Monday, November 2, 2015

Stewardship Witness: the whole family

Hello, my name is Jasmin Kaeser and I have been a member here at St. Paul’s for about a year and a half, which is about as long as I’ve been in San Diego.

Like many of you, I was raised Roman Catholic and have only recently come to call myself an Episcopalian. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky far away from any extended family and over time many members of my home church became my family. They taught me Christian values such as kindness, charity, and humility through their actions and I grew to love them as my own flesh and blood. But as I grew older and began to learn more about the doctrines and teachings of the greater church community, I started to feel conflicted. I felt that I was often told what to believe, but very rarely was I told why and when I asked questions, the answers were never very satisfying. I worked hard at first to compartmentalize my faith and my social justice concerns, convincing myself that I could believe in God and the message of Jesus Christ without adhering to the dogma of Roman Catholicism. But remaining silent was often not an option for me.

I remember the moment that I decided to leave the Catholic Church very vividly. It’s going to sound incredibly silly and childish at first, but hear me out. I was in Sunday school in 8th grade, preparing for Confirmation when the topic of heaven came up. I can’t remember who started the argument or exactly what was said, but I remember the class ending with the director of the Sunday school program and I fighting, voices raised, over whether or not chickens had souls. He had told me that because chickens, and in fact all animals, did not have souls they could not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven and therefore my cat, Elvis, would not be there to greet me at the pearly gates. I found this to be profoundly unfair and frankly absurd, because really what is the point of getting into heaven if you can’t even bring your pets with you? Keep your white robes and harps, I want my cat!

So last year when I met Bishop Mathes for the first time in one of the Wednesday night Episcopal Way classes, I was a little anxious. St. Paul’s had been a warm and welcoming home to me and I was ready to commit myself to finally being confirmed as an Episcopalian, but I still had one burning question that had to be answered. And so, at the very end of the class, I asked. “Do animals have souls?” The bishop pulled out his phone, walked over to me and showed me the lock screen on his phone: a picture of his black Labrador. And he asked me with a smile “What do you think?”

That moment encapsulates my experience at St. Paul’s and with the Episcopal faith. That joy in community and discovery. That openness to listen to our fears, validate them and attempt to heal us as each of us travels along the sometimes bumpy road of our spiritual journey. It may seem like a small thing, but that encounter with the bishop turned a moment of pain and doubt from adolescence into an opportunity for greater spiritual growth. Since I started coming to St. Paul’s, I’ve felt that sense of community and family here that I had when I was a child. Even just having a place where people knew my name and said hello was a huge relief when I first moved to San Diego. And in the short time that I have been here, I have learned to appreciate being part of a community that supports you not only in those areas that you have in common, but also in those areas where you differ.

Last year’s Living Water campaign was the first time I made any substantial contribution to a church. I did it because this congregation has become my family and it has been a wonderful place to grow and learn. My contribution is a way to say thank you to all of you for your love and support, as well as a way to make sure there are opportunities here for the next new person to walk through those doors. Thank you.

Jasmin Kaesar


Vicki Heins-Shaw said...

Jasmin, my dad was a Lutheran minister & pet lover, & wrestled with the animals-in-heaven thing. He actually preached a sermon on it, after the lightbulb went off that the 23rd Psalm is spoken by a sheep!: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," 1st-person pronouns all the way. Clinched it.

Skip said...

Jasmin - thank you for being you and being such a joyful part of my journey of faith at St. Paul's

terry said...

I'm glad you found the Episcopal Church and specifically St Paul's
I mean really, if Labs don't go to heaven who would want to be there ?

Anonymous said...

Two words: GO VEGAN!
Love and respect for all of life!