Abandon Religion (and Save Faith)

No matter your position or perspective to this post’s title you have a response. You might be smiling: far-removed from Sunday mornings in the pew, a passed offering plate, a sermon, some songs, and that never-satisfied ache for something more. You might be wincing: feeling the nerve just pinched; palpably aware that what’s being espoused in your community of faith feels less and less relevant and has little to no impact or meaning in your day-to-day life. You might be shocked: convinced and committed to religion (and certainly the church) as the best (if not only) way to grow and sustain your system of beliefs and ascribed lifestyle with any degree of integrity, value, and worth.

All three of these make sense to me, are uniquely legitimate in and of themselves, and have their own profound history in my life. And because of such, with no second-guessing or residual regret, I can say this:

I have abandoned religion.

And even more, I can say this:

In abandoning religion, my faith did not abandon me.

I grew up in the church with steeped and loved familiarity in ritual, routine, and rhetoric. Summer camp with s’mores and altar calls. Christian college with weekly chapel services and late night study sessions peppered with theological musing. Missionary work in Korea and the humbling privilege of impacting others’ lives. Marriage to a pastor and the blessing/curse of being loved, esteemed, and looked up to by an entire community of faith. Seminary and a degree that invited me to feminist interpretation, Greek and Hebrew languages, and a culturally-sensitive critique of the church. Ordination and the honor and privilege of administering holy sacraments: marriage, communion, baptism. Providing Spiritual Direction and receiving the deep gift of listening to the stories of others and inviting them to new, powerful, and healing metaphors/understandings of god.

I no longer attend church. Ending the marriage to the pastor pretty well took care of that. Some early attempts in new places: the songs made me ache, communion made me cry, and the sermons made me mad.

But leaving church…and thereby religion did not mean that it left me. Belief endures. I still provide Spiritual Direction and am consistently stunned by the poignant stories of others and our shared hunger for a god that makes sense (while simultaneously remaining bigger and more mysterious than we can grasp or define). I am still ordained and if you ask me, I’ll offer you any sacrament you desire. I still look at old stories through the lens of original language, finding again and again that Greek and Hebrew are more poetic and profound than we could have ever imagined. I’m a passionate feminist who loves theology. (This is not a paradox, if you wondered). And I still eat s’mores.

Abandoning religion has hardly been easy; an arduous and life-long journey in many ways. But in turning my back on religion I have found belief and saved face faith.

Abandoning religion has:

  • invited me to curiosity, hard questions, and no easy answers.
  • provoked and provided  chosen system of beliefs (or lack thereof).
  • created space for something bigger than doctrine or dogma.
  • introduced me to people and philosophies I would have otherwise never known.
  • offered me experiences of relationship and community beyond compare.
  • sent me on a hunt for something new, something mine, something potent and passionate.
  • brought me back to ancient stories of women in Scripture who astonish me with their strength, their tenderness, their grace, their wisdom.
  • (re)introduced me to god; a god not bound by systems or structures, creeds or catechisms.
  • asssured me that I am not alone.
  • saved my faith. 

A faith of doubt, not certainty. A faith of hope, not reason. A faith of wonder, not apologetics. A faith of inclusiveness, not exclusivity. A faith in self, relationships, the goodness of humanity, the beauty of creation, the love of God.

So, I smile because I have somehow, amazingly, perhaps miraculously moved from depth to depth, meaning to meaning, grace to grace, and in all, experiences of God that are unbound and endlessly surprising. I wince because so many either swirl in confusion or march away in disgust, missing the gifts of shared story, shared hope, shared community. And I’m shocked that we’re not having better conversations that invite rich, provocative, curious, and full-of-life experiences of one another, of god, and yes, of faith. More than shocked, I am sad.

I believe we are ravenous for smart, sophisticated conversation about faith, God, beliefs, and spirituality in ways that don’t cause our skin to crawl or our claws to come out or our defenses to go up. That’s the conversation I’m hosting and the community I’m serving. Hungry? Take, eat.

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