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Beverly Morgan – My Journey for Answers

This is the post excerpt.

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This is my attempt to work through my shifting faith. My beliefs are changing and that can be, and is, most unsettling! This is my way of working through the clutter and hopefully paving a clearer path for my journey as I walk the way of Jesus with my friends and church family.

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Walking the Tightrope of Identity

Walking the Tightrope of Identity

I have always known I’m adopted. As a child my parents made it seem like no big deal. My birthday fell on the same day as their wedding anniversary so that fact became part of the story woven together on how they knew I was the girl for them. My older brother is also adopted so it felt like we were “hand-picked” to fulfill my mother’s dream of children and a family. My dad used to love to tell me about the day they got the call to come get me. They weren’t exactly prepared so once they got me from the adoption agency my father drove to a store and rocked me on the huge steering wheel of the car while my mom ran into the store for diapers and supplies. Dad said I cried an ocean of tears and he even collected them in a test tube to keep. I was only 3 months old and had been in a foster home where I was not well cared for. Dad said I was not very clean and I had ear infections, thus the river of tears. I used to love to hear him tell that story. As a child it made me feel special. My mom never made me feel any different. From her point of view I was their little girl and she couldn’t have loved me more if she tried. But regardless of her assurance there was a lingering, nagging part of me that felt different. I didn’t really look like my parents and I searched high and low, once I got older, for my adoption documents to see if I could discover who I really was. The only paperwork I ever found indicated that my name was originally Debra. I’m not sure who gave me that name but my mom changed it to Beverly Sue once I was hers. Her name was Sue so she was making sure I had a tie to her for life.

Adoption is a wonderful thing and I strongly recommend it because people need to belong to one another. Many families have embraced adoption as a way to enlarge their family or just start one. But adoption is also a tricky tightrope that the child will walk throughout life. As an adopted child I find my life has been filled with wondering and questions. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to find my birth mother and discover additional siblings. It feels really rewarding to look into the face of someone and see myself. I look just like my birth mother. I’ve also recently discovered the identity of my birth father, who is deceased. I’ve gotten to meet a couple of uncles and I discovered I have a sister I’ve never met. I don’t know that I ever will. I’m also sure that for the adoptive parents this longing by their child causes a certain amount of uncertainty. So the tightrope is now being walked by both parties.

As followers of Jesus we are told that God grafted us into His family in the same way that parents adopt children. This is supposed to make us feel reassured and extremely well loved. And perhaps for those who have never faced a lifetime of doubts and uncertainties about where they come from, who they look like and why they were given up in the first place this is a joyful news flash. But unless you’ve ever been adopted and faced these questions it’s hard to explain that being adopted, yet again, is not extremely comforting. I have recently given this a lot of thought and I have determined that I don’t believe in the “adopted by God” story line. I’ve thought long and hard about my relationship to Jesus. I’ve come to believe that if God created everyone, making us all children of God, then adoption is not an appropriate scenario for my relationship with God. When we were conceived by the union of our mothers and fathers we were created by that union. So if we are created by God and are, in fact, the children of God, there is no adoption process. We are His. In fact, everyone is God’s child, regardless of their religion. God is not Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion. God has no man-made religion. God is creator and author of all that exists.

I can’t escape the reality that I am a person that was given up at birth and adopted by a whole new family. I applaud the strength it took for my birth mother to put my needs above her own and try to give me a better life. I applaud my parents who wanted a family and decided to include me in theirs. But I was never given away by God, who loves me and calls me His own. So while I’ve walked the tightrope of identity throughout my life, struggling to find out who I am and what my genealogy is tied to, I can find comfort in knowing that I am not the adopted daughter of God. I am the child of the most high God.

