This past Sunday, on July 7, 2019, I stood behind a pulpit for the first time in 15 years. It was familiar and disorienting all at once. But this was appropriate, given the topic at hand.
I shared my story of transition from Christian fundamentalism to progressive, inclusive religion as part of the All Souls community. Such transitions are themselves disorienting, so my sense of feeling unsettled in the pulpit was helpful as I spoke.
Reflecting on my past
Preparing for this sermon was the first time in a while that I’ve reflected on the particular twists and turns of my story and the encounters with people from other faiths and traditions who helped me along the way.
I spent the week remembering conversations, looking through old notes and journals, crying about the low points, and being grateful for where it all has brought me. It was a refreshing, encouraging exercise.
Standing face-to-face with “the other”
The focus of this message was on the “deconstruction” phase of my transition—the time spent developing relationships with those on the “outside” of my fundamentalist faith. It was those relationships— rather than philosophical arguments or a supernatural epiphany— that were ultimately decisive in my evolution.
Standing face-to-face with “the other,” listening to their stories, reading their sacred texts, and sitting with them as they practiced their faith did far more to dismantle the wall, I had built between me and them than any debate would have.
Walls Divide, Tables Invite
With the walls torn down, it was time to use the debris to build something else—a table. Walls divide us, but tables invite us. I have learned that faith and reason are opportunities to come together, rather than sources of division.
Seeking the truth in love is more about being good than being correct, more about how we love than what we know.
I hope to have the opportunity to share about my “reconstruction”— not just unlearning fundamentalism but rebuilding belief and conviction in ways that make room for change and for difference. Until then, I am grateful to be a part of a community that has built and set a large, welcoming table.
Watch Riley Kern’s Reflection on our Youtube Channel, Fewer Walls, More Tables.
Riley Kern is a member of All Souls and a former Evangelical minister and musician. He and his wife, Laurel, have three kids, Norah, Bruno, and Prairie. Riley and Laurel co-own their law firm, Tallgrass Estate Planning. Riley is a native Oklahoman and an avid reader of Christian theology and Buddhism.
Riley’s reflection was shared as part of our Summer 2019 Trading Places series. Trading Places allows us to gain different perspectives from a variety of voices in two services each Sunday—10:10 a.m. Sanctuary service and 11:30 a.m. The Point, Humanist Hour service.
Read more from All Souls members, friends and ministers on our blog, beyondbelief.online. Stories about our free faith curated from the heartland.
I loved this sermon.
As a former Biblical literalist and minister of the Worldwide Church of God in Tulsa, this sermon was so refreshing and enthralling. If you’ve come from a deeply religious background, you’ll love hearing this journey.