For eight weeks, I bundled up my two young children and headed to mid-week Bible study at our Christian church across town. This was a time in my life when my personal and spiritual identity were firmly wrapped up in my spiritual community. That meant if the church doors were open, I was there. So on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings and at any special event I could be found at church volunteering, in worship or taking copious notes during Bible study.
Bible study was literally Bible study, as in no other books or resources were used. Rarely, if ever, would a book outside of the Bible be referenced. This type of intense focus on one book as the only authority was intentional. It enforced a belief system that those of us sitting in the pews need look no further than the Bible, and the only people qualified to interpret its message for us were the men standing behind the pulpit on any given Sunday.
My indoctrination into evangelical Christianity began early in my life, and I latched on willingly because it anchored me to my ancestral heritage. Descending from a long line of Southern Baptists — and my grandmother’s commitment to her church and her faith — I understood the sacred bridge I was crossing to be counted among the faithful.
My Southern Baptist heritage didn’t stop me from exploring other denominations. So with my young children safely placed in childcare, I hurried to my seat in what would be standing-room-only Wednesday Bible study — a rare chance to be in the company of church leaders and ask lots of questions of the only humans (all men) qualified to answer.
That is how indoctrination into a system of obedience and blind faith works, and that is why the room where the Bible study was conducted was packed. We all flocked to these Bible studies because we believed it was God’s will to learn through this system, and we willingly obeyed.
This particular 8-week series had been eagerly anticipated because of its subject matter. We were going to dive into eight weeks of all the world religions — and why the people who believed in these religious traditions were going to hell.
You read that correctly. We were going to spend two months judging, persecuting and condemning humans we had never met and learning about their spiritual paths utilizing resources that had a clear bias against them.
It never occurred to any of us, including me, that there was no directive in scripture — especially from Jesus — to undertake such a condescending approach to spirituality. Yet here we were, pens in hands, looking straight to the pulpit on what we should believe and not believe about the world’s religions.
I’m now horrified to think I used my dedicated attendance at these Bible studies to validate my judgment of others. The same Divine Mystery that compelled me to study world religions is the same Divine Mystery that invited me to remove my belief filter and dive deeper into world religions.
I’m so grateful I honored the calling to move closer to the sacred wisdom that is held in religions around the world. I’m also grateful that through this journey I discovered that while spirituality can exist inside religion, religion isn’t required to find God.
God ebbs and flows through the world. Religion is simply humans’ attempt at explaining God.
Throughout December, the Holy arrives in various ways as religious holidays all around the world honor God in sacred ways. Join me as we expand the table of spirituality and invite the many meanings, faces and names of God to this Holy season.
Judgment of others is not spirituality — it’s hypocrisy.
As a child, I always looked forward to the first day of fall. My reasons were entirely selfish, as I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my early October birthday.The withering flowers, the turning leaves, the slightest scent of decaying foliage wafting through the air and of course all things apples intensified my excitement as the day of my birth edged closer.
I imagine President Lincoln hunched over his desk, penning his inauguration speech that he would deliver to an extremely divided nation. As he wrote, he must have contemplated the importance of his words in fending off the threat of civil war and appeasing the fears of the people.