Week 15 Review and Some Thoughts About Religion

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 24,809

I’m now two weeks into National Novel Writing Month and less than 200 words from the halfway point. I find that I have a fair amount of fear and hesitation around writing when I’m not doing it, but so far, I’ve been able to continue showing up at the computer every day. Once I’m here, it’s easier to play.

My mom suggested that I’m writing a novel in the same way most people read one. There’s a different feeling to writing this novel than there is to reading one, but I get her point. There’s a certain amount of discipline and faith that goes into both the writing process and the reading process. And both give me that sensation of being in a dream. When I wake from a particularly vivid dream, some of the dream sometimes gets mixed in with reality for me. I’m having a similar experience with this novel.

My characters seem to be taking on something of a life of their own. I always thought it was a little precious when an author talked about his characters doing something unexpected. The past two days of writing, my main character has surprised me by taking some different paths than I expected her to. There may be a lesson about judgment in here.

In other news, I attended another church today in my ongoing church-hopping adventure. So far I’ve been to two Catholic churches, an Episcopal church, a Buddhist temple, a Baha’i Center, and, today, a Congregational church. I’ve been somewhat surprised by my reactions to the different churches I’ve visited (for simplicity’s sake, I’m using the term “church” generically to mean “the place where the religion stuff happens”).

For example, the Congregational church had no gendered language in their materials (except for the readings from the Bible). They repeated the word “God” rather than using the pronoun “Him.” When I was in college, I thought this would be a major factor in whether I chose to attend a church or not. Turns out, it doesn’t seem that big a deal now. I like that they don’t have gendered language, it’s just not as important a factor as I thought it would be.

The places I felt most comfortable, theologically, and the most challenged (in a good way) spiritually were the Catholic churches and the Buddhist temple. The most friendly places were the Buddhist temple, the Baha’i Center, and the Congregational church.

There are some things that have turned me off in a few of the churches. One of the Catholic churches was a little too large a space and laid out in such a way that I felt no intimacy with the rest of the congregation. The Episcopal service began with a comment about the election that I thought was a bit too political for my taste. The Congregational service had more intercessional prayer than I was entirely comfortable with.

This church-hopping has helped me to better define what it is I’m looking for in a church. I’ve narrowed it down to four things:

  1. A community in which I feel comfortable developing my spirituality.
  2. A community in which my children can develop relationships with their peers and with caring adults.
  3. An atmosphere of curiosity about and openness to spiritual growth.
  4. A community in which my children are welcomed not only in the places designated for children, but also in the spiritual life of the congregation as a whole.

So far, the one that most closely meets all of these criteria is the Buddhist temple.

One thing that really appealed to me about the Buddhist temple was how different it was, but how comfortable it felt in spite of (or perhaps because of) this difference. The dharma talk was about the ordination (if that’s the right word) of an Episcopal bishop that the minister had attended. He described his disorientation sitting in this service, but also his surprise that, although the other ministers sitting with him were from Christian denominations other than Episcopalian, everyone seemed to know when to sit and when to stand, and they all knew the same hymns.

His anecdote struck a chord with me. Not having grown up attending religious services, I often feel a similar sense of disorientation in church services. I didn’t feel disoriented in the Buddhist service. Or rather, I felt a little confused upon walking in (Should I bow? Should I take one of these little books? Does it matter where I sit?), but the demeanor of the other people in the service put me at ease almost immediately.

Another thing I loved about the Buddhist temple: the Sunday school happens after the service. The children are expected to be part of the service, and then are in class while the parents socialize at coffee hour.

The reason I’m on this quest is because we were asked to leave the service at our Unitarian Universalist church earlier this year when my then 6-month-old decided to sing along with the choir. It’s only the feeling that there is a gap in my life without a spiritual community that’s brought me back out to risk that kind of embarrassment and humiliation at churches across the city and across denominations. Of course, I’m going to the services without the children first, so I’ve not risked much child-related humiliation just yet.

During the coffee hour after the service at the Buddhist temple, I asked if it was OK to have my toddler in service talking and running around. (I don’t tell people at the other churches why I’m no longer attending the UU church, I just ask about kids in the service.) The woman I spoke with said, “Of course! Look at our kids! They’re crazy!” gesturing towards the kids running around and shouting all around us. “Unless he’s crying, he’s fine in the service. Eventually the children will learn what’s expected during the service. And how else will they learn unless they’re in there with us, watching what’s going on?” This woman’s answer and the fact that the temple’s commitment to having children in the service is backed up by their having Sunday school after the service are very reassuring to me. I’m planning to go back, and I’m planning to bring the kids with me next time I go.

My husband will be thrilled to have his Sunday morning back. He’s been waiting patiently for me to find somewhere I felt comfortable taking the children.


