I’m diving right in with a controversial topic because, as I said, this is my honest account of growing up in NYC.
My mom was raised as a “Christian” in Cleveland, Ohio. She went to Baptist Bible camp in Wisconsin every summer and managed to corral all of her friends to come to church with her on Sundays. My grandparents used to joke that she had a whole aisle full of boys next to her in the pew at church because if they wanted to hang out with her on the weekends they had to come to church too. They were a religious family, but they were also extremely welcoming and accepting of all types of people. It’s unfortunate that my experience has been that this isn’t always the case. I’m told that after all the boys came to church, they would go back to my grandparents house, roll up the rugs and throw a party. My mom played piano while they had sing alongs and my grandma sat in the kitchen as the teens told her about their adolescent problems. My mom recalls the kids telling my grandma about their marijuana habits, and girl troubles.
When I was growing up, my mom tried to create the same type of church community and tradition for me. It didn’t prove to be very easy. We generally would find a church we liked the looks of and would attend services for anywhere between 1 Sunday to a few years. Without fail nearly every church would eventually make a statement on their disapproval of homosexuality. As soon as this topic came up and we realized their stance was less than accepting, we would move on to the next church. This went on for years.
Throughout this time, my mom simultaneously meditated and traveled to an Ashram in Switzerland to chant with a guru for 24 consecutive hours. She’s trained in Transcendental Meditation and was initiated into Parmahansa Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellowship. We had a meditation altar in our apartment and we each had special meditation mats which were meant to soak up our positive energy.
Though I also attended “Bible camp” every summer and went to Catholic high school, it was a circuitous journey to my current spiritual state. I went through a religious rebellion for many years as teens often do, never to the extent where I denied the existence of a higher power altogether, but I wasn’t sure that praying to someone would help in anyway. Eventually in college I started attending church on my own volition as well as becoming a part of various religious groups. Here again I had trouble associating with groups who weren’t accepting of all types of people and was never able to fully commit to any one group or church. During this time I developed my own spiritual practices, frequently meditating and reading religious texts such as scripture and spiritually based “self- help” books.
In New York I’ve seen slow but steady progress towards all inclusive faith based communities. In recent years I’ve been going between two churches in Manhattan. Hillsong United is a mega-church which originated in Australia that attracts primarily young hipsters and celebrities. I like this church not only because I’ve seen Justin Beiber there, but also because 1) the music is incredible and 2) I think it’s important that young people have a place where they feel it’s safe and even “cool” to openly celebrate their faith. Church is held in a night club and looks like a disco party. There’s 8 services in two locations in NYC every Sunday as well as various mid- week events.
The Church of Saint Paul and Saint Andrew on the Upper West Side is an incredible place that states on the front of their program that they accept people of every gender, sexual orientation, race or religious belief. This is the kind of group I want to be a part of. Not only do they walk in the gay pride parade and marry homosexual couples, they also share their church with a Jewish temple. This is so central to my beliefs. I’m not sure how to make sense of this to people who question why I read the bible if I clearly disagree with major parts of it, but all I can say is it works for me. I identify as a Christian, but I don’t believe it’s the only way. I don’t believe only Christians go to heaven, I think everyone goes to heaven. I think one person’s practice of Islam or Hinduism is just as valid as my practice of Christianity. I think praying in bed at night is not so different than sitting under a tree and having gratitude for your surroundings.
I think everyone’s spiritual journey is personal and ever-evolving. This has been my experience thus far within the context of my history and my upbringing. I think it’s a fascinating topic and I always love to hear other people’s stories, whether they are similar to mine or completely opposing.