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The Beauty of the Lilies

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

By: Mitchell Cameron

Maybe you’ve seen me around campus? I’m that quiet blond kid who looks like your father's math teacher. If you were to try and guess my pastimes by my appearance, you’d probably get a lot right. I read frequently, watch old movies, and listen to jazz records on a turntable. Sometimes people who don’t know me so well tell me I was “born in the wrong generation.”

But I don’t agree with this sentiment; I like living today; I’m quite fond of things like Netflix and vaccines, and while I may have done well living by pre-60’s social norms, I wouldn’t want everyone to be constrained to such a life. I like living today; I just need to feel connected to the past. To tradition. That’s a big part of why I go to church. Many people who aren’t religious think that religion customs, but for ninety-minutes each week I get to stand with 200 people likewise dressed well (mostly), in a building 250 years old, singing songs ranging in era from Victorian to Medieval, reading the same stories people have been reading for thousands of years.

But of course, tradition is more than just old songs in an old building. Tradition is a malleable thing, and the older a tradition is, the more malleable it becomes. Christianity dates back roughly 2,000 years, and the Judaic traditions it was borne of go back millennia before. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

To me, Christianity is about community and equality. A religion of unity, all about destroying social constructs to a place where we can all march for the rights of our neighbors as well as ourselves. And while Christianity may not be necessary to influence thought in this particular way, it has shown itself to be pretty good at it throughout the years.

From its foundation, Christianity has existed to elevate the destitute. Jesus spent his time travelling with the poor, the hungry, the lepers and prostitutes. He listened to the people the system deemed voiceless, turning a patchwork train of misfits into a unified folk so strongly knit they overtook the system which had tossed them aside. It is a religion founded by the lowest status members of an occupied society, so powerful it spread like wildfire to consume the occupiers themselves. Since its conception, many people is all theology—that is, how you believe the earth was created, and which demons are real—but it’s really much more complicated than that. While I wouldn’t say for certain that I don’t subscribe to a conventional Christian theology, I also wouldn’t say that I definitely do. I think I believe in a vast cosmic force, aware of our existence, yet beyond our comprehension. But that’s not why I go to church. I don’t go to church because I believe in have unfortunately taken the religion’s energy and manipulated it for their own perverse gain. I will not deny that many horrible atrocities have been committed in the name of Christ, but, no matter what they may say, such parasites ought not to be considered practitioners of true Christian faith.

It is not the parasites I imagine when each Sunday I commune with tradition. I look back to the reformation, God; I go because I believe in church. I am an Episcopalian—that is, a member of the American branch of the church of England. My church was founded in the seventeenth century, when the king of England wanted to divorce his wife, but the Pope would not let him. Today, the Anglican church in general— and the Episcopal church in particular—is widely considered to be as aesthetically traditional as the Catholic church, while much more socially progressive. As a phrase I once heard goes, “all the glitz with half the guilt.”

The Episcopal church offers me that connection to tradition in a more complete manner than I have elsewhere found. Most days I am the only one fixated on forgotten

and barriers, so that we are all able to help each other exist.

In today’s society there is a lot of pushback toward the idea that we ought to “see past” things like race, gender, and sexuality; we understand it is important to acknowledge our differences if we are to overcome the inequalities which exist within them. But I think we also sometimes forget the importance of being able to first see past these things if we are to enact social change. We see each other by our differences, and for these differences we find it easy to ignore each other’s sufferings. Seeing past our differences may not be the end of racism, sexism, and homophobia, like our culture used to pretend it was, but it is an important first step in unifying us, in getting us

the abolitionist movement, the anti war and civil rights movements—all important social movements fueled to some degree by Christian faith. All movements which sought to take divided people, and bring them to a place where they were able to recognize each other’s humanity.

This is a tradition and legacy I have grown up seeped in, as beneath its classical veneer, the Episcopal church has for many years been at the forefront of progressivism in Christianity. The Episcopal church was long in support of gay marriage, and the church I attend today was one of the first to conduct gay wedding ceremonies when the practice was legalized in Massachusetts. The Episcopal church was among the first major denominations to ordain women. My church’s recently retired rector, Joseph Robinson, was among the first priests in the Episcopal church to offer open communion, a practice steadily gaining ground in the Episcopal church.

