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Yesterday, I went with my father to church. I rarely go to church, and I mean rarely. I usually only go to church with the family on Easter (if i’m not working), on Christmas, and on Father’s day.

On a quick side note, I’m from a very small town. I can’t walk 2 feet without seeing someone I know, and thus, going to church speaks the same. I know pretty much everyone there, and everyone knows me. It’s pretty difficult not to know my family, though, because my father delivers mail, and my mother works at the local discount store. They’re both super friendly, very personable, and extremely easy to talk to. Point being, in a town of 6,000 people, it’s pretty hard not to know everyone.

ANYWAY, back to what I was saying. I went to church yesterday. I tried to make myself look decent since there would be people there I hadn’t seen since…well…Christmas, but I knew I’d be recognized. I sat where I usually sit when I promise my father I’ll go to church with him, and that’s usually where the choir sits, off to the side by the pianos. So I walk into this church, a church I hadn’t been to in ages, and save for maybe 5 people, the rest of the congregation looked at me like I was a leper. Let me tell you what, I felt like a friggin social leper too. I was taken aback by the fact that people were so willing to disregard the fact they were in church, where you are supposed to welcome people into your arms willingly, and look at me with such judgement. It was almost as if they were saying “Who are you and why are you in my church?”

It wasn’t until shortly after I sat down, that I realized the church had had some work done. There was new carpet, the alter looked different, and, where I was sitting, the choir section, no longer had hymnal books or a place to kneel. I wasn’t going to move though, partly out of stubbornness. I sat there thinking, hoping, that someone from another pew would reach out to me and offer a seat next to them so that I felt included. I wanted to sit near my father since he was playing piano, but I desperately wanted to feel like I was part of Mass. Not a single person approached me, not a single person motioned to me, unless you count an overly enthusiastic wave and a huge smile from the mother of one of my old friends, no one it felt like wanted to involve me.

So, as I was sitting there in the pew by myself, surrounded by no one, and already feeling awkward, I noticed who the cantor was, and was shocked at how much she had grown up. She turned around, recognized me, greeted me, and we chit chatted a little bit before mass began, that made me feel a little less like an outcast. Then she did something after the first hymn was sung, that I didn’t expect. She gave me a hymnal book, and a prayer card so I could follow along during mass. This brought tears to my eyes. A girl who recognized me, but I’m sure barely remembered me, who is roughly 9 to 10 years younger than me, reached out when everyone else who I had known upwards of 19 years wouldn’t. It touched me, especially considering I barely feel at home here anymore. My home is (probably currently asleep in bed) in South Carolina. My home is my husband.

This got me thinking on the core of religion. The fact that people preach to each other about tolerance, but shun the man who brings his boyfriend to church. These people preach acceptance, but are guarded when someone new walks in the door. For this very reason is why I find it hard to go to church. I never feel like I’m welcome. I always feel like people are judging me the minute I walk in the door. I desperately want to join a bible study without people being judgmental about my beliefs. God put us on this Earth to love and care for one another and I find it extremely disappointing when a group as large as a congregation is willing to give someone the cold shoulder because they don’t know them or because they’re different than the rest of everyone else.

The significance of going to church has changed drastically over the years. I feel like it’s gone from “I’m going to church to rejoice in God, and show my love for him,” to something we find as mandatory and undesirable, and “I’m going to church because I’m better than you.” News flash: You’re better than NO ONE. We were all made in his image, we were all made to love one another. Just because you’re catholic, and he’s Baptist doesn’t mean that you’re better than him. It doesn’t mean that you chose the “right religion.” I’m aware this will probably piss people off but I feel like it’s something that needs to be said. When I was struggling terribly with my faith, I talked to a priest, someone I felt like I could trust, someone I felt wouldn’t judge me, and he told me “We all have to find what fits. What matters is that we all love God. God isn’t going to punish you for choosing this religion over that one.” Keep in mind this was coming from a Catholic priest. I still to this day keep in contact with him. I would love for him to perform the ceremony for my husband and I in October, but understanding that we’d have to go through 6 months of classes, and my husband would have to be baptized into the Catholic church, it won’t happen. We still have yet to find a religion or a church that will work for us, and I’m almost positive we’d both like to start doing something. This has been especially difficult considering we’re in the south and almost every church I’ve seen is either Baptist or Catholic. Neither of us want to go to either one. We both have our own reasons.

If there’s one thing I learned from my father it’s this: Who are we to judge? When it ultimately comes down to it, we as mortal human beings will not be the ones judging whether or not the gay man and his partner are getting into heaven. We won’t be the ones judging whether or not the interracial couple are getting into heaven. We aren’t the ones to judge whether or not the single mother is getting into heaven or not. Only God can make that decision. No one, no matter what race, gender, sexual preference, or intellectual level should walk into a church or bible study and feel unwelcome. My fears of joining a bible study were resolved when my friend told me what happened to her with her bible study group. I have different opinions, I have different beliefs, and I don’t want someone to tell me I’m heading down a path of destruction because of what I believe in. Bible studies should be a time to celebrate God and discuss not kick people out of the group because they don’t agree with you. I shouldn’t walk into a church that I’ve known for 19 years and feel like a social leper. I feel like saying “I’m gay” is the same as saying “I have the ability to love anyone no matter what their gender,” and shouldn’t we all have that ability? Isn’t it bred within is? I’m not saying we all should be gay, I’m not saying we should love everyone on a romantic level. I believe there’s one person out there for one other person and that’s it. I do not however believe that we need to ostracize someone for their preferences in life. We start off at a young age loving everyone and accepting everyone for who they are and what they are. There is no hatred in us. The hatred for things and people is something that is taught not something we’re born with.

