love liberally

a belief that all religious paths got you to the same place

Liberal. It was something of a dirty word growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist community. Often there would be jokes thrown around about open-mindedness indicating that most people opened their minds so much that their brains fell out.  Questioning was also highly frowned upon, lest one prove oneself faithless. As a naturally inquisitive child and adolescent, I found this method for relating to God increasingly untenable. By the age of 25, I decided to leave church behind in pursuit of something much vaguer and open to questions: Spirituality.

In my quest to separate myself from the oppressive culture of “churchianity,” I adopted a belief that all religious paths got you to the same place—God/Universal Energy/Love. Each of the various religions seemed to me like different languages in which your soul might choose to communicate with a being of Light, Love and Divinity. . . except I could not find a place in my heart for Christianity. In that regard, I adopted a level of spiritual disdain that Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks of experiencing (not from me directly, but guilty just the same) in her book Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint:

“I once heard someone say that my belief in Jesus makes them suspect that I intellectually suck my thumb at night.”

The name of Jesus did not bring me peace, joy, or contentment but instead spoke to me of a world of guilt, shame and judgment. I nearly went into convulsions at the sound of it, unless it was uttered accompanied by profanity. As someone who was deeply spiritual and committed to a belief in oneness, it was highly problematic for me to find as such negativity in my heart. I needed to heal. I just wasn’t sure how I’d go about it.

And then, as Spirit would have it, I answered a job posting for St. Simon’s Episcopal Church. In the past year as the parish administrator, I have been introduced to things such as “Alternative Orthodoxy” and “Marcus Borg”. I even willingly read through advent resources from Richard Rohr. I came to see a picture of Jesus, not as the sacrifice I needed because I was a terrible excuse for a human being, but as the embodiment of Love. Humorously, it was then that I was saved; from my own divisiveness, fear and ignorance, restored to loving communion with God that had always been open to me.

While I am incredibly thankful for this sense of peace regarding the Way of Jesus, I have to speak to the timing in which that integration fell into place. My father was diagnosed with acute leukemia last summer, just a few months into my journey to understand a more progressive version of Christianity. Just knowing that there was a whole community of people, following Christ in a way that gave me hope, provided a bridge for me to be able to better accept my father’s faith, even to the point of being able to call him up and sing the worship songs I was taught as a child, because they brought him comfort and joy.

Without the softening of my heart, lovingly prodded by so many of you here at St. Simon’s, I don’t know that I would have had those beautiful phone calls with my dad. As most of you know, he died in February. The gifts of my time here have been abundant, from deep and insightful conversations, theological debates, and more recently, the words of comfort and cards of condolence and meals brought to my wife, Alissia, and me in the week that followed. But for the gift of an improved relationship with my family at such a time, my gratitude is immeasurable.

Kieta Wheeler
Parish Administrator