Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Unexpected, Mysterious and Fun

I've been trying to think of what to say about this article from the New York Times, in which the author calls himself a "None"- meaning no religious affiliation. It's not this designation that bothers me. I'm also not too upset when he goes on to comment on how many such Nones get turned off religion by religious people. Been there, seen that, had it happen to me.

Here's the thing that gets me:

We are more religiously polarized than ever. In my secular, urban and urbane world, God is rarely spoken of, except in mocking, derisive tones. It is acceptable to cite the latest academic study on, say, happiness or, even better, whip out a brain scan, but God? He is for suckers, and Republicans.I used to be that way, too, until a health scare and the onset of middle age created a crisis of faith, and I ventured to the other side. I quickly discovered that I didn’t fit there, either. I am not a True Believer. I am a rationalist. I believe the Enlightenment was a very good thing, and don’t wish to return to an age of raw superstition.We Nones may not believe in God, but we hope to one day. We have a dog in this hunt.Nones don’t get hung up on whether a religion is “true” or not, and instead subscribe to William James’s maxim that “truth is what works.” If a certain spiritual practice makes us better people — more loving, less angry — then it is necessarily good, and by extension “true.” (We believe that G. K. Chesterton got it right when he said: “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”)By that measure, there is very little “good religion” out there. Put bluntly: God is not a lot of fun these days. Many of us don’t view religion so generously. All we see is an angry God. He is constantly judging and smiting, and so are his followers. No wonder so many Americans are enamored of the Dalai Lama. He laughs, often and well.

This gets my dander up in a variety of ways. First, and you may read however much defensiveness you wish into this because I can't stop you, I appreciate reason and science and I don't check my understanding of either at the church door. I don't expect anyone else too.

But I take my reason and science right in there with me and somehow, someway, somewhere... they encounter mystery. It's not hocus-pocus or woo-woo, it's something intangible, indescribable and desirable.  Mystery is not automatically irrational, it's just inexplicable.

Truth isn't what works. What's true is true, regardless of our ability to believe it. All of which means that I could be wrong in what I believe. I could be a little wrong (this life could be all there is). I could be a lot wrong (see: Reformation, the). I could be going to hell (does that really need parenthetical explanation?).

When Eric Weiner says that God is not a lot of fun these days, I think he might be talking to the wrong people or listening to them. The loudest voices don't speak for God. They speak for themselves or whoever is paying them. They don't speak for me. Speaking for myself, I have a darn good time.

Being religious, for me, is full of surprises, moving moments, laughter, questions and
discussion. And I see lots of people around me having a good time as well. I saw people laughing together tonight as they distributed food. I heard clergy laughing today as they pieced together sermon ideas for this week. I heard children giggling through the Christmas story and I heard adults chuckling about how to tackle serious issues related to healthcare.

I've said the wrong words during church, choked on what I was singing when a spider jumped on music, forgotten major points of what I was going to say and even skipped elements of the service. Nothing happened. To me that's not because there is no God, but because God isn't worried about that.

I don't think God's worked up about perfect worship. Solemn faces. Pristine on-key singing. Regimented liturgical actions.

For me, my life of faith is on the edge, pushing the envelope, and skidding right up to the altar rail and thinking, "The Spirit led me back again! All right! We must be okay! Grace wins again!" Because I believe in a God of fullness, a fleshed out God who lives and breathes in all creation. The God who made me laughs, because I laugh and I am made in God's image.

I believe this. I believe it is true, but my faith doesn't make it true. It either is true or it isn't. And I am living, whole-heartedly, like it is.

Which brings me back to mystery. Just because you can't pick apart and explain every detail doesn't make something unreal, dishonest or untrue. In age of science and reason, I think it's good for all of us to know that there are things we cannot explain, we cannot fully grasp, we cannot totally control. That's right. We're not totally in control and it SUCKS to admit it.

Some things are mysterious. The pull and push of certain sounds, sights and smells can be unraveled and unraveled, yet still remain, in part, unexplained. And here's where I think some Nones (not necessarily the author) and certain religious fundamentalists are singing from the same page. Everything has to have an explanation. Either it's God or science. Having an explanation is about control.

Mystery. Learn to live with it. Learn to embrace it. Roll in it and let it wash over you. Babies in hay, stirring songs, sunrise, sunset, quiet nights, bustling cities, bread and wine and thou, fire, flower buds, blue skies, water, first words, last words, kisses, and amazing coincidences.

There will be some things you will never explain. This is most certainly true.

And you just have to laugh about that.


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LoieJ said...

There is a part of the Catholic Mass that I've heard, something about "This is the mystery of faith." Yes, mystery. Because it is mysterious or because our brains aren't big enough. Yes, true things are true, even if we ignore them.