My Call and Response to the Radically Inclusive Love of Christ
September 27, 2007
I didn’t grow up in the most religious environment. Any church involvement outside of Sunday morning was usually encouraged, or demanded, by grandparents. There were periods in my life in which church was Monday through Friday and other periods where church was seasonal. But, even in my inconsistent involvement with the church community, I was taught that God is real and all I have to do to find God is pray and read the Bible. That is where it all started.
I’ve always been fascinated by the way things work. I was the kid that would get in trouble for dissecting the stereo to see what was inside. All of my adolescent career goals, from astronaut to archeologist to engineer, had to do with the mechanisms that made things operate the way they do. In my random studies of various sciences I developed a very systematic thought process. Because of this I found it very easy and fulfilling to teach and explain things to others. The problem was that I was not passionate about the things I taught. When I moved from Houston to Atlanta at age 18, I began applying my systematic way of thinking to how God works.
This exploration was spurred by my knowledge that God is real coupled with the fact that the church rejected me for who I am. I was being taught one thing and was feeling another. The worst part was that I didn’t have the space or the freedom to discuss my confusion. This conflict eventually led to me leaving the church in which I was raised (the Missionary Baptist Church). It was during my exile that I found God to be appearing to me more frequently and clearly.
Now, growing up I often heard that “God is gonna use me,” but I always wrote it off as church jargon. I didn’t know enough about church structure and tradition, I didn’t shout in church and I didn’t pray the way others prayed. How in the world did God plan to use me?
As I continued to refuse to go to church, I noticed my casual conversations to be more spiritual. I began to vehemently argue that God didn’t want me, that God refused me because of my sexuality. All the while, internally God was loudly saying, “I love you.” Eventually my stubbornness subsided long enough for me to visit Absalom Jones Chapel in the AUC. I was initially apprehensive because I had never been to an Episcopal Church service before. I didn’t see the point of going to a church in which you didn’t have praise and worship or testimonies or revivals. I didn’t really know what to expect. However, that experience was enough to rejuvenate my zeal for church involvement. It wasn’t because the service was phenomenal. It was because, for the first time in my life, I was allowed, even encouraged, to interpret who God is for me. I was challenged to think critically, which sharpened my ability to systematically examine the mechanisms by which God operates.
This new-found ability to reason proved to be liberating. In my liberation I was able to see the necessity for others to be liberated. Then it all made sense. My interest in how things work was to lead me to a point where I longed to find out how God works. My fundamental belief in the existence of God and the Bible was so that I could be opened to possibilities outside the realm of doctrine. Most importantly, my passion for teaching finally had a subject matter that was fulfilling.
So, I had the practical part down. It seemed logical for me to pursue a future in ministry. However, I still wasn’t certain that I was called by God. I felt the presence of God more frequently than I had before, but I didn’t necessarily feel like God was calling me. God didn’t come to me in a commanding, yet calming, voice. All I knew was that God is there and God loves me. This limited ability to communicate with God moved me to study prayer. Amazingly enough, a fellow Episcopalian approached me about starting an order of monks that focused on bringing contemplative prayer into everyday life. The Order of Saint Anthony started with a few people meeting weekly to study and to discuss different ways to open an internal dialogue with God. This commitment proved to be extremely beneficial. I found myself able to not only feel God’s presence but also discern what God is saying.
As I increased my studies and contemplative lifestyle, I realized that God has been calling me my whole life to teach the radically inclusive love of Christ. I refused oppressive doctrines because I felt God telling me otherwise. I love teaching because God called me to educate others about unconditional love. I think systematically because God gave me opportunities at a young age to think with more clarity.
Since I have been aware of my calling, I have been working to get to a place in which I could respond. In writing about my calling, I have realized that all I have to do in response is talk to people. My day to day activity is my response to God. Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” In my expression of love to others, to myself and to my God I am responding to my call to teach the radically inclusive love of Christ. With God’s help the rest of my life will be a constant answer to that call.
Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC