first place I remember encountering faith, or perhaps, Christianity
was in 6th grade Confirmation, when we went downtown to make sandwiches
and hand them out to the homeless population of Denver. It was in
a conversation I had with one man—he is still clearly painted
in my head—mid-thirties, Hispanic, long dark hair, and a weather-worn
face. He approached me to comment on my UCLA T-shirt. He was from
California and asked if I wanted to go there. I said I did, hardly
even knowing what college was at that point. In that small moment
of opening up our humanity to each other, I saw the Divine. It was
this man, not homeless, and this girl, not 12 years old, but two
people sharing a moment of life on a city street corner.
Since I'd been raised in the church, Hope United
Methodist Church to be precise, it seemed natural that I would participate
in it's youth group. I did, and I found the most unlikely group
of friends who became my most formative and lasting community. Typically,
youth groups tend to attract people on the edges—those from
broken homes, outcasts at school, eccentric types, and then the
occasional straight-laced kids who've been raised in the church.
And, sometimes, all that is rolled-up into each person! I participated
in Hope's youth groups for six years and in those years, I met a
new group of people each Fall. Since one group graduated and another
group came to the appropriate age, I saw many different group identities
in the youth group. During my freshman year in high school, I met
a bunch of older kids who drank, smoked, had sex, stayed out late,
and didn't care much about the church. It was my first taste of
rebelling! These kids were not trying to fit any molds of the perfect
teenager, and they accepted me as the young and naïve newcomer.
By the end of the year, I wanted my brother to come to this great
youth group that wasn't "churchy" and was really fun.
That summer, he came. These times were spiritual for me because
of the acceptance I saw between the many different personalities
and backgrounds within the group. We talked about our parents, our
dreams, funny stories, and our schools. It was a true Christian
Somewhere during the four years of high school,
I had a strong sense inside of me that said I would be a minister
one day. At first, I realized the desire of so many of my friends
to talk about God and talk about problems, and just be in open conversations
about it. I didn't feel any pressure to find out more about how
to become a minister—I just left an opening for God's Spirit.
Even my parents were shocked that this is a career path I would
choose. I remember starting college at Colorado State University
and thinking I better get a business degree because there's no way
God's going to point me into ministry while I'm not seeking out
any information about it.
I sought out to find a church or a Christian group
while I was at college and never found anything that fit me. Most
of the groups on campus were very conservative, to the point of
being offensive. The churches had older congregations and did not
offer a community of people my age. I opted for some of the more
conservative groups and found a lot of spiritual connection in the
music (usually played by a band). I didn't yet know about liberal
or progressive Christianity, but I did know that I didn't feel comfortable
with the theology that was being handed out.
Here's an example of the way I've experienced
God working in my life: I applied to four graduate schools—all
United Methodist Schools of Theology—all outside of Colorado.
I was accepted and begin to think about my options. I hadn't even
visited the United Methodist School of Theology in Denver. In a
matter of minutes, the school in Denver came into my mind and I
knew I needed to apply there. I was still living in Fort Collins,
so I had the information mailed, and without even visiting, I applied,
was accepted, and decided to attend Iliff School of Theology. I
thought I needed to live farther from home to capture what I needed
to learn next. I had no idea why I was going to move back to Denver.
God knew what I needed to learn next, and Iliff School of Theology
had a whole lot of it!
Iliff has been known to be radical in its thinking,
or at least far ahead of most United Methodist congregations. The
Baptist-based seminary down the street feels that Iliff is helping
religion go to hell in a handbasket. Iliff strives to have a diverse
faculty—not only racially, but religiously, and personally.
They want gay/lesbian, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic, American Indian,
Asian, African, Anglican, Lutheran, American Baptist, United Methodist,
United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Ordained, non-Ordained,
and more! They want this in their faculty and in their student body.
Classes range from "The History of Colonization" to "The
Spiritual Journey". Every belief I stated must be backed up
with my critical insights of it, and why I espouse it today. There
is a common pattern when attending this school: the first year deconstructs
everything you know, the second year allows for new knowledge and
a whole lot of questions, and the third year allows you to construct
your new theology.
During my time at Iliff, I had every opportunity
to "quit" Christianity—it was kind of the trendy
thing to do! Fortunately, I had some professors who showed me why
they were still part of the Christian body. One of them, a civil
rights leader, spoke slowly and talked about standing up for justice
and seeking God's truth through Jesus' struggle. Another, a United
Methodist historian, told stories of the people who struggled hundreds
of years ago to come to America and begin a new church that wouldn't
be compromised like those in England. A third professor asked us
to image ourselves held in God's hand: How does God see you? What
does God want for you? We read about unbelievable oppression in
the name of religion, we studied theology from the Reformation,
we looked at Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology. We were
asked what the church needs now.
During these three years, I thought about the
easier choice of moving to a denomination I believed in more fully:
the United Church of Christ. They are split, like many denominations,
but more of their churches are ordaining gay and lesbian pastors,
they are more willing to be political, and more willing to challenge
outdated views of the Bible. But, when I prayed for my place, for
my call to ministry, I kept getting that it's in the United Methodist
Church. Even when I attended a world-event called General Conference
in 2004 with United Methodist's from around the world and they upheld
the rule that says, "...we do not ordain practicing homosexuals",
I still felt called to this church. I felt a stronger call to be
a United Methodist pastor because of the work we need to do. I will
fight for the causes I believe to be true so that my gay and lesbian
friends can be my ordained colleagues. I will not become disheartened
for the sake of the youth group I now lead! There is a brighter
future for the church and there is a great need for the community
One more thought on other religions: all the professors
I had who were not Christian would laugh when some of us would say,
"we want to become Muslim (fill in the blank)." They would
say that the tenants of all religions are great, but almost every
religious community has it's major flaws. You just have to choose
to be devoted to one, and then truly be married to it. Be the best
you can be, and constantly be helping the community be the best
it can be!