Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Being a Religious Free-Agent

The old saying goes like this:

"My mother told me to never talk about three things: religion, politics, and money."

My mother never actually told me that (her rule is if it needs to be talked about, it will be talked about, which I am very thankful for). That being said, I realize it’s a sensitive issue, so please take this with a grain of salt, as this is just one woman’s path of exploration and very honest feelings on her experiences.  

Religion goes a little something like this for me: being raised Catholic has been something with which I have settled for a long time.  I have always known I was settling.  And I am not talking about settling in terms of getting cozy with the idea, I am talking about in terms of remaining Catholic, but not in a comfortable or sustaining way. I have always had little inklings of an uncertainty in my mind.  My parents are great Catholics and sent me to religious education, but I continued to feel like I was being run through the mill of all these life markers that I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted, but not sure that I didn’t want, either.  What I learned in religious educaton never translated to something that I felt.  It was still just more information about a religion to which I was supposed to belong.   I am sure that there are plenty of "cradle catholics" that have felt this way... settling for what was being taught and not really grasping fully the goings on with your whole self.  I want to make clear that this is no one's fault.  Religion is a really personal thing, and that's something I think most can agree on.  Similar to building any relationship, it takes time and commitment.  And even though you want them to, sometimes things just don't click.  As I went through high school, I learned about other religions and did a little research here and there, but ultimately I ended up settling again.  I reasoned that I didn't have to be comfortable with everything, that I could make it my own regardless.  Instead of that, I ended up not really participating at all.  I've been drifting along, with an occasional prayer, in whatever I've established to be my own semi-functional spiritual existence. 

After the engagement, I started to plan for everything. And I mean Everything.  If you know me well enough, you know that this is unusual. Getting engaged, however, has been different. Not only am I absolutely thrilled to be marrying my best friend and my favorite person in life, but I get to plan a rad party so everyone can celebrate how awesome we are. Pretty sweet.  So after stumbling upon the issue of ceremony a few times, I realized that it's high time I pick up the situation of my religious inklings and resolve it once and for all.  I need to figure out where I fit.  I'm an adult, and I have some level of spirituality happening, but it doesn't really have a home.  I honestly think I have been really lucky to be a musician, because on some level, music sustains that rather neglected aspect of my life. I do, however, need a home for it now.  I'm not going to go into the deeper layers of the uncertainty(discomfort?) I have with Catholicism, but I will say that there is one issue that has become particularly important to me, especially since the engagement, and that issue is feminism.  I don't burn my bras and I am not a man-hater by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I have often claimed to understand dudes way better than I understand a lot of women.  But I have always wondered about being a girl, since I was pretty young. What that means for me, for other girls, right now. My catholic upbringing has also clashed with some of my most basic beliefs about being a girl: that we should have an equal part.  Men and woman are totally different creatures, but there's a reason it takes two: and that is because we're a team, which my wonderful parents have always exemplified through the years. And not a team that defines its roles by a generalized and stereotyped model, but one that works for the talents of two people, whatever people they may be.  Men in Catholicism are in all of the leadership positions, even though religious education of children has traditionally been a woman’s responsibility.  We end up getting stuck with all of the responsibility and none of the power.  I’m not at all calling for an entirely female clergy, that’s not something I agree with, either.  Excluding men would only perpetuate the problem.  I want to find a place where equality is built into the system. We don’t harp on it, we don’t have to even think about it, but it just exists.  

I recently read a book called “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by one of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd.  I found it while looking for more books of hers, and because after reading the description, I thought, “Oh!  That’s me!”  The book goes into Sue’s transformation from being a “good little wife/lady/daughter/mother,” to really understanding what she needed in her life, and to taking care of her spiritual needs as a woman, which tend to be largely undernourished and sacrificed for everyone else’s needs.  This is a theme, in our culture and society. When I think about all of these roles, the good wife, the good daughter, the good mother, it is the sacrifice that comes to mind.  All of the women I have known who have done their absolute best to fulfill these roles sacrifice everything they have endlessly.  When a woman gives endlessly, there’s often little room to take for herself.  In my young and inexperienced life, I have still lived enough to see the maddening effects of endless giving of yourself.  If you don't take care of yourself, as well, you'll wither, and no one will get the care they need.

This is why it’s important to me to change.  It’s not something I can gloss over and settle for, in any aspect of my life.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to never wear a dress again and demand that my man get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, because that’s not what it’s about.  It’s about respect, options, and choices.  If all of my decisions can come from a knowing, observant, and representative place, I can begin to change what it is I want for my own daughter, and for my son.  It’s also a weighty feeling, realizing that all of these decisions need to be carefully thought out, because they will be everything my own kids, when I do have them, experience in the world for their first years, and probably set the stage for the rest of their lives.

At the encouragement of my Dad, who has been ridiculously awesome through all of this (I know he is not such a fan of my explorations, even though he knows I have to do what I have to do) I have been doing a lot of reading up on feminists within the Catholic church... and let me tell you, it's quite a scene. From what I have gathered, there are a lot of women who know what they believe and remain in the Catholic church, but are constantly at odds with it. I've read a great number of articles titled: "Feminist Catholicism," and by the end of nearly every article, I am always left with the feeling that there really is no resolution. All this discussion and research has given me a few things to take away, though.  1) Few people, if any are ever really perfectly in tune with their religious institution of choice. 2) Ancient traditions are ancient and unchanging for reasons, and mostly likely good reasons, whether you agree with them or not. 

I don't think I realized all the things my parents taught me by example as I was growing up.  Their marriage taught me that parents are a team, no matter what.  My mom's own thoughts on religion taught me that you need to make it your own and believe what you believe whole-heartedly. My dad taught me that tradition can be something powerful that roots you in a profoundly deep meaning.  Both of my parents taught me, in their own very unique and different ways, about the very personal make-up of spirituality.

Spirituality is something that I believe is innate.  You don’t need a book, a religious institution, or a community to show you the wonders of the world.  You do this on your own.  Everything you learn as a child is new and exciting, and many times, absolutely wondrous (peek-a-boo, anyone?).  I believe that spirituality’s center is wonderment. You begin to develop a sense that there is something greater and more amazing at work than yourself and the people you know.  For some, it’s nature, science, and nothing more.  For others, it’s God, for still others, it’s some unknown higher power. Either way, you have a sense that there is something bigger and more powerful than yourself.  Maybe it means origin, maybe it means chance, maybe it means perfection. Regardless, spirituality is not taught, it’s felt. 
My unforgivably romantic notions about figuring out what one does with one’s life absolutely involve wonderment and joy, and doing “what feels right.” I believe that I was gifted with a strong sense of intuition (thanks mom :)  and although I have the common sense and humility to know I am not right even close to 100% of the time about things in general, I strongly feel that if something feels right, as in really, deep down, gut feeling, completely, undeniably, and honestly right, then it probably is, and you should keep doing that thing. This is why I have gone and gotten two degrees in music, which many would argue is a waste of money.  I have a hunch, though, that it really was a good place for me, because I’m kind of making it work. I think the same is at least a good place to start for figuring out what I’m doing spiritually. I’ve got a few ideas about what I know feels absolutely right to me, and what nurtures my soul and inspires me. I think if I start there, I’ll be able to really find my center and figure out where I belong in all of this. 

I’ve talked with my brother about some of this, and he’s whole-heartedly insisted I read Nietzche.  Nietzche also said “God is dead,” but I’m going to trust my bro and start the book.  So, in the spirit of Nietzche, here’s a quote I like better:

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privelage of owning yourself."


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