And I’d join the movementIf there was one I could believe inYeah I’d break bread and wineIf there was a church I could receive in– U2 “Acrobat”
In my post introducing the Esse Quam Videri series, I mentioned another recurrent theme I want to introduce. It is a renewed search for what, exactly, it is I believe in, spiritually speaking.
Some background: I grew up in a hyper-religious Roman Catholic family. We were observant to a fault — In eighteen years, I only missed one mass, and that was for illness. We were uber-active: I was the youngest altar boy; than the oldest; then the youngest usher and lector. Dogma was dogma and while there was plenty of discussion, there wasn’t much, if any debate. There was probably serious hope held out that I might become a priest.
(Pausing for laughter from those who know me…)
By the time I got to college, I was churched out. I might have gone to the on-campus church a couple times, but I dropped it like a good habit and re-dedicated my Sunday mornings to hangover recovery. I didn’t miss it a bit.
In fact, as the years rolled by I thought less and less of church, religion or God. I was embroiled in a pragmatic world, and it just wasn’t on my radar screen.
Sure, there were occasional philosophical conversations with friends, and I generally came in from a highly logical atheist-leaning agnostic point of view. If anything, my personal poet laureate, Todd Snider, encapsulates much of my stated belief system in the song “Happy New Year”:
I dont know what we’re doing here.
You don’t “KNOW” what were doing here.
Now christians dont walk out on me just yet
You know whose name im yelling as im clutching my chest:
The one my dad
told me to and his told him to
And i probably pray as much or more than you do
Believe? Shit, every word i sing
But believing and knowing, those are two different things
And if you’re trying to change the way a strangers life will have to go
I believe this is where i wanna stick to what i know
Which is nothing you know, nothing for sure so
Just chill til the next episode.
Now back to the lecture at hand
Seems like my neighbor wants to kill what he cant understand
I say we cant just kill what we dont understand
But i turn on my tv and see that oh yes we can
We can and we have since then dawn of man
For countless gods whose only real seeming plan
Was to see to it that clinging to life was our fate
And you gotta admit
that lifes pretty great
Can we deny that its killing us?
I’ll be here all week
I was entirely cool with that point of view for a long time. But, somewhere around 2003, I started suffering from an internal squirm of discomfort with the notion that this is all there is. April, who retains her Christian beliefs and twice in a great while manages to get me to church, recommended that I read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. She was clever enough to know that the book’s literary conceits and good writing would distract me enough from the theology that I might actually pay attention.
I read the book, and while it didn’t create an “ah-ha moment,” it did leave me wanting to read and study further. I even started a blog at the domain “Screwtape.com” and started writing about the search for spirituality — about how I was tackling, as an adult, a “religious reset.” If I was to believe, I wanted to come to it on my own, not as someone accepting what my elders or loved ones were into as some sort of default. I read and wrote a bit about Christianity, and even started looking at some Eastern religions. A small virtual community even started developing around the blog.
The net was that I became enamored of digital communication and online community and chucked the Screwtape blog to focus on launching Pegasus News. That ride has been a roller coaster and I put myself in some of the toughest situations I’ve ever been in. Several times, at the low points, April encouraged me to pray. I couldn’t, because I didn’t know to whom to pray.
In recent months though, the squirm has come back. Part of it is a realization that not believing doesn’t necessarily mean disbelieving — and I know that I haven’t really dug deep enough in study or in spirit to have a valid point of view. This is something I’ve neglected. Part of it is that when April asks me what I do believe, I can’t stammer out anything that makes any sense. Part of it is that we may have children in the next few years — and I do believe that a church experience is good for a child, while at the same time I’m not willing to go to a church as a hypocrite, smiling and mouthing things I don’t remotely believe.
Again, Todd Snider, in “Greencastle Blues” touches on my quandary:
And you know me, I can’t take no preachin’
Not on Sunday, and no other day
But I feel like I oughta be prayin’ to something
And I have no idea what to say
So, there will be a series of religious exploration posts here, as I begin to suss out the things I believe. I’m going to re-read Screwtape. I’m currently reading Lewis’ Mere Christianity. At the recommendation of my friend Josh, I recently read Blue Like Jazz. I’ll write about all of those here, as well as whatever other sources to which they lead me.
But, knowing myself, I also know I need a structure and an accountability for any such undertaking. I also don’t want to limit myself to studying that with which (I think) I am already familiar. So, as a sub-section of this religious exploration, I am making it a goal to survey as many faith communities as possible firsthand. By necessity, they’ll mostly be local. Each week that I do this, I’ll prepare by reading up on the denomination’s belief system. Then I’ll go observe and, where appropriate, participate. I’ll interview the pastor/leader and some congregants. I’ll write up my findings in a regular feature.
This may or may not lead me to “the right church.” And I may well drop the rotation if I find a place where I want to dig deeper. I still dig my Sunday morning sleep, so my goal is to make at least two a month, possibly stretching to a third. Depending on weekend happenings, the first church survey post will come within the next two weeks — others will come sooner.
- Esse quam videri (orrenmedia.com)
- Screwtape Letters: Letter Two. (mrsfussypants.com)
- It Doesn’t Matter If It’s Allah, Jesus, or Aqua Buddha: Why “Separation Of Church And State” Exists (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Why do you support religion? (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Faith and Catholicism (brighthub.com)