When Religion Limits Faith: Why My Generation Needs A New Church

I want to apologize in advance for the length of this post- but it seems that I have a lot to say on this topic, and it cannot be easily summed up.  So, tuck in and let’s get real about the stuff you aren’t supposed to talk about for a bit.

I have been thinking about faith and religion a lot lately based on several events, both positive and negative over the past month.  It all started about 4 weeks ago when in the run up to the Oscars I went to see the movie Life of Pi.  I was absolutely blown away by this movie.  For days I could not stop thinking about it- but what struck me was more than it’s stunning visuals.  What continued to seep into my thoughts was the message of faith in the movie and the way it presented religion.

Pi cover

Pi was what he called a Hindu Christian Muslim.  All three religions were a part of his faith life as they all helped him to know God in different ways.  Pi first came to know God as a Hindu, the religion of his mother.  He connected with the many Gods and their stories, and saw them as heros. Then, Pi came across a Catholic Church and began to learn about Jesus.  He couldn’t understand the sacrifice, but he was fascinated.  Pi said that he had to come to faith through Hinduism, and found God’s love through Christ.  Finally, Pi met God once agin as Allah when observing prayer at a Muslim house of worship in his hometown.  He found that performing the daily prayers, he felt connection to God and serenity.  Pi took pieces of all three traditions and found a peace while discovering God.

A quote from the book (which is equally wonderful, and I now want to re-read as it’s been almost eight years since my first reading) explains how Pi saw all of the religions working together, reflections of one another as they all sought to  discover God.  “Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims.”  Pi also explains that faith is a house with many rooms.  I loved this vision of faith and how religion was a part of it.  It was a broad and encompassing picture that posed no limits to how God could be known and understood.  I found it to be beautiful, and it rang true to feelings about religion and faith that I had always held deep within me.

A week later, as I was still feeling the glow from the movie, religion was suddenly presented to me as something that limited the ways in which God could be known.  At the University of Portland, a Catholic University that I worked for a few years ago, the president- Father Beauchamp made remarks about the LGBT community on campus that essentially equated there being a don’t ask don’t tell policy on campus.  The sentiment was as follows- “We know that there are faculty and staff in same-sex relationships on campus. They are not open about it and we don’t ask them. But if someone were to go very public about it and make an issue, then we would have trouble.”

Oh, boy.  What this says to me is that as a Catholic institution, they are not welcoming or accepting of the Gay community.  As I was still reeling from this incident, the issue of Christianity and faith not being accepting of LGBT people was brought to my attention once again.  Two weeks ago I read an article from Time online about the friend of the court brief that President Obama and his administration sent to the Supreme Court urging them to overturn the ban on same sex marriage in the case they are about to hear on California’s Proposition 8.  I read the article in delight; then I came to the comments.  Some of them were just plain hateful in the way that they talked about homosexuality- and everyone with a negative word said it in the name of Christianity.  I felt disgusted that people would use their religion as a weapon against others, and I felt like it limited the love of God.

Holding these disparate experiences of religion in my mind, I went to church over the weekend with two of my friends.  I grew up in the Lutheran Church and while I have struggled in recent years on some theological issues; it is, and will always be, a cultural home.  Sitting in the pew and singing the traditional liturgy was immensely comforting and brought me a feeling of contentment.  Yet, I could not help but feel a bit hypocritical sitting there, because I don’t believe Christianity to be uniquely right, or the only correct religion.

More and more often, as I talk to my peers and friends within my generation- we don’t feel that there is any one right religion.  All religions are simply a different way that we can understand and connect with God.  God’s love is powerful and prevalent in the world and around us, and can bee seen in the people we encounter every day.  Most of us don’t think that God gives a hoot if you are Gay or straight, and we don’t appreciate the church telling us that our friends are abominations.  Many churches do not go that far, they say that they love Gay individuals, some can even accept that that is how God made them, they just hate the sin.  Call me crazy- but telling someone that they cannot live as they want to and must deny who they are, cannot find love, and that fulfilling their desires would be a sin- does not feel like love.  It seems like the church in remaining dogmatically faithful places limits on God, and hinders the faith that many hold.

For years, the church has been loosing members as more and more people have started to affiliate themselves with no specific religion at all.  If the church wants to retain or even bring back the younger generation, they are going to have to become more open and accepting- and fast.  We are not a generation without faith.  We believe in God and in love, we just cant find a church community that is a comfortable fit.  For me, I miss being a part of a church community- I want to return and be a part of the love and support that a church can provide.  But I just don’t feel like I would be fully accepted if my open religious views were known.

I found it ironic on Sunday that the lesson of the day was the story of the prodigal son.  This is the parable where the son asks his father for his inheritance early, leaves home and squanders it by living the partying life, and then returns home when downtrodden.  His father welcomes him back with open arms and throws a huge party.  The brother is upset by all of this- he has worked hard and followed the rules and no one has ever thrown him a party.  The father responds with the famous line- my son was lost but now is found.  I and others like me are the prodigal sons and daughters.  We have left the church in search of the world, and we want to come home.  But would the church welcome us back as we are?  They would certainly throw a party to see the young in their pews once again, but would we be loved unconditionally as the son was, or would there be problems for bringing our worldly views back in through the door with us?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I know we want to find a new home.  The church needs to change and it knows it.  I have watched with interest this past week as the Catholic church selected a new Pope.  They know change is needed, and selected the first Pope from South America and the first Jesuit.  But is it enough?  I suppose we will just have to wait and see.  Meanwhile, I am going to keep seeing God through the wondering eyes of Pi, and praying for my church to accept all my brothers and sisters, just as God does.  I have faith.

Further Reading:

Why the First Latin American Pope Inspires Less Hope Than We Hoped

New Shepherd, Same Wandering Flock

Sign the Petition:

Change.org

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Choosing to be Single?

Yesterday, I had one of those days where it is hard to be single.  Not hard in the emotional, “oh I wish I had someone” way- but hard in the sometimes things are just easier with another person to help you out, kind of way.

I live alone (well, alone with a cat), and usually I love it.  I like coming home and not having to worry that the mess I create while making dinner will bother anyone if it does not all get cleaned up in the same night.  I like to be able to re-charge by vegging out if that is all I have the energy for, and I am completely in control of what will be watched.  As a rather large Introvert on the Meyer’s Briggs scale, I need a lot of me time to feel re-energized and balanced, and living alone allows that.  This does not mean that I don’t get lonely from time to time- but the positives outweigh the negatives, and my cat is pretty good company most of the time.

However, there are times when it would just be helpful to have someone else around.  My predicament yesterday was that my shower backed up- not just running slow, but full on standing water.  I tried everything I could possibly think of, and when none of them worked, I went to the internet for more ideas.  Finally, defeated, I called my landlord and let him know the issue.  He had me call a plumber and it was both a relief and a disappointment.  It was nice to know that I no longer needed to handle the issue alone, but I had really wanted to tackle the problem myself and feel self sufficient.  In the end, it did drain on it’s own before the plumber returned my call, it just took six hours for the liquid plumber to work.

During this whole ordeal I kept thinking how nice it would be to have a guy I could call to come help me out.  This may be very un-feminist of me, but sometimes it’s just reassuring to have a male presence in the face of household dilemmas- even if they themselves don’t know how to fix the problem.  It is a nice feeling to have someone to share the burden.

I don’t run into these types of situations often, but when I do I always find myself contemplating my singleness.  I read an article once that said it takes courage to remain single in our society.  At first I did not think this was true because courage implied a choice and I did not think I was choosing to be single, it was just my state of being.  I also did not feel personally that my single state was me acting courageously, it was simply the only way I knew how to live.  I’ve been single my entire life.  At 29 I still have never had a relationship.  This is all I know, there cannot be anything courageous in that.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to identify with it.  While I still did not feel courageous, I understood what the article was trying to say.  We live in a world today that is built around couples.  When was the last time you went to an arts event and saw someone sitting by themselves?  It feels like there is an underlying social tabu about not going to events alone.  I actually love going to the movies by myself and do so often, but I feel uncomfortable doing many other things by myself such as eating in any place that is a step up from a coffee shop.

In trying to become more comfortable with doing things by myself I want to take a trip on my own.  This has become a very frustrating process.  When looking through living social getaway packages, they are all directed at couples.  Romantic getaway for two!- they all proclaim.  OK, two is not a problem I think, I’ll find a friend to come along or enlist my Father- he’s wanted to explore some of these places.  But then as I read the details, it’s always for a King room and will have champagne or something waiting.  Not really the vibe you want on a trip with your Dad.  These kinds of promotions only remind me of my single state and make me feel like there is something else I am left out of because of it.

While all of this can be infuriating, I am still going it alone, and in a lot of ways it really is a choice.  One of my favorite go to guilty pleasure movies is The Wedding Date with Debra Messing.  In the movie, faced with the prospect of showing up to her sister’s wedding alone, Kat (Messing) hires an escort to come along and pose as her boyfriend.  One of the main messages of the movie is expressed when Kat asks her date Nick (Hello, Dermot Mulroney!) about a quote of his from an article stating that every woman has the love life that she wants.  Kat is furious-  “Do you think I want to be alone and miserable?” she throws at Nick.

