Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Confessions of a Monotheist Part 1-The Seed

Within the last few years I've experienced an awakening to my spirituality. I felt as if my soul has opened its eyes and ears for the first time. I do not pretend to walk closely with God or to have achieved an elevated level of spirituality. I am just becoming aware of it as if I have just awakened from a deep sleep. I do not mean to offend those that may stumble upon this but to tell my tale to those that are willing to listen to my spiritual journey thus far. This is my story.

Winter 2000
I remember sitting in Dr. Harper's religion class early one morning in my junior year at Georgia-Cumberland Academy. I was 16 at the time and I believe it was the winter of 2000 when it happened. The details of that day were hazy but that first question has been burned, carved into my mind.

"If the Catholics came before the Protestants and the Orthodox Church came before the Catholics then wouldn't the Orthodox Church hold the purest teachings of Christ and the early church?" To me it seemed logical that the earliest church would have the purest teachings. I don't remember how Dr. Harper responded but I'm sure he mentioned something about the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism (I was bored out of my mind). We were learning about church history in religion class and since that moment when that question escaped from my lips I never stopped questioning. For the next few weeks I could not get that question out of my head. Where did it come from? Why is it even important? I knew about Catholics, Baptist, and other denominations but I never questioned my faith. Never. I knew I had it right but I never considered that if I had it right billions of others have to wrong. The Greek Orthodox and the Catholic Church had it right at one time, right? What if a new movement replaced Protestantism would my soul be eternally hell bound while every single protestant would be labeled as heretics only remembered and studied by historians hundreds maybe thousands of years from now? This was the seed that started me on my religious journey independent from my parents and my church. It was just a seed and as a seed it sat there for years but the questions never stopped coming. That first one was a freebie but I soon learned to keep them to myself.

GCA is a 7th-Day Adventist private co-educational boarding school in Calhoun, Georgia which opened in 1962. I will not go into vast details about my experience at GCA but from the mind of a 16 year old it seemed pretty oppressive, but I guess most teenagers that go to a private high school think likewise. Almost all of the rules and regulations made perfect sense, and even though I spoke out against a few I knew deep down that they were right. It was only after the seed was planted that I first became aware of intolerance and religiously narrow minded Christians. Any subtle break from religious conformity earned you a frown or a stern talk at first but if continued past a breaking point would earn you a one way ticket to expulsion. This sounds like a harsh punishment for not "following the flock" but it wasn't like I was purposely rebelling. I actually had legitimate questions about my faith that I couldn't even mention without fear of punishment.

Now this is a private school so I understand they uphold certain values and beliefs they want to instill into a student's education. We couldn't eat, or own, any sort of meat on campus. We couldn't play any competitive sports on the Sabbath. We were required to attend most religious meetings (except for late night programs and weekly prayer groups). The breaking of these unofficial religious rules could earn you demerits and when enough were accumulated punishment was enforced. 9 times out of 10 this took the form of janitor duty, copying sentences out of the school handbook, or some other time-consuming activity. It sounds trivial but to a teenager it was a prison camp. The point I'm trying to make is that there was (and probably still is) no room for religious questioning and absolutely no bending of the rules.

What hit me the hardest was the school's reaction to drug-use and homosexuality. Expulsion. Period. Go directly to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. They had a chance to help and mend instead of maim and wound. The kids that smoked weed (and as far as I know weed was the only drug on or around campus when I attended) were not counseled nor forgiven. There was one group that was given a slap on the wrist but the next group wasn't as lucky. Racism reared its ugly head when the second group, all black kids, were all immediately expelled while the first group, mostly white kids, were merely suspended and were given random drug testing for the remainder of the school year. The second group was eventually forgiven and allowed back but the racial tension never disappeared. The school made it clear that it wasn't about race but was merely enforcing their zero tolerance rule.

There were a few homosexuals on campus and thankfully not a single soul ratted them out. They would have been immediately expelled and the school would have come up with a suitable explanation to avoid being viewed as intolerant.I never witnessed an expulsion for homosexuality but everyone knew it would happen. Four or five people in my graduating class came "out of the closet" after graduation. One of them was a very close friend of mine that I still hold dear to me even though we haven't talked much in years. I was shocked by the news but I never once thought less of him. And if he's reading this now then I just want to say that I will always consider you my friend.

How can a school which professes to be Christian act so contradictory to the Christian Spirit? As a school they have a prime opportunity to teach their students love, compassion, and justice not ignorance, bigotry, and inequality. Instead of a message of acceptance and forgiveness they chose to weed out (no pun intended) the undesirables, the unclean. I didn't blame Christianity. I didn't even blame the Christians. I didn't know who to blame or even if I had to blame someone. Honestly I was too busy skirt chasing to even care but deep down I did. I hated myself for not saying something but I was just a kid. How dare a 16 year old attempt to teach morality to the school faculty? So I rebelled peacefully (and at times publicly to impress my friends).

I took this seed and buried it deep within myself. Every now and then I watered it with new questions. But I never tried to answer them I just continued asking myself more questions. I knew that I was preparing myself for something greater but I did not what it was until the day my son was born.

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