Thursday, October 11, 2012

Learning to Speak Another Language

Beer church (Wednesday night at 8pm, Horse Brass Pub, come on down!) has been a great learning experience for me over the last few months.  It’s a lot of fun to not only talk through my religious journey with an ever-changing variety of people, but also to listen to theirs.  In this setting, evangelism is not the goal, so a lot of the usual pressures of multi-faith discussions are taken away.  Souls aren’t for sale, and so people aren’t treated like prospective customers (try openly confessing to not wanting to be an atheist anymore - the sales pitches are plentiful!).

Something that has been striking to me recently is how language plays such an important part in our personal religious journeys.  The phrases and concepts people use are so different, but so often the same.  In my Baptist culture growing up, there was a lot of focus on the pessimistic interpretation of the Bible and of the world.  Ideas like original sin, depravity, hell, the need for salvation - lots of “I’m bad but God is good.”  Buddhist culture is quite the opposite.  When I attended a Buddhist meeting earlier this year, one of the few things spoken from the pulpit was “you are already perfect.”  Quakers, the liberal branch of which I’m beginning to align myself with, almost never speak of things like sin, hell, and depravity.  They speak of light, community, and peace.  Because they believe in ongoing revelation (a trait they share with the Mormons), they aren’t stuck worshipping a dead book, and this frees them to spend their time listening for truth instead of obsessing over every hermeneutical detail.

What I appreciate about liberal Quakers is their acceptance of different forms of language.  If words like God, Christ, Jesus, etc.. make you uncomfortable, don’t use them!  Many of my Quaker friends frequently refer to holding someone in the light, as opposed to “I’ll pray for you.”  For people like me who have a lot of baggage tied up in the “old language,” it’s freeing to be able to express positive will towards someone without having to fraudulently refer to prayer.

Another thing that has stood out to me at beer church is that no matter what name is given to our religious identity (yesterday we had 2 Thelemites, a conservative Vineyard member and his family, an agnostic, a Quaker pastor, and whatever I am), we all seem to want the same thing.  We want to make sense of ourselves, our lives, whatever “other than me” might be out there, and we want our understanding of these things to make our lives better.  I think it’s important that we recognize this commonality in each other.  My struggle is to remember that this is also true of those who still believe the things I have rejected.  No matter how narrow or mean I may find their beliefs to be, they hold their beliefs for the same reasons I’m looking for mine, and it does me no good to write them off.

To close for today, the Quaker pastor that attended beer church last night gave me some great advice for recognizing if a church community is right for you.  “Just stand up and yell FUCK! If they still accept you afterwards, you’re in the right place.”

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