Thursday, February 7, 2013

Prayer Soup For the LGBT Soul

Prayer Soup For the LGBT Soul

Why do we pray? Are we praying to alleviate our fears, thinking that we have to pray a certain prayer in a certain way and that if we don’t then something bad will happen? Do we pray because it’s a cultural pattern, like saying “grace” before a meal? Do we pray only when we want something or when we have tried everything else and use prayer as a last resort? A lot of people pray as a sort of ritual that makes them feel peace, and that they fulfill some kind of religious duty in order to find relief from some guilt.

How about when we don’t pray? Do we feel shame that we don’t pray enough? Have you ever given up because you got frustrated, or feel so inferior spiritually that you don’t seem worthy enough to approach God?
From "Via Crucis", the stations of the cross CD, original art by Jason T. Ingram

My Personal Quest For Authentic Faith and Answered Prayer

When I finished high school in 1991, I was a miserable mess. Most kids my age seemed ready for the world and eager to begin their adult lives but I was terrified. I created outrageous goals that I knew that I could not reach and tried just about everything to relieve my mental and emotional torment. Although I experimented a little with drugs, I had bad experiences and was convinced that I could have profound experiences simply through spirituality. I was also on a passionate quest to find results. In fact it was an obsession for me. I came from a family line of intellectuals that seemed to demand proof for everything, and I was not willing to adapt any religion that did not meet my desperate needs.

Being disappointed with psychology and not finding the help I needed for my untreated mental illness, I dove into just about every religious idea I could. Most of what I sought was a part of the New Age movement, taking most of the ideas from Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. I also had exposure to Judaism and forms of Christian mysticism. Later, I got involved with earth-based religions like Paganism and Native American spirituality and even attempted to create my own conglomerate of all these ideas into my own personal dogma. It was a lot like what I saw others do having been raised in the Unitarian Universalist church and eight years being exposed to a lot of occult practices and forms of Spiritism.

"His Hands", original art by Jason T. Ingram

Honestly, I had a lot of intense experiences in all of this searching. If a religious practice worked, like the forms of divination I practiced, I placed it in my sort-of bag of faiths that I liked. I even got to the place where I was a practicing psychic, and advertising sliding-scale intuitive readings out of my house. It was not long that I still could not get over the emptiness I felt; even though because of the trance channeling and medium work I was doing seemed to bring me many companions. I just did not feel like I was loved, and I had no proof that I was loved unconditionally. Christianity (especially Bible-based Christianity) was not only at the bottom of my list, it was one of the biggest taboos in my family (up there with enlisting in the US military). The Christian faith represented for me, a man-made institution with a strong political agenda to control the masses and censor out anything mystical.

My meditation was based on emptying myself, yet noting was filling me but spirits and endless vain philosophies that only produced more questions. I wanted a Person. I wanted the highest love to fill me. I was fortunate to not only have found a relationship with God through Jesus, but I happened to find Christians who got results, and this drew me deeper into the faith. My journey through Christianity has allowed me to be a part of most forms of the faith. I have been exposed to a lot of Catholic ideas, some Orthodox, several mainline denominations and a lot of modern sects. With all this study, and asking many questions to various clergy, I seemed to have in the back of my mind in this nearly twenty-year journey “does their faith work?” Most followers of their particular camp believed their group was the right one, but why did they come to that conclusion? It it because they grew up in that kind of church? Did someone convince them to join? Did their doctrine make sense more than others?

I have seen ministers go from Evangelical to Orthodox, and Orthodox to Evangelical. I have met believers that went from Protestant to Catholic and the other way around. It has been entertaining to try to figure out why people change religions. Many times it is because they are hurt and offended by one, and go to another. There are those like me who went from Unitarian to Pentecostal, and then again, Unitarian Universalists churches are full of former Pentecostals. Some change because they are looking for the “one true church”, and base many of those ideas on which sect is the most historical while others try to find a church that most emulates the Book of Acts (the story of the early Christian church) and other New Testament traditions. What I have found is that no one can follow the New Testament exactly in this modern age (although many claim to) and so all we do is pick and choose practices from the Bible that we do not see others do. It’s a sort of pride to say things like, “the Bible says to worship on this day, and we are one of the only churches that do” and, “we make sure our followers are worthy to take communion before they do”, “we worship with voices only because we can’t find any musical instruments in the New Testament”, as well as trying to claim to have the “true biblical baptism experience” that others do not have.

"The Transfiguration of the Believer", original art by Jason T. Ingram

My criteria for choosing a particular church is simple: do they love people, and do they get prayers answered? Why go to a church where they pray for things that don’t happen. It’s a good way to create atheists. A better way to produce non-believers, even if your church is flowing in signs, wonders, healings and miracles; is to have your love grow cold. Children know when they are loved, but as adults, we so easily settle for counterfeits. As folks in the LGBT community, it is good to find out a church’s views on lesbian, gay, bi, transgendered, queer etc... We can see churches as either being “affirming” or “anti-gay”, but I think it’s more complicated than that. Without going into much detail, there are various degrees of how groups deal with the gay issue, and I admit that some of these grey areas I can handle at times. If I find a congregation that is very welcoming and affirming to the LGBT community, yet I am not getting “fed” or challenged spiritually, I am willing to make that compromise as long as it does not harm my faith. Right now, one of my most important values of joining a spiritual community for me is if it reflects my idea of community. The internet has replaced “community” so much that when I am involved in church projects, it’s all about being task oriented and communicating via text and not having actual discussions. When I was in Russia, I was told that this culture was more relationally oriented, and at first I hated it because we were not as productive; however I see now that I miss that human element.

There are also Christians who don’t go to church regularly. I wish there was unity between those who are proud to be regular church goers and those who limit their involvement. What I do see is that Christians pray whether they go to church or not. It’s great to pray together and to pray alone. Practicing your faith can be very diverse and can change throughout your life. So, whatever your form of Christianity is, if you don’t feel that your prayers are being answered, perhaps it’s time to have more of an open mind, and see if there are things you can do, or not do, that may help your life of prayer and devotion grow deeper.

"A Time For Everything", original art by Jason T. Ingram

“Words spoken in prayer that are not connected to our hearts are words without power”
Joyce Meyer

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