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My Story As A Progressive Christian


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Since I started posting here in the fall, I've been trying to put together a post for this sub-forum. I wanted to less because I have a burning need for advice on a specific subject, or I think I have an important tale to tell. Rather, trying to put together my personal narrative of faith was something I felt would help me figure out some things for myself. I was right, and now I'm posting. Please indulge me in this and I hope it doesn't come across as self-centeredness. Even though I don't have a specific question to ask, I'm hoping someone will say something that will give me a new thing to think about. So, at any rate, here we go :)

 

 

Upbringing and College

 

Unlike many here, my upbringing did not involve a brand of Christianity that eventually pushed me away through rigidity, hatred, blind faith, etc. In many ways, I came from the opposite: a mainline Presbyterian Church that, to be frank, was utterly devoid of the spirit. The congregation was elderly and petty politics among members was more common than anything else. Attending church was a vague social activity, and little more. My parents fit into this mix in an odd but compatible way: they didn't want to go to church under any condition (especially my dad), but they both felt it was somehow “good” for their kids to go to Sunday School. The end result of all this was that, at the time, religion generally felt like believing in Santa Claus: something adults encouraged children to engage in, but something they were expected to outgrow. And sure enough, when I turned 14, my mother told me that I wasn't going to be required to go to Sunday School if I didn't want to. I didn't.

 

I never quite became an atheist, though my spirituality bounced around non-religious to agnostic to deist (or at least what I thought was a deist). My dealings with friendly Wiccans (who were not necessarily devout or clear in their beliefs) and conservative Evangelicals (who were very clear in their beliefs) resulted in my often-made comment that while I was a member of one group's faith, my positions on ethics and politics were much more in line with the other. Put another way, my experiences in college solidified my distinctly non-solid views on religion & spirituality. I didn't pretend to know much about theology, but the stances some Christians I knew took, especially in relation to politics, deeply bothered me.

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Graduate School, Part I

 

By the end of college / beginning of grad school, I had made two decisions. First, I wanted some form of active spiritual life. Scientistic rationality hadn't worked for me, and I needed something else. And second, based on my upbringing, my personal path to spirituality and the divine was necessarily going to be something that was somehow related to Christianity.

 

In retrospect, I was deciding on some level to embrace a heterdox Christianity. However, I didn't know that term. The terms I knew were things like, “spiritual,” or “mystical.” I spent the next several years in half-hearted investigation of religion. I realized that while I was a heterodox seeker, my personal spirituality was averse to new age spirituality, gnosticism, and other things that could usually be described as “esoteric.” I do not mean this as a condemnation, it's just that Valentinian Gnosticism or the work of Jacob Boehme (to give two arbitrary examples) don't speak to me. The one work I found from this era that really hit a note for me was St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul. It's really an amazing work.

 

I did, however, find a few things that were really helpful. The one that had the biggest impact on me was Marcus Borg's Reading the Bible Seriously but not Literally. It offered me an anchor for whatever Christianity I was attempting to follow/seek/figure out. Importantly, it gave me the assurance that less literal forms of Christianity were not necessarily watered-down, super-market versions of real (read: conservative) Christianity.

 

Anyhow, for most of grad school, I would occasionally read something, but it was intermittent.

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Grad School, Part II

 

So, at this point, I have a very low-intensity, very vague notion of spirituality that I think is kinda-sorta Christian. Then, over a roughly 2 year period, my interest began to accelerate.

 

First, I was (re-)introduced to meditation as a technique to deal with depression rather than as a purely religious activity. I'm not going to try and define the boundaries between mental health, spirituality, and religiosity. However, it did give me a bit more respect for the idea that active spiritual practices can be important. (meditation is an active practice here in the sense that it is a distinct activity)

 

Second, while wandering through a book store, I found a great book called Sin Bravely. In short, a Lutheran scholar wrote a short, accessible little book on how moralism is neither healthy nor particularly Christian in the eyes of many of its great thinkers, including Martin Luther. In a letter, Luther said that we should “sin bravely”, not because it was good to sin, but because it was inevitable. There was a hard limit to how useful obsessing over specific sinful moments / actions. You sin, you're flawed, and that's all there is to it. So, get over it, do your best, and have faith. A theme in the book is that being devout does not require a hard moralism, as that often leads to nothing but narcissism.

