Most things that are important to me require a leap of faith. Loving requires faith that I won’t be hurt and that it is worth it to risk being my real self. Loving in families requires faith. Not everyone thinks the same, develops the same or is easy to get along with all the time. Loving in family, in community, everywhere requires faith – faith that overlooking differences or speaking gently to them and looking for the good and for the connections are practices well worth developing.
Making commitments of any kind requires faith. Without faith, it is easy for me to go to cynicism or even despair. I have to work at being positive and seeing good. It feels easier to say “Screw it” or “I don’t care,” even when I actually do care. Self-pity feeds on itself and grows. This is not my happy place!
So, I am faced with the question of faith in what? Or whom? This question seems more complicated to me these days. And in some ways much simpler. I, and I suspect many others, have often confused faith with religion or religious beliefs. They are connected sometimes, but they are different.
The world of religions has grown and changed a lot over the past several decades. I found helpful a book by Kenneth Woodward, the retired Religion Editor of Newsweek, Getting Religion: Faith, Culture and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama. Woodward describes vividly the evolution from the boom time for Western religions in the ’50s when Catholic and Protestant churches dominated U.S. towns and cities through the succeeding secular era to our now much wider menu of religious options. Younger generations now feel much freer to say “No thank you” to the religions of their parents and grandparents.
One stark awareness from this book is that there was much less choice and much more geography that determined the faith of earlier generations. At the risk of oversimplification, if you grew up in the South, you were more likely to be Baptist than Catholic. In a large urban area, Catholic or Jewish or mainline Protestant religions dominated depending on the state or city.
This makes the fierce competition over who has the “right God” and the “heaven pass” kind of silly. If you grew up someplace else in a different family, you learned a different answer to the same question.
My own story is one of being born near Baltimore where the Catholic Church in America began. My Mom’s family was Irish and Catholic so there was no question about what our beliefs might be. And as the oldest, with encouragement from my Mom, Grandmom and the local priest, I took the offer to go to a Catholic seminary and lived there from 9th grade through the end of college except for summer and holiday breaks.
I was attracted to the seminary because when I sat alone in my small parish Church, I felt safe and loved. This faith in some power that loves me and keeps me safe has stayed with me over a lifetime of believing, not believing, not being sure and not being certain I am loved by some force or spirit bigger than me.
Twelve Step spirituality has deepened this faith. I was told there I could choose who I wanted God to be and what I wanted God to do for me. Once I “came to believe” in some power, I was asked to surrender to trusting the love and care of this Power.
A recent study by the Fetzer Institute confirms the movement from rejecting religion, or some parts of it, to embracing spirituality or mindfulness as a way of faith. The challenge, I believe, is in not having the words or ways of communicating about what the many paths to faith have in common. Too much of our energy seems to go to defending and fighting for our faith and beliefs against the beliefs of others and not enough to looking for what is there about faith that unites most of us, if not all of us.
In the next several posts, I am inviting people of different faiths and ways of expressing faith and doubt to share their journey. My hope is that we might all come to see a broader view of how faith shapes lives and how we might better respect and learn from faith journeys different than our own.