I’ve never been much of a religious person. Honestly, I can’t even say I’ve ever been much of a spiritual person.
I grew up Methodist and I attended church pretty regularly for the first few years of my life. I distinctly remember our church being a big part of our lives when I was litte–everyone that I can remember our family spending time with during those years were members of the same church. I have as many memories of events and people from our church as I do of anything else from those years.
But when we moved out of Birmingham when I was five, my parents never found a church that seemed to click for them in quite the same way as our old one had. We moved to Louisiana, and then finally to Florida. We tried several other churches, but eventually my parents just gave up. My religious education stopped when I was about nine.
I grew up Methodist, but even now I couldn’t tell you a single damn thing about the Methodist faith.
The part of the country where I did most of my growing up was heavily evangelical Christian–Southern Baptist, Assembly of God and the like. Very, very conservative and, at least in my hometown, very vocal and strident about their faith. One church there has had a “revival” that’s been going on for a decade, since Father’s Day 1995 (and which, coincidentally, has earned massive, massive sums of money for the church–the revival’s an enormous full-time business).
And while I didn’t actively examine my own beliefs, I knew that I didn’t like most of what was so loudly and proudly proclaimed in my town. It always seemed to be that these people who claimed to feel so much love for and from God were simply preaching hate, intolerance and exclusion. I believed in a loving and forgiving God (still do), not a spiteful, vengeful God (or whatever name you want to give to your higher power…”God” works for me, even if it’s not necessarily “God” in a strictly Judeo-Christian sense).
What turned me off was less the religion than the religious.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more and more searching for some kind of spiritual guidance and connection. I tried studying some of the big-name Eastern religions, and while I found aspects of Taoism and Buddhism that I really appreciated, I just couldn’t quite “get it” enough ever to consider myself Buddhist or Taoist.
After my kids were born, I realized I had to start considering more than just my own ongoing religious quandaries. I want my children to grow up with a strong moral and ethical framework, and while the wife and I feel it’s predominantly our responsibility to give them that framework, some institutional backing wouldn’t hurt, a community or organization that will help instill in my girls the values I hope they carry with them.
All of that’s a five-hundred word preface for saying this: my family went to church yesterday, the first time I’d attended a regular weekly service in more than twenty years. We went to a Unitarian Universalist service at the First Unitarian Church of Providence.
And so help me God-or-whatever-you-want-to-call-it, I actually enjoyed it.
I don’t want to turn this into anything resembling preaching, especially since I’ve been to exactly one service. But I feel like I’ve finally found a liberal religious tradition that’s inclusive rather than exclusive, that highly values tolerance and diversity, that respects the personal beliefs of all people, that really and truly does seem centered on love for everyone instead of love for people who believe the same things I do. I’ve found a place that made me feel like it’s okay to believe the things I do, and it’s also okay for me not to know exactly what I believe just yet–the journey is what’s important, not the destination.
It seems like very, very few of my friends have any sort of active religion or spirituality in their lives (with some notable exceptions–hey, Newberry, I’d love to hear your thoughts!). If they do, they certainly don’t talk much about it. Not coincidentally, most of my friends lean toward the political left. I think that those of us whose political and social beliefs tend to be more liberal have found ourselves more and more alienated from the increasingly conservative world of modern religion. It’s nice to know that there are compassionate alternatives out there to The Gospel According To Dubya.
I still have some long-standing kinks in my think to work through regarding this whole church-going thing. Twenty-plus years of distaste for organized religion can’t get washed away in one Sunday morning gargle of UU goodness. But I’m glad that I’ve finally found something that seems good to me, something beautiful–something that fits.