Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Please, Keep Boring Me

from guest blogger, David Leslie.

At least it made for a nice, moon lit walk on the beach.

Over a year has passed since that evening on Miami Beach, but it’s become one of those nagging thoughts that won’t go away, and one of the things that has helped me articulate my approach to religion and spirituality.

I was on a very pleasant winter weekend getaway to Miami and had made sure I’d made it back to my hotel room on Sunday evening in time for the webcast of my favorite worship service ( Actually, that wasn’t a major sacrifice since the 5:00 CT broadcast was at 6:00 ET and it had been dark for over an hour. It was, by Miami standards, a bone chilling 60 degrees.

As is usually the case, the format featured a Skype conversation between the minister/host and a guest about a topic of interest to those of us who appreciate open, non-dogmatic discussions of things religious and spiritual. I’ve been a regular attendee, either in person or online, since its beginnings. It’s usually a very good and expansive conversation. Unfortunately, there are exceptions just about everything and this week was it. The guest was a Christian minister whose billing sounded like a discussion of ministry to working people. Instead, she focused more on a promo of her book, which apparently was based on a blog posting she’d titled “Please, Stop Boring Me” and articulated her disdain for the “spiritual but not religious” crowd who she says she finds boring, lazy, and narcissistic.

My laptop was off, my sweatshirt was on, and I was out the door for a walk on the beach.

People engaging in an approach to spirituality different from hers qualifies them as boring? People who are willing to take on the task of seeking something that works for them, and daring to step outside the boundaries of a medieval European framework of Christianity and maybe seek something that transcends man-made organizations are lazy and narcissistic?  I’m not eager to quote John Boehner, but “are you kidding me?!”

A year or so earlier, the Pew Research Center had published a report titled “Rise of the Nones” describing how the “religiously unaffiliated” were the fastest growing religious identification in the U.S., especially among young adults. A few years before, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had published a book titled “The World is Flat; A Brief History of the Twenty First Century” in which he described how developments in communications technologies have made it harder to stop people from communicating, making the world flat by bringing down borders. He was talking mostly about politics and economics, but I believe the same line of thought applies to religion. It seems to me that those books may be two sides of the same story; many are loosening their attachment to one, and only one, religion because the boundaries between them are seeming less relevant to their lives.

“Spiritual but not religious” isn’t my favorite phrase. I prefer to describe my spiritual identity with more positive terms like “more spiritual than religious” or “multi-faith”, or simply “yes”. Christianity is at the top of my list. It’s the tradition I was raised in and it defines my perspective. I am active in a liberal Christian church. But I’m also influenced by Buddhism and aspects of Native American spiritual traditions. In the past year, I’ve attended worship services or educational events of four churches, two sanghas, and a mosque. I believe I’m more spiritual, and maybe even more religious, for wanting that broader perspective.

I learned some Spanish several years ago when I was travelling in Mexico and Central America for my work, and more recently have started learning German to better connect with my family origins and to prep for a trip to Europe. I have no doubt that my understanding and appreciation of my native English has been made better by the experience. It seems to me that being multi-lingual is usually seen positively. It makes you seen as worldly. I don’t get how trying to apply that same thinking to religion makes you boring.

I love the way Mahatma Ghandi said it; “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”

If sharing that view makes me boring, I guess I’m fine with that. I hope we can all be boring together. Please, keep boring me.

David Leslie is a Unitarian Universalist who attends a United Church of Christ Church and practices many aspects of Buddhism. When not involved in his day job as an Omaha-based learning and development consultant, Dave enjoys travel, photography, and hiking, and is interested in multi-faith and interfaith educational outreach and is almost done with a graduate certificate in Multi-Religious Studies from Starr King School for the Ministry.

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