Agnostic Christian

For weeks I have been mulling over a recent column when another columnist labeled agnostics “cowardly.” I beg to differ. The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more l shy away from theological certainty, frequently couched in judgment and self-righteousness.

When I was younger I thought I knew it all, and would gleefully and righteously disagree with others with a different theological “take” at various subjects, be it the divinity of Christ the understanding of predetermination, the understanding of heaven and hell and who would go where.

As my faith walk continued, amidst some wandering and much stumbling, I found that the “certainties” I held dearly first yielded to doubts, then further questioning and exploring. and a new theology continuing to emerge that looks quite different from the rigid orthodoxies of my younger self.

This has led me to becoming, in the eyes of many, a “heretic” The original meaning of the word simply means “other,” such as different. It only later accrued judgment and condemnation.

But I am proud to be a “heretic”, in particular in regards to two widely accepted doctrines: the nature of Jesus, in particular in his relationship to humans; and the place and existence of heaven and hell.

In regards to Jesus, most reading this column who identify as Christian see Jesus as the early church creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) did, that declared him: “son of God,” “only begotten,” “one with the Father.” I have no problem with that centuries-old orthodoxy, except when people claim it is clear in the Bible. All of these creeds did not emerge until the fourth century, amidst fierce fights among both theologians and ordinary people. The victors “won” while the losers were vanquished, their bishoprics stripped, some exiled, some imprisoned, some executed, their “heretical” writings, including the Gospel of Thomas. ferreted out and destroyed.

Before Jesus was officially proclaimed God, there were lots of various teachings about him. such as in the previously cited Gospel of Thomas, where he is seen as our “twin,” not to come as god-man to redeem us and save us from hell, but to reveal to us that our nature is like his, our role — to heal, to reconcile —is the same as his. This is what I now believe, and I believe that the doubt that led to this place is not a place of “cowardice,’ but of true faith, that of living each day as a follower of Jesus, using his example and stories to guide my way and sustain me.

Concomitantly. when I look at the more orthodox understandings of hell and heaven they no longer hold neither threat or promise for me. I am also an “agnostic” in that regard. The thought of the existence of either does not govern my thoughts or actions. I simply try to live each day as I was taught by Jesus, so that my thoughts and actions towards others provide healing and hope. For me that is enough.
I do not consider my rejecting the “certainty” of others as an act of cowardice, but as a supreme act of faith, where my own questioning has led me to this place


Following the Way

As we begin this new community I would like to share a story given to me by my spiritual director, the Rev. Dr. M.R. Ritley.   I was drawn to M.R. partly because  of her spiritual diversity and experience.  We also had a common experience of working in the technology field in our former lives.  Her spiritual journey began in the Catholic Church, but finding no welcome there she would later find a spiritual home in Sufism and became a Sufi master.  When a conservative spirit took control of the Sufi’s she again found herself  unwelcome.  Finally she was welcomed by the Episcopal Church and ordained a priest in 1995.  She knew many stories which she always shared when we met. This is the first story she shared with me as we began our journey together, which I offer in her memory.   M.R. left this world in 2007 and I still miss her warmth and wisdom and especially her stories.



This is the lesson on following the Way. Remember it.

How do you follow the Way?
Go where you are sent.
Wait till you are shown what to do.
Do it with the whole self.
Remain till you have done what you were sent to do.
Walk away with empty hands.

How much will it cost?

The cost is everything, for all you are and all you have will be asked of you before the journey runs it course.

How will you know your fellow travelers?

Their faces are marked by the scars of love.

No one will ever tell you that the Way is easy: only that it is possible.

No one can tell you if the journey is worthwhile, for your wages are, concealed in the hand of God, and will be shown you only on the last day of eternity.

But whoever chooses to follow the Way will have the joyous company of God’s beloved fools as fellow travelers, and a resting place, at journey’s end, in the Mecca of the heart.

This is the lesson on following the Way. Remember it.


