Saturday, April 3, 2010

Religion is Hard, Faith is Easy (Part I)

This post is inspired by a conversation with my mom yesterday.

Looking back on it my religious upbringing and comparing it to my beliefs today, I still call myself a Christian, but I'm sure most Christians would disagree that I should use that title.  The reason?  My beliefs are still undergoing a process of questioning and changing, and probably will be for the foreseeable future.  I don't adhere to some of the basic assumptions of the Christian religion--and that fact alone would get me in trouble.  But I walk the road I have been given to walk--and I truly believe I was set on this path long before I could realize where my steps would take me. 

The first church I attended as a child taught me much about the natures of people.  There are your good and bad, of course, but there are also the accepting and judgmental, the inclusive and the snobbish, those that value the important things in life and those that value solely the materialistic, and many more.  As a young child, I didn't understand the lessons I was learning through the way I was treated, but in hindsight they become clear.  I also underwent Confirmation at this church when I was about 11 years old.  During my Confirmation class we learned phrases in Latin--my first experience with the fact that the Bible was NOT written in English lol.  This also was the first time that I became truly aware that the Bible comes from a time and culture so very different from our own.  We also visited both a Catholic Mass, and a Jewish Synagogue.  Our meeting with the Rabbi remains one of my clearest memories.  He explained how in Judaism, there is not an overwhelming emphasis on asking only God for forgiveness for every little sin, but rather and acknowledgment of the import of asking forgiveness for those that you hurt through your actions.

"For example," I recall him saying,"if I were to step on this young lady's foot, I would not ask God for forgiveness.  I would ask her for her forgiveness.  After all, my stepping on her foot did not hurt God!"  The young lady in question was myself and, aside for making me self-conscious about my rather large feet, this encounter also showed me that, at times, other religious viewpoints made more sense to me than the ones that I had been taught in the church.  We did leave that particular church once the worth of someone within the congregation became judged not on who they were or how they served, but rather on how MUCH they donated.

I don't recall the Catholic Mass I attended, but I tagged along for the one my brother went to during his Confirmation at the second church we attended.  After the service, we chatted with the priest, who, when queried, expressed his disagreement with the Catholic Church's position against women in leadership roles in the clergy.  His assertion made me see that one can still belong to a religion without agreeing with all aspects of it.  This church was less a spiritual experience for me than a social one; regardless, we left and started attending Faithbridge UMC as I started high school.

The Faithbridge youth group was the first time since my own Confirmation class that I had a truly spiritual church experience.  Starting out, I learned much about my faith and religion.  Our youth leader brought up historical context in his teachings, and was always willing to have theological discussions with us.  As time went on, however, I felt more and more separated from those around me.  It seemed to me that I saw greater value in historical context than those around me, that I was able to see more gray than the black-and-white religion to which they ascribed permitted, and, as a result, that I questioned their assertions more than made them comfortable.  I tried to conform, to simply accept what I was told, but I never could.  Partly I think this was because my mom and I have long had a practice of discussing church teachings openly, and questions were always welcomed. 

Finally, I tired of trying to conform, and simply lived my life and my faith according to my beliefs.  This did not win me acceptance among some of the youth leadership, but I was much happier--this taught me to not seek the approval of others in regards to my beliefs.  In college this lesson was driven home even farther.  I searched for a church to attend, but found all the ones I visited to be of the same cloth as the youth group I had just left.  So, I gave up on that.  I minored in Religious Studies, however, and lived for the discussions in those classes.  I learned much more about historical context, and about many religions other than my own.  That learning, combined with the engaging and challenging discussion in and outside of class, has kept me on the path I find myself currently.

Bryan and I are starting to think about thinking about visiting local churches.  While we both claim the Christian religion, Bryan's journey has been both similar and different than mine.  Similar, in that his views on Christianity have changed quite a bit, and different in that we've had different experiences, and our views do not always align.  That's fine with me makes for great discussions!  And our views are similar enough on the truly important issues.

I'm going to cut this post off here, and make a "Part II"....this one is already plenty long!


  1. You should read "A New Kind of Christianity". It is fantastic and agrees with or at least plays with a lit of your ideas in this post.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation! I'm always on the lookout for new books :-).


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