I follow a particular religious tradition for a variety of reasons, which I won’t go into right now. I don’t believe it is the “right” path. I am not “saved.” While I have faith in the transformative power of metaphorical miracles and mysteries, I do not believe that Moses parted the Red Sea or that Jesus fed a few thousand people with a couple of loaves of bread or that the Buddha was tempted by the chief of all demons or that Mohammed rode a winged horse.
I wend and wind, walking in the ditches, cutting cross fields and parking lots, creating a crooked path that threads back and forth, in loops and twists and tangles, through a particular tradition’s straight and narrow. This can cause me problems, but I find it is what I am called to do.
Those of you who have followed The Daily Dose of the Good (and Not So Good) Words and/or the Vermons (video+sermon=Vermon) for any length of time know that I consider anything and everything fair game. Scripture is where you find it- in the art world, in diners, in books about cleaning, in French theory, sometimes in religious texts and rituals and even in face to face, in the flesh encounters.
When I was in Philadelphia a week or so ago, I chatted up the rector at The Church of the Holy Trinity. We had a lovely short chew. He wrote about our encounter on his blog White Collar Views. Or more accurately, he wrote a blog post that placed a snippet of our conversation within a particular frame making a particular point. He quoted me to help make the case for the place for ambiguity and even paradox in the Anglican tradition. This is not the take away I took away. I was more taken with our brief discussion of lines of scripture that resonated, like verse 11, Psalm 62. “Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this.”
He made no mention of the fact that I told him that most of the time I am an atheist, even when I desperately want to believe. I find that when I tell the faithful that I am following their religion without the benefit of the belief, they slide past this statement. Paying close attention might be teeth jarringly unpleasant. I do not deny my truth. Some transcendent experiences at the communion rail, feeling “right” doing these particular rituals and very occasionally breathing in a space/time that my mind labels “God” do not add up to belief. What I do believe in is moments of connection- full of ellipsis slips- so when I notice the let’s “ease on down the road” look, I let us “carry nothing that might be a load” and “ease on down, ease on down, ease on down the road.”
I find myself on a similar slippery slope with the “unchurched.” (un-shul-ed, un-mosqued, etc.). They do not know what to make of my church going. They cannot understand how I am comforted by praying and saying things I do not believe. They are somewhat offended when I say that the church is no more flawed than any other human institution. They all- the family, the state, academia, business, lefty activist organizations, insert human grouping here- all are sites of great good and horrific harm and more often than not mediocre muddles.
I go to church, in part, as a way to embrace “the whole catastrophe.” (from Zorba the Greek, I think). It helps me accept a most irritating truth that every human, every human institution, is full of wonder and woe, joy and pain, beauty and ugliness, shadow and light, excitement and tedium and a whole lot of piddling, middling. The church harms and helps. My presence on the planet harms and helps. This is a painful truth.
It is a truth on which I have spent way too much of my life’s energy. Going to church, sitting with its contradictions, helps me hold my contradictions. Going to church stops my over-scrupulousness from entombing me in negative what if’s. The imperfect service of the church to and in the world lets me try on the possibility that it might be okay for my service to and in the world to be flawed, sometimes to be fucked up. This is no small thing. I have fallen into canyon deep pits of suicidal muck after watching my flawed, sometimes fucked attempts to give service.
The point is to get past the freezing doubt and to get to work. This might be old news for most of y’all, but I reckon for many of us with major mood disorders, places to practice accepting and working past/in the face of/despite contradictions and imperfections can be good news indeed.
So I practice a faith to practice faith.