Monday, September 25, 2006

my name is cheryl and i’m an episcopalian. maybe.

1. i am a crack whore

After every Olympics the Manhattan Beach Parks and Recreation gymnastics classes would fill up with wannabe Mary Lou Rettons. I, who had been doing gymnastics since age five, looked upon these fair-weather gymnasts—most of whom would be gone by mid-session—with scorn. I was egged on by my parents, who were big fans of Sticking It Out in all its forms, from classes to bowls of cereal one had poured orange juice on as part of an unfortunate breakfast experiment.

I was painfully aware of my Mary Lou-ishness yesterday when I enrolled in the eight-week Covenant I class at All Saints Episcopalian Church, which has been in the news a lot lately, and which was practically bursting at the buttresses during Sunday’s service. But I didn’t sign up because I wanted to be part of the church that was famous for telling Bush to shove it (but less directly and with more love-and-Jesus).

I signed up because AK signed up, and I was driving her back from dinner with my aunt and uncle and we didn’t have time to stop by her place first. So, a good reason.

Also, she said, “Ed’s a great speaker, and he’s going to talk about his personal spiritual journey. It’s pretty fascinating.”

As a writer, reader of Us Weekly and victim of human nature, hearing people divulge any sort of personal journey is like crack for me.

So I took a teal new-student folder and, feeling slightly imposter-ish, settled in for some Jesus-crack. AK was right—Ed was a great speaker. His story was not about how Jesus saved him from a life of sin but rather a nice earthly story about dropping out of law school and pissing off his dad. With bits of light and love sprinkled like cinnamon on hot chocolate, turning the mundane divine and making me feel all cozy.

2. i am not a gymnast

A big part of what I like about All Saints (you know, in the five times I’ve gone) is that they’re so not shame-based. Ed’s sermon that morning had sort of flipped the Jesus-died-for-your-sins thing on its head, which I appreciated. I’ve got enough guilt just based on the fact that my parents paid for my undergraduate tuition. I’m not sure if I can handle someone hanging from a cross with nails through his hands for me.

Hearing how unconditionally God loved me felt a lot like therapy, as did the small group sessions we broke into after Ed’s speech. Rusty, our temporary group leader, emphasized that we should all feel comfortable asking questions, praying in our own way and being at whatever point we were at in our spiritual journeys (the latter is basically All Saints’ tagline).

This sounded great, but inside I was thinking, But what if I’ve never read the bible? What if I wouldn’t even call myself a Christian? What if I’m feeling reluctant about buying any of the books on the suggested reading list even though some of them cost less than the drink I bought Thursday night at East-West?

That’s Gymnast Cheryl thinking. Gymnast Cheryl is all about commitment and suffering and deserving things or not deserving them, concepts that are surprising products of a secular—yet somehow so Catholic and Jewish—childhood.

Post-Therapy Cheryl thinks (and I’m going to switch back to first person now, because this is getting creepy)—I think, Am I doing this sincerely? Well, let’s see, I’m interested. Curious. Moved. I teared up at least twice during Ed’s speech. Seems legit.

I was also worried that maybe I was putting up with the God stuff because the experience offered all these other ingredients I liked, such as spending two extra hours each week with a hot chick who might find it extra endearing that I was invested in having a spiritual journey. Was I a prisoner getting saved to impress the parole board? A homeless guy just here for the soup?

I confessed my excitement and my trepidations to AK on the drive back to her place. “I don’t know if I’m ready to, like, become an Episcopalian,” I said.

“Don’t worry, you’re fine,” she said. “Episcopalians are very process-oriented.”

So maybe some journeys begin with soup or parole or a hot chick. Or maybe those things aren’t even just the bait. Maybe they are the thing itself. Maybe God is soup.


Tracy Lynn said...

Dude, as what is known as a cradle Episcopalian(although I have lapsed, if it's even possible to be a lapsed Episcopalian) I can tell you that AK is in the right of it. Just keep showing up. You are obviously there for a reason, and I think we all know that God is not above using hot chicks as a lure, hmmmm?

Cheryl said...

I believe there's a bible passage to just that effect. But of course I have no idea what it is.

Schrodinger's Kitten said...

I'll loan you my bible. Clearly I'm not using it.

Cheryl said...

Is there a bible Cliff's Notes? There must be, right? Seriously, I'm like, "Can I get back to you, God? I have all these manuscripts to read." Maybe it's time to start reading up on hell.