I have a secret.
Well, it's not really a secret, since almost everyone that is close to me knows this about me. But it's largely a secret on this widely-read blog. And that secret is, I used to be super, super religious. And conservative, although I didn't really know what that meant when I touted myself as such. (Conservative in the literal sense of the word, not in the political sense.)
I attended The First Presbyterian Church in Hubbard, Ohio regularly from the time I was about six years old. In high school, I joined a youth group at a Pentecostal (evangelical) church. I was lucky enough to experience two very different denominations of Christianity. They gave me a good balance at the time.
When I stopped ignoring that fact that I'd been having feelings for girls for years, I stopped going to church. Presbyterians don't really shove anything down your throat other than love and respect for your neighbor, and for God. Pentecostals, on the other hand, are very quick to give you a reference list of things that are wrong: abortion, homosexuality, etc. Presbyterians spend a lot of time telling you what you CAN do to worship God: live a good life, volunteer, donate, be respectful, love. Pentecostals spend a lot of time telling you what you CANNOT do if you intend to worship God: no premarital sex, no homosexual feelings, no masturbation, etc, etc. Of course, I didn't realize the vast differences between the churches at the time. At the time, all I could think of was that I was gay, and being gay is wrong, and therefore, I'm not welcome at church. Any church.
As I've gotten older, and have become more open to learning about other religions and other faiths, church has become a completely different experience for me. I guess you could say I've become more spiritual than religious. This has allowed my church-going experience to change from obligation to privilege. When I go to church now, I'm flooded with emotion; my spirituality washes over me. Everything about church makes me feel something, and usually I spend the first half of the service with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. This started happening after I'd been away from church for a long time, and went to the 1st Presbyterian Church of Hollywood for the first time on an Easter Sunday five years ago. Since then, church has always had this affect on me. Every time I'm in a church: for a wedding, for a baptism, for just a regular service. I'm consistently overwhelmed. I have had trouble explaining this. Was it simply nostalgia? Was I reminded of my life as a church-going kid? Or was it God, happy to have me back if only for an hour once a year?
Gina and I went to church on Easter this year, and I realized why I keep coming back to this faith that my intellectual mind tells me is so improbable. I realized why it's emotional for me. It's definitely part nostalgia, thinking about everything that Easter used to be: frilly dresses, white gloves, the Easter bunny, finding hidden Easter baskets, dyeing Easter eggs, going on Easter egg hunts. More likely, it's the memory of what it felt like to actually have a relationship with God. No matter how unhappy I was in school or home, I had a constant relationship with God, one where I trusted Him to steer me in the right direction, to keep me and my family safe. It's a very crude comparison to make, but it's like going back to an ex you know you're still in love with. It's an undeniable and familiar comfort, and it's overwhelming.
But above all of this, it's the recognition and remembrance that, at it's core, Christianity is a religion of love. There is nothing more important to the fundamental beliefs of a true Christian than love. This gets lost all too often in so many sects of Christianity, but this past Sunday, when I walked into that church, that's all I could feel was love. I didn't feel judged or exiled. Instead I felt welcomed and appreciated.
All of this led to a feeling of home that is sometimes hard to find in a city that never stops to let you breathe. And I think this is the purpose of all of the great religions, to give you a sense of love, a sense of self, a sense of perspective, and a sense of home.