“I want to start a group,” I told my friend one day. “A group for people who want to talk about God or gods, and spiritual-not-religious stuff.” I told her it's not healthy for us lifelong pew warmers to only stay in "the Christian bubble," and Jesus never lived this way. He hung around with all kinds of people. Not just churchy people like me.
I wanted to find out if people who are vastly different from each other could like each other anyway, not just in spite of, but precisely because we're so different. If we could discover something in each other we need. Could we actually… learn from one another?
With my friend's encouragement, Dave and I started the group. Fourteen people showed up to our first meeting in the downtown cafe. We started by asking everyone, "Why are you here?"
Tears flowed as people laid bare their spiritual journeys. Apologies were made on behalf of the church to those who'd been hurt by it. That night I realized all over again that everyone is spiritual. We are eternal beings looking for the way home, whether we know it or not.
More than one year later, we are still meeting together on a weekly basis. Last night we dinner together in our log cabin, and took a two-mile country walk, resting for a while in a hay field under summer solstice stars. We’re quite the mix…
Pete calls himself a witch and is married to a man. Rob makes haunted house calls and hunts down ghosts. Molly is trying to figure out what she believes. Theresa grew up in the church and left it by the wayside. Tom was once a priest and now hates religion. *Dave and Faith are "born again" Christians.
Crazy, huh? Actually, it feels like the most normal and natural thing to do. I’ve been surprised (no I haven’t) by the reactions I’ve gotten from (a few) religious folks:
Does it make you angry, the way they believe? (Um, no–it makes me angry how you look at them.)
Actually, I’m not angry at all. Because the truth is, five years ago I never would have done this either. But God changed-and-is-changing all that.
Church people may wonder if I come to this group with the correct agenda. Do I end each meeting with an "altar call" and an invitation to say the “sinner’s prayer?”
No, and that makes some religious folk upset. (Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed through the years that Christians who eye me and/or this group with suspicion and judgment tend to have a track record of broken relationships, and wonder why those around them want nothing to do with their faith.)
And that is why my gay-pagan-wiccan friends need this group, and why I need them. We serve to remind each other that nothing can reach a human heart like love can.
God is love.
If you were to ask the group what I believe, they’d tell you in no uncertain terms what I’m all about. They’d tell you who I believe Jesus is, and that I really, really like Him. A lot. As in, He’s-worth-living-and-dying-for a lot.
They’d also tell you that I’m learning about Paganism (I know what Beltane is!), that I like to laugh and eat nonstop (the witch can bake!), and that I love to hear peoples’ stories.
But what I hope they’d tell you more than anything else is that they know a little bit more what Jesus is like because of me. That I live the Gospel. I don’t know for sure if they’d tell you that. But what I do know is that I want to follow Jesus so closely that they can’t help but feel they’ve been with Him, whether I mention His name or not.
"When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners'?” Matthew 9:11
*Names have been changed.
2/22 Update: This post was written over a decade ago, when the group met. Then we lost our meeting place, people moved away, and the group fizzled out. But I still keep in touch with most of the members, and call them friends.
Important Note: We are all wired differently in the church, and have our unique giftings and callings. I don't expect everyone to go start such a group as this, in the same way I don't feel the call to involve myself in certain activities or causes that those in the church might think I should involve myself in. While we don't need to get involved in each other's passions or echo their personal convictions, we shouldn't criticize them.
For more on befriending "across the borders," read that chapter in my book.