Fear vs. Fearless

Often in my life I can point to opportunities or moments where fear overtook me. For as long as I can remember fear has been a very present emotion in my life. As a child I had all the typical fears; the dark, the monster under the bed, ghosts. Some fears were real, like when I awoke when I was 5 and I was at a neighbor’s house sleeping on the sofa. My mom had had a heart attack during the night and was rushed to the hospital. I was quietly taken to my neighbor’s house so my dad could go to the hospital with my mom. When I awoke my grandmother and aunt had arrived from Georgia to take me home with them to live for many months. Apparently my dad could only care for one child while mom was sick and my older brother got to stay. It was scary to suddenly be whisked away from my home without even saying goodbye to anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my grandmother and aunt but as a 5 year old it was overwhelming. I was shuffled between their houses and, while I liked playing with my cousins, sleeping at my aunt’s house was scary. She put me in a room by myself and her room was at the other end of the house. At home I always slept with my mom until she died when I was 11. So this was very scary.

My dad was also a source of fear. As a child he could be a scary person. I wasn’t close to my dad growing up and after my mom died he became immersed in grief and bitterness at losing his wife and being left to raise 2 children. Because of this his words and actions became filled with rage and anger that was directed at me. My older brother had already left home to live with my grandmother because he and dad couldn’t get along. My younger brother was only 3 when mom died so most of the things that were said and abuse that was administered fell on me. I could tell story after story to support my claims of verbal and physical abuse but that’s not what this is about. Suffice it to say that I was scared of my dad for most of my youth and his words were sharp enough to rob me of any self-esteem I had.

Jumping into adult life was scary but I was so grateful to be away from that toxic environment I reveled in the fear. One of the effects of my childhood was a need for everyone to like me. This became my goal; everyone was going to like me. As I look back at that I realize that fear was at the root of this need as well. Of course everyone didn’t like me and nothing has changed in all the years since. I still crave that affirmation and am always crushed when I know or suspect people don’t like me. I go out of my way to be the kind of friend that people want to know and hang around with. But the reality is that I am an opinionated woman with a strong personality and I’m just not everyone’s cup of tea. But the fear remains.

When I turned 50 I was determined to start conquering my fears by facing them one by one. I’m terribly afraid of heights so for my 50th birthday Cori took me on our first cruise and I promptly booked us a parasailing adventure in Key West. Cori backed out on me once we were on the boat waiting our turn, but I was determined to conquer my fear so I went alone. It was glorious and terrifying. But I had done it and I felt victorious in taking my first steps in not allowing fear to rule my life. Since that fateful day I have done many scary things. I quit my job and started my own business. I went to Europe alone and rented a car and drove in a foreign country alone. I married my wife and took a stand against prejudice. I came out to family and friends with the risk being that they wouldn’t like me anymore. I’ve come a long way but fear still holds me back from reaching other goals. I’ve always wanted to live in Europe but fear keeps me here. The what-ifs overtake me and the older I get the bigger the what-ifs become. I want to say many things to people in this political climate of hate and misogyny but I fear the backlash and losing friends. I fume and mumble under my breath while shaking my head at posts on Facebook. Fear. It’s paralyzing and it’s the place where dreams and goals go to die. It’s like a terrifying ogre that’s guarding the gate to the place where everything you’ve ever wanted in being stored. Occasionally I’ve sneaked past and grabbed a prize but what I really dream of is slaying the ogre once and for all and grabbing everything I’ve ever wanted.

The Subtlety of Change

Recently I started listening to secular music. Now for many  people this is a non-event, but for me it was huge. I’ve been listening to contemporary Christian music almost exclusively for more than 25 years! So this was a leap into the unknown for me. I heard a song on Youtube recently entitled Perfect by Ed Sheeran and it was so sweet and touching that I naturally wanted to listen to other music by this man. Now, not all of his music is as sweet but I discovered something about myself that surprised me. I liked this music and as I listened to the Ed Sheeran channel on Pandora I realized that there were many artists playing similar music and I liked it all! I also discovered that a lot of the Christian music I enjoy sounds very similar to secular music, with the exception of the words. But the music itself is very close.

