My Turn: Let Me Worship as I Am

In October 2005 I took the soup. To an Irish Catholic, "taking the soup" means going to the other side, turning Protestant. During the famine years, one could get a bowl of soup if one sat through a Protestant service, which meant automatic excommunication in those pre-ecumenical days. So the slang was born, implying desertion of the One True Church in order to make life easier.

I suppose what I took wasn't soup, but it was comfort. I took a life steeped in the mystery and rhythm of the church along with what I hoped was a life with the integrity of being an open, practicing gay man. When I turned to the Episcopal Church, I saw a Christianity that was alive and evolving, one that delighted in difference and saw God's creation in many things, including women and openly gay men serving as priests and bishops. I saw a chance to get past the separation and sanctimony of the more vocal Christian presence in American society, and a challenge to get to the more nuanced and tricky teachings of Christ—loving your neighbor and all that. I hoped to live and worship as I was created, not as I was condemned. And so I took catechism at St. Thomas the Apostle, where the smells and bells made me feel at home, although the challenges of parish life made me want to sleep some Sundays. After six months of classes in the teachings of the Anglican faith, I was "received" into the communion in a high mass attended by friends and my partner, with not a dry eye in the house. The healing I felt as I stood before the assistant bishop and reaffirmed my faith was, without a doubt, of the Spirit.

Faith is, in and of itself, full of strangeness and coincidence. In my more self-pitying moods, I wish I weren't so hungry for God, so greedy for meaning. I wish I could be "spiritual but not religious," thereby bypassing early Sunday rising and the challenges of community. I could stay home, not have to be a part of anyone's club, not have to deal with any idiosyncratic behavior, anyone's out-of-tune singing, anyone's kiss of peace laden with flu germs, anyone's behavior that keeps me from my high-flown aspirations and the saintly life and eventual Oprah tribute I just know is in me.

The very word "Christian" makes me wish I'd had a Druid spiritual awakening. In today's lexicon, Christian is equated with fanatics who need God to be as human as can be: male, full of pride and hate, war-loving and with a voting record that can only be described as shortsighted. For me to have found the answer to my spiritual hunger in the teachings of Jesus was at best highly inconvenient.

But Christianity comforts and fills me, as any good soup should. On the day I took the soup, there was a coincidental visit from a bishop from New Hampshire who was in L.A. and wanted to come to mass at St. Thomas the Apostle. His name is Gene Robinson, and he is the first openly gay and partnered bishop elected to an Episcopal bishopric. He is a slight man in person, soft-spoken and grinning ear to ear. He is no crusader in the usual sense of the word, but is in his own way a Joan of Arc, although he more resembles David Sedaris in a miter. I found his presence at my reception ceremony to be a special postcard from my Savior, if you'll forgive my self-centeredness and cheesy metaphor. I know that there were hundreds of other people at mass that day, many others being received or confirmed or even baptized. The presence of Bishop Robinson meant something different to every person there. But faith is ultimately selfinvolved at times, and sacraments and life are meant to be windows to God's grace.

As my partner's Mormon mother would say, I have a testimony. I was created by God, who works through all of his creation, and I've been gay as a handbag since birth. I wanted to wear my sisters' chapel veils at 2, had a crush on Hoss from "Bonanza" at 4 and have always known that God loves me and Jesus has lessons for me. And I am called to be Episcopalian and part of the Catholic faith, sure as Joan of Arc was called to her mission, although I'm not in drag. And I have faith that I will stand in front of the altar of God and commit my life to the man I love, with smells and bells and without secrecy. It is right to stand before God as I am, and speak my own truth. And I am grateful to have a model of simple, elegant defiance in the bishop from New Hampshire who happened to come to mass at my church one day.