No less than 10 people have asked me who I am in the past week. The question is usually phrased something like: “So…what faith tradition do you come from?” or “So you’re a … Christian?… I guess…? since you’re in seminary and all…?”
Today 2 Chaplains asked me what faith tradition I come from, and I answer that easily. It’s easy to tell them where I’ve been: my parents, both raised Southern Baptist, raised me as non-denominational /Charismatic (a direct result of the Jesus Movement). “I was raised fundamentalist Evangelical.” I say. Every time I say it, I feel as if I am uttering insults. But it’s as close to the truth as I can get.
I was raised in a conservative, non-denominational church with strong Charismatic leanings and heavy emphasis on fundamentalist theology. (Fundamentalist sounds like a slam now… but I mean it in the most authentic way possible).
My religious heritage gave me a solid foundation. I had memorized hundreds of scriptures by the time I was a teen. I had read the Bible at least once all the way through and many of the books I read multiple times (Philippians, the gospel of John, Revelations (at least a dozen times- it was what kept me occupied as a child during boring sermons), Micah, Psalms, Proverbs and several others had been read many times over).
When I explain what faith tradition I come from, I start with fundamentalist evangelical. Then I usually trail off into: “I don’t really know what I am exactly now…I go to a Unitarian church. I think I’m spiritually promiscuous.” (Thanks for that phrase from my friend, Andrew Bowen!)
Today when the lady Chaplain asked me what I am, I said I was unsure of how to describe myself. “I’m on a journey,” I said. “I know that I love God and I love religion and I love people… I’m not sure if I’m a Christian, and I’m definitely not a fundamentalist, but I think more than anything I’m embracing uncertainty as my religious practice. Uncertainty. Is that a religion?”
She smiled. She is Baptist. Not allowed to take preaching in her Baptist seminary because she was a woman, she changed to a more liberal seminary. She says she doesn’t find spiritual community at all among her Baptist congregation members. She goes to a Methodist church now because “They don’t ask anything of me, they don’t mind if I’m resting there.” Her eyes well up with tears when she speaks of Father Patrick the Catholic priest who took her under his wing when she first became a Chaplain, who showed her how to impose ashes on Ash Wednesday. Her smile grows when she speaks the writings of St. Teresa of Avila.
I’m pretty sure she’s uncertain, too. As a Baptist, she should believe that Father Patrick didn’t go to heaven, even after all the years he spent in service to humanity, connecting people to God. As a woman, she understands the disconnect between theology and God. She has walked a path long enough to know that God is more, God is bigger than the words and laws people make. As a human, she longs for connection of both the ordinary and Divine varieties. And as someone who has walked a similar path as me, she nods in understanding when I speak of uncertainty.
It is in times like this, in Terminal D at a chapel between the USO and a sandwich shop, God is present in all of his uncertain glory. And I am reminded once more that I’m truly not alone, even here, in the Bible belt. Even in a Baptist Chaplain’s office. Even in Terminal D.