Another thing I’ve noticed about myself recently is that I’m much more subdued when it comes to knowing how to handle people who request prayers for healing, strength, or anything difficult that they may be going through. As my faith continues to shift I don’t know how I truly feel about prayer anymore. I’ve always been a woman who believed in offering prayer to anyone who asked for it or I felt needed it. I prayed quite a bit for myself and others. As of late, my belief in the certainty of prayer has been taking a hit. I think we are programmed as Christians to reach out to God and try and convince God to intervene in people’s lives to avoid the inevitable tragedies that occur. We’re told to pray for healing, pray for finances, pray for wisdom and so on. We’re also told that God is with us 24/7 and knows each of us intimately and knows what’s going to happen before it happens. So it would stand to reason that if God is all-knowing, doesn’t God know of our pain, our financial needs, our illnesses and our lack of wisdom? It’s as if we’re pretty much begging God to change what’s going to happen. Now I know, because I’ve been told for many years, that apparently God wants us to reach out and seek God’s face and that although God knows all, this simple act is the magic action that changes the heart of God and hopefully gets a different outcome than the one that was ordained.

These are just some of the changes that have been happening in my life. Now truthfully, I think that these ideas have been lurking on the periphery for many years, just waiting for permission to form into coherent thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed many different kinds of music such as show tunes, classical and hits from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I just limited my exposure because I was told it would damage my relationship with God by allowing The World to influence my thoughts. I get it. I understand that what we listen to influences our lives so it makes sense that to keep us moving in a positive direction we would want to ensure that the things we listen to are positive and thought-provoking. I’m just discovering that there are positive and thought-provoking things to listen to that aren’t specifically Christian-based. I also get it that questioning my belief system is also healthy as it allows me to actually think for myself and come to conclusions that aren’t shoved into my head by others. Instead I can seek answers to my questions and question the answers without the benefit of someone else’s bias or opinion. Just me and Jesus working out the details.

Change is inevitable in all our lives. Some change is huge and requires much from us to succeed but some change is subtle and sneaks up on us over time. It could be a sudden realization that some food or clothing style is preferable to others or it could be realizing that our beliefs that we’ve carried since childhood just don’t fit anymore. I believe many people recognize these subtle attempts at change but ignore or resist it because the idea that something may not truly be as we always believed it to be is too much to handle. Our faith, for those who grew up in the church, is sacred and used as a tool with which to measure the world. It defines us and we’re told that to challenge or change that measuring stick will be the end of us and ruin our relationship with God. Fear holds us in check in an attempt to keep us from discovering that when we step outside the confines of these boxes we can begin to experience Jesus in a new and exciting way. We also realize that Jesus was never in the box anyway.

This Short Trip We Call Life

I’ve been thinking about death quite a bit lately. If truth be told, I have always thought about death more than most. It might be because my mom died when I was eleven and I remember it was so surreal. I was so sad and at the same loved all the attention. I remember going to the funeral home and walking up to the coffin and just staring at my mother. I kept thinking that at any moment she would take a deep breath and open her eyes and sit up. Now, if that had happened, it would have freaked me out but I still wished she would. From that time on I have spent time pondering death and imaging what people will say about me, how I’ll be remembered. When I remember my mom it’s hard to recall anything bad at all.  Most people I have spoken to about her only have good things to say. I can only hope people will be that kind when speaking about me once I’m gone.

I also think about other people’s death as well. Not a week goes by that I don’t worry about my spouse dying. If I wake up and she hasn’t gotten up past her normal time I worry that she’s dead. I know it’s strange and the chances that she might really be dead are remote, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I talk to her about this and she laughs at me and tells me not to worry, but I still do. When I go to bed at night I wonder what would happen if I died during the night. I wonder what death is like and will I know it’s happening or just wake up on the other side. I also have been thinking a lot about what awaits me once I go. My dad died a couple of years ago and the whole experience of taking care of him during his last 2 years of life have given me cause for reflection.

To be honest I was always afraid of death before my dad died.  It’s such an unknown and having never experienced it I can say it wasn’t in any hurry to do so. But my dad was afraid of dying and I just felt one of us needed to be strong so I made it my goal to talk about death with him whenever I got the chance. I find that most people avoid the subject and, to me, that propagates the mystery and fuels the fear. So I broached the subject frequently to give my dad permission to express his doubts and concerns freely. What surprised me was that, although we were firmly raised in the church, he had never shared that he had doubts about the whole life after death thing. So we talked about it. And what I discovered was that I didn’t. I firmly believe in life after death and shared that with him often. Now I don’t believe in the streets of gold, church version of afterlife. I do believe that our spirit lives on once this body has died. Who we are is not our body but our spirit. That energy that gives us our spark. I firmly believe that everyone’s spirit lives on after death. And this is what I shared with my dad. I like to think it made his passing easier for him.

