Autobiography Chapter 1: Me and God are like THIS!

There are a significant number of hoops to jump through when one hopes to become an Episcopal priest. I'm somewhere near the beginning of the process, and the next requirement for me is to write a "spiritual autobiography"--basically a personal history that, I think, explains why (the hell!) I am a Christian, an Episcopalian, and an aspiring sporter of that creepy collar. I have decided that I'm going to write that autobiography the way that I like to do everything--nerdofabulusly, on the internet, in a series of blog posts. Once again, I'm creeping towards taking blogs seriously with this, which is something I have hoped to avoid. However, I can't stand the thought of writing this just for myself and one priest, and possibly some of you have curiosities about my spirituality. Thus, I shall kill two birds with one stone. I am warning you that these posts will almost definitely be long, boring, and embarrassingly personal. Hopefully they won't be too unbearably saccharine. Here goes...

In the field of spiritual development, there are at least two things of which I am relatively confident: 1) that there is something innate in us that leads us to religion, or at least a concern with the supernatural, and 2) we are socialized into our religious beliefs, whether intentionally or not. As such, when discussing my own spiritual development, I should begin at the beginning, and talk a bit about my background and religious upbringing.

I was raised in a rural southwestern-Ohio town called Camden by what, I suppose, were at least relatively devout parents, as a member of the non-denominational Wesleyan Evangelical movement designated "The Church of God, Anderson, Indiana". Distinguishing characteristics of the COGAI were/are the unwillingness to admit denominational status, despite denominational structure and doctrine, and an unwillingness to adopt a formal system of membership despite keeping track of weekly church roles, and developing qualifications for voting in church elections. Incidentally, I was never formally a member of any Christian denomination until April 2006, when I was confirmed as an Episcopalian, despite having attended church regularly my entire life, and having left the COGAI in about 2000. (Although, I was of course a devoted "not" member of a "not" denomination for a few years.)

In my life prior to high school, I genuinely don't remember having a terribly large number of experiences which I would label as "spiritual" or "religious", though I do remember church quite well. I attended Sunday school weekly, as well as vacation Bible School in the summers, and when I reached the seventh grade I began participating in youth group. My youth leader asked if I would like to get baptized when I was 12, and I said yes, under the vague impression that it was something that God wanted me to do. My primary memories of that event are of being nervous about falling when I stepped into the baptismal, and of being disappointed to find afterwards that baptism did not stop me from sinning. I also remember feeling somewhat relieved, because I was pretty sure that now, if I were to die, I probably wouldn't go to Hell. I didn't have a well developed notion of who or what God is during that period, and religion was mostly about learning to do what is "right", and keeping some distant God from being angry with me.

Looking back, I did have some key experiences that were formative during that period however. I remember latching onto Christianity and the Bible strongly in the Sixth grade, when my social scene was shaken by a move from elementary to middle school. A good friend and I formed a sort of miniature religious clique, and both started to read the Bible and pray seriously. In Junior high, I also went on two mission trips with my youth group, to a Native American reservation at Gordon, Nebraska, and to Appalachia, in Neon, Kentucky. Those trips helped to cement my place within my home church, and mark the beginning of the development of my present understanding of the social responsibility of the Church among the poor.

I can also recall at least two incidents that seemed at the time to be experiences of God's presence. One was lying in a Nebraska field, looking at the stars, and contemplating the immensity of the universe, probably for the first time. The other also occurred at night, but this time in my house in Ohio, sleeping on a mattress on the floor while my room was being remodeled. I had a dream about being murdered, and woke up with the sort of genuine but irrational fear that nightmares often produce. I prayed that God would protect me, and remember feeling a real peace, and sense of some sort of divine presence and love. I don't know how much credence that this event carries as an authentic experience of God, however, because in my dream the person attempting to murder me was Mr. Belvedere.