Interesting discussion on yesterday’s post, friends!
In case you missed it, yesterday I responded to the viral video that’s been going around the interwebs lately–Jeffersen Bethke’s “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus.” I argued that religion and Jesus are not incompatible. In fact, in order to have a “relationship” with Jesus, we need to take action–action that, for many people, looks like religion.
I really wrote that post to myself. I do that a lot–write things to myself. Writing is how I figure out life. It’s how I self-evaluate. It’s how I wrestle with tough questions and even how I pray. I write to myself and God, and sometimes I make it public because I’ve learned that there are others our there wrestling with the same questions.
As many of you know, I don’t go to church anymore, and I’ve been wary lately of any kind of organized Christian religion. I experienced too much hurt. Too much sexism and homophobia. Too much anti-intellectualism. Too much judgement. Too much resistance to my questions and concerns.
But my religious experience has been relatively shallow. It’s been mostly limited to Baptist churches and churches that don’t call themselves Baptist churches but might as well. I’ve treated religion like wading pool. I tried to dive deeper and hit rock bottom. I tried to swim further but people told me it was too dangerous. People told me to be satisfied with my wading pool. They told me that God was in here, not out there.
But I couldn’t be satisfied any longer.
And I couldn’t find God anywhere.
So I gave up and swam to shore.
But religion is an ocean.
It’s endless moving waters as far as the eye can see. It’s miles deep and filled with life–some of it beautiful, some of it horrifying. It can be calm and glassy or stormy and violent.
There’s more to religion than I thought.
Right now, I’m standing on the shoreline, letting the foamy waves wash the sand off my toes. And I think I’m ready.
I’m ready to dive into religion again. But not the tide pool that I grew up in. I want the whole ocean. I want to dive and swim and explore. I want to float on my back, get caught up in currents, and be swept under by waves. I want to see religion outside of my tide pool.
So, this year, I hope to do that in several ways:
*Though class work: I’m taking two classes this semester that relate to religion. First, there’s Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. The class is made up of people from various religious backgrounds. Some call themselves Christians. Some would say they are spiritual, but not religious. Some are atheists and agnostics who want to learn how to better relate to their religious peers. There’s even a man whose life goal is to become an ordained Buddhist monk. I’m expecting to learn a lot by looking at religion from a scientific standpoint and by listening to these diverse perspectives in class discussions.
Also, I’m taking a course called Representations of Muslim Women. We hear about Muslim women all the time here in the U.S. But who do we hear it from? White, Christian men. And when we never hear from Muslim women (or men for that matter) themselves, we not only get skewed facts, but we tend to “other” these women. To view them as helpless victims rather than as strong, intelligent, creative, unique human beings. We get stereotypes rather than diversity. The book for this class was written by Muslim women speaking for themselves. Telling their perspectives and their stories and their relationships to the world, to each other, and to God.
*Through reading: Besides the textbooks I’ll be reading for class, I also plan on reading The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. I will also do some reading in the Book of Mormon and the Qu’ran. And, of course, I plan on reading the Bible again and again, hopefully now with a fresh perspective and an open mind. I may add other books to this reading list if I come across them, so if you have any suggestions for me, please let me know!
*Through attending religious services/meetings: I don’t have a church that I attend full-time at the moment, so I’m going to attempt to attend a different type of service each week. I’ll also be trying out different religious groups on campus.
Tomorrow, I’m going to try to get up early enough (wish me luck) to go to an Episcopal church. I also plan on visiting an Orthodox church, a Uniservalist church, a Catholic church, a Mosque, and many others. I will try to write a blog post each week about my experiences and about what I learned.
As always, I will think critically about all of these classes, books, and meetings. I will keep a sharp eye out for hurtful teachings. But my goal will not be to rip apart these different perspectives, nor will it be to decide which one is better/more right (though I hope to find a place that is better and more right for me by the time I’m done).
My goal is to learn from and understand the perspectives of people from all different backgrounds, so that I can view those people as humans–as brothers and sisters, even. Not as outsiders, as others.
And my goal is to catch glimpses of God that I couldn’t see from my tide pool.
Maybe when I’m done, I’ll find another tide pool to settle in. Or maybe I’ll get sick of swimming and return to the shore. But my hope is that I’ll gain an appreciation for the entire complex, constantly changing, powerful, living ocean that is religion. My hope is that, even if I find a part of that ocean that I fit into better than the other parts, I will be able to see God and humanity in all of the ocean.
What about you, readers? Are you able to find God in organized religion, or do you see him more clearly outside of the doors of the church? Any suggestions for me before I go on this journey? Any books I should read or services I should attend or branches of religion that I should study up on?