Friday, September 11, 2009

About the Blog Editor—Part 1: Faith Journey

As a lawyer, I am constantly trying to discern an individual’s biases as he or she expresses opinions. This happens when I read a book or an article, when I listen to a lecture or presentation, and even when I engage in casual, one-on-one conversations. I want to identify the life experiences that may have shaped the beliefs that are being shared. As a result of this preoccupation, I know that if I were a reader of this blog, I would be looking for any clues in blog posts that might shed more light on the key aspects of the editor’s faith journey and professional experience to understand better her perspective and biases. Wanting to avoid such distractions for readers of the Progressive Christianity & the Law Blog, I thought it would be helpful to take time at the beginning to shed some light on these topics. I offer the following biographical sketch in that spirit, not because I’m an egomaniac who has a burning desire to talk about herself. Indeed, I am rather a private person, so my initial inclination was not to share any personal information about myself. However, upon reflection, I think that would ultimately be a distraction to some who might be preoccupied with discerning my cultural and denominational biases. Hopefully, the following information will shed some light on those biases so they will not be a distraction when reading later posts in this blog.

I am Caucasian, and my family is mostly Protestant and from the South. I was raised in Central Texas and Northern Virginia. My father’s side of the family is mostly Southern Baptist. My mother’s kin have belonged to a variety of Protestant denominations--Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, etc. As a child, I had more exposure to the Southern Baptists than other denominations, but it never quite felt like home to me. As a teenager, I eventually came to consider myself a staunch atheist, who in essence thought she was too smart for religion.

Nonetheless, Christianity was ever-present in my life. Somehow, in high school and college my closest friends were always Christians. I was also always drawn to the courage and nobility of those who risked their personal safety and their livelihoods as activists in the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King was a particular hero of mine. It was perplexing to me as an atheist that his life’s work was rooted in his Christian faith. I had tremendous respect and admiration for Dr. King, but at the time my attitude towards Christianity was much less positive. I was amazed and awed that Dr. King told his followers to love those who were treating them with such complete disrespect and inflicting violence on their communities. Around the same time, I had a good friend who was an ardent fan of punk rock and Jesus Christ. She was incredulous that I was not a Christian, and gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which she dared me--the smug atheist--to read. Somewhere in all that, during undergraduate school, I decided that there was something to this Jesus fellow, and I believed what he had said. It is hard to put into words exactly how this came to be. The best I can do is to say that Jesus’ teachings touched my heart and I had a profound sense of truth in what he said.

After that important milestone, I tried out several different denominations. There was a lovely group of Congregationalists near my university, as well as a dynamic Christian (Disciples of Christ) church. But again, neither quite felt like home to me. In different years I attended each of these two churches regularly, but I never became a member. By chance, at the end of my senior year in college, I went to church one Sunday with a Catholic friend of mine. If I had not overslept that morning, I would have never gone to mass. Growing up with Protestant relatives and friends, I had never had a particularly high opinion of Catholics. (All those candles and indulgences!) But to my utter surprise, I loved the meditative nature of the mass. I was a little alarmed by the sanctuary’s graphically violent artwork with bleeding hearts and a tortured Jesus suffering on the cross. Nonetheless, I was interested enough to do some more research about Catholicism and the church’s teachings. Over many months, I learned a good deal about Catholicism, and was deeply drawn to the church’s emphasis on social justice. (As many already realize, Catholics are not at all a homogeneous bunch; I myself was drawn more to the St. Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day view of Catholicism.) The following Easter, after months of preparatory classes, I was baptized a Catholic. It was one of the most moving events in my entire life, and I felt very grateful that God had found a way to speak to my heart. Eventually, I met my husband in the Catholic church. For many years, we were very active in the parishes, in which we lived. We were Eucharistic ministers, ushers, Sunday School teachers, and volunteers in several marriage ministries.

When we became parents a few years ago, we were saddened to feel we were drifting away from the Catholic church. Theologically, we continue to agree with much that is taught in Catholicism. However, for a variety of reasons, for our family, it was no longer a good fit. At the suggestion of (formerly Catholic) friends, we reluctantly tried several non-denominational churches, and ended up attending them regularly for several years. Those congregations were dynamic. Our family learned a lot and experienced tremendous spiritual growth. But again, they did not really feel like home and we never formally became members. Last summer, however, we joined an Episcopal congregation. It has been a good fit for our family on many levels. We feel like we are home.

Luke 15:20 (New International Version)

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”