love trumps faith

Photo by tyler gebhart on Unsplash

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

Curious as it seems, the Bible tells us that love is more important than faith. The first and second greatest of all the commandments. And the cornerstone of the entire religion.

In the 2016 election, 81% of the white evangelical voters cast their ballots for Trump.

Still today, they’re as faithful to him as ever; their support of late at an all-time high. They claim Trump stands for Christian values, but his adulterous indiscretion with a porn star is “Between him and God.” They believe he represents the Christian family but ignore as he rips immigrant families apart. They applaud him for keeping his campaign promises, regardless of how those promises hurt others. They think he follows the Christian faith; they have forgotten about Christian love.

I liked going to church growing up. I liked the performance of it, the fellowship, the tradition. The candles and the stained glass. The robes and rituals. Above all else, I liked the hymns.

Our church had an organ. The choir led the way in song. The congregation followed. I read along in silence, baptized by each word. Poetry set to music, haunting and true.

 

Last week I ended up behind a Jeep Cherokee on my way in to work. It was polluted with bumper stickers that ranged from rainbow-infused “Love Wins” and “Proud Democrat” to messages of equality and hope and peace and kindness.

On the way home from work, I ended up behind a Ford F-150 with a single bumper sticker. It read, “Trump 2020: Make Liberals Cry Again.”

A cross hung from the rearview mirror.

“Here Is Love Vast as the Ocean” was one of my favorite hymns. It captured the might and relentlessness of God’s love. It summed up my belief system better than any Bible verse or parable or Sunday school lesson ever could. It all comes back to love.

At 22, I got those words inked into my rib cage, just beneath my heart.

Yesterday, the supreme court ruled in favor of a Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple. The baker insisted gay marriage went against his religion.

Even more than faith over love, now we’re talking about faith against love. It’s religion I can hardly recognize, much less call my own.

Outside of funerals and weddings, I don’t go to church much anymore. After watching evangelicals use Christianity to stand by Trump, I doubt I ever will.

But I still have a tattoo on my ribcage. And I still have a hymn in my heart.

So here is love, vast as the ocean. May it one day be the greatness of faith.

baptized in grief

Circular Congregational Church Charleston SC by Steven Hyatt-13-L

I used to go to church all the time. Sunday school. Sunday service. Luncheons. Wednesday night supper. Choir practice. Youth group. I drank holy water growing up the way I drink red wine today.

But until this past Monday–Memorial Day–I hadn’t been to church since my Mother’s funeral in December. Not for Christmas. Not for Easter. Not for Ash Wednesday. Or Good Friday. Or Bad Fridays. Or any damn Sunday in between.

But on Monday, at 2:30 in the afternoon, I found myself on a wooden pew of the Circular Congregational Church in downtown Charleston.

I was there for a free concert, part of an annual performing arts festival. The Festival Singers, an a Capella group from Georgia, were scheduled to perform.

The sanctuary filled quickly with locals and tourists and family members and friends. The pews groaned beneath our weight. Bearing all the burdens we didn’t even know we carried.

Arriving early to ensure I could find a seat, I waited. Filled my lungs with deep, tense breaths. I steadied my trembling hands by clutching the purse in my lap. I told myself I could make it.

I held it together through the powerful opening number. Through the Funeral Ikos, devastating as the words were. Through the Polish folk songs from the Holocaust. Through the African spirituals. I held it together through the standing ovation. I heaved a relieved sigh, undetected among the thunderous applause; I was going to make it.

Then the music director turned to the audience. It is tradition, he explained, to end the show with Amazing Grace.

And that’s when I felt my chest swell. Like a raging river was rising up inside of me. And the beat of my heart matched the pace of those waters crashing against my rib cage. A dull, familiar throb pounded at my breastbone, just beneath my collar.

Because that’s where I carry my grief, my guilt, my pain.

A tall, slender soprano stepped forward to lead with a solo. Her voice cut through the humid Lowcountry air with piercing clarity and precision and ease.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see. 

My river found its way to the surface. Slipping down my cheeks in quick, sloppy tears. I struggled not let out an audible cry. Not to visibly shake.

But I did nothing to stop those tears from coming.

I cried for my love-hate relationship with religion. For needing it now more than ever, while feeling it slip further and further away.

I cried for my own wretch of a soul. Wading blindly through the waters of doubt and grief. No grace in sight to save me.

And though it should have been a day when I cried for those who gave their lives for this country, I cried instead for the woman who gave life to me.

As that unwavering soprano voice soared along the arches in that sacred space, I let the words wash over me.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares

I have already come.

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far

and Grace will lead me home.

I let the tears take with them even the smallest salty portion of my sorrow.

That moment of release was all the grace I needed.

 

Photo Credit: “Circular Congregational Church Charleston SC” by Steven Hyatt, available for purchase at The Churches of the World