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I walked into my church, dressed casually and (hopefully) nicely in a pair of dark jeans that covered my purple wedges and a red and black plaid shirt that buttoned down the front. My sister and her husband entered behind me, laden with my niece, their church materials, and my sister's large black diaper bag. I clutched my Bible to me, noticing the raggedness of the binding, the way it slipped and slid if my hand moved to a certain spot, and the papers spilling out the top from many a youth group or Sunday school meeting.

I smiled as we made our way into the Sunday school room and slid into a seat. Our Sunday school lesson went by pleasantly, as I sipped my hot chocolate and nibbled on a cinnamon roll. My sister gave a good lesson, although -- as per usual, since we were teenagers, after all -- we ended up getting off topic. We discussed everything under the sun, laughing at my niece's antics and bemoaning both school and work, since it was a particularly bad week.

Finally, as the lesson was winding down, my sister talked about the Christmas play the younger children were putting together and told us the songs that we would be singing. She told us that we would be working on the songs during Sunday school, and we had to work hard because we only had a few weeks to get them down.

Although we dragged our feet, in typical small Maine town fashion, the play ended up coming together fairly well. I was certain that I couldn't sing, but I sang out as loud as I could. I made sure I attempted to keep in tune, at least, and enjoyed myself. That's the thing I remembered the least about that service, however. Instead, I remembered most the event that happened before the play began.

That Sunday morning, crisp and snowy, ended up being the 50th wedding anniversary of one couple in our church. The wife came up to the front to be recognized by the church and was told that there would be a reception in their honor following that morning's service. Then a few people entered the stage from the door behind the large Christmas tree -- and the pastor's daughter, beside me, whispered that it was the woman's daughter and the rest of her family from Florida. I soon heard that the church members have kept in touch with the woman's family, making sure that her children could be up for the holiday.

I smiled and clapped along with everyone else. How nice, I thought.

--

Flash forward to Christmas Eve.

My sister, although she was going through a severe bout of morning sickness, managed to slide into the seat next to me ten minutes into the Christmas Eve service, as we began singing an unfamiliar Christmas hymn. My brother-in-law ribbed me, glaring at me and just generally being obnoxious, as brother-in-laws are certainly programmed to do. I playfully glared back; I knew our relationship by heart by now, and both of us knew that underneath it all we did care for each other. This was just our way of showing it -- which was typical in my family.

Thankfully, my sister and brother-in-law did not miss the best part: a dance set to Christmas Shoes, put on by the newest members of our church, an enthusiastic couple interested in doing whatever they could in the church.

As I watched, my eyes almost filled with tears, as I listened to the heartrending lyrics of a boy who just wanted to buy a pair of shoes for his mother for Christmas.

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight.

...

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out
I'll never forget the look on his face when he said
Mama's gonna look so great...

It was hard not to notice the feeling of fellowship and love flowing through the room at that moment and when we raised our candles, bright with our own tiny flame, singing Silent Night, it finally felt like Christmas to me. I felt a kinship with that tiny church I had come to call my own, full of joy and family and love.

--

I came down off the high brought from being at church, amongst the kind faces and genuine care, when later I glanced at my LJ friends-list. Low, lower, and finally lowest: it hit me as I was reading through certain articles about those "hate crimes" committed by Christians. How is it that those same people I had just seen -- or people with the same beliefs as those people I had just seen -- could be so nice to me and yet so indifferent, maybe even mean, toward those people who were different from us? How could they be so accepting of the trials and tribulations of the straight-laced Christian trying to be Christ-like, but not understand that to be Christ-like, you had to treat others as you would like to be treated?  How could they forget the Golden Rule, that rule which I had been aware of ever since I was five years old?

I did not understand how Christians could claim to be so, and yet not feel bile when they spoke casually about voting against gay marriage. I did not -- and still do not -- understand how they can say humans should not judge other people, yet go about judging homosexuals, women who have had abortions, atheists, evolutionists. I don't understand how they can say they're showing love to people when they vote against the very thing they are pushing to achieve, that very thing that will make them equals.

I see this half of Christianity all the time. I see it on the news. In fact, we probably all have. The most recent example in my own town is Question 1, but that is not the only time this issue has affected my own town. Although I haven't been there when this has been happening, I hear my dad tell stories about Christians standing in front of Walmart, holding signs.

"If you don't believe, YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!"

"If you've had an abortion, you're going to HELL!"

"God hates fags!"

"God hates atheists!"

"Repent or go to hell!"

Ring a bell? Yeah, I'm sure they do.

So often, this is the only half of Christianity that gets any air play. Sure, there might be a scene on the news that says a Christian organization donated to a charity, but more often than not, we hear stories of Christians barring the entrance to abortion clinics. Of Christians breaking up gay pride rallies with the aforementioned signs. Of the Catholic church, funding support for Prop 8. Of Christians displaying homophobia, sexism. Of intolerance.

Whenever I see these stories, I feel pity for those Christians who just don't get it. I sympathize with those people who are under attack for their lifestyle.

The "better half" of Christianity goes unnoticed under all this hate and bigotry expressed by TV fundamentalists, Catholic church leaders, and Baptist pastors who just don't understand that what they are doing is wrong. The better half of Christianity is made up of people like me.

People like me do not judge or try not to, at least. They are working to accept people for who they are, not who they wish they could make people out to be. They do not try to bar gays from getting married, because they realize by doing so they are taking away certain rights that every person should have, not just the straight male. They are willing to put together a reception, not only for a heterosexual couple who has been together for fifty years but for a gay couple who has adopted their first child. They are willing to welcome a young woman contemplating abortion into their church, to welcome and support her, even though they might not agree with her choices. They are willing to grow.

I want to say people like me, who grow everyday, learn everyday, and change their views nearly everyday to suit an ever changing world, are the future of Christianity.

I hope we are -- because I, for one, would like to see more generosity and kindness toward those different from the Christian norm.

--

This has been my entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol. Thank you for reading.

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callistahogan

March 2010

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