Why would you do that?!

Image“Why would you do that!?”

This was the reaction a friend had when I told him I was going to grad school to study divinity.

First, I had to explain what “that” meant. I would be studying theology and ministry in the hopes of becoming a chaplain. Then I had to explain what a chaplain was; a person of a specific faith/denomination who is assigned to/works with institutions like hospitals, a military unit, police departments or non-profits in order to provide spiritual guidance and support to the people in/accessing the institution. It’s a minister who walks with people through (extra)ordinary circumstances; who is there when life fails to make sense, or is too hard to handle.

giphyIt’s a vocation that places a person into the position of a rock in the rapids.

His reaction makes a good point. It’s not a lucrative career; I’ll not be making a six figure salary. It’s not something you hear little kids talk about when you ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a lot of studying, writing papers, interning and discerning. Chaplains have told me that it’s long hours into the night and questioning every step of the way. On the surface, it seems to be work that has a lot of cost and not very much reward.

watchingsadlyBecause, why would I decide on a career with only mediocre earning potential? Why would I want to listen to other people’s problems? Why would I want to potentially surround myself with death, disease, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, violence and broken humanity?

This is why I struggle with explaining my decision to friends and family. On paper, it seems insane. Heck, typing it out into a blog it sounds insane. But I see a problem in weighing the worth of work solely based on material reward. I try not to buy into the cookie cutter American consumer mold; work so I can buy stuff that will eventually break so I need to work more in order to buy better stuff to replace the stuff I already have. How do you explain a feeling of “being called,” or for the less spiritually inclined, feeling like what you are doing “fits” with what you want/need/require of life?

light-end-tunnelI feel like I can be the person who holds a dying person’s hand as they take their last breath. I want to be the person who can sit and weep with the mother who just lost her child. I need to be the person who can be present with the man who has lost his faith. I can be available to my fellow human being who is hurting, share that dark tunnel journey with them, and walk out out the other end with them into the light again.

It’s not about the 6-figure salary. It’s not about notoriety. It’s not about buying all the things. It’s about finding a way I can be of service to others. It’s about creating a meaning in the work I am doing. It about that strange feeling in the pit of my gut that tells me “this feels right; you are where you need to be.”

FlippantFreshEkaltadetaI’m terrified I could be wrong. I’ve gone down this path before; I’ve been in seminary and felt the call only to end up losing my faith and finding another. But, just like then, I have to give it a try. I have to walk down this path to see where it goes. I don’t want to be at the end of my life, regretting that I didn’t just give it a try.

I don’t expect people to understand; but at least I have family and friends who, even if they don’t agree with me, will take this journey with me. They’re my chaplains without even knowing it.

Ending a relationship…

Not actually me.

I used to be a religious man. I was a Christian; a Catholic to be precise. I did my best to read the bible. I enjoyed the community of ritual. I even entered seminary for a brief time. I wasn’t perfect; far from it. But I tried, and repented, and tried again. When I was young, it was easy to believe. As I got older, I began to struggle with dualism and dogmatic concepts. My religious views said one thing. My rational mind said others.

Recently, a friend of mind told me that the Church was making it very hard to be a believer. In fact, he was considering Atheism. I told him that was a ballsy move. It was a similar statement of belief in an un-provable objective truth. He countered that the Church was making a good case for him leaning on the atheist end of agnosticism.

I found this to be a much better statement. And a true one.

Subtle, right?

For the last 5 years I have been struggling in much the same way. I would go to Christian services, but I could no longer say the words. I felt like a liar when asked to repeat the Apostles’ Creed or to sing the Gloria. It felt wrong to go through words and motions I no longer felt and no longer believed. Trust me, I tried to believe. I WANTED to believe.

It was sad.

It was like the end of a relationship where you hang on, not because you want to, but because you feel you have no choice. What would my family think? What about my friends? What about my church community? There was no more love. No more commitment. No more emotion. Just guilt and shame. And more guilt. And more shame.

yeah… it’s a hard sell…

But I had run into the same issue my friend had. The Church had made it too easy to lean on the atheist side of agnosticism. Not just because of the hypocrisy in the patriarchal leadership, sex abuse scandals, or outdated views on human sexuality. I had serious doubts regarding trinitarianism, the nature/concept of sin, transubstantiation/consubstantiation, and the existence of an afterlife. For those unchurched, these are foundational beliefs for any Christian. If you don’t believe in them, you are not part of the club. You are what people lovingly refer to as an apostate.

 

And then they damn you to hell.

Why won’t you just love me?!?!

I no longer believe in such things. But it still hurts. People who I love, because of their faith, are confident that I am going to burn in fire and torment for eternity. It doesn’t matter how much good I do in my lifetime, how much peace and love and reconciliation I bring to others, or how many good deeds I do. Because I am no longer a believer, I am going to hell.

This bothers me because these are the same people who say they love me. They BELIEVE I am so wrong and so flawed that I would deserve eternal damnation. Then they say, “But I don’t want you to go to hell. It’s just the truth. I’ll pray for you.”

That’s like a southern person saying, “Bless her heart.”

Trust me, that’s not what they’re really saying.

non religious does not mean non spiritual

So I do the only thing I can do. I forgive them. Just because I am no longer a religious man, does not mean I am no longer a spiritual man. My experience tells me I have emotional connections and responses not only to other human beings, but to my community and world. I find inspiration, beauty and joy in the mundane. I still encounter the peak experience. I have a need to explore what it means to be human. I recognize that there is an extra dimension to my existence, and I want to investigate what that is with a rational mind and an open heart.

I have found a church and community that encourages this. Unitarian Universalism.

These are their beliefs:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Much like a new relationship, it’s all sparkles and rainbows. It’ll be hard getting over my ex. But it’s time to move on. I’ll let you all know how things work out for the long haul. But at least I’m moving forward.