When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but later it will be face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – I Corinthians 13:11-12, KJV-ish.
Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: I’ve seen some shit. Far too many times in my life, I’ve looked on as things just happened. Horrible things, things that no person should ever have to experience, and yet- there it was.
I grew up in a United Methodist church that preferred to see the ’68 merger as simply a change of name on the door, and ran the place as an old school Evangelical Brethren church. It wasn’t long before it became clear that I, raised on a religious diet of pancakes and Star Trek, did not belong.
From here, determined to be a perfect and worthy scion of the Word, found myself wrapped up in a charismatic/fundamentalist Christian cult for a couple of years. I clearly remember the day I left, and I remember that my departure did not go unnoticed. “Unnoticed” in this context should be read as “cultists waiting in the parking lot at work with a van” level of unnoticed. A year of confrontations and pain later, I finally became free.
I was also a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod for while. While it was a step to the left, it wasn’t much of a step. My departure from that faith tradition did go unnoticed, and I am glad for it.
I then studied with the ADF for a bit afterwards. I enjoyed their philosophies, as I did the teachings of the Wiccans, the teachings of the Reformed Jewish tradition, and the teachings of the Messianic Jews. Ultimately with each and every tradition I studied, it seemed… incomplete, and somehow lacking. Each tradition indicated they were the sole and correct path to the Divine, and yet- if one was true and the others false, how then was one to discern that path in the forest of confusion sowed by their self-serving competition?
It wasn’t just those traditions, either. From the Roman Catholics to the Baptists (who, ironically, once kicked me out of a youth conference because I called them on Scriptural inaccuracy), from the kabbalists to the reconstructionists, from the whatevers to the whoevers – everyone claimed to be right and everyone else wrong. They were capable of being “ecumenical” when it was easy, and when it wasn’t easy, they became antagonistic and divisive.
All of them were right, and all them were valid in their own way. Even the atheists and agnostics I broke bread with over the years were right – even if they couldn’t see it because their ego was (is) in the way. (Side note: Richard Dawkins is a still a fetid ass pustule, and he can fuck right the hell off.)
But that’s the thing – they are all right. Every and every single one of them is a valid path to the Divine, and each of them is capable of doing good work in their own way, if they would remove their heads from their own collective ass.
Religion (or lack thereof) has always played a huge role in the internal dynamics of my previous relationships. When those relationships would inevitably sour, religion was always part of the background radiation. Thus, the trauma I carry from those relationships is inextricably bound to my personal theology, and as I have healed that damage, my personal theology has evolved.
I was asked last night about the tattoos I have on the inside of my forearms, and I circled back later to why I got them where I did. My tattoos are reminders of my personal journey, and serve as metaphysical psychopomps of a sort. Most importantly, I can no longer look at the inside of my arms without seeing the tattoos – and if I see the tattoos, I am reminded that there is always hope. In whatever form we find it, in whatever shard that we hold and by which we view our relation to the Divine, there is always hope. Always.
In that hope, I have learned that tolerance is insufficient. Tolerance implies a passive-aggressive and unspoken hostility that exists in the face of another’s presence, and tolerance tells us that our personal prejudices are accepted and approved by the larger society. The theology of tolerance says “we are right, you are wrong, but you can come into our space and see just how righteous we are.” This is insufficient.
Instead, we need a theology of acceptance. Acceptance is inherently welcoming, it is inherently inviting, and it is inherently cognizant of the inequalities of the larger society. In the way that tolerance promotes the status quo, acceptance demands that we change that status quo in the name of equality and justice.
A theology of acceptance breeds hope, and hope breeds love. Hope means our young people from marginalized backgrounds have the support network they need to thrive. Hope means that eventually, the need for tattoos on one’s inner arms to remind us that hope exists is eliminated as unnecessary. Hope means life goes on, but only if we can accept and celebrate the inherent diversity in the unique condition known as humanity. Hope is what it means to be fully human, and hope is love.