A Third Way | Being Spiritual AND Religious

cropped-img_0455I often wonder to myself why I am a person of deep faith.

Contemporary culture suggests I should not be. Rather, my background would suggest that I would be a conscientious objector or skeptic. And yet, despite this, I find myself to have a deep, and all to uncommon, faith.

I say all too uncommon because I do not mean faith as we typically discuss it in our modern, Western, culture. Faith, as I will explore in this blog, is simply acceding to the depth that lives within all of us. It means engagement with the irrational side of existence that, while inexplicable and immeasurable, remains real. Faith, simply put, is living life engaged with your soul.

We all have one but I spent years running from it. There’s an incredible irony that it was running, physically running for exercise, that stopped my metaphorical running from my soul. I discovered, for the first time, the joy, peace, hope, and love that comes from a life engaged with the soul. Running around my college campus revealed to me the power of engagement with the irrational side of life and how much of life I had missed trying to confine existence to that which I can explain.

I ran from faith because I, like so many of my generation, had found modern expressions of religion repugnant. My upbringing brought me through the very best fundamentalist evangelicalism has to offer, the so called “religious right.” I bought in hook, line, and sinker, having the reputation in high school of one of those holier than thou folks. I very much wanted to be in the cool crowd, but I was too scared to let go of the self-righteous morality I had learned, believing that I would jeopardize my soul if I let go.

Belief, it turns out, was my problem. I had intellectually acceded to a particular strain of religious thought, one which broke down quickly when I got out on my own in college. I discovered the deep hypocrisy of a fundamentalist movement that claims to believe in the power of the cross but seeks earthly power at any cost through controlling politics and media. I found the hurtful hypocrisy of a people who claim the love of God while using despicable language and tactics to hold onto their privileges of race, class, and sexuality to maintain their power in society. The culture wars, I discovered, were just that: wars to maintain power of privilege, the highest of which was the privilege of living in a Christian nation, so called because they hoped the nation would ultimately conform to a very narrow standard of morality, maintained by the privileged class.

I bought into this, and when it broke down, I found nothing to catch me. This came not because of a lack of exposure to other religions, nor because of a lack of different versions of religiosity offered to me. I discovered Buddhism and thought that sounded pretty cool, but practicing it made little sense to me. Off and on again, I found my way to a liberal Christianity (in the political sense), but I could not find a home there.

Very often, I wondered what I lacked, why I could not find my way to religion. I tried out the spiritual but not religious idea, practicing faith on my own through sporadic prayers and occasional attendance at religious services, believing myself to be a spiritual being, but that did little for me.

In my experience, my story mirrors that of many others and, based on prevailing cultural winds, I should have been blown away from religion in its entirety, confused by those who have religion and judgmental of those who cling to their narrow-minded ways and those who seek earthly power through pushing a harmful religiosity.

Afterall, I am educated; I have a bent toward the intellectual, enjoying the life of the mind; I believe in the power of rationality and the scientific method; and perhaps of most consequence, I solve problems through rationality and analysis. I have always had a tactical mind, especially when it comes to navigating politics and relationships and when leading organizations and groups of people.

So I spent years applying my tactical mindset to my sense of spirituality. I logically and strategically went through aspects of belief, trying to find my way to intellectually accede to something, for I desired to be spiritual in a particular, definable sense. Doing so only left me more confused, more frustrated, more disenchanted with the whole idea of faith.

Until I went running.

In running, I discovered the depth of me. Running engaged me with my soul, with the irrational side of existence, with faith. I could not explain it, I could not define it, I could merely describe my experiences. And yet, those experiences affirmed me, they defined me, they pushed me to have more empathy and see myself within the greater web of humanity. As such, these experiences, this faith as it developed, pushed me toward service to others. I also discovered, as I learned to be more aware of my impact on others, a joy, peace, hope, and love that I could not explain, could not define, but could very much experience. These realities grew within me the more I practiced faith, redefining my life and offering me a sustainable existence on this planet grounded in the stability of faith.

That’s the nature of the faith we seek. It’s the grounding of life. Intellect can tell us how to respond to the vicissitudes of life, but what keeps us grounded and in place during the back and forth, the ups and downs, is faith, because only faith can teach us how to experience, and live into, and give to others, those values we cherish the most: love, joy, peace, and hope.

This blog seeks to describe the nature of faith; what it means to engage with the irrational side of existence. We ignore that side of our existence at our peril, a side that all of humanity shares. Our lives of rationality, informed as they are by enlightenment thought, suggests that such a side of existence is best ignored, for only that which can be proven matters. The actions and attitudes of die-hard evangelicals and fundamentalists in this country suggest that the rationalists are right, for to engage in the irrational side of existence, to live a life of faith, seems to ultimately lead to irrational and immoral behavior as evinced by the religious right of our politics.

I hope, through the course of this blog, to offer a third way. The journey I have walked can be walked by any of us who are willing to experiment with the life of faith and find our way to experiencing the soul that lies within us. Along the way, I will point to spiritual mentors, some of whom are secular folks and some of whom are deeply grounded in religious traditions. I write as one who has not only found his way to a life of faith, but to a particular religiosity. I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church, and thus a Christian and particularly Wesleyan in my theology. While this forms a part of the core of who I am, what I seek to describe here is much more universal in nature, for all of humanity has a soul, all of humanity yearns for a life of faith, and we find our way to that by different means. I hope that, through describing my experience during a crucial time in my life, where I discovered faith and came to rest in it, I can help others find their way to faith, regardless of what religious expression that faith ultimately finds.

For faith comes before religion. That may sound like the reverse of what is true, and I think there are some for whom religion led them to faith. In our current cultural climate, however, I think faith for many will precede religion. I say that because religion usually asks of us intellectual assent to a set of standard beliefs. In the Christian tradition, for example, to become a Christian requires intellectual assent to ideas born of rationality, like the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. I hold to these beliefs, but I hold to them because faith gave me the foundation, upon which I added belief.

Finding our way to faith requires no intellectual assent save this: that we admit we are spiritual beings. When we admit to this fact, we then must take the next step, which is to experiment with various techniques that will allow us to experience that spiritual part of ourselves: our souls. For me, it began with running. Art formed a next step, then journaling, and then into meditation and other very Christocentric practices. But first came the much more secular experiences of running and art.

So, let us embark on a journey together, a journey through finding our way to faith that we might experience the fullness of life and find the stability we desire in a life full of vicissitudes.

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