Tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen
Grab myself a handful of chicken
And eat and groan and try to come to life.
Slap on some make-up so I don't look scary
Pull up some tights cause my legs are quite hairy
Hop into the car and drive to the Baha'i's.
I knew (almost) nothing about the Baha'i faith. I didn't google it or check out the Wikipedia. Their beliefs and customs were unknown to me. Rebecca stated they were against drug and alcohol consumption and weren't fond of the gays. That's it. That's all I knew. So when Sunday morning rolled around and I found myself taking a seat in a windowless room at the Baha'i Information Center in Webster Groves I had no idea what I was in for.
But I should have known, like always, I was in for an adventure.
Greetings come in various forms and over the past ten months I've experienced them all. There is the basic "hello". You've got the quiet nod of acknowledgement. The faint smile and humble hello is a personal favorite for meeting new people. A handshake and "hello" is standard - men really flock to this one. There's the handshake, "hello" and introduction - a very professional greeting. The upper arm/shoulder pat drives me insane and makes me hate you instantly. Side hugs and hellos are also ridiculously uncomfortable. Full on hug introductions are acceptable from strangers in the following categories - gay men, pagans and women over eighty. Cheek kiss greetings are reserved for Europeans and people I find attractive. Full on mouth kisses are solely limited to family members (who for some reason love this form of greeting. i know, it's weird for me too), lovers and drunk people in the streets of St. Louis after the Cardinals win the World Series.
"The Greeting" is an exciting part of visiting a new church. Like violins and candlelight, it sets the mood. The mood at the Baha'i Info Center? Ridiculously warm and welcoming. Rebecca and I were quickly approached by nearly all of the forty attendees to the Super Soul Sunday service held the first Sunday of every month. Rebecca was a hit with her hot pink hair. She was welcomed with smiles and "you go girl!" remarks as well as little girls who desperately wanted to speak with her and touch her exotic pink tresses. People said "hi" to me too, just not with as much exuberance. Going places with Rebecca is a lot like being the unfamous date of celebrity. We were showered with handshakes and hellos (luckily no hugs or kisses) and information about the service as well as questions about our lives and why we were attending service. This was a talkative friendly group.
"Didn't I leave you in Honduras?" said the giant man in a bright blue windbreaker striding across the room with his eyes fixed on Rebecca. "Uh?" she smiled as he remarked how similar her appearance was to a girl he knew in his previous home. He shook Rebecca's hand and introduced himself. Then turned to me and as I offered my hand said, "Don't I already know you?" Of course he didn't. I would remember this guy. He snuggled into the chair next to me and butt cheek to butt cheek he asked me about my spiritual journey, because he said he could tell I was on one and had been for some time. He also knew I could sing - explaining that I was omitting singing talent vibrations.
Time for service to start...
Baha'i services aren't run by clergy. There isn't a pastor or minister or designated leader - all members share the responsibility of gaining and sharing knowledge. This particular Sunday a curly haired man in Harry Potter glasses named David was leading the service. The children were asked to come to the front of the room. A girl in mismatched socks and sparkle shoes read a passage from a children's prayer book and struggled with every third word. A dark headed waif of a child in a baby pink shawl read a scripture verse. A charming little boy with an overbite belted out a quick song. The eldest girl in the group played a song on the piano. Every child, all eleven of them, either spoke, sang, prayed or played.
Two of the adult ladies led the group in song. There was no hymnal or song sheet. There were no giant television screens or praise bands. We used our hands to make rhythms and our voices to make harmonies. I tried my best to follow along, because I indeed LOVE to sing. Most of the words were simple and repetitive. That is until we sang in other languages. Then I just made crap up and mumbled. We have come to sing praises to our Lord. We have come to sing praises to our Lord. Lollipop? Shu-mu-my lollipop? Yes, we have come to sing praises to our Looooooorrrrd.
No one seemed to notice.
The children were dismissed to another room for the children's program and the adults remained in the windowless room. We moved our chairs from against the wall to form a circle. It was agreed we would do introductions so the new people (me and Rebecca) would know every one's name. Each person was to state his or her name and then say a "gift" they brought to the group. There were various gifts in the room - teaching, hope, laughter, love, kindness, curiosity. Rebecca said she brought the gift of color and indeed she did. I brought the gift of an open-mind. I remember many of the gifts brought to service that day, but not one single name (other than David whose name was repeated throughout).
Now begins the discussion/study part of the service. Baha'i's are a unique faith in that they believe in the validity of all other religions...well....kinda. They believe in oneness. Oneness of God, Oneness of Religion and Oneness of Mankind. As far as I can tell from the various pamphlets I was given during the service, Baha'i's believe that Jesus and Krishna and Buddha, etc were all Messengers of the One God, but their messages were thousands of years ago. Baha'u'llah, whom Baha'i teachings are based on, is the Divine Messenger of today. Baha'u'llah is the latest Messenger of God.
The adult discussion focused on how to talk to people about their faith. Practicing different communication styles we role played out scenarios - from talking with people about their workday to discussing Jesus and eternal life. Their tactic is always to agree, because they believe in the Oneness of Religion and God and Mankind. Throughout the discussion interesting facts about the Baha'i faith came to light. They believe in racial equality and the equality of the sexes. They do not support discrimination of any kind. They work to raise their children without prejudices. Universal education and the unity of science and religion are other focuses of the faith. We are One Family according to the Baha'i faith.
|BOOM! That's right! I got my world citizen card courtesy of the Baha'i's.|
Role playing was actually quite fun. People were loud and silly and full of energy. Rebecca and I laughed along with a group of diverse, interesting, engaging, lively and entertaining individuals. Amidst all my laughing I found myself thinking - I really like this. This is so much fun. These people are great. Maybe I'll come back here. We have so many of the same beliefs. I like this whole many paths to God thing. That's what I've always thought. It's kinda like having lots of "best friends" sure Jesus is my best friend and so is Buddha, but that doesn't necessarily mean I follow every single thing they say. Maybe the Baha'i faith is the religious smorgasbord I've always searched for. Plus I'm a huge believer in racial and social equality as well as the equality of men and women. Hmmm....
