Monday, June 26, 2017

Taking the Long Way Home
After stopping by the University Friends Meeting in Seattle this past weekend, I looked back through this blog to see when I last visited. Turns out it was exactly one year ago, to the weekend. How strange that I'd get the urge to go for a visit at the same time of year.

I visited because there are things about the Quaker way of doing things that still appeal to me. I like that Quakerism is a mystical tradition of sorts -- looking for our inner light and seeing "that of God" in everyone; listening for the Spirit to speak through us and minister to others; seeing Scripture not as a limiting rulebook but as one recorded moment of ongoing revelation. I appreciate the lack of hierarchy and the emphasis on the equality of all people. I love the enveloping, peaceful silence. And I very strongly embrace the Peace Testimony. You won't find many Quakers draping themselves in the flag and rallying everyone to "support the troops."

But now, having attended another meeting, I'm pretty sure I have no need to go back, at least at this point on my spiritual journey.

Here's the problem: Had you gone to Sunday's meeting, you never would have known Quakerism was a Christian denomination. One problem I've always had with progressive religion is that sometimes it seems so eager to strip away all theology that there's no obvious difference between a progressive church and a liberal social club. I can stay home and listen to NPR, or I can trek out to a Quaker meeting and hear people rise to say the same things I'd hear on the radio.

Not that there was no spiritual content at all at the meeting. There was. But it was about Islam.

I have nothing against Islam. But I'm still trying to come to grips with the seeming contradiction in the testimony I heard. It went like this: A teacher rose to talk about the dress she was wearing, given to her by her Islamic students. She used that as a springboard to talk about religious plurality, which is all well and good. But she made a point of saying it was hard to get used to how Muslim men won't shake a woman's hand, or how they'll often show disrespect to single female teachers at the school. Yet she closed her comments by saying how much she honors those of the Muslim faith.

So wait -- you say it's hard to deal with disrespect from Muslims you come into contact with, but two minutes later you say how you honor their faith?

Here's what I don't get about this. If the context were changed -- if it were an average Caucasian male refusing to shake hands or disrespecting female teachers -- I have no doubt this same person would have given us a lecture, and justifiably so, about how men have to get with the program and stop treating women in a subservient way. Surely she wouldn't say she honored their views in that case, would she? Why would you honor rude behavior in one instance but not in another? Why should someone's religion make them exempt from criticism?

I'm reaching the point of not being able to understand the political left anymore. There's a sense of fundamentalism creeping up around progressive social discussion, such that it's straining relations between races, sexes, and religions and creating a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas. Much of what I'm hearing these days seems nonsensical and contradictory, yet it's spoken with an increasing relentless stridency, and, most disturbingly, with a growing intolerance of opposing views. That's not progressive. It's the very opposite.

Moreover, it's dividing people into smaller and smaller identity groups. And we don't need more division. As much as it's good to celebrate our differences, it's just as important to cherish the things that bind us together, if not more so. The narcissism inherent in embracing micro-identities is not healthy for our culture or our world.

That's not to say I've become a conservative, because I reject war and capital punishment and cuts to the social safety net. I dislike guns. I have little use for patriotism and militarism. I support the separation of church and state -- I don't want to see flags in a church sanctuary. And I like to celebrate our human differences (again, as long as we also observe what unites us).

I already knew I don't have a political home. But everything seems to be so politicized these days that the political world is starting to creep into religious and spiritual life as well. I'm not a fan. I really do believe in separating church and state, in every sense. When I want politics, I can pull up the news on my computer. But when I go to church, I want to forget about that and nourish my spirit for an hour. I don't want my religion served up with an agenda.

That's the main reason I couldn't stick with Orthodoxy, which I was exploring for a few months earlier this year. In every single Orthodox liturgy, there's a prayer for the armed forces. I simply can't participate in that. As a pacifist, the only prayer I can offer for the armed forces is for them to lay down their arms and come home. That wasn't my only issue with Orthodoxy, but it was the one that nagged at me the most -- and in the end, I couldn't reconcile that prayer with my own faith life.

The Anglicans and Episcopalians also didn't work out for me, for related (but not identical) reasons. A local Gnostic group I find quite interesting, yet even there a pre-Eucharistic prayer is offered up for "the worldly authority of our country, the people and institutions of our land."

So I've ended up, almost by default, back in the Catholic church. In a way I don't mind. It's where I was raised, and for now it's where I'm (more or less) comfortable. God is still allowed his pronouns in most Catholic churches, and I can feel close to my Blessed Mother Mary in a way that almost no other church allows. The Orthodox love Mary, too, but in the end, it was time to come back to what I know. It wasn't for a lack of trying to find another place to call home, that's for sure. In the end, the Catholic church seems to be my least bad option.

The Catholic church is imperfect in many ways, but it does feel like home. I've done what's necessary to get myself back in good standing with the church -- playing by its rules so I can receive the sacraments. So for now, for better or worse, that's where I'll stay.

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