Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Make up your mind, already.

Above: The high altar ready for Easter Sunday at St. Mary the Virgin, Times Square. For a bit of perspective, the altar is 13.5 feet wide. The tallest candles at the back are more than 6 feet tall.

I get it all the time. Those strange looks when I tell people I have to go to church on Sunday morning. New York is a very, very secular city. For all that it is filled with churches, they're rarely filled with people on Sunday morning, at least not relative to the number of people who live here. Religion is the domain of the Midwest, the Bible Belt, the Red States--at least that's what we hear; most New Yorkers haven't been there.

Add in that I'm gay and then add on top that I'm a kinky pervert, and you start to get an idea of how strange the looks are. Yes, there are quite a few leathermen who are associated with church, often as organists, but most of those don't talk about it much. Whereas I have a tendency to invite everyone to come with me.

But I'm not an evangelical! The word "evangelism" originally meant preaching or proselytizing and did not have the conservative Christian connotations it holds now. But in either case, the word does not describe me, because I'm certainly not conservative and I could care less whether you believe in Jesus.

I'm not so sure I believe, after all. When it comes to religion, spirituality, or belief in anything that science can't measure, I have only questions and no answers.

So why in the world do I go to church? That's the question behind every strange look.

I don't have a good answer. I often cite the ritual and the beauty of the space. The music I hear there, be it pipe organ, choir, or otherwise, is also a big factor. It's the kind of art into which I can really sink my teeth. And viewed in that way, it's not so strange--many people are moved by the collections at The Met, MOMA, Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, or any of the other bastions of art, I just happen to find my favorite works in a French Gothic church. Tastes vary.

There's more to it, of course. Some of it hearkens back to my childhood and the time I spent growing up in sacred spaces. You can take the boy out of church but you can't take the church out of the boy. Also, I'm sure some of it is fear of death--isn't religion the opiate of the masses?

The ethics of Christianity are also a quality I admire. Remove the supernatural motivation from the equation and the ten commandments are still worthwhile guidelines. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don't kill or steal. Sure, many fanatics have wrongfully twisted the Bible into a club which they use to beat others over the head, but when it is stripped to its most basic elements, Christianity is built on a solid foundation of morality.

When all of those things are added up, however, I still don't hold the total sum of my motivation to spend time in church. I can't explain why I leave feeling so good after Mass.

Maybe I do it just so I'll have some time set aside to contemplate these questions.

Some people would say that it's God causing these things, prompting me to go to church, and soothing my soul when I'm there. Well, okay, maybe it is. But then maybe it's like my father would say--the aliens who terraformed our planet are beaming happy rays into my brain. The point is, any number of explanations are just as likely in my book. Invoking the divine does not by itself raise a theory above raw conjecture.

In the end, I again give in to the contradiction. My life is full of them. This just happens to be one of the more obvious.

Tonight I'll be at Solemn Mass for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Rector will be preaching, the choir will be singing, the incense will be burning, the flowers will be verdant, and I will be content.

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