Recently the aunt of a friend of ours passed away in the nursing home where she lived. I had met this woman once when my spouse performed a memorial service for her daughter who died about a year ago. Now because our friend lives in another state, she contacted us and asked us if we’d be willing to go collect her things. So on a cold and rainy night we went there and loaded my car with lots of boxes that represented the whole of this woman’s life. Our friend asked us to go through the boxes and donate the clothes and shoes and such, taking out the family pictures and really personal stuff to save until she could come down and pick it up. I spent an afternoon going through box after box separating what could be donated, what needed to be thrown away and what to save. I found myself thinking long and hard about this life that was reduced to 12 boxes of stuff hauled away from a nursing home as they prepared that room for the next resident. It gave me cause to really reflect on what we hold dear. What will the stuff I leave behind say about me? How much stuff do we really need to be happy, knowing that someone will have to haul it away once we’ve died and go through it deciding what gets donated and what gets thrown away. It made me sad for this woman to know that after all was said and done, only 2 boxes of things were even worth passing on and frankly, some of that was probably not worth much and would probably be thrown out or given away.

Our lives are brief. This journey we take known as life is full of questions, uncertainty, and a longing to leave behind something more than a couple of boxes of useless stuff. I find myself thinking about death and what that means for those I leave behind. I long to leave something more, something lasting that those who know me will value. I’m becoming more and more aware that leaving this kind of legacy demands that I acquire less stuff to put in boxes and spend more time on making a difference.

So What’s Next?

As I’ve been journeying on through this faith shift I continually ask myself, “So what’s next?” and too often I answer myself with a huge sigh. I continue to wrestle with the question about music but it’s getting easier. I’m feeling a fresh wave of certainty about my music dilemma. I think I’ve just about decided that if this is my journey, and I don’t answer to anyone else but Jesus, my musical choices are my own. Who cares if the words are sketchy and filled with imagery that I don’t truly embrace, I love the way it makes me feel and the way it sounds. I realize that not every person I know will agree with my musical taste but I suddenly find myself realizing that I don’t care. Everyone has the ability to choose for themselves and so until it bothers me, I’m good.

As for other ideology I’m still examining those beliefs. We had a guest speaker with us this weekend at a mini church retreat by the name of Kathy Escobar. She brought with her a wealth of ideas about love, equality in God’s kingdom, shifting faith and more. I really enjoyed her time with us as a church. Her views were refreshing and messy. She was honest about her journey and the crazy path it had taken. She felt like a kindred spirit. I also experienced something else when she was with us. I felt the undeniable presence of Jesus like I hadn’t felt in quite a while. Cori and I have been wrestling with the idea of moving for quite a long time. What that move will look like has evolved and changed as time goes on. In the beginning we were focusing all our energy on moving to Europe, specifically Germany. I think the downfall of that dream was multifaceted.  First getting into Germany is difficult and jobs there are hard to come by. But I think it was also partly due to the fact that our idea about what we’d be doing in Germany wasn’t the same. Cori had pretty specific ideas about evangelism in Germany which I couldn’t get very excited about. Truthfully, I just wanted to go for the experience and the opportunity to travel in Europe. But I couldn’t voice that because I didn’t want to let her down. She’s always wanted to go into the mission field and this was her big chance. I have never really had that same burning desire. As a same gender couple we were unable to align ourselves with other groups already in the mission field of Europe. We knocked on several doors only to be told time and again that they simply couldn’t allow same gender couples to serve God under their banner.

Once the Germany idea had been abandoned, we regrouped and Cori expressed a desire to live in Intentional Community with other like-minded folks. I explored this option in England over the summer while on vacation there. We’re still looking at this option but are still figuring out what this will look like and where it will be located. As we continue down this road I am reminded that our journeys are different and so are our wants and desires. But having Kathy here over the weekend opened a door to Jesus that I had assumed was closed for repairs. I started to feel Jesus opening my heart to this idea more fully. I started to get excited about this and am exploring the possibilities online. I’ve realized that Jesus is in the details and hasn’t given up on me yet. So I won’t give up on Jesus.

 

 

Straddling The Proverbial Fence

As someone new to a more progressive faith, I am full of questions but the most prominent question that keeps surfacing is, “What do I really believe?” This is a scary road to walk down because, although people say doubts and questions are healthy, the church doesn’t always reinforce that belief. We’re taught from an early age that you don’t question God. You believe what your told to believe and, if you’re a good Christian, you never question what you’re told. I can’t say that anyone ever actually said those exact words to me but the gist was there, especially as we delved more into the Charismatic worship style. Somehow, people in fundamentalist churches, have a way of making doubts and questions seem like heresy. If you just believe strongly enough anything is possible. As if to say that if something you’re praying for doesn’t work out, it was because of your lack of faith.

So as I have done most of my life, when I’m cleaning something out, like a closet for example, I take everything out and examine it and decide if it still fits or it needs to be given away. This is how I’ve been approaching my faith shift. I’m re-examining all my beliefs and deciding what still fits and what needs to go. Frankly, I think everyone needs to do this periodically to maintain a thriving, growing faith journey. But in doing this I have discovered that there’s a proverbial fence running through my theology and it is firmly set in my love of music. I have loved music from the time I could speak. I am told I use to line all the children up on the church nursery floor and I’d stand on a chair and sing to everyone. I sang in choir from childhood through adulthood. I majored in voice for my first couple of years in college. I sang in Contemporary Christian groups and traveled around. I even made an album (back when vinyl was king) with a group and had a solo on said album. I envisioned trying out for Christian groups and going on the road touring with whoever I could get to take me. In summary, I love to sing. Anyone who has ever stood next to me or ridden with me in the car has heard me harmonizing to every song that I hear. Now some would say there’s nothing wrong with that but here’s my fence-straddling dilemma.

If you’ve ever been in a church that sings traditional hymns, you’ll know that the lyrics can be, well, unrealistic. They are about this magical place where the streets are made of gold and there’s mansions lining the streets. Sometimes the words don’t even make sense to the average church goer because they were written in a bygone time. The language is old and outdated and I know, because I’ve asked, most people don’t understand what they’re singing. But it’s tradition and somehow we believe we get brownie points with God for making the attempt. I’ve got friends who tell me that they don’t even listen to Christian music anymore because they don’t believe the words. It’s here where I stand conflicted. I love the old songs. I love even the ones that are unbelievable. Not because of the words, but because of the harmonies. The way they resonate in my spirit helps me look past the lyrics occasionally and just hear the harmony. Now I am happy to point out to those who have thrown the entire genre of Christian music away, there are brand new contemporary Christian songs on the radio that are refreshingly believable and speak to the social issues and struggles of our day.. But I still struggle sometimes when I ask myself the age old question, “Do I really believe what I’m singing and how does this fit in with my current journey?” “Am I selling out or keeping something that no longer fits who I’m becoming?” This is the question I’m struggling with and where I’ll leave this for now because I don’t have an answer yet. But, it is a journey, so no rush. I’ll continue this thought in my next blog.

 

The Foundation Crumbles

About 5 or 6 years ago things started to change for me spiritually. The church I was attending had fallen apart and I was adrift with no idea what would come next. Cori and I had lived through many different church experiences, some good and some bad. The worst was, of course, the demise of our church that we started in Kentucky. We spent 2 years after that disaster meeting in our home with the 1 parishioner that had not abandoned us. It was, in many ways, a spiritual desert where we tried to stay alive by watching other pastors on the internet and getting our worship off of YouTube. For Cori it was especially difficult which meant that I had to not only find my way but I had to encourage and support her through the hardest trial of our lives. So when this church we were attending in Jacksonville, Florida fell apart I sort of took it in stride. I  made a decision then and there that I would no longer attend predominantly gay and lesbian based churches any longer. I felt that I wanted something much more blended. Cori and I had always felt called to build bridges between gay and straight churches. We imagined that God envisioned a church where people of all walks of life, all colors, all sexual orientations would worship together. So when I was ready to start over we looked for a church that would, at the very least, meet one or two of those criteria. That’s when I started attending The Well @ Springfield.