3 Replies to “Week 15 Review and Some Thoughts About Religion”

  1. Charity,

    Nice progress on the novel writing! Are you going to print it or publish it online once it’s complete? I’d love to check it out.

    It was very interesting to read this post about your “church-hopping”. Me being an atheist, I’m not a member of any specific church; however, Heather and our two daughters occasionally attend Sunday service with our neighbors. I’m not outright against attending myself (I have no hatred / animosity towards religion), but I choose not to go for the simple reason that I don’t want to give anyone any false impressions about what it is that I do and do not believe (mainly, that I reject the supernatural).

    My 3 year old son attends preschool 3 days a week at a local Baptist church, and my older daughter plays organized basketball there as well. Obviously, I’m not opposed to either of these things, since I pay the church for these services/activities. And, while the people / teachers / coaches seem mostly to be friendly and caring people, it is sometimes difficult for me to have my children be exposed to doctrinal religious influence – especially one that proudly touts its belief, ” that every word in the original writings of the Holy Scriptures is inspired by God and therefore without error.”

    Ideally, I would like to do what you did – visit several denominations / flavors of different religious belief, and let them see that there is more than one “brand” of spirituality (although I don’t particularly like that term myself) available for them to explore, besides fundamentalist Christianity. Unfortunately, I don’t think something like that is likely to take place – so in the meantime, I suppose I’ll have to just continue to do my best to subtly respond with a naturalistic worldview to their sunday school stories about talking snakes, Adam & Eve, Noah’s flood, Jonah & the whale, people rising from the dead, etc.

    Ok, sorry for going off-track there for a bit… So, going back to your blog post… I especially liked the stuff you wrote about your visit to the Buddhist temple service. Coincidentally, I just finished a 3-part podcast series focusing on Buddhism, which included a lengthy interview with a gentleman named Stephen Batchelor. Podcast link: http://doubtreligion.blogspot.com/2010/10/episode-75-confession-of-buddhist.html

    Batchelor spent 38 years as a practicing Buddhist, became a scholar of the Pali Canon, and was part of the Dali Lama’s “inner circle”. He is no longer a member of the church, and since leaving the faith, he has been vilified and ostracized by many Buddhists. He now advocates a sort of secular Buddhism that encourages living a life “that embodies Buddhist values within the context of secularism and modernity.”

    I liked what I heard, and have since heard him speak two other times. He has a couple of books, but one in particular that may be of interest to you is called, “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist”. Unfortunately for me, it’s not available in my local (and very small) library – but once I’m finished with the two books I’m in the middle of, I may try and find a used copy. If you’re interested in checking it out, here’s a link to his home page: http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/book-confession.html

    Take care and good luck in your search. Thanks for allowing me to post this – I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    – Rob


    1. Thanks, Rob. I’ve put Batchelor’s book on hold at our library, which means I should get it by mid-January. Once I figure out how to download the podcast, I’ll put that on my list to listen to while I’m at the gym.

      I wonder if the conflict is about the “monk” side of Buddhism. When I was at the temple, they talked about how, while Buddhism is associated with meditation, the only people who meditate are monks. I asked them about Zen Buddhism, because I’ve been to two different Zen centers (and found the Buddhist temple to be much different), and the woman I spoke with who’s been Buddhist all her life said something like, “Oh, Zen’s not for families. That’s for people who have a lot of time.” There was one elderly man who said explicitly that one of the selling points for Buddhism is that you don’t have to believe in God. Another thing he said that I thought was funny was, “You don’t have to worry about Christmas.” He lumped that together with, “You don’t have to worry about death.” This is Shin/Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, by the way (http://www.slbuddhist.org/info/general.html). I also spoke with a woman who’s visiting from Germany where she’s a member of a Tibetan Buddhist temple, which sounds different again than Zen or Shin.

      Religion-wise, I still feel comfortable identifying myself as a Unitarian Universalist, a religion that accepts all comers (except for the congregation here in town, which doesn’t like babies if they’re awake). I know UUs who are atheist/humanist, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, or some combination thereof. Sometimes the spirituality can be a little diffuse in such a diverse community, but I’ve always found a shared curiosity, and a deep commitment to social activism, especially at the UU churches in the South. But the UU churches are as diverse as their members, and there’s a fair amount of shopping around necessary to finding the right church even within the denomination. There are a lot of options in places like Boston, but not so many here in Utah.

      The other thing I liked about the Buddhist temple is that there’s more ethnic variety (ie, it’s not just white people like the rest of Utah). I feel kind of uncomfortable with the idea of my kids growing up seeing only blonde-haired people, which is sort of the default here unless one seeks out diversity.

      As far as the novel goes, I’m just playing it by ear. I’m trying not to think too much about what I might do with it after November’s over. I’d like to join a writing group again, and if I have a workable first draft of a novel to take to a group, that would be lovely. For now, I’m just playing.


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