Wow, are we there already? The God post? Yes, my friends, we are there. While I have a long list of topics for the blog which I am currently researching, God is only a recent addition. In my suburban home, this has been a recurring discussion recently among friends and neighbors. And it comes up frequently in the media. All conversations around God and religion are weighty and cumbersome to a degree, unless you are with people you know you agree with 100% and how many of those are there, really? It’s an extremely complex and emotional subject and you sense my hesitation in the title. But the conversation is essential and the dialogue, agreements and sparring are par for the course. Because no one really has the answers.
Most people in contemporary American society say they are “spiritual” and not “religious.” It’s as if we don’t really want to pigeon hole ourselves into one thing, we don’t really want to commit. And if we do commit to a certain religion, sometimes we are unsure if it’s the right church. And if it’s the right church, is it being built the way we want it to be? Why, though, the spiritual designation above the religious one? Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, thinks spirituality is a moment of transcendence, a moment where we are out of ourselves and into a consciousness of greater meaning. We feel lifted, altered somehow and feel completely joyous. He likens our minds-eye to a house with multiple rooms but spirituality is the one where a door appears and takes us up a staircase to a place where our “self melts away.” Religion, he says, is bringing others together in community toward the same common staircase. But, importantly, you don’t need religion to bring you up the staircase. And that staircase, we want it bad, like crack or sex. Okay, sorry God. Bad analogy.
One of my favorite writers about God is David Goetz who wrote a book called “Death by Suburbs” and runs a website by the same name. He is a Christian writer who mirrors my struggles as a resident suburbanite: How do you live a life of meaning when you are surrounded by wealth and comfort the likes of which other residents of the world can’t even imagine? How can you educate your children and yourself about the plight of others when you can go days without even seeing someone who is in trouble or hurting? What does “service” mean to someone like me? How do I get to know my neighbors and let them know I care? Why is it so hard to get out of my car and experience my neighborhood on foot? Why is it we are so busy all the time? Does living in the ‘burbs make me more of an individualist? Do I really need to be such a consumer? What do I have to offer that would be productive and valuable vs. consumer driven?
Hey folks, we all know that the suburbs were created to cultivate the American “good life,” that little slice of heaven where you could be a short drive from entertainment, work and culture and still have a green lawn to boot. But what did we lose in the process? I believe that is what drives our modern spiritual quest. Rick Warren, pastor and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” starts with “It’s not about me.” He surmises the reason for the incredible mass appeal of his book is a spiritual yearning, or emptiness which asks that question. You know the question, the one any person with deep feeling and conviction has: “Is this all there is?” For those of us in suburbia, it’s like this: Get up, make kids lunches, drive kids to school, go to work (or volunteer in kid’s classroom, or clean or grocery shop, or work out etc.), pick kids up, make family dinner, clean up dinner, read books, watch tv, go to bed. At some point, in the rush of the day, you slow down enough to want. Want what? Something more? Maybe what we really want is something less. Less running around, less complaining, less junk food, less tv/computer/technology, less fighting, less cooking and cleaning, less nagging, less dog hair, less time apart, less bills, less pain, less anxiety, less organizing, less uncertainty, less messes, less moldy lunchboxes from daddy’s car, less ants in the bathroom, less worrying about what’s wrong with the world *okay Jeanne stop here*. Maybe going to church seems like just one more thing. To do.
Another one of my spiritual champions is Karen Armstrong, who spearheaded the Charter for Compassion. She says that compassion is the true test of all religion and the only thing that God really wants from us. All faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, they all are defined by this one guiding principle. The Golden Rule. You know it. Treat others as you would treat yourself. Well, obviously, you say! I already do that, you say! But do we? Would you cut yourself off in traffic? Would you be rude to yourself on the phone? Would you go to your checkout and not even say hello and smile to yourself? Would you be crabby to yourself after a long day? Would you dismiss yourself entirely because of something you believe? Check it out. We can all use a little help here.
So, here I am, the unchurched. And judging by the numbers, so are a lot of you. For me, my spiritual journey has been long and perilous. I grew up Catholic, immersed myself in Judaism a year before I married my Jewish husband, spent a year studying yoga and Buddhist philosophies and have attended every manner of church I can. I am still trying to find my just right fit, although I have moments of deep spirituality and transcendence without church. When I am around people who have found a spiritual home, I feel envious but not entirely alone. It’s clear that others empathize with my struggle and still others who have abandoned the struggle altogether. There is room for all of us.
God, please be patient with me. I have lots of reasons (okay, maybe excuses!) for not going to Church. I hope you understand. You are God after all. Here they are, although this is only a partial list.
I never know when to kneel or turn pages or sing. I feel like I am always behind all the other professional churchgoers.
The songs are boring, too much like rock music or Whitney Houston. Any way, I don’t know the words.
Do people really take a day of rest? I know it’s a good idea, but do they?
Some of the most judgemental people I ever met were people I met at church. Am I judging here?
I simply don’t believe that the Bible is the only divine text. The Torah and the Bhagavad Gita are pretty cool reads.
Of all the churches I have been in, I never felt a complete sense of belonging. Just a yearning to belong, but knowing I didn’t.
It’s intimidating to go to a new place with new people who already know each other and you don’t know the routine or where to park or when to sit or stand (see first excuse, I mean reason)
Some churches are too tied into political ideologies I don’t agree with. Please don’t put campaign fliers on my car while I am at church. Ick.
Some of the stuff just contradicts science. Like dinosaurs. And carbon dating.
But God, I still want to go to church. I want to be with people so we can fill the void together. I know it’s out there for me, somewhere.