded person. We of the scientific bent like to replace old ideas with new ones when they outgrow their usefulness. It seems to me that religions’ basing their practice in ancient holy texts is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, believing that Truth can be found in a holy book is what gives religions stability over time. The book is old, its writers are from a distant culture and long dead, they were dealing with abstract but important topics, and who can say definitively what they really meant, even if one studies the matter their whole life? On the other hand, that same stability and resistance to change can leave us listening to ideas some of which are plainly offensive to at least some modern thought: slavery, death to the enemy, subjugation of women and children, weird dietary restrictions, unfamiliar political arrangements. Still, religions are dealing with the spiritual dimension of life, and despite what anyone may tell you, science doesn’t do a really good job on that question. So I am stuck between a Holy Book and a hard place.
Wherever I go on my journey of faith, I am not forsaking the path of science, and I am not forsaking my belief in and experience of a spiritual dimension of my life and the lives of others. I grew up in faith, I left faith in God for faith in science and philosophy, I returned to the church, and I’m here to stay. Get used to it.
(To be continued . . .)