This week, we are revisiting our FtFtFY series with an installment from our good friend, Brad. Jax met Brad in college and has known him for *mumble mumble* years. I met Brad a few years later and have known him for *rackle frackle* years. Some of my fondest memories of Brad are from geeking-out with friends through RPGs (role-playing games),* BtVS episodes, and Madrigal Dinner mayhem. But Brad is all mature and stuff now (as tends to happen to responsible people ;-)] and is currently Assistant Rector and Youth & Young Adults Minister at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Houston. Brad has been a long-time supporter of Jax’s and my journeys towards Paganism and an all-time supporter of our website. In sum, Brad is awesome. We are royally pleased that he wanted to be part of this interview series.

How would you describe your faith?
My faith is in God, not in doctrine. Realizing that any concept of God (including mine) has doctrinal elements to it, I try to keep in mind the mystery of God and to keep my faith in that mysterious God, even if that means the particulars of my faith are incorrect.

I am a Christian and within Christianity, an Episcopalian (Church of England in America). My faith is evolving, and has often been riddled with doubt. I’ve had several crises of faith which usually came down the exclusivist claims of salvation for Christians.

What brought on your crisis in faith? And how did you resolved it?
In Seminary I read various systematic theologies (Augustine in particular) which ended up with the understanding of predestination of the elect to salvation. I think the whole concept is a bunch of hooey. A seminary professor finally asked me if I had to believe in predestination. Some folks did centuries ago, but did I have to?  I decided I didn’t have to and that ended that crisis.

The next crises of faith came as I thought of my non-Christian friends. Did they really need to “be saved” (“you keep using that word…I don’t think it means what you think it means”) as so many Christians would say?  While I didn’t think they did, I wondered if I could believe that and still be a Christian.  Did I have to believe the popular tripe of some modern Christianity that “ChristiansonlygotoHeavenallothersgotoHell”? I didn’t believe that. I didn’t even believe Jesus was talking about that. I didn’t believe where we go when we die has much at all to do with Christianity, other than the assurance that death is not the end. I realized that if I couldn’t believe those things and remain a Christian, then I couldn’t remain a Christian. I had all but given up my faith.

Finally, after years of searching, I came down on the side of believing again (really, being a Christian again) in October 2011.

I realized that the story of God becoming human was too dear to my heart to abandon. I can relate to God through Jesus. Also, I am finally able to give up the need to know if the story is true. Whether it is historically true or not has become irrelevant to me. I believe it. It makes sense of my life. In realizing that, I also realized I didn’t have a need for the story to be true for anyone else. The fact that others don’t believe Jesus was God doesn’t threaten my faith, nor must my faith be threatening to others. It may not be true, and I’m okay with that.

This is a beautiful sentiment. Do you think there are members of your congregation who agree with you on this?
I figure there are very likely folks in my congregation who agree with me on this. The more I talk about and teach this stuff (a bit under the radar still), I find I’m often preaching to the choir.

Were you raised in this faith?
I was raised as a Christian in the Episcopal Church since I was born and grew up in the church with my family.  Our faith and religion were (and are) important to us in a loving way. Mom and Dad prayed with my brother and me and taught us Bible stories when we were younger. We attended Sunday worship most weeks, and the faith and way of life became an integral part of who I am.

When I was younger, I focused a lot on Heaven and Hell, thinking that being a Christian was about going to heaven when we die. This was not the focus at home or at church, but my logical little brain latched onto it, so my faith had a good amount of fear attached to it. I now believe my faith and Christianity to be primarily about this life, loving God and loving people.

I like the concept of Heaven as the idea of life continuing on after death and being with God, family, and friends. I don’t believe in Hell as a place of eternal torment. I like the concept of God’s justice for cruel people; I hope it is restorative, not just punitive, and I’ll let God work that out.  I’m no longer concerned with the questions of Heaven and Hell which captured me when I was younger. May faith is now focused on this life, connecting to God and to other people.

As for what has kept me in the faith, I’ll go with Psalm 62:1…

For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation.

Also, as I wrote above, I love the idea of God becoming human and living on earth with us. I had to give up some of the baggage built up over 2000 years which has been attached to that, and I had to give up the need for Jesus’ divinity to be factual. I find it to be true, even if historically inaccurate.

Do you have a favorite spiritual teaching(s)? A favorite story about God / Jesus, a historical hero, or story that inspires you?
Love God, and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40):

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing these things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

My favorite Biblical story is the story of Enoch, from Genesis 5:21-24. Enoch walked with God. He is named in a genealogical list of the descendants from Adam to Noah. In the list, each person is named, said to have lived, had children, lived some more, and died. Enoch, on the other hand, lived, had children, walked with God, and was no more because God took him. I love the idea and image of walking with God in this life rather than merely living.

How has your openness to other faiths and your choice not to proselytize affected your place in your religious community?
My openness has not had any negative effect for me yet regarding my place in the church. This has affected my preaching and teaching, especially regarding the exclusivist claims of salvation which Christians often champion (which I don’t preach) and the focus of our faith on this life (which I do preach) rather than focusing on life after death. I’m finding most Christians that I know believe these things anyway. I know there are some congregations which wouldn’t want me, but that would be true regardless of what I believe.

Just for fun, tell us the story about how you became “Father Snort”!
I made fun of a friend for snort laughing back in 2001. I’ve snort laughed everyday since.  Back in 2005 a youth minister started calling me “Father Snort” because of my laugh (“Snorty” for short) and the name stuck.

Thank you so much, Brad! I really enjoyed this exchange. Thanks GG, I enjoyed it as well!

If you’d like to follow Brad on his spiritually journey, you can do so on his blog, aptly named Father Snort. Brad references his blog in this interview because it offers deeper explanations for some of his responses.

* We played a number RPGs together. We started with a Star Wars campaign, then moved on to D&D, then Macho Women with Guns, then 7th Sea, then back to D&D…oy. I can’t remember them all!

+ Featured image is St. Luke’s Church (aka Old Brick Church and Newport Parish Church) near Smithfield, Virginia. It is recorded as the oldest Episcopal Church in America.