I don't believe a spiritual life has to include going to church on Sundays. Or any other day, for that matter. No one must believe in one "God," let alone my particular concept of God. We don't have to be straight to get married, be pure to find salvation -- or even be religious to find a divine community. And yet...
I am a man of the cloth. I do believe in God. I go to church even when on vacation. Each Sunday I preach to a congregation of more than a thousand at All Saints Church in Pasadena, and each morning I pray for an hour. I know the Bible inside out, and I draw on it for inspiration and transformation.
But I don't ask of you to share my beliefs, or worship in any particular way, place or time to become part of my tribe. My tribe is that of the world, and everyone, everywhere is already included.
Given the fact that I'm an Episcopal priest these beliefs may appear shocking or controversial. The message boards in the church office almost blew up the day after I said, off the cuff, that being gay is a gift from God on Oprah Winfrey's show.
But my intention is not to shock, it is to tell my truth and give all of us the permission to do the same.
At my church, our community works hard to promote peace, to end torture, to reform immigration laws, to espouse interfaith dialogue and to promote marriage equality. This social justice agenda is incredibly important to us because it is our way of or making our love of God tangible, our belief in the sacred nature of every human being, and the interconnectedness of every part of creation. Through action, we are expressing our hope that we can become a brotherhood and a sisterhood -- a beloved family -- in which we all work together to build a world of care, and a world that cares. This, to me, is what we are called to work on. This is my religion.
I believe that the greatest evil we face today is dehumanization. It's the root of war. It's the root of retaliation. It's the root of the spiraling cycle of violence that we see around us. It's the root of bigotry. It's the root of economic injustice. Often, our instinct is to withdraw into our fearful selves and give into dehumanization. We gain a false sense of power and righteousness by excluding others.
My experience is that real love, authentic love, is not about just loving ourselves alone, as we so often hear, or saving our love for only those who are like us or think like we do. When we are motivated by love, when we become aware that it is the core of our lives, it then expands to other people and we cannot stop ourselves from loving everyone. We become an oasis of peace and we honor the dignity of every human being.
When we respect other's opinions and then follow our own hearts -- recognize our own truth and make living it a priority -- that is when our spirituality can really blossom and bear fruit. That is when we stop dehumanizing others as a way to feel more powerful and start living as a vibrant, hopeful and engaged global human community.
The first step is to recognize that we are all valuable, loved and capable of love. The concept is simple, though the execution can be challenging. When we are faced with violence, we react with hatred. We fear what is unknown to us. We react to scarcity by hoarding. We withdraw when we feel misunderstood.
I ask you, as I do in my sermons each week, to accept that you are a beloved human being and so is the shivering man on the bus next to you, the tired woman in the supermarket, the homeless person in the alleyway, and also the gay teen contemplating suicide or the elderly racist, who only feels loved when part of his gang of haters. When we observe ourselves in this way -- through journaling, prayer, meditation, stillness -- we enter the life of the Spirit. We are able to step behind our thoughts, actions and ideologies and actually see ourselves objectively. In so doing, we come closer to our truth.
We cannot be fully alive if we are alone. None of us can sustain any kind of energizing, meaningful life if we are alone. We have to have companions on the journey. It's the Ubuntu notion that "I cannot be a person without other persons. I have got to be connected with other people."
And so I challenge you to look around at your chosen community and ask yourself if it is truly reflective of what is in your heart. Ask yourself: what do I really believe in? What is it that makes me religious? Is it the tribe I belong to, or the spirit of love I wish to share with others?
The energy that drives my own community is one of love, inclusion and peace. It is because of this that I can make controversial statements and truly believe there's nothing controversial about them at all. I am proud of the work we do on behalf of those who are ostracized and misunderstood. For me, it is a constant reminder that we are not just part of the human race, but part of the human family.
Follow Rev. Ed Bacon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RevEdBacon