Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Long Road Home

For as long as I can remember, organized religion and I have not gotten along. Sadly, it has often presented itself to me wrapped in judgment, hypocrisy, hatred, intolerance and a long list of rules that tell me I'm dirty, wrong and need to learn obedience to a deity that seems to have lost interest in the fate of mankind. This, I could never swallow.

At the same time, I envied (and continue to) folks that possess a strong faith in a higher being that will take care of everything. 'Seems very handy,' I always think, 'I'd sure like to think Someone is in charge so I can relax a little.' Therefore, every decade or so, I embark on a personal spiritual quest and poke around, ask questions, read books, talk to churchy folks I admire and generally double check to see if I missed something. My aim is always to score an invitation to this party that my own (dis)beliefs have shut me out of.

As for my own religious upbringing, it was wonderfully generic. As a family, we occasionally attended Lakewood Village Community Church, which is technically Christian but in a sort of all-inclusive way. I don't remember any ideas placed in my head about other religions being wrong, just different. Still, the Clisby Clan wasn't there all that often, as most of our Sundays were spent on motorcycles or ripping around in dune buggies, getting mud in our teeth.

My first spiritual adventure took place when I was 19 or so. I was taking a World Religion class in college with great enthusiasm, sitting front and center, hand always raised in earnest. The semester-long assignment was tailor-made for me: Visit as many houses of worship as possible and write an essay about each one. I went to chapels, monasteries, cathedrals and synagogues, technically "on assignment" but secretly hoping one would spark something inside me, something I could hold on to and believe in.

Nothing. Though I did get an 'A' in the class, I've been chasing this elusive spiritual spark ever since. Now with religion playing a lead role in bloody world politics, the concept drives me away even further. (Don't even bring up the long-accepted pedophilia within the Catholic Church unless you want to see this blog actually FROTH and burn up your computer monitor with rage.)

I have never been able to pray. I always felt ridiculous because I am basically talking to myself. Again, I like the concept, aiming your loving thoughts and healing energy toward the well-being of others, but I could just never get past the sense that no one is listening. This was until last February, when my friend, Fran, got promoted and now works in The Front Office as God's go-to man. (Technically, this means he had to leave Earth but some big jobs demand relocation.) Anyway, now I talk to Fran and I know he's listening. Especially since I firmly believe he was behind my move to Colorado in the first place - he just used MonkMan as a tool, which, ironically, he is.

Since my arrival, I have made a number of friends who seek a similar peace. Though the New Age-y stuff doesn't really jive with me (a crystal is a pretty rock, people! That's it!) I do appreciate both the complexity and simplicity of learning from other's similar quest.

My friend, Neal, for example is a self-described "seeker of truth" and for him, the path is laid with numbers and symbols. At one party after another, Neal tries to engage me in his latest discovery in quantum physics and I try to follow as long as possible until my own modest brain (which is more hard-wired for tracking movie trivia and celebrity meltdowns) can no longer keep up. Last night, fast and furious as always, Neal was showing me geometric diagrams and lists that point to similarity in all the major world religions and how it was leading him to study the major philosophers of each. I asked him if he had a favorite. Looking up from a book, he smiled broadly and, for once, spoke slowly, "Jesus."

So, this morning, I did something I have not done in years. I willingly took my body and its encased hungry soul into a house of worship. Please note: I was not sporting a bridesmaid dress, nor was I earning a grade and there were no dead bodies involved. No one knew and I was not expected; no pressure but from within.

A few months ago, I had felt that urge rise in me again and went religion shopping online via Wikipedia. 'Hmmm, I heard Quakers are nice. I think there was something about them on "Six Feet Under" once. I eat their oatmeal every morning so that's a good start, right?'

All info looked great to me until I got to their 'Testimony of Simplicity' which espouses a practice of "plainness" in their dress and outward appearance as well as in their speech. Um, so what am I supposed to do with my stash of glitter eye make-up and my extensive feather boa collection? And am I supposed to stop swearing and speaking my mind? Are those cracker Quakers kwazy??? Next!

Eventually, I found Unitarian Universalism which basically is a bunch of folks who feel strongly about building a spiritual community and encouraging intellectual discourse but without all the fire and brimstone. "Theologically liberal" was one description. Sounded like there might be room in there for me.

I had been meaning to test out the First Universalist Church of Denver for months but when I saw this week's sermon, "Paying Attention: The Gift of Listening" I knew the time had come. Listening is a pet topic of mine and feel it has become a lost art - our ears are either jammed with cell phones or plugged up with iPods, not to mention all the media noise. I once proposed a seminar on the topic to a grassroots touchy-feely kum-ba-ya type organization in San Francisco and it was originally accepted but later cancelled for lack of space. (Note to self: I need to resurrect this.)

This Sunday, I felt a tingle of something. Maybe it was because immediately upon arrival I purchased two small quotation books, Oscar Wilde and Abraham Lincoln, from their impressive bookstore. Maybe it was the warm welcome I received from so many people who noticed I was new and alone. Maybe it was the essay I saw tacked to a wall, "The Dangers of Becoming Sheeple." Then again, it may have been the sanctuary itself, which did not present images of death, violence and ghosts, as I feel so many do. The only symbol was a candle with a circle around it.

I think the moment I knew I would return to this place was when the Reverend Kirk approached the podium and began his sermon on listening: "It was that great philosopher, Rodney Dangerfield, who once said: 'In my family, we were so poor, we couldn't even pay attention …'" He went on to quote Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and a few other wise folks, some of whom happened to be children. I enjoyed it tremendously.

Yes, indeed, this just might work.


Howard said...

I'd like to talk about pedophilia in the Catholic Church...

Damn {putting away fire extinguisher}.

The first Quaker paragraph had me in stitches and I love that the Reverend quote Rodney Dangerfield. Hilarious!

Sounds like you found a good fit!

Fang Bastardson said...

Good luck with that...

We tried UU for a while there, but for me, it did not work.

My theory is that for a religion to be a Religion, it has to be composed of a group of adherents drawn together by a common set of beliefs (no matter how outlandish). UU failed in that key area, as the community with which we attended services seemed to be united only in their lack of a consistent belief system.

Moreover, as nice and welcoming as I found the people therein, so are the Moonies until you sign away the family farm. So is a crack dealer until he’s got you strung out on his shit. Nice and welcoming are attractive assets, but they do not a religion make.

And as much as I agreed with their general left-wing slant on stuff in general, after a couple of weekends I felt more like I was going to a union meetin’ than a church meetin’.

It just ain’t church, to me, if there isn’t a unifying God concept for the congregants to congregate around. I have no problem with well-meaning agnostics and atheists getting together to share and discuss ways to practice their left-wing values, but don’t call it church. Call it what it is – a union meetin’.

Start a war against the infidels, nail your founder to a tree, lock your kid in the cellar until his impure thoughts pass – now you’ve got yourself a church!

Kath said...

Good luck with your search.

Tamburlaine said...

You might try the Hare Krishnas. They offer fine vegetarian food and dancing.

hubs said...

Fang, That was awesome.

Liz, one of my favorite (long gone) denver bloggers was a member of the UU in capitol hill (i assume that's where you attended) and went by the name of Kilgor Trout (a character in 'the breakfast of chamions'). Here is his blog