Movie_TheWeddingDate

I agree with Nick, I think the answer is yes.  While I don’t believe that Kat wants to be miserable, I do believe that if she really did not want to be alone she did not have to be.  The same goes for me.  If all I wanted was to go on a date, I could make that happen.  I could find someone to ask out or join an online dating site.  Finding someone is not the problem; finding the right someone is.  I have never desired to be in a relationship just for the sake of being in one.  Yes, it would be nice to always have someone to go to a concert with or to help me with things around the house.  It would be helpful financially to share the rent if I were ever to live with someone, or even to be able to take advantage of those travel deals.  But as great as all of that would be, it doesn’t really mean anything to me if I’m not sharing it with the right person.  I don’t want to have a boyfriend just because it is great to have a boyfriend- I want it to be special.  So, until I meet that person- yes, I am choosing to remain single, and maybe it is a bit courageous.

I’ll fix that drain on my own.  And if not- that’s what plumbers are for.

All the Single Ladies- a.k.a. My Valentine’s Playlist

Everyone has heard of the 5 stages of grief.  Well, I believe that there are also 5 stages of emotion that single women go through on Valentine’s Day.  And I truly believe it’s important to deeply feel each emotion, the good and the bad.  Acknowledge it, live it, and move forward.  We can tell ourselves to be strong, or we can live in despair; but I think it’s healthier to feel each deeply as they come and then find the balance somewhere between.

To aid in the process of moving through all 5 stages, I am providing a playlist of songs that I feel exemplify each stage.  OK ladies- here we go….

Stage 1: Wallowing– All by Myself, Celine Dion

Let’s face it- it is Valentine’s, so let’s start with the hard part and just wallow in the feeling of being alone.  There is absolutely no better song to aid a good single lady wallow than All by Myself, and we can all benefit from having our own Bridget Jones moment every now and then to emotionally cleans.  While there are many versions of this song, I have to recommend Celine.  Love her or hate her- there is no denying that the woman can SING.  When she lets loose on that long drawn out anymooooooooooorrrre-oooore…chills.  Whew- can someone please pass the wine?  I have some wallowing to do.

Stage 2: Frustration– Love Song for No One- John Mayer

Now that we’ve wallowed, it’s normal to get just a bit exasperated over our perpetually single state.  I know of no better refrain to express this feeling than- I’m tired of being alone, so hurry up and get here.  Ah yes- a love song for no one indeed.  John Mayer may not be the greatest person to look to when it comes to relationships, but he kind of nails it with his observations on how scary it can be to think that we have already met the person and didn’t know it- letting our chance slip away.  What if we did meet him in the sandbox and then watched him walk away?  Frustration complete.

Stage 3: Acknowledgment- I’ve Got This Friend- The Civil Wars

We’ve been sad, we’ve gotten angry, now we start to think a bit more rationally.  Maybe, just maybe, we have a part to play in this as well.  I know that personally, I’m very guarded with my heart.  I love how in this song they sing as if they are discussing a friend when really they are talking about themselves.  The Lyric about how she hides her heart away like it’s a little secret and it’s all she has to give- yeah, I can maybe relate to that.  They say the first step is acknowledging that you have a problem- I guess I can own up that it takes two so I can be ready if that right one comes along.

Stage 4: Hope- Haven’t Met You Yet, Michael Buble

Now that we are taking a more realistic look at our single status and thinking a bit more rationally, we can start to get a bit excited again.  Yeah, that’s it- I’m just holding out for the good one, the one I can give my heart to.  I just haven’t met him yet!  Also, the blaring trumpets in this song just make me feel better- there is still hope for us singletons!  Sing it, you beautiful Canadian, you!

Stage 5: Celebration- Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It), Beyonce

Ironically, now that we have worked ourselves from face down in our gigantic bowl of ice cream to feeling optimistically Mindyish (can someone give a shot out for The Mindy Project?), we can start to see that being single really isn’t all that bad.  In fact, it can be pretty great sometimes.  We don’t need a man- without one we are pretty damn amazing and can do whatever the hell we want to.  So let’s get our Beyonce moves on and feel like the fierce and fabulous ladies that we are!

Honorable Mentions-

Standing Right In Front Of You- Keith Urban: This song is for that person you always see and think, “what if?”

Nothing In My Way- Keane: Just for the line- For a lonely soul, you’re having such a nice time… feels appropriate sometimes.

Caravan- Van Morrison:  You can’t listen to this song and not just want to be happy and hang out with your friends.  All you need is the ladies, no man required!

Thank you for taking this musical journey with me.  Own your singleness, feel the stages, and have a fantastic Valentine’s!