Field Guide to Exploring Religion:
Expect to get dirty…
Yesterday’s post received a lot of tense comments–and rightfully so. Social Issues Week here at Project Conversion is always a test, like walking a tightrope, because there are times when it’s hard to present such issues and conflicts within certain faiths on a purely objective level. This is especially true due to the fact that I take on each religion so personally and intimately in the first two weeks. In effect, Week 3 is when I ask the faithful for their trust.
You’ve seen how I treated your faith in the first part of the month…but do you trust me to lift the curtain on the darker side of faith?
Of course, my job is to present these issues without passion or position because the faithful more often than not come to defend the faith. I wonder though, how many of you notice the greater analogy at play here?
Take a look at the About Page. You’ll notice that each month is broken into four sections:
- Rituals and Practice
- Culture and Arts
- Social Issues/Conflicts
- Personal Reflection
I occasionally interject a personal experience here and there, but for the most part I stick to this formula. Why? Because, in my opinion, this is the best way for us to look at any individual faith. The beautiful thing about this method is that one can use it to discover a personal faith or research one they are simply curious about.
Let’s take a look at why/how this works.
1) Rituals and Practice represent the first date with a religion. This is where you come face to face with the religion and understand what it’s all about. What’s it like to practice this faith? What are the motions, the rituals, the beliefs, the boundaries, colors and textures, is it traditional (picks up the bill) or modern (offers to share)? If you cannot get passed the first date, if something about the nature of the faith eats at your core about its beliefs of improper use of silverware, then its a good indicator that you might not ask for the second date.
Understand that this step is highly subjective. Let your thoughts and feelings culminate as a “gut feeling” if you are looking into this faith for personal reasons. If you are looking into the religion of your friend or a family member, try to remain objective throughout.
2) Culture and Arts is when you’ve made it through a few dates and now it’s time to meet the family. Films like Meet the Fockers come to mind. This is the part where you get to experience the outer vibrance and nuance of the faith, where cultural flare meets spiritual meaning. Not every Baptist church is the same. Don’t believe me? Attend a predominantly African-American Baptist church and then a predominantly Caucasian one and it won’t take long to notice a difference in the energy levels (in most cases). This has everything to do with the inherited cultural/spiritual traits that take generations of experience and culture to produce. Every religion has several flavors within its own brand. This is the time where you decide if being part of that color and frequency is comfortable for you. Could you handle the Jewish stream of consciousness or would you prefer the relatively gentle quiet of the Buddhist?
3) You two have dated for a while. You know who likes what restaurant. The dog no longer barks at you when you walk up to the door. Now it’s time to really get to know your significant other.
How about you move in together?
Few situations reveal more about a person than when you live with them. When we date, we place our best foot forward. The other party doesn’t see all the preparation you put into the presentation. Now, on this more intimate level, all the skeletons clink and clang in the closet. Does he snore? Does she take over the bathroom? Does he clean up after himself? Does she sing in the shower? Does he fart in bed? Is she a blanket hog? How did you get that scar? Why are there pictures of your ex in this box under the bed?
You get the idea. Social Issues Week is all about the realities and challenges each religion faces. We like to think that our respective faiths are pristine and perfect (after all, it’s from God, right?) but we often forget or simply ignore the bumpy roads every religion takes. When searching for a personal faith, we cannot brush these issues aside. This is the part where your inspection of the religion must, I repeat, must become objective. Any personal attachments or preferences at this point are now suspended, otherwise they taint your outlook. So often we settle on religions because of outward appearance or social pressure/habit/custom. What would happen if you pulled back the curtain and looked for yourself? Would you like what you see?
Once you discover the “character flaws” of a certain faith, you must decide whether or not these “flaws” give this religion a unique charm or an insurmountable obstacle. How bad is it for you personally that he has two left feet? Does it bother you that much that she’s a Red Sox fan? As with looking for a soul mate, we must understand that no religion is perfect because while they may be inspired by God, they are practiced by men, and men are imperfect.
4) Lastly, we must step away from what we’ve learned/experienced and make an assessment. It takes guts and honestly with ourselves and others to reach this stage and to come away with something you are happy with. A lot of times it involves sacrifice. You may experience love at first sight and jump right in. Other times, there’s a break-up. The point is to really dig deep and not settle just because it’s the best you think you can do. Never, ever settle. If you have a bad feeling about something, explore that more or take it as a sign to bail out. Once we start justifying questionable practices with “divine wisdom” or some other “end justifies the means” explanation, we come to a place where we no longer face reality or are ready for serious inquiry.
For me, this last stage of Project Conversion is all about what I’ve learned, what misconceptions are destroyed, what I’m taking with me, and how I’ve grown. I hope this gives you a better understand of how and why I present each month the way I do.
I have no choice but to move from month to month, but perhaps you’ve reached the end of your own religious dig and you’ve unearthed a real gem. Just as the concept of love is intangible and sometimes irrational, so is faith. You may be attracted to a faith for little more than “a still, small voice” or just a good, comfortble feeling of “rightness”. Go with it. Religion, like love, is turbulent, messy, unpredictable, and passionate. Sure, there might be a few flaws, but like each relationship, your spiritual identity is unique. Polish that gem and continue. You won’t regret it.