If you haven’t been introduced to the musical “Book of Mormon”, then might I strongly suggest it? The language is exactly on par with what you’d expect from the creators of the television show South Park, who also wrote this show, but at its heart, the story has a theology of grace that is very moving. The story follows a young Mormon missionary who travels to Uganda and discovers a deeper, broader interpretation of his faith in God.
(This actually should not surprise us. The co-author is Robert Lopez, who was raised Episcopalian in Arizona. He and his wife also wrote ‘Let It Go’—that Disney song that has been running through your head for over a year.)
The stand-out song in ‘Book of Mormon’ is “I Believe,” in which the young missionary, faced with death, disease, and dire poverty all around him, digs into his faith and recites all the things he truly believes in….however odd or inappropriate.
(It’s on YouTube, because it was performed at the Tonys. Make haste and watch it. Your life will improve.)
Anyway, here’s why I was thinking about it.
Watching Convention, I have been working on a theory that Episcopalians, for a long time, have suffered from a crisis of faith. Not in God, because we’ve always believed in God, quite devoutly. And not even in Jesus Christ—though on various occasions, our language around this gets a tad vague. But indeed, if you speak to an Episcopalian, if you witness our worship, then you’ll see we believe in God and Christ quite strongly.
Instead, I think we have trouble believing in ourselves. This might come from our Panda-in-the-Wilderness-Complex, because after all, it is hard to have confidence when you’re the only Christian around who finds your unique identity not in a creed, but in a complex collection of prayers.
It becomes even harder when you live in a culture that insists, both consciously and subconsciously, that there’s only one way to be a Christian. To be a ‘Good Christian’, you have to hate a whole lot of people. You have to consign a lot of people to hell. You have to wield the Bible like a weapon, and you have to watch Mad Men with great longing—not because the clothes looks so great, but because the social hierarchy looks so appealing.
So, it makes sense that we absorbed some of that. For a while now, we have had an air of self-apology. We were just going to go about our business, not make too many waves, not draw too much attention, just be our unassuming Episcopal selves. We didn’t speak up as televangelist after politician co-opted and besmirched the language of our faith. We stayed quiet when the God of love we adored was presented as a harsh taskmaster who sent millions into suffering and death, if they didn’t believe the right things.
Because, after all, those TV preachers were fellow children of God, and they had a right to their opinions too.
But what gradually happened was that we heard so often these harsh versions of Christianity, that we lost faith that our own gospel was true. Because had they not told us again and again we weren’t good enough? Had missionaries not knocked on our doors, handed us pamphlets, asked us if we knew Jesus, like we didn’t already? Maybe we had no right to the Spirit who visited our lives. Maybe we’d been wrong this whole time.
Then something happened. I am not sure exactly when—maybe it started when Edmund Browning declared the church open to the outcasts; maybe it sped up when the bishops prayed for the Spirit before Bishop Gene Robinson’s confirmation in 2003. Maybe it gained shape when we tossed fear to the winds in 2006 and called Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to be presiding bishop
But you could see it all around this week, when applause broke out when Bishop Michael Curry proclaimed a new Jesus movement. You could feel it when preacher after preacher asked us to follow Jesus out into the neighborhood, to seek Him in the lost and the least, to tell His story to all those around us. To make Him real to people who have spent their lives sure that the only god above is the one of division and hatred.
We have found our faith again. Our faith that Jesus belongs to us, too. Our faith that our story is worth telling, and worth believing. This story we have that God loves us—ALL of us—Christ came for us—ALL of us—and that story might just be needed in this world.
That’s our story, too. That’s our faith, too. It’s worthy of being shared. It’s worthy of being shouted from the rooftops!
Because we believe—in God, and in our stories. So let’s go sing it out.
Megan Castellan is an alternate deputy from the Diocese of West Missouri.