I was born asking the question, “Why?” My father tells the story of driving the three-year-old-me miles to the local electrical sub-station all the while tracing the wires from our house, because I asked “how come?” every time I turned the light switch on and off. As a preschooler, I drove my parents crazy with my inquisitiveness. My brother’s “how come?” was much more focused on “how?” He would take apart everything he could find to discover how it worked. Me? Despite the trip to the power plant, my question was really more about the meaning, the purpose, the intention behind an action. “Why can’t I ride my bicycle across Grundy avenue?” “Why can’t we eat dessert first?” “Why do I have to wear a dress to school?” (Yes, binge-watching Mad Men has made me remember the starchy dresses I had to wear to school). As I matured into adolescence the questions grew more socially aware. “Why are we in a cold war with Russia?” “Why is communism bad?” “Why are there people in poverty?” “Why are there so few black people in my school?”
My “why”s were tolerated by my parents, encouraged by my teachers, and disruptive in my church. “Why would God allow people to go to hell?” “Why can’t we have guitars and tambourines in church?” “Why is baptism necessary to get into heaven?” “Why can’t girls grow up to be pastors?” These questions were problematic in my fundamentalist Lutheran Sunday School and confirmation classes. I was scolded for asking too many question and told that a person of faith needs to accept the things they don’t understand. Questioning the tenets of our faith was the root of sin. I was shamed as a “Doubting Thomas.” After a particular conversation with the pastor, my mother whispered to me, “keep asking your questions, just don’t ask them in church.”
After Dwayne and I were married and moved upstate New York, we went church-shopping. The first day we worshipped with the Presbyterians, the pastor said, “this is the place to ask your questions.” And he meant it. The Presbyterians we met in that congregation, struggled with the issues of faith and life together. They studied together, they learned together, they prayed together, and they often disagreed with each other. As much as my childhood pastors disdained my “why”s, the Presbyterians welcomed them.
This is why I’m Presbyterian. Still enamored by Martin Luther’s questioning of the status quo, I found myself at home among a group of liberated minds, hearts, and souls. “Liberals” in the purist sense … in the Presbyterian Church we value the continual re-evaluation of our faith and practice. It’s not so much that we change our minds, but we deepen our understanding. We are more wed to the striving for truth than the security of being right.
My questions continued to come from the observance of the world around me. They often come from listening closely to those who are marginalized, hurt, and “disdained.” They come from opening myself to the possibility of seeing the world from another vantage point, to see the world as God may see the world, to give up a hold on the “what it’s always been” and imagine a way it could be. It was that tangible vision of what could be … “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”… that led Jesus to “not my will, but yours be done.”
With the presbyteries approval of Amendment 14-F, I find myself in an unlikely place. It’s no secret, that I am personally elated to belong to a denomination that allows pastors and sessions to bless the covenantal unions of couples regardless of their sex or genders. This is not only a civil rights issue to me, but a personal family issue that has weighed heavy on my heart for decades. Yet, I’m not jumping up and down. Instead, I’m turning my attention to those who are now in the minority. I find myself standing up for the pastors and congregations who do not agree with me. I am defending them. Praying with and for them. Why? Because I value them and their ability to question me and my thoughts and assumptions about Christ, about the Church, about the world. I need them. The Presbyterian Church (USA) needs them. We need the “minority reports” because we share the striving for truth over being right. Because valuing the Lordship of Christ means that we value our sisters and brothers in Christ, especially in times of polarization, schism, radical change, and crisis. We need them because they help us continue to ask the “why”s and keep ourselves open to what God will do with us next.
Why am I Presbyterian? Because Presbyterians believe that God is bigger than our tradition or our heritage. Faith embraces where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. We believe that even though the truth is beyond our understanding, we don’t turn away from doubt or questions, but we embrace them. And, most importantly, that we are called to sit at table with those who are very different from us, to see Christ in them, and to keep seeking Christ together.