Let’s start with what you know, Nik. When you were a child, you wanted to be a priest. Well, sure. You also wanted to be an astronaut, a rockstar, president, and a superhero. Somewhere along the line, you realized or were told that you couldn’t be a priest, and thought that nun maybe sounded nice, although it didn’t fill the same spot. The image of being cloistered away praying for the salvation of the world or quietly performing social service didn’t sound as right as a more active ministry. And you still thought being a superhero sounded cool.
Okay. So somewhere along the line, you realize that maybe Catholicism isn’t such a good match – or at least not the as-told-to-me-by-Rome version you’re raised in. You seek a little further afield, and think that you might find a home within another Christian denomination – say Southern Baptist. You take the bus clear across town to go to church, and the people are all very nice (as well as several tax brackets above your own). You’re a girl, but you can still do missionary work, or better yet, marry a nice boy and become a missionary’s wife. You’ll be serving (people who didn’t ask for it in the first place) by saving souls (into a faith which doesn’t necessarily have any resonance or relevance to their everyday life) from eternal damnation (a concept which you increasingly consider to be an abstraction) by accepting Jesus Christ into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior (as you’re thinking about personal culpability and the need for people to save themselves.)
Well, hell (that place you’re not sure you believe in anyway.) This isn’t really working out at all – especially with this growing sense of personal identity that you’re starting to come to grips with. A problem indeed, in the framework you were raised with, and while you’ve suppressed or ignored it for a long time, the fact is that you’re not heterosexual. Or cisgendered. Mmm, now that is a quandary, as everything religion has ever told you says that you’re going to hell (there’s that place again) simply by virtue of being who you are.
Maybe this religion thing isn’t for you, after all, and maybe you can fulfil your call to serve others through social work, or activism, or volunteerism. Maybe you just need to go play some more video games and save the world that way. Regardless, you’ve got other things to worry about right now, like how to integrate this identity into your world, how you’re going to live, and how you’re going to stay alive and sane. Happiness comes in pieces with a developing sense of authentic self, contentment with building community, adventure and creativity and doing things for the first time that you never thought you would do because you were too afraid of what others might think. Personal responsibility is pretty neat stuff. And it’s a long road, but you’re also working on what personal responsibility means, and it comes to mean compassion and acceptance and respect. You consider love to be central to your life, and believe wholeheartedly in the inherent goodness of humankind.
And you’re starting to raise the lid on Pandora’s box of religion again. You’ve peeked in a few times over the years, and found a seething mass of anger, confusion, process – streaked with a deep affinity for the rituals to which you were first exposed, passion in faith, a buoyant joyfulness in moments of connection with everything, richness of community and unconditional love. But you’re stoic about this, because this stuff can make you into a sullen tear-streaked teenager again without much work; you left this behind years ago (didn’t you?) and you’ve been told time and again (