While it may not be as important as acceptance of differing sexualities or the ordination of women, open communion has always been a big deal for me. Conventional Christian theology dictates that it i through the taking of communion— bread and wine that represents the body and blood of Christ—that God is able to grant salvation to our souls. The trouble is that, in most major denominations, one is only allowed to take communion if they have undergone confirmation—a somewhat lengthy process to declare oneself a true member of the church. This restriction effectively rations off communion, so that, while the church may claim to be But this story has so much more to offer if not taken at face value. My favorite interpretation holds that Eden is a metaphor for childhood and innocence, and the couple’s awakening represents their growing up. Eve’s partaking of the fruit therefore does not show she is weaker than Adam, but that she is the first to mature, and her harsh punishment for maturing is emblematic of society’s fetishization of innocence. God wants his children to remain children forever, so he cloisters them away from all the evil in the world. But pleasant as it may be, we can’t stay in the Garden of Eden forever, and when Adam and Eve inevitably mature, God grows angry and punishes them for not fulfilling his impossible wish.

This, like many Bible stories, is actually really interesting and who spoke of how valuable the community still was to him. Because it’s not about what the Bible says; it’s about what the Bible makes us think, makes us feel. The book is useful, but only as a tool to bring us together, to galvanize the masses, pushing us to change the world for the better. At its best, Christianity shows us that we are all the same inside, and challenges us to work toward a world where we are all the same outside as well.

I worry that at points throughout this essay my excitement has caused it to sound like I am trying to evangelize you. Even with that pseudo call to action last paragraph, I am not at all concerned with converting others to my religion (unless they’re a member of something like a hate-group, and I think this might help them learn

to see others as people, that is). Religion is an incredibly open to all, only its committed members are allowed the actual salvation of God. While I certainly don’t believe that one needs to take communion to be accepted by God, I dislike this practice of closed communion for the symbolic discrimination. It may be relatively harmless, but it goes against the idea that God loves all people indiscriminately, and I am proud to be part of a personal phenomenon, which many choose to experience through community. Yet at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about worshiping the “right god,” but rather finding the mode of worship right for you. I don’t believe that God needs everybody to be religious, and I certainly don’t believe he needs everybody to be Christian. If he did favor a specific religion, that would make God petty— community which has fought against this practice longer than most. I also appreciate the Episcopal church for, what I will call, its more honest discourse of scripture. We acknowledge that the stories in the Bible are of another time and place, not cohesive and often contradictory; but rather than working tirelessly to correct these errors, we find meaning in the dissonance, understanding history as history and metaphor as metaphor, trying to extrapolate the spirit of the law rather than its letter.

In fundamentalist circles, for example, the story of the exile from the Garden of Eden is often taken literally to demonstrate weakness in women, and is likewise criticized by many feminist scholars as being an illustration of the culture’s demonization of women.

If my upbringing as an Episcopalian has left one impression on me, it is that, at the end of the day, all people are people. We may not understand all people, we may not like all people, but they are people just the same, and we won’t get anywhere with them unless we treat them as such. For so long as I can recall, I have been a member of this welcoming and diverse church, showing me that all people are worth listening to. I have heard sermons preached by men and women of all different races, sexualities, and even faiths. Not only is one priest I know an avowed agnostic, but I once heard a sermon preached by an atheist and God can’t be petty, I’m petty! I have to believe that God is better than me. Whether you are aware or not, I firmly believe that everyone needs some form of faith, that even the most devout atheists have something they worship in an abstract and— potentially—unconscious sort of way. Episcopalism has been truly wonderful for me, and if you feel that faith is lacking in your life, or that something in general is lacking and you’re not sure what, I highly encourage you to seek out any faith that works for you, wherever it may be. For me, it’s in wearing old suits in an old building with old music, while I listen to a diverse set of people talk about metaphysical spirituality infused with progressive politics. For you, who knows?

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