 

That struck a chord for me, and it was very easy for me to see the linkages between that argument and the research done on how meditation could be useful as a treatment for depression. At any rate, this started me on a road of curiosity that lead next to a book on Calvin, and then to Karl Barth, who struck me as much as Borg did years earlier. EDIT: I have been tempted to write in the "Your Biography in Six Words" thread my biography as "Borg and Barth gave me faith." The effect of the two was that powerful. The irony that their positions on Christianity are difficult to reconcile is not lost on me.

 

At the same time, I became engaged to my girlfriend, and the wedding planning began. It fell on me to find a church near her parents for us to get married at. And so I actively tried, as hard as possible, to find a church that would work for everyone, and that we could have a meaningful experience at. And I succeeded, and in the process got even further into my developing faith.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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Where am I now

 

My current challenges in terms of spirituality are two fold. The first is something I'm quite comfortable with: read more, learn more, understand more. As I've said in other threads, I'm starting in the Reformed tradition and working out from there.

 

My other challenge is a bit stickier: how to practice Christianity. I'm painfully aware of the pitfalls of living inside one's mind too much. Real life concerns, involving both my fiance & I dealing with the stresses of finishing our dissertations (and trying to not go bankrupt in the process) have distracted me from things like making contact with a local church. This is particularly necessary, as the pastor who will be marrying us required us to get marriage counseling at a church near where we live (he's near my fiance's parents, ¾ of the way across the country).

 

As my fiance and I start dealing with a local church, we're going to inevitably get into conversations about spirituality and how to act off it that will be more involved than what we have had so far. I'm not completely sure how active I want to be in a church community, and I have even less idea what she thinks. We've started having these conversations, but they've only scratched the surface. No problems yet, though.

 

So... yeah. There I am. Thanks for reading.

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Nick,

 

Thanks so much for sharing your story and what is on your heart. Fourteen must be the magic age smile.gif as that was the same age i was allowed by my parents to stop going to Sunday school. I think it is good to look at many alternatives and practices. Sometimes it brings us full circle with a new and more complete understanding of where we started. Studying other religions to me seems to show similarities in a different light that open us up to personal revelations of our own. Perhaps labels are overrated. laugh.gif

 

I have found as you may have concerning your reading of the book "Sin bravely" which i have not read. i read very little. That we are indeed not defective. We are as we were created. To me sin is "whatsoever is not of faith" it is a natural progression of consciousness and not something to get attached to or overly concerned with. In my view, it will pass as we allow it. Guilt and condemnation seem to only stifle growth.

 

Anyway, enjoyed reading all four of your posts above and wishing you the best on your continued journey.

 

Joseph

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Thanks so much for sharing your story and what is on your heart. Fourteen must be the magic age smile.gif as that was the same age i was allowed by my parents to stop going to Sunday school. I think it is good to look at many alternatives and practices. Sometimes it brings us full circle with a new and more complete understanding of where we started. Studying other religions to me seems to show similarities in a different light that open us up to personal revelations of our own. Perhaps labels are overrated. laugh.gif

 

There is a time and a place for good labels as tools. The most specific set of terms you can use for any given comparison will likely lead to the best analysis. Comparing two religions is more interesting/insightful/fun when one has a bigger tool box of labels that includes questions of religious practice, ethics, etc. EDIT: Labels are bad when they prevent nuanced comparison. So, when people make a universal statement about one thing called "CHRISTIANITY" and another thing called "JUDAISM" (or whatever), as if they are monolithic and solid.

 

I have found as you may have concerning your reading of the book "Sin bravely" which i have not read. i read very little. That we are indeed not defective. We are as we were created. To me sin is "whatsoever is not of faith" it is a natural progression of consciousness and not something to get attached to or overly concerned with. In my view, it will pass as we allow it. Guilt and condemnation seem to only stifle growth.

 

Faith vs. Sin is a very interesting binary. I like it much more than the whole Faith vs. Reason binary we all know and love, which seems to cause more trouble than anything.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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Nick thanks for sharing your spiritual evolution. It seems increasing awareness of wisdom and knowledge requires the inner work of recognizing where we are influenced by external circumstances.

 

I like the tool of meditation too as it continues to introduce my mind to the soul radiating from the center of my being. The soul as St. John so well describes in the book you mentioned seems to connect guide and sooth my energy. My energy is no longer rampant, but focused, connected with my core and the spiritual depths of my soul. It seems your soul is and has enlightened you as your post seems to show that you are increasing drawn to its radiance.

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