This post was originally posted on my blog, Unpacking Faith, where I write about where my spiritual journey takes me. Enjoy.
In 2006 I gave up Church and my Christian beliefs for Lent. I had become completely disillusioned with and cynical towards the belief system in which I was raised. A system I had fully embraced — to the point of serving as an assistant pastor in a congregation. For Lent that year, I embarked on the most significant journey of my lifetime to date. I lay aside my religious beliefs in order to pursue an objective, unbiased assessment of my faith’s assertions, how they resonated with me personally, what really mattered to me, and what others believed about God, Life, Spirit, Love and Light.
Almost immediately, I became fascinated — like a kid in the candy store — exploring the vast variance within Christianity. Who knew?! I certainly had no idea that there were so many Christian perspectives (although opposing groups might nullify the Christian identity claims of each other) on things like, nature and origin of man, sin, heaven and hell, afterlife, salvation, authority of Scripture, deity of Christ and the list goes on. Who knew!? I absolutely did not. Though I was very well versed in opposing sides of certain arguments, the concept of essential Christian doctrine was well ingrained. I thought, for sure, that nearly all Christians agreed about 85% on those – with a few nuances. Much to my surprise — there are those who identify as Christians (and in my book are Christians – because who the hell am I to say otherwise) who differ vastly on these so-called essentials.
That realization got the wheels to turning. The book A Generous Orthodoxy was key to helping me see the variance and begin to feel safe asking broader questions – like, what validity, resonance, or, dare I say it — truth would I find, should I pan out further — beyond what the variance in Christian thought. What conclusions have other cultures drawn about Life and God and the Universe and why we’re all here in the first place?
It wasn’t long before I began to see the world’s religions as 5 blind people with their hands on different parts of a elephant, searching for words to describe what they noticed through the senses available to them. It was then that I respected and stood in awe of the many, many ways humans have tried for millennia to describe the Great Mystery that is instantly diminished with the first word.
As I began to study the sacred texts of eastern philosophies and try out some of the spiritual practices of the East — yoga, meditation, mindfulness — I reconnected with a familiar voice. My own. That still quite voice within that has always guided me, always sounded like me (only wiser and more loving than I imagined myself to be) has had many names. I called it the voice of God, my Inner Voice, my higher self. No matter then name, it’s the same voice I’ve always known. It’s the same voice that I write in in my journals when answers to my questions come flooding into my soul.
But I had become disconnected from this voice. You see, there were countless times, when I called “the voice within” God, that the voice said things I had trouble believing that the God-I-Knew (through church) would say or — better than “said” things — guided me down paths inconsistent with what I had conceived to be God’s ways. “God wouldn’t say that’s OK, the Bible says it’s not!” These moments happened more and more frequently and I, as a result, shut down that voice. I disbelieved, mistrusted, and dismissed it as “just me”.
As I practiced stillness and quiet, the voice began to speak to me again. I embraced it. I listened and was encouraged in my journey. I was encouraged to open my eyes wide and to expect surprises, to expect to have my questions answered, to expect find what I was looking for.
I have been surprised and delighted along this journey. One surprising delight was a soul I encountered through this blog. He encouraged me in my journey, availed himself to me to ask questions and to provide guidance. More than anything, he encouraged me to seek my truth, to hold on to what is true for me and to remember what I already know. He also introduced me to another book, Conversations with God.
I bought the book weeks, I think, before I ever read it. When I opened it to start reading, I read about how the book came to be. It was a conversation one man had with one he calls God over several years. He asked questions, answers came to him, he wrote them down. I was familiar with this process. I knew it well. I suspect many writers know it well. I valued the process, without having a clue about the content. After getting through the Forward and the Introduction, I got to the dialog. I read. Maybe 2 pages. I slammed the book shut and tears streamed down my face. Tears turned to sobs. I knew this voice. I knew it well. This was the voice I’d shut down. The one that told me things I couldn’t imagine coming from God. The God-voice in CwG was what I’ve always known, who I’ve always known God to be.
To say that the God-voice in CwG goes against the grain is an understatement — but it resonated with me like nothing I’ve ever read in my life. Many concepts I found difficult to understand or even buy — but more of it encouraged me that I was on the right path. That I was finding my truth. That my journey, this process would be worthwhile — and, in fact, is what it’s all been about all along.
My studies and explorations have led me to encounter many kindred spirits. One of the sweetest is that of my yoga teacher who teaches class in the sanctuary of a Christian church. The irony, the sweet serendipity in those two spaces colliding began to melt my cynicism about Christianity. In that sacred, holy space — I connected with that which was most sacred and holy — myself. I began to experience me as part of All that Is. I began to understand what Christ meant when he said that he and his Father were one — just like you and I are one. Just like we are All one.
And the lines blurred. There were fewer and fewer contradictions and points of conflicts among belief systems for me. More and more I could see how many different ways man has been trying to say the same thing and be understood albeit in different languages. I became an interpreter unto myself – translating the language of the Tao te Ching into the language of the New Testament into the language of Yoga Sutras of the Patanjali. And I encountered other interpreters as well, like Thich Nhat Hanh and his Living Buddha, Living Christ.
In January, I set the intention to find community among like minds. Within a week I found my local Unitarian Universalist congregation. I have been attending services when I can since the beginning of the year. In this space, no one asks you what you believe, but rather members are encouraged to courageously pursue truth and understanding. There are earth-honoring services and activities, Buddhist meditations, drumming circles, and yes, even Easter and Passover observances. The sacred text is the body of world literature. It is the creed-less faith, but the principles resonate with that which matters most to me in this world — with all that matters anyway — Love.
This past Sunday, the congregation reflected on its commitment to social justice. After recounting the denomination’s historical commitment to human rights, service, community education and organizing, advocacy and the like, the lay speaker outlined this local body’ commitment to social action. And then the question was posed to the congregation — What are you passionate about? What matters to you?
You never could have convinced me before I left home that I’d be doing what I found myself doing in the following moments. I raised my hand and took the mic. I introduced myself and talked about how, as an assistant pastor of a small non-denominational church, I was confronted with woeful reality of the prevalence of violence against women and the faith community’s silence, supporting doctrines, and perpetration of it. I told them that I became committed to anti-violence against women’s work and have made it my profession and the volunteer work to which I lend my hand. I also told them of the ways the church’s anti-homosexual teachings and practices have harmed me personally as I watched them harm people I love, and why I am the staunch ally to the GLBT community that I am.
Others spoke after me about the causes that mattered most to them. And then Matt stood up. Matt is a gay man and father of a son whom he raises with his partner. He spoke of the challenges his family faces and said that nothing touches him more deeply than for a straight person to take a stand and say, this is wrong. Matt hugged and thanked me after service — and I thanked him. I thanked him for the opportunity to love and be loved. It’s what this is all about.
In 2006, I gave up church for Lent. This year, I will be ending my 3 year Lenten fast by attending service on Easter Sunday. I will be observing Easter and Passover with a group of people who don’t necessarily identify with the faiths either of these observances represent — but who recognize the value of the message of them. I am finally able to look at Christianity with new eyes — eyes that don’t see and criticize what I find problematic. I am finally able to afford Christians the same liberty I afford all other religions — the freedom to answer life’s questions in their own way.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve come full circle. I will say that I have evolved. I can embrace the Christ and that in me. I can embrace the Buddha and that in me. I can embrace the Spring and that in me. I can embrace the Light and that in me. And All of That — All That Is — in You.