This is the blog post where I talk about my relationship with organized religion and faith.
Despite attending church almost every Sunday for the first 19 years of my life, Christianity has never particularly resonated with me. I spent my time in church mentally organizing my closet, mumbling along to hymns and making origami out of the bulletin. As I got older, I actually gave some thought to religion as I’d been raised to understand it and why it didn’t work for me. (I’m obviously not saying that you need to hold similar views of organized religion or Christianity. We all have our own struggles and questions – these just happen to be mine)
* I didn’t like the idea of doing good things in order to get into heaven or to please an omnipotent being. Shouldn’t we just do good things because it’s the right thing to do? And because, as part of Team Human, we should help each other out?
* I didn’t like the fact that many religions exclude people based on their gender or sexual orientation.
* I found many of the stories in the bible scary, weird, offensive or just generally unrelatable. Women turning into pillars of salt? Children being sacrificed? Menstruating women being untouchable? I realize that many people view bible stories as just that – stories, meant to illustrate larger, more important issues like trust, modesty and selflessness. But I, personally, found other pieces of literature to cover said issues in a way that worked better for me.
* There are so many interesting, engaging, lovely religions in the world – had I really been born into the one that was right for me?
* I am not someone particularly prone to religious moments – and the few that I’ve had did not occur in a church. They occurred on the salt flats of Bolivia, in a refugee camp in Nepal, on the lake where I was raised, on a yoga mat in St. Paul, Minnesota. Not in a house of worship.
I first heard about the Universal Unitarian church while reading through a bio of one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut. We can all acknowledge K.V. to be an excellent writer and wonderful human being – so if it’s good enough for him, it’s probably good enough for me.
After assembling a ‘church outfit’ Mom Von would be proud of (no flip flops!) I popped into Unity Church which is just a few blocks from my flat. I emotionally steeled myself for people trying to hug me, talk to me about my ‘faith journey’ or invite me to join in a dance honoring the goddess of the harvest (all of which would have made me turn inside out) but, thankfully, all I had to do was stick on a name tag.
I wandered into the sanctuary and was immediately thrilled. No cross, no stained glass windows – just blond wood and open space and light. The readings came from Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt. The songs were from Tom Petty and Peter Gabriel. The ‘sermon’ was about the effects cheap labor, meritocracy and inherent worth, delivered by a former journalist. The offering went to a local non-profit that supported mental health assistance for under-served communities. The entire experience made sense to me in a way that church has never made sense before.
During my first years at college, I engaged in many of those painfully overwrought, deep-and-meaningful debates with Christian friends. I’d ask them about the lack of female priests or the church’s position on homosexuality or Adam and Eve vs. evolution. My (incredibly smart) roommate finally said “Church is a place where I go once a week and think about my life. I think about the choices I’ve made and if I’m proud of those choices and if I’m proud of the person I’m becoming. I send good thoughts towards people who need them and I actively try to be a better person.”
I love that idea. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all spent one hour a week reflecting on our choices? I’m not sure I’ll join Unity church or go every Sunday (and I’ll still melt into the floor if you use the words ‘faith journey’ with me) but I think I’m one step closer to finding something that works for me.
Do you consider yourself religious? How do you feel about church and faith?