We’re taught to hate the person that dresses differently, the person that talks differently, the person that give hugs to his friend that’s the same sex as him. But why? Back in the early 1900s and 1800s, people showed their comradery for one another by hugs and arms around one another, but now it’s become such a taboo thing. If you hold hands with your female friend you must be a lesbian. But honestly who gives a shit. It’s none of our business anyway? And why is homosexuality such a taboo topic anyway? Why is it so controversial, and why does it seem to be at the core of every religious debate?

Take for instance this post, I meant to talk about religion and how I find it sad that I don’t feel comfortable walking into my hometown church or joining a bible group without fear of being ostracized. Instead, I end up talking about homosexuality. I think the reason for that is because I’m so in favor of anyone who is homosexual having the same rights as me, that I think I’ll be an outcast no matter what group I try to join. I’ve only ever felt comfortable talking to one priest in my entire (almost) 25 years of living. He was the only that talked to me AND listened. He didn’t talk AT me, he talked TO me, he listened to me, and he reassured me that no matter what path I choose, either religiously or in life, that God will love me for me. God doesn’t punish, God doesn’t abandon, God doesn’t damn you to hell. God loves. God is love. I see God in my day to day life. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m the model christian because I’m well aware I’m not. I curse, I smoke, I drink, I get angry, there are people that genuinely do NOT like, but NONE of that means I don’t love God. None of that means I’m not entitled to the same rights as someone else. No one is perfect. No one is without sin. NO ONE.

There is a scripture, I think John 8:7, and a woman is being stoned, Jesus interjects and says “He who is without sin among you, may cast the first stone.” He who is without sin among you, may cast the first stone. We hear those words but don’t understand them. The meaning I get from it is this: if you have lived your life completely without sin, you’ve never done a bad thing in your life EVER, you’ve never broken any of the Ten Commandments, feel free to judge. If you have, if you know you’ve sinned, then how can you hate? How can you bring yourself to stone someone either figuratively or literally when you yourself are guilty of possibly the same thing.

My other favorite verse that I feel like is gravely misunderstood, is Corinthians 13:4-7. I know people have heard this, I know people know what it means. It speaks of love and patience, but do you really understand it? I’m not saying love is perfect, hell the hubby and I recently got in a fight and didn’t speak for almost a day. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, it always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.” To me, this means, be patient with your partner, be kind to him/her always. You shouldn’t be envious of someone else’s love, and you shouldn’t boast about your own love being perfect because it’s not. You shouldn’t be full of pride because that leads you into a situation that you’ll end up thinking your love is better than their love. Everyone loves differently, everyone feels emotion differently. Love does not lead you to disrespect your partner. You don’t hit each other because you love each other. You don’t love some one to make yourself feel better, and more importantly, love shouldn’t allow you to keep a tally of how many wrongs your partner has had. Even if all it is, is “he hasn’t taken out the trash in a week.” Yes it’s upsetting, yes it’s annoying, but you shouldn’t hold a grudge over it. Be quick to forgive. Love lives in the truth. Love should always allow you to protect your partner, and feel protected, to trust your partner and feel trusted, to remain hopeful for the future, and to always sustain no matter what obstacle you encounter.

This is a popular verse generally read at weddings, but shouldn’t it hold true in every aspect of our lives? No matter if it’s your neighbor, someone you barely know, someone you’ve known forever, or maybe even someone you’re not particularly fond of. We should all have a certain amount of love for one another as opposed to try to compete. Bible studies and churches shouldn’t be about who’s right and who’s wrong, about unfamiliar faces and “why are they here,” they should be about interpretation of the scripture and understanding the meaning behind it. It should be like the girl at church yesterday, that handed me a hymnal book and a prayer card. Always willing to involve, always willing to discuss, always willing to help. It should be like the priest that told me that God will not hate me for the decisions I make, he will not damn me to hell for no longer being Catholic. He will love me even if I curse him at times, He love me even if I believe different things than you. He will love me no matter what church I choose to attend. And he will love you no matter what you say, do, or love.

I’m aware of the fact that I may just have to start my own bible study with myself because I don’t think I’m ever going to find a group of people that will be so willing to listen to my own personal interpretation of what I think the scripture means. Of what it means to me. I won’t find a group of people that will allow me to continue to be part of their group because I see no problem with homosexuality, tattoos, or piercings. I’m sure there are other people out there like me that have probably given up hope of finding a group to join. In fact, I’m pretty sure I  can think of one person in particular right now. The problem is, she doesn’t live near me. I just really wish I could open up to people about my beliefs without being shut out.

Challenge for the week: listen to to someone, REALLY listen to what they have to say. Open your heart to them. Do not judge them because there’s probably a whole lot underneath the surface that you don’t know about. Be grateful for your ability to love and rejoice in. Say a prayer for someone, not for your own selfish reasons, but just a prayer to keep them safe, happy, and welcome wherever they go. Praying should never be selfish, remember that.