The Only Version of Heaven my God Has Given Me

DungyAn excerpt from The Sun Magazine‘s 2018 interview with poet and professor Camille Dungy.

I am a Christian who is sad that it is often difficult for me to say that I am a Christian. I believe in what I understand to be the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ: Love one another, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Justice and care and dangerous, radical kindness — I believe in all that. But I don’t believe that there is just one “right” Church. And I don’t believe in waiting to go to heaven to get my due…I’m going to fight for my due here and now, and for my daughter’s due. This is the only version of heaven that my God has given me, so this is where I am going to do my work.

In this political climate, what Christian means to many is not what I mean by it. As a result, I’ve had difficulty finding religious communities that feel right for me, which breaks my mother’s heart. When I moved to Lynchburg, Virginia — the home of televangelist Jerry Falwell and the university he founded — I tried to go to a few churches, but my reaction was always: Ugh. One time, while the minister was giving a sermon about how we do not have free will, I had an uncontrollable coughing fit. I didn’t know if it was free will or not, but I had to leave the church.

Finally I went to another church with a friend and realized I was surrounded by all the social activists I’d been working with in Lynchburg, and I thought, I guess I’ve found my people!

I’ve managed to find a similar church everywhere I’ve lived. It brings me comfort to know that I’m not some lone wing nut. There is a community of people who believe that social justice and social activism and radical love and kindness have a place in a faith community — are, in fact, the things upon which our faith might rest. I get strength from that, but it can still be lonely sometimes.

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