We went to church this morning. I don’t go every week, usually once a month or so. And I was fried from watching Alien 3 on AMC until 1:30 a.m.; the last thing I felt like doing was dragging my tired bum to church.
One of the most striking and consistent absences on TrueSlant — one which continues to puzzle me — is our lack of conversation about faith, religion or spirituality beyond its predictable political ramifications. What’s up with that? Are we afraid to talk about it? Is there nothing to say? Will it inevitably get too ugly and embattled? I think people are scared of offending someone, of coming out as preachy and judgmental if their interlocutor is atheist or agnostic. There are as many ways to be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc. as there are shades of the color blue, because each of us brings our own fears, doubts and certainties to it, as well as our strengths, hopes and faith.
I think it’s a real shame we don’t talk about it more, certainly in a country that is arguably pluralistic. Call me hopelessly idealistic, but I feel strongly there’s still a lot we can learn from one another’s faiths and traditions, no matter how weird some of them may seem. If you’re a Christian, have you ever attended a synagogue service? I did, once, but only while reporting on it. I’ve never been inside a Hindu temple or mosque. I have been to several meetings of Buddhist tsangas in their temples because my partner is a devout Tibetan Buddhist — raised as a Hispanic Baptist minister’s son.
Faith and an attempt to behave ethically is an essential part of our shared life. We talk about it, think about it, try our best to live it. I know his Lama, Surya Das, who is a best-selling author and a dear friend. My partner has also known, and deeply loved listening to and becoming friends with, several of our church’s Episcopal ministers. This morning, as the choir processed up the aisle, he wrapped his wooden mala beads around his wrist as he always does. When our minister Nora proceeds up the aisle after the service, he bows deeply to her in namaste, a traditional gesture to a spiritual leader.
Here’s why I think we need to talk about faith, belief and religion publicly. It matters. It matters enormously and deeply. I am, frankly, saddened and embarrassed that a stupid, lame-ass post about Marge Simpson making the cover of Playboy is now my 5th most popular post, of more than 250. Please! It makes me shrivel with shame that a joke-y bit of filler is that appealing. But it is. Maybe because jokey stuff is so banal, so familiar and therefore so unthreateningly safe.
Here are some of the reasons I go to church, and here’s a magazine piece I wrote about it a while ago:
Community: I live in a wealthy suburb, dominated by big mansions filled with Type-A achievers. Not us. It’s easy to forget that there are many other people out there, each with spiritual needs and lives. Sometimes only in this sacred space where we hear the prayer list — Hilde has cancer, Becky is recovering, Bill needs a job — do we peel back, ideally in a safe and accepting way, the polished, gleaming shells we wear much of the time. Here, it’s OK to show the cracks. We’re all cracked. We all need healing.
Diversity: There are few places, if a spiritual community is thriving, you share physical space, let alone conversation, with people ages six to 80. Let alone white, black, Asian, Hispanic, investment bankers to artists. Today my sweetie chatted up a 10-year-old redheaded boy whose voice rang out this morning from the children’s choir. We don’t know this kid or his parents. But he’s a member and members feel free to talk to one another. You don’t have to be married/parents/employed/whatever to find solace and welcome in the right spiritual community. Your soul is the member, not your exterior labels.
Tradition: I admit it. I’m a sucker for liturgy, the Nicene Creed, the Doxology, the Peace. I get weepy belting out my favorite hymns, knowing that generations of others have belted them out, in my church, before me. I like being part of a long line of Christians going back to 1854 in this space. I just love “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
Lessons: Not just the sermon. Sitting still for an hour. Caring for your soul in the same thoughtful and deliberate way we pay obsessive, tedious, relentless attention to the size of our hips, bank accounts or achievements.
Humility: Every one of us is eventually humbled, whether by divorce, betrayal, job loss, illness. Knowing others have survived this, are surviving this all around you, reminds us we’re human. We still retain tremendous value, to ourselves and to others, no matter what condition we find ourselves in.
Do you attend services? Does it matter to you? Do you share this with others, or is it a well-kept secret? Why?