Soundtrack in my head: Throwing Muses, “Soul Soldier”
My original idea with this website was to write about both co-op living and my religion and spiritual path. So far, I’ve written quite a bit about the former, but little about the latter. I think maybe part of the reason is that spirituality is, in many ways, much more difficult to write about.
I mean, on one level, it’s very easy to write about spirituality. People have done so for as long as written history exists. Being understood, however, is a whole different story.
Take the word “God,” for instance. The word means so many different things to so many different people. There’s the God described in the Bible, the God described in the Koran, and in other religions around the world. Then there are those look at the word “God” and see an icon of an oppressive and/or patriarchal religion, and yet others who see an icon of a rather primitive belief system no longer relevant in our modern, high-tech society. So, if I open my mouth and start talking about God, what is it that the reader or the listener actually hears?
I remember once someone asked me if I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. I asked him what he meant by that. It was a very sincere question—the liberal Presbyterian/United Church of Christ church I was raised in never used that kind of phraseology. I could see myself answering either yes or no depending on what that phrase meant to him. Unfortunately, by asking that question, I didn’t give him the answer he wanted to hear, and he proceeded to tell me that my question was proof that I was turning my back on God and was in need of being saved.
Religion and spirituality have both a wonderful and a horrible history. By tuning in spiritually through various religions, people’s lives have often changed for the better, sometimes drastically. People have been able to give up addictions and change other bad habits in their lives, become more loving, kind, positive and more motivated by high ideals. Religion and spirituality have given people perspective, comfort and strength when things seemed to be at their worst. People have said that whole new worlds have been opened to them. I would certainly put myself in that category.
At the same time, religion has also caused people to suspend their better judgment, to negate what they see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears and instead submit to something that may only by tangentially related to God. I’ve seen how people stop thinking independently, trembling in fear of what they think is God, but in reality is someone else’s agenda, perhaps tacked on to an existing religion. An agenda dressed up in what might look like the shrouds of the Almighty to some, but truthfully are no more real than smoke, mirrors, and a man behind the curtain whom we are told to pay no attention to.
So, given the dizzying array of experiences with God and religion, how do I even begin to talk about spirituality in a way that I’m understood?
I could talk about service to God and how I think God has guided me–but then people might think I’m like the Religious Right trying to push a political agenda. Likewise, if I talk about about things in a non-Christian context, someone else may label me a heathen or into devil worship.
It would be tempting not to say anything at all. But that would also get me nowhere.
Clear communication starts with me. If I say to my friend, “I try to serve God and be guided by God on a regular basis,” and she concludes that I subscribe to a right-wing political agenda, then communication hasn’t really occurred. I say something but she hears something different. That’s a failure of communication on my part.
Sure, someone could say that my friend is narrow-minded. I’m not quite sure I agree with that. We live in a diverse society and every person’s view of the world is, to a large degree, the sum of everything s/he have experienced up until now. So if the only people she’s met who talk about serving God are people who are politically conservative, I can’t judge her for coming to that conclusion. Even if she is being narrow-minded, so what? Am I going to just sit there on my self-righteous laurels and judge her for that?
Being humble, I might realize that my friend might respond more positively to, “I feel spiritually called to try to make a positive difference in the world.” In essence, I have said nothing different from the first statement, except maybe being bit more specific–but it’s something that she understands better. Now communication has occurred.
Indeed, if I decide that she is narrow-minded because my initial choice of words communicated to her something entirely different than what I intended, I am no different than that guy who got all judgmental about my response to his question about “accepting Christ as my savior.”
Talking about spiritual matters may be challenging, but it’s not rocket science either. It requires understanding who it is you’re talking to. I’ve been thinking about this more lately with the international furor over the cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed. I am a big believer in free speech because human beings are inherently imperfect and it sometimes becomes necessary to raise issues. But when it comes to making an effective case for free speech, the cartoons really were NOT a good move. What have those publishers achieved? Now, in the minds of millions of devout Muslims around the world, free speech equals the desecration of a holy religious symbol, which probably has set back the cause for free speech in various parts of the Muslim world.
So it’s necessary and important to understand who you’re talking to and how to reach them. It’s important to establish common ground because it is only from that common ground that you have a chance of making yourself understood.
For the preacher on the street with the megaphone who pontificates without regard for listeners passing by because he feels that God will guide the righteous souls to him, I have two words for you: dream on.
Communication becomes more challenging still when I put something up on a website, since Web surfers come in all shapes, sizes and religious beliefs. Even so, I think I can start from the assumption that many who would choose to read this page on a somewhat regular basis believe, to varying degrees, that there is validity in just about all religions.
And so I can offer my pledge to do my very best to talk about my spiritual experiences in a way that people can understand and hopefully relate to. I would also ask you, gentle reader, to read what I say with an open mind, and not be quick to categorize what I say as liberal, conservative, Christian, un-Christian, New Age, or whatever. I never have, and never will, fit neatly into other people’s little categories.