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The In's and Out's

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Independence. The Freedom to be Individual. With Spirituality that can be a tall order. If you believe this, can you believe that? It is a large question, this either/or conundrum. Where we began and where we travel through often can be very different places. But do they have to be mutually exclusive? Can we be born Presbyterian and still find solace in Buddhism? Can we be Catholic and embrace Wicca rituals? I think so. It is the tapestry of our experience that makes a unique spiritual individual.

TL Michael Aumen was introduced to me through a friend. His story, while unique, is in many ways universal. This month embrace your individuality, seek your own truth, and enjoy the expanse of your faith experience.

TL Michael Aumen

In 1991, I moved to Berkeley, Calif., and entered a graduate program in creation spirituality. Among my distinguished professors was Starhawk, perhaps the most well-known witch in North America. I took two courses from this remarkable woman: one which addressed power and authority from a feminist perspective; the other, a course in ritual. Both involved creative experiences, often dancing and chanting in a rose garden on the campus.

The San Francisco Bay Area is an epicenter of spirituality, and I often spent a couple of hours on Sundays silently sitting with the Quaker Community at the 'Friends' house of worship. Occasionally, I would drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to a Buddhist temple to sit with monks.

What might seem rather extraordinary about all of this is that I happen to be a friar in a Roman Catholic religious order. 'Extraordinary,' because conventional wisdom suggests Catholics eschew the spirituality of other religious traditions, and sadly, this was the reality of the Catholic Church for several centuries.

Over 30 years ago, an incredible shift took place within the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, initiated by Pope John XXIII, issued a document which acknowledged that all people of good will, regardless of their religious traditions, should be respected as 'truth seekers.' This was in sharp contrast to the prevailing teaching that 'there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.' This was revolutionary for Catholics.

As gays and lesbians, it is important for us to cultivate a spirituality which addresses our amazing stories of victory against overwhelming odds, self-respect forged out of mind-boggling hate, invention and wit mothered by inescapable necessity. We lead mythical lives.

I returned to my religious community in the Midwest after completing my studies in the Bay Area, and I continue to seek (and find) spiritual help from various religious traditions. I'm Catholic, and I treasure my Catholicism. But I also need to constantly remind myself that my church does not have a hold on truth. As an openly gay man, I have found myself at odds, not surprisingly, with some of the teachings of my church.

Our reality, shaped by a cultural approval of homophobia and the more recent devastation of our community by AIDS, makes us hunger for clues to the meaning of our lives. We need to be persons of substance, and our spirituality can help us to be that. We're the ones who have a unique opportunity to arrive at wholeness after an oblique journey to the margins of the social order and back again, who suffer inordinate wounds and are healed, who win the gift of 'insider-outsider' vision, and can therefore speak with authority to men and women alike. Our spirituality will be a 'mixed bag,' but it will be ours.

TL Michael Auman is a Capuchin Franciscan Friar who lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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