I grew up with a number of religious traditions. As I like to tell people, I had a confusing childhood. My mom moved to Atlanta, Georgia from St. Paul, Minnesota where she was in a large Catholic family. My dad, whose family was Southern Baptist, met her when he was a student at Georgia Tech and she was working in one of the offices. So, until I was around 7, I would go with my mom to early Mass in the morning, then attend Catholic Sunday School, then get picked up by my grandmother who would take me to Baptist Sunday School and their 11AM services. When I started Cub Scouts, Mom and Dad decided to join Varnell United Methodist, the church that sponsored my pack, and that's where I spent the rest of my childhood.
In college, I had the honor of spending a lot of time with the Wesley Foundation at Georgia Tech, the campus ministry for United Methodism. Much of this time was spent learning from Dr. Bill Landiss, who ran the group for 34 years. Bill was not only a campus minister, but he lectured at Emory University's Candler School of Theology and was an active scholar. He exposed me and the other WFers to a wide range of theological thinking, looking not only at the original biblical text through a scholarly light, but exploring what modern writers have written about the God experience. I found authors like John Shelby Spong, Matthew Fox, Paul Tillich, and John A. T. Robinson, people who struggled with the conflicts between traditional Christianity and the insights into the world brought on by science, psychology, and history.
I have a lot of problems with the practice of Christianity in modern America. I see mega-churches spending millions on giant facilities, family centers, and direct mail advertising pushing the idea of "prosperity" to recruit members. I see communities of faith turned into wings of our political parties, eroding the American ideal that we have a secular government where people of any faith should receive equal treatment and respect. I see empires that broadcast messages of fear and greed through TV and radio. I see the fostering of intolerance justified by appeals to the literal authority of one book, ignoring the authority of reason and compassion. I see powerful interests that have fought to keep women from full participation, and that have tried to hide their own evil acts.
However, I also see a lot of positives. I see churches that make a huge impact in their communities, providing food and shelter to people in need. I see places where people connect to each other, doing simple things like singing together, sharing meals, and doing service. I see people having fun, supporting their sick, and sharing joy. I see people genuinely touched by the faith experience, and that motivating them to be better people. I see struggles for racial equality and struggles against war. I see an institution that helped me grow, that brought me into contact with philosophy, history, and the love of many people. I see a body that preserves the teachings of a man who told people to love each other, to be kind, and to think beyond the material world, one who was killed because his message threatened the power structure of Jerusalem, but who made an impact on the world large enough to span two millennia and be a major force in the world today.
For that, I am thankful this Easter Sunday. The church isn't the source of all of my answers, but it was the start of my quest, and that makes it a valuable part of my life.