This is the fifth piece in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.
When I first started exploring different religions in my teenage years, one of my closest friends told me, “I feel like you’re going to research all these different religions and eventually you’ll just come back to Christianity.” He was joking, and he’s supported my spiritual search all these years. At the time, I laughed it off, but interestingly enough, my friend was right."
My story is somewhat uncommon. I was baptized, raised in, and eventually left the Catholic Church after coming out as a gay man. Like a number of my peers, I began to look for different ways to commune with God, still feeling a call to lead a spiritually grounded life. Eventually after reading the Bhagavad Gita, I became interested in Hinduism, although I did not formally ‘convert' because there is no such process. I lived as a Hindu for eight years, eventually becoming a priest and forming an advocacy group for LGBT-identified Hindus. Then, in February of this year, I had a painful crisis of faith where I had to sit with the reality that Hinduism really wasn’t for me, and I realized that I had some unfinished business with Jesus. I had come ‘full circle’, in a sense, like my friend described.
I would love to tell you that after that realization, everything was hunky-dory and perfect, but I was a priest and the leader of a burgeoning LGBT organization. That meant I had to have a lot of difficult conversations. I had to find replacements for weddings I had agreed to officiate months before. I had to step down from nonprofits I organized with. I lost friends because folks were angry that I had “rejected” Hinduism and some insinuated that I must believe Christianity was the only way to God—even though I had never said anything like that. If my own spiritual search and years of interfaith work have taught me anything, it’s that God speaks to us in many different ways, across cultures and time, through many texts and traditions.
The hard times have since passed. My close friends have helped me navigate this whole process and loved me all the way through. My former colleagues and fellow priests in the Hindu community have wished me well, and continue to be present in my life. I have slowly started becoming part of a church, and I’m looking forward to eventually being received into the Episcopal Church. I continue to make amazing new friends.
Yet I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why all this has come to pass— why did I have to leave Christianity only to come back, why did so many of my relationships with others have to end or dramatically change because of my (re)conversion, why did I have to wait so long before realizing that I could be gay and love Jesus?
Although I can never know the mind of God (and because I shudder to break out that time honored “God works in mysterious ways” cliché), I think I can safely say that God wanted me to learn a thing or two.
In my years of exploring, I’ve learned that one of the most important aspects of interfaith dialogue- really any kind of dialogue- is that we have to let people speak from their contexts. Sometimes in the process of learning to make convenient analogies for the sake of understanding something better. As a Hindu, I was often tempted to explain things like, “Prasadam is just like the Eucharist,” or “Jesus Christ was an avatar." Likewise I had non-Hindu friends make very similar analogies.
While this doesn’t come from a malicious place at all, the potential harm in this is that we can put our own narratives and knowledge onto someone else’s experience, thereby diminishing their own story. It also washes away some of the beauty in these rich religious concepts we’re trying to understand, and sometimes they’re just plain inaccurate. For example, avatars, like Rama or Krishna, had transcendent, non-human bodies, whereas Christians believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. These analogies are imperfect, and can sometimes botch the complexities of these different concepts.
I really had to learn not to rely on these comparisons and just speak from the heart, and when I was listening to someone else, to do so in context, and not superimpose my narrative onto theirs. This has been important in my faith advocacy work with the LGBT community as well. Yes, my friends and colleagues may also be LGBT like me, people of faith just as I am, and may struggle with discrimination just as I do, yet our struggles are not the same. There are always different forces and powers at play, and to assume we’re all dealing with it the same way is just homogenizing and diminishing our pain. All of our traditions are rich, beautiful, and nuanced and they deserve thoughtful attention and care.
I also learned about the amount of privilege Christianity enjoys in my country, and now as a Christian, a privilege that I must be aware of and check. When I was still practicing Hinduism, I would often feel so hurt and dismissed when people would use the words “religion” or “faith” to refer only to Christianity, and not in an inclusive sense of all religious traditions. I would get so annoyed at seeing ads for things like “faith leader conferences”, getting excited and wanting to register, only to discover that they were for Christian faith leaders. I felt invisible when I went to interfaith panels on LGBT justice and would see three different denominations of Christianity represented, but no Jews, Hindus, Muslims, or Buddhists. This awareness of privilege, and this desire to ensure that everyone gets a place at the table, continues to inform my interfaith dialogues.
Lastly, one of the most beautiful things that happened to me during those years away was hearing my childhood faith in affirming and healing ways. As a queer Hindu, I often met a lot of queer Christians through networking and advocacy work, and I got to hear about what empowered them and kept them going to church. I got to hear Jesus Christ described in terms that, despite 12 years of Catholic school under my belt, were incredibly fresh and new. Listening to my friends speak about Jesus, I think, is what ultimately spoke to something in my heart and eventually led me back to the church.
It may seem as if my journey has come to an end. Yet, I know that there is always growth to make happen. There are more steps to take and journeys to embark on. There are more people to meet, pray with, and love. There is work to be done, if anything else, and I can’t help but be thankful for everything I’ve experienced, and everything that is to come.
Ricky Cintron is a young, inquisitive, queer Latino. He is a graduate of Temple University with a BA in Religion. During his long period of religious seeking, Ricky served and led many faith communities, particularly those for LGBTQ people of faith. He is particularly interested in interfaith work, LGBTQ advocacy, racial justice, and ending gun violence. You can read more of his writing over on his blog, Intricate and Strange or follow him on Twitter, @rickycint.
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