Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Religious Rock and a Spiritual Hard Place

In my search for "the perfect place of worship", I've come to realize that I cannot make peace between my desire for a racially diverse community and, well, all the other things that are important to me.  Racial diversity among religions tends to be the result of a long-standing tradition with missionary work.  

Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims, and Jehovah's Witnesses top the chart of most diverse religions in the US, each having a significant demographic of at least three different heritages (white, Black, Latino; white, Black, Asian; and white, Black, Latino, respectively). Catholicism ranks just a bit below these, right around the general adult US population, but mostly divided between whites and Latinos. As can be expected, the actual demographics of any particular congregation will be determined by the overall diversity of the region of the country. 

And the faiths I find most resonant with my personal belief-system - Quakers and Unitarian Universalists - rank quite low on the diversity scale, both being overwhelmingly white. (The site above doesn't list Quakers, but from other research and my personal experience, I have found this to be true.)

In no particular order, here is a list of characteristics that I would love to find in a spiritual home community.

Racial and ethnic diversity
LGBTQ rights and feminism
Pro-Life post-implantation
Inclusivity of Freethinkers
Access to religious service while traveling and geographically local
Meaningful ritual
A Sense of community, especially via small groups
Children's program for religious education
Uplifting music
Beautiful art and architecture
Inspiring sermons
Social justice, including racial justice

Bottom line, the spiritual home I envision and have been searching for simply does not exist. Therefore, I must prioritize the above and choose accordingly.  Nothing is standing in the way of me attending more than one place of worship on a regular basis.  In fact, I already know that this will happen because I have a birthright to Catholicism and a vested interest in Catholicism for the sake of maintaining a cultural link to my daughter's Filipino heritage. That said, my personal spirituality is no longer being nourished in the Catholic church, so I must look elsewhere.

Below is how I would divide the aspects of a religious community that I am looking for.

+ Due to universal missions, racial and ethnic diversity is greater than in many other religions.

+ For the same reason, I can count on finding a Catholic mass being celebrated pretty much wherever I travel.  Including local to where I live.

+ The ritual is meaningful for me due to my upbringing.

+? In older churches in particular, beautiful art and architecture are part of the landscape.

+? As for social justice, there is some of that in the Church's stance on immigration, and definitely in terms of poverty, but lacking in terms of the racial component.

? The music and sermons are hit-and-miss, dependent on individual churches, much like the art and architecture.  I've been to some very inspiring churches and some very abysmal ones.

? The Franciscan tradition does take an active interest in environmental issues, but there isn't nearly enough support or interest in these issues church-wide.  I've only ever been to one church that bothered to recycle, and it was a Franciscan parish that was also getting certified by GreenFaith.

? And while I have long agreed with the Pro-Life stance of the Catholic church when it comes to abortion, even the death penalty, I disagree with the way it has been expanded to include restrictions on birth control and fertility treatments.

I realize this will need to be specific to the religious community I am considering.  Liberal Quakers and Unitarian Universalists are on my horizon currently.  I've attended services in both traditions, but what will make a difference is the specific places of worship that are local to me.

At least these four tend to be a given in both traditions:

+ LBBTQ rights and feminism
+ Environmentalism
+ Inclusivity of Freethinkers
+ Social justice, including racial justice

Very likely are also these three points:

+? A Sense of community, especially via small groups
+? Children's program for religious education
+? Geographically local

The rest of these will need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis

Uplifting music.  I've only been to one unprogrammed (liberal) Quaker meeting where they had music, and it can hardly be said to be "uplifting".  I have better chances of hearing inspiring music at my own Catholic church.  Unprogrammed meetings do not tend to include music, period.

Beautiful art and architecture.  Part of the value-system of Quakerism is simplicity, and so generally speaking, the meethinghouses are not meant to inspire and uplift but to be humble and non-distracting.

Inspiring sermons.  Again, unprogrammed Quaker meetings do not have prepared sermons.  There may be spoken testimony by anyone present.... or there may not be.  In that sense, it's a very individual-based worship service.

Overall, what I remember liking about Quaker faith were the values and beliefs as well as social justice outreach - all things that I can easily carry with me into the UU church.  But three things I definitely have a better chance finding inside the UU church are sermons, music, and art/architecture. Perhaps the music won't be gregorian chant or gospel music - two of my favorite styles of religious music.  And the art and architecture found in old Catholic and Orthodox churches would be hard to find elsewhere.  But at least I can hope to glean some insights relevant to my spiritual walk from the sermons, since I know they won't be based on the assumption of original sin.

