Re-shaping

Angel's out with the girls and I don't feel like studying cat muscles or watching Simpsons reruns or replying to all of those emails that I'm procrastinating on, so it's a rare two post kind of day.

I've been saying for awhile that I want to get past all of the posts about leaving church and on to something more positive. You'd think all I do is sit around agonizing all day. So, finally, here's the first step towards that.

I re-subheaded the blog 'Living Religiously Without Religion' because what I'm trying to wrestle with now is how one can be the 'religious type' without being a part of a particular religious community. Or maybe how one can be the 'religious type' and have connections that bridge religious and non-religious communities. (An old mentor called it being 'Multifaith' - I'm not sure if I like the moniker or no, but it says something.) Or maybe how one can apply and live out religious principles while also embracing what seems to be an increasingly post-religious world. Or have 'religious experiences' in a non-religious context. All of those things. That's a new conversation that I'd like to start here (with myself mostly, I'll assume), and I want to start by doing some stream of consciousness processing around what happens to the parts of my life that religion has shaped to this point. Can't promise a lot of fun here, but here's what's been going on in my head.

Religion has provided a lot of things for me. One thing that's going to be difficult or perhaps impossible to replace without joining a new religion or perhaps fringe political movement is community that is committed to the quest for God and Truth. It's nice to have a place to wrestle with such questions and get support in trying to live out a particular set of principles. I'm not sure that there's an organized non-religious equivalent. It would be a religion if there was. I don't know what to do with that - it might be a loss that will just have to be mourned. It might be something that will eventually take me back to a religious community. Not sure. Right now my feeling is that my 'community' has become a much less defining characteristic already. That is, if I don't self-identify myself as a Christian or an Episcopalian or a minister, what I am to myself and to others is defined more strongly by what I do at work in healthcare, the music I listen to, the people I'm friends with, the organizations I volunteer with, my political persuasions, my interest in exercise, my sense of humor (or lack thereof), and so forth. My community has also gotten a little bit amorphous - I just don't have a group of people that I get together with every week to do religious things. I still have a variety of connections, I just don't have a primary community (beyond my family) that I'm tied to in those kinds of formal ways. Not sure on the good or bad there yet - it's just what's happening at this point.

Religion has also provided a rhythm of ritual to life that has been important - personal disciplines on a daily basis, and communal disciplines on a weekly basis have helped me to understand myself, connected me to other people, produced emotional experiences and 'experiences of God', etc. Exercise has provided this in recent months in some really important ways. Structured daily workouts have led up to organized communal races where months of work are put to use in a major challenge, often benefiting an important cause. Exercise has connected my mental, spiritual, and physical sides in ways that religion proper never did, and I'm finding that getting in shape has been the most healthy thing I've done spiritually in my adult life. Getting involved in Yoga regularly, too, has bridged the gap between (demonic) spiritual disciplines, mindfulness and physical exercise. I'm going to write more about this at some point.

At one time, religion provided me with a structured belief system - a worldview. I suppose that my worldview is still shaped by Christianity in most ways, but the influences on that worldview have been widening for quite some time, which is why I've said that it might be a bit confusing for me to identify myself as Christian (a point that angry internet trolls have made multiple times on this blog). Philosophically, theologically and religiously I still love a lot of Christian thinkers - probably most notably at this point Peter Rollins - but the Nu-Muslim Michael Muhammad Knight (particularly The Taqwacores and Impossible Man) and Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote books on religion that were as influential on my religious though as anything by Rollins or any other Christian thinker I've read in the last five years. And for almost ten years now people who've made their living primarily as scientists and naturalists have played key roles in shaping my spirituality - Steven Jay Gould, David Quammen, Carl Sagan, Jared Diamond. And Ellen Dissanayake, a writer on art and evolution who lives in my building, has contributed more to my understanding of the role of religion in human life than any other single person, at least during the last five years. Christians have been key for me, but my influences have been changing. (Still looking for someone who writes about religion/spirituality and health(care) in an interesting way. Suggestions?)

Growing up in a teenage Christian bubble, most of my artistic and cultural influences were Christian of some sort. For a shameful, shameful time it was just Christian rock and ska for me musically, and most novels I read were by Christian authors or people wrestling with spiritual issues related to Christianity (Christian college provides you with a great opportunity to read almost nothing else for four years). Still, religious influences are there in a lot of the music on my iPod rotation - Johnny Cash, Sufjan Stevens, U2, Sinead O'Connor, 16 Horsepower - but I find that my taste in music is more defined by the places it's connected to than the spirituality. I love Northwest music, I love music that reminds me of NZ and Australia, I have sentimental ties to Ohio music (Afghan Whigs, Over the Rhine) from my youth, and for some reason I like music by people with Scottish and/or Irish accents (reminds me of imaginary 'ancestors', I suppose?) I think music, as much as anything, helps to connect people to a place and a time, and generates 'religious experience' in a way that's as reliable as other types of ritual. My reading's mostly textbooks these days, but as far as fiction goes, I still love C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, and I'd be willing to read a new Christian novel if someone would write a good one, but when I read fiction it's mostly David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Chuck Palahniuk, Kurt Vonnegut, the classics and so forth.

That's it - my brain's empty for the evening. Thanks again for reading.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I relate in a lot of ways. One of my fav books of all time is Lewis' "Till We Have Faces" but the books on theology by him (Mere Christianity etc) aren't very helpful to me anymore. I still listen to a lot of Xian rock from the 90s. A lot of it is nostalgia but some of it is a connection I had with it that was able to survive my leaving Xianity. - Roy
One of the things I value about my religious heritage is the stories we have in common. Whether we believe any particular story or not is less relevant than that we all know the story. We know what is meant by a "burning bush experience"; we can laugh at "and it shall rain for ever and ever"; we can tease each other about gender roles in a garden. Hinduism is so foreign to me because I don't know any of the stories and don't understand the significance of cultural and literary references. Each human thinks and interprets the world so differently that language just barely bridges between us. The story references seem to me to be stronger bridges and the more of them we have in common, with religion, regional culture, etc, the better we can actually relate to each other.
David Figge said…
It's really good that you bring up these issues for you. I went through many of the "soul searching" issues that you are experiencing. I found it useful (at least for now) to differentiate: I see myself as a Christian, because I believe in the basic teachings of Christ. This, of course, is the true meaning of the word. Christ taught that God loves us, wants us to be happy, would never forsake us, etc. What I don't believe in is how the church has chosen to interpret those teachings (e.g. guilt, sin, etc.). The church has clearly (for various reasons) has chosen to distort many of Christ's basic teachings to serve itself. You don't have to buy into those in order to believe in Christ and what he stands for. Just my $.02.
Tim Mathis said…
Thanks for the comments everyone.

Roy - looking forward to seeing you on Friday.

Jeanne-Anne -

I'm quite with you on the shared story thing - it's one of the things that I think will continue to bind me to the Christian community. I'm also enjoying - at least at an intellectual level - learning other stories from Islam (and 'Nation of), Mormonism, etc.

Dave -

Thanks for the thoughts worth pondering!

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