Monday, March 20, 2006

Stepping Stones

I had a really disturbing conversation last night, and I decided to do a series of posts not really in response to it but because of it. The conversation was with a young gay woman who sees her sexuality as a sin. She was raised in a church that sounds like it was very fundamentalist and is herself a fundamentalist, or so it seems. At any rate, the conversation got me thinking about my own faith and how I began to think beyond the confines of the faith I was raised in. These thoughts are not going to be in any particular order nor are they all going to appear today. Just so you know.

"Caliban Upon Setebos"

In my second year of college, I took a class in Victorian literature from a woman named Dr. Land. In that class, we read several different essays and poems from people who viewed their faith in different ways. One of the poems that has stuck with me is "Caliban Upon Setebos" by Robert Browning. In that poem, Caliban, from Shakespeare's The Tempest, contemplates his god, Setebos. He sees Setebos as very cruel and unforgiving, just as Caliban is cruel and unforgiving. In other words, he is seeing Setebos as an extention of himself. He is viewing Setebos in human terms. In reality, Setebos was probably nothing like Caliban, but Caliban was unable to remove him from his little box. He couldn't see him as anything beyond his own terms. This stuck with me because it was an idea that I had been trying desperately to articulate for some time. I got really tired of hearing people try to define God in human terms. They seemed to think they knew exactly how God must feel about this or that when really all they had were a few vague biblical references with little or no context of any kind surrounding them. I don't see God as fitting into a neat little box. That is my problem with fundamentalism. People try to define God in human terms, and there doesn't seem to be any room for growth. There also doesn't seem to be any room for God. I also think it is pretty presumptuous to claim to know exactly what God thinks about this or that. I see defining God in human terms as limiting God, if that is possible, and it also limits ourselves. I guess I want to leave myself open to be able to see miracles when they happen, in whatever way God presents them, whether if fits in a box or not.

In Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies, she talks about a woman who was raised in a very fundamentalist church and a gay man who was dying of AIDS. In the middle of one service, the woman was suddenly overcome with emotion and understanding of the man as one of God's children, and she went to him and embraced him and held him up as they sang hymns together. This was a miracle, and it fits in my image of God. It shows how one woman was able to open her God box and let God be whoever God is.

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