Let me start by telling you a little about my church. At the time I joined them they were about 1 year old. They were meeting in a store-front type building that they rented. The people I met were warm and welcoming. There were a mix of young and older, straight and gay and a smattering of racial diversity. The format was familiar but the language and ideas were new. This was a group of people who were becoming a church that was concerned about social justice, who welcomed the poor and homeless, and who talked about Jesus in a way I hadn’t experienced. The very fact that I was welcomed without hesitation was new for me. I was very used to infiltrating straight churches and being direct about who I was but here I was welcomed without an agenda. From the beginning I was leery. I struggled to accept this welcoming stance because I was used to having to defend my  right to worship God and argue for the privilege. But as the weeks became months and months turned into years I was able to relax and trust that this was authentic welcome.

The second thing I then had to adjust to was the way they spoke about Jesus. As a conservative Christian I talked about God quite a bit and, while I know they are the same yet separate, I was unfamiliar with the familiarity with which they referenced Jesus. The vision statement for the church states that The Well @ Springfield is a group of people practicing the way of Jesus together by loving their neighbor, their city and the world. Practicing the way of Jesus was new to me. In order for me to practice the way of Jesus I had to really examine the way of Jesus and how he related to the people of his day. For me to emulate that required me to look at it from a different angle. And herein lies the beginning of the my journey away from fundamental Christianity and a move toward progressive Christianity.

From the beginning my way of thinking and believing began to change. It was an uncomfortable transition. Anytime your time-honored, well-reasoned beliefs are challenged it’s uncomfortable. I have been a believer all my life and for a great part of my adult life I’ve been married to a woman who’s faith has been, for the most part, unwavering. My faith has always been different than Cori’s. I’ve had seasons of doubt and questioning which I always struggled with. I’ve had moments of great insights and knowing beyond question I had heard from God. But although those moments were awesome, there were so many things I didn’t understand, which would lead me to truly question my beliefs. I know every believer has doubts, although how they’re handled varies from church to church. I have always been encouraged to just pray harder, seek the face of God, press in, and other Christian directives. I’ve looked around at other Christians to see how they handle their doubts. I remember telling Cori that as a young adult believer, trying to fit in at local charismatic churches, I just couldn’t figure out the secret that everyone else seemed to know. They were speaking a language that confused me. Even the way they dressed seemed so different from me. I tried to fit in but always felt like an outsider. I pursued bible studies and sang in choirs and on worship teams and read my bible from cover to cover but I still felt oddly out of place. I put on the Christian face and pretended I was in the know but for the most part I just sort of floated along. Now it would be wrong of me to say I never grew in my relationship with God because I did. I sat under some fine teachers and being married to Cori gave me a great advantage as her knowledge of the Bible is remarkable. She can make a bible story come to life for me. But often what I heard in those stories was dysfunction in families, drama, violence, and sadness. I think the Bible could give reality television a run for it’s money!

Anyway, I was starting to journey with a group of people who seemed not only okay with my doubts but who shared some of them. Around about the third year we started having discussion groups called 3D; dinner, discussion and discovery. We usually read a book together or watched video clips of progressive pastors and thinkers and discussed what we had read or heard after sharing a meal together. During this time Susan, our pastor, decided to offer a group that would take place during Lent where people would share their story about their journey. We had 15 minutes and everyone was encouraged to be honest and nonjudgmental towards one another. After a person shared the group was asked to take a couple of minutes to think about what they had heard and offer words of encouragement to the sharer. Someone jotted down those words and each person got to take the comments home to keep them encouraged on their journey. What I remember most about that first group was the raw, honest stories I heard. People were really being honest and real, not hiding their doubts or struggles, but sharing in a way I’ve never heard before in any church. I remember thinking “Wow I would never have guessed that about that person!” It was eye-opening and touched something in me like never before. I listened to stories of people losing their entire belief in God yet they were still at our church because this was the first place they felt safe and not judged!

Next I’ll share where I went from there.