Every time I pass through a church door I try to clear my mind - like a sherbet cleanse. I think of the pagan woman who asked me "Do you enter with an open-mind an open-heart and an open-body?" and I try to remain open to the experience I'm about to have. No judgement - just experience. But sooner or later at every church I've visited something has happened that turns me off. With the Quakers it was the need for plain clothing. Ha! As I type in my red cowl neck dress and mustard yellow "old man" cardigan - please - plain clothes ain't ever gonna happen. With the Buddhists it was giving up all worldly possessions and relationships and awkward chanting. Not for me. With the Catholics it was all the guilt and hell damning. Screw that. With the Christians it was....well, lots of things. Some visits it happened early on. Other visits it happened smack in the middle. Either way, it always happens - the moment when I no longer like the service/religion and want to leave.
With the Baha'i's it happened when we started to talk about the gays....
*Sidebar - I'm tired of talking about gay issues at church. My life is like a gay pride parade - it's constantly raining glitter and fabulous. Gay is all around me and it's wonderful. I wouldn't want it any other way. My life is amazing. It's just...I know people are still working through this whole "Is it okay to be gay?" thing and trying to figure out where God fits in with the issue. But I'm really losing my patience and I'm starting to get angry. GOD LOVES EVERYONE NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!! Can we please talk about something other than gayness? Please? PLEASE!!??!!! Anything. Syria. Gun violence. The afterlife. Mysteries of the universe. Tacos. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. *
Gayness follows me. I cannot escape it. Long ago I accepted that I indeed have magical gay powers and everything I touch turns to gay. So, I should have known the Baha'i service would eventually start heading down a gay road...and it did.
Out of nowhere the conversation turned to David's son, who recently realized he was gay. David was very supportive of his gay son - standing up for his desire to wear skirts and make-up at school. David's son felt for some time that he was transgender - living life as a woman in a man's body - and started expressing himself as such. David beautifully described how God didn't see gender or biological sex. God only sees our soul and our souls are without gender or biological sex. It's not your human body that matters - it's your soul. Up until this point I appreciated everything David had to say about gender and homosexuality.
Then things got sticky...someone brought up the issue of having sex.
Baha'i's are to refrain from sexual activity until they enter into a religious marriage - and the only marriages recognized are marriages between...you guessed it...one man and one women. The Baha'i faith doesn't exactly condemn gay love. They are big believers in legal marriage equality and protecting gay rights. And you can totally hold hands and talk and snuggle and share your deepest darkest secrets with your same-sex partner, but you can't have sex with him or her. EVER. Not even oral. Nope. Not okay. If you are gay and you follow the Baha'i faith you are expected to practice life long chastity.
AND THAT'S WHEN SARAH STEPPED OFF THE BAHA'I BOAT.
WHAT?!?!?!!!!! Does God hate gay people? Cause that seems like lifelong punishment for being gay...the way God made them to be. What kind of God does that? Here ya go, here are all these desires and feelings and instincts but DON'T YOU DARE DO ANYTHING WITH THEM OR I WON'T LIKE IT! Also, if God doesn't see the physical body and only cares about the soul then why does God care about gay sex or sex at all for that matter?
No really, why does God care if we have sex? WHY? See, I don't think God cares. Not even a little bit. I think God could give two shits about where you poke your pickle or who's dusting your closet. I think sex is a good thing - not a curse, or a punishment or a test of will-power. It's a great stress reliever - like all natural Xanax. It's a sleep-aid. It helps you deal with body issues. It can give you energy. It makes you happy. Maybe God created us with these "feel good places" because God wants us to...I don't know...feel good?
There was a woman at the service, a gay woman, who talked about how hard it was to be chaste but she knew this life was only but a blip and that her devotion would be rewarded in the next life.
This just does not make sense to me. AT ALL. This Earthly life is but a test for the next one? Baha'i's don't believe in a literal hell or heaven, but instead gauge heaven and hell by your closeness with God. So, apparently God is King Candy and having gay sex is like drawing that horrible gum drop guy when you are half way through with Candyland (the children's game) and are now even further away from a heavenly ice- cream palace finish. It helps me if you can explain things in preschool terms. Candyland exhausts me and I really think God can do better.
After the service the nice man sitting next to me talked about how having standards is so important. I questioned which standards you are supposed to follow because lately I've found everyone is claiming different standards as "God's". He was very understanding and explained that the great thing about Baha'u'llah is that he was truly a messenger of God and spoke the truth.
Uh huh. Right. Thanks. Gotta run. I need a drink - which you do not believe in.
This sex loving booze drinking spiritual enthusiast left church and headed straight to Cherokee street for some authentic Mexican cuisine and a delicious homemade margarita. I said a quiet prayer for all the gay people around the world who have been led to believe they shouldn't live a happy and full and SEXUAL life because of their orientation. I wish you all many wonderful orgasms and lots and lots of post-coital snuggles.
I'm so glad I finally made it back to church.