Day 2

As I was cloistered with the Disciples ministry committee that would decide on my standing as a clergywoman, none of us was aware that the world was being ripped apart by senseless violence, this time visited on the iconic city of Paris, no stranger to occupation as warring political forces in Europe had invaded France time and time again in the latter part of the nineteenth century and during World War Two.

It called to mind the poem, “The Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats, written in 1919 after the close of “The Great War,” so called because their belief was that this war would be the last one the world would know. Here are his words trying to make sense of the literal hell Europe, joined later by the United States, went through with the devastation this “Great War” wrought:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Here we are – yet again—almost a century after this poem was penned. Things are still falling apart, the center cannot hold, and, as evidenced a few days ago in Paris, “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” This “anarchy” has also been loosed in Syria, where hundreds of thousands are fleeing for their very lives, leaving everything they know behind in hopes that someone, somewhere, will let them in. But mostly all we are willing to do is say a prayer or two then get back to our own lives.

But this “darkness drops again,” “slouching towards Bethlehem”, where there is nothing to stop its wholesale predations but a “rocking cradle,” where the newborn child, falls asleep to its mother’s soft voice.

The darkness is getting darker, Paris, “the city of light,” has dimmed its lamps and pulled tight the curtains on its homes. We stand by, this world community, in silent witness, but we are offered a choice. Do we meet darkness, yet again, with darkness or do we dare to light a candle, flickering and faint at first, until enough of us join together to light up the world and bring to maturity the promise of the birth of this small child that peace is stronger than war, that we are all one world, one people?

I for one choose to light my one small candle and invite others to do the same.



Day 1 as Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergywoman

Yesterday, November 13, the Commission on Ministry accepted me as a full-fledged clergywoman in this denomination that has been my church home for ten years. My road (well, “road” is a bit of an exaggeration) was more like an unchartered path, often in the wilderness, often in exile, leading me into and then from communities of faith that were not able to support me in my personal journey seeking to live out the fullness of my call and find the power of my own voice.

Born into the Episcopal faith, I was drawn to the Catholic faith as a freshman in high school. This led me to an MA in scripture and theology, the first woman to graduate from Mt. Angel Seminary, in 1979. I served faithfully for a quarter century, including developing a number of parish programs in the wake of Vatican II, including writing a book, The Pastoral Associate and Lay Pastor, and being a staff writer for “Good News Homily News Service,” where I had to sit in the front row listening to a male priest read the words I had written for his Sunday homily.

Then followed a short stint with the Lutherans until I came out and refused to stay in the closet for the comfort of the people whom I was supposed to serve.

Then followed years in the spiritual wilderness, reconfiguring my family of three children and ex-husband, no longer connected to a church that had both been my home and profession.

This was followed by a stint with Unity, where I was ordained in 2006, but in 2005 I met and fell in love with my spouse, Sheryl, who was on her way to seminary in Berkeley, California, to pursue ordination as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I also fell in love with the Disciples, in particular with their radical welcome, open table, and call to ecumenism.

It is no accident, I believe, that the gospel of today (Luke 18:1-8) is that of the widow who kept bringing her case against an intransigent judge, who kept turning down her demand for justice. But love, and tenacity, had the will to win. At last, he gave in and granted her request: “…because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”

It has taken me 57 years since my initial call into ministry. Like the widow, I kept trying – again and again – to plead the cause of women, of LGBT folk, of others marginalized — by the color of their skin, the place of their origin, the name of their faith– put in prisons that smashed their hopes and saw them as less as they were called to be.

I hope that I can serve out the rest of my days with the Disciples as my colleagues and friends, where I will continue to see where the path of my own call will lead me. But remember, the judge ended his resistance by declaring he would grant her request so that she would not “come and strike” him.

So, let’s keep on walking, supporting one another to discover the unique path that is the call of each one of us in all of our uniqueness, our flaws, our gifts, and let’s see where we can go – together


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