And the aspects of UU churches that I remember not really jiving with me were the service not being particularly meaningful because of lack of the ritual familiar to me, as well as no objection to abortion.  What it is coming down to is a matter of prioritizing.  So here goes.

Most important in a potential spiritual community for me:

1. A Sense of community, especially via small groups (the ability to get to know a manageable group of like-minded individuals where I can express my spiritual beliefs and gain insights without fear of judgment or the expectation of conformity)

2. LGBTQ rights and feminism (I need to qualify that by feminism I do not mean what has become of modern feminists, where essentially women think they should be able to get away with abortion on demand in the name of "equal rights" [um, because men do have access to abortion-on-demand??], or where women who chose to dress modestly or stay home with their children in lieu of a career are seen as enemies of the movement.  As for LGBTQ, for a long time now I have been a sympathizer with LGBTQ rights to equal treatment under the law, and nothing short of that is acceptable to me, no matter the archaic scriptural reasoning.)

3. Environmentalism.  (I've been accused of being un-Christian, back when I identified as Christian, for my concern and focus on green issues.  I kid you not.  Disgusting to think that God cares more about the afterlife than the life we are living right now.)

4. Social Justice, including racial justice. (After getting hung up on the racial/ethnic diversity aspect, I now realize that who the members are is one thing, but providing meaningful support to those of all backgrounds, even those who are not members of one's church, is another.  [Yes, a diverse demographic would be better able to provide racial mirrors for my daughter.  But that's why I intend to continue with Catholic Filipino mass. My commitment to helping her build a healthy self-identity cannot be outsourced to an activity we do once a month though, and once a week would be no better. From the Filipino mass, I need to branch out into the various events and make meaningful friendships for the sake of my daughter.]  Equally important is to actually work towards peace and justice in the world.)

5. Inclusivity of Freethinkers.  (This is essentially the reason my spirituality cannot be contained by the Catholic identity.)

6. Inspiring sermons.  (While I like to think that I think for myself, I also enjoy learning from others whose experiences and knowledge surpass my own.)

7. Children's program for religious education. (How I want to raise my daughter in terms of spirituality is never far from my mind.  While I think she will most likely go through the typical Catholic rites of passage of First Communion/Confession, I also want her to have access to non-Catholic/Christian beliefs in order to make an educated decision for herself when she grows up.)

8. Meaningful ritual. (I realize that this will involve some compromise on my part, having to be open-minded to a new normal.  What used to resonate with me about the mystery of the Eucharist within the Catholic mass no longer does so, except in a more intellectual manner.  So I need to be open to totally new rituals that express what I actually do believe and want to stand for.)

9. Uplifting music.  (I can always hope.  And if I don't find this, there's always the internet and concerts for me to find music as a part of my personal spiritual practice.  I don't need to always expect to be entertained by wonderful music when I gather for worship.)

10. Beautiful art and architecture.  (While I do think there is value in helping us lift our thoughts to things greater than us via various art expressions, the lack of such expressions should not be reason for me to stay away.  I've found just as much inspiration out in nature as I have in expensively adorned churches.)

11. Racial and ethnic diversity.  (So this is what prompted me to write this post.  My conclusion is that I cannot reasonably expect my local place of worship to look like a chapel at an international airport, as much as I would love that.  I need to have enough dimensions to my life, enough connections, that between the various activities and friends I have the diversity I desire, both for myself and especially for my daughter.)

12. Pro-Life post-implantation.  (There is a whole pro-life movement that is not affiliated with any particular religion.  If I felt truly dedicated to the cause, I could always join in its efforts.  The fact that I have only sporadically been involved with the March for Life and 40 Days for Life shows that I can hardly call myself dedicated, nor can I blame my religious community for my lack of deeper involvement.)

13. Access to religious service while traveling and geographically local.  (So I can reasonably get to the closest UU church from where I live without much of a commute, and when I travel, I can always attend Catholic mass and benefit from the various other aspects of spiritual inspiration that I find more so among Catholic churches anyway, like the architecture and art.)

The next step is to attend my local UU church.  Attend a few times.  Attend with an open mind. Attend not so that I can see if the label "UU" fits me, but attend to see if I see myself contributing to - and benefiting from - the spiritual community available there.  This is actually much different from my previous attempts at "finding a spiritual home", which were always based on a search for an apt label for myself.  I think my current labels would remain the same - cultural/birthright Catholic, Deist, Spiritually Independent.  If I do find a sense of community in the UU church, I'd only be adding to this list of labels, not replacing any of them.  My spirituality is my own responsibility, not the church where I attend.  Hopefully this attitude will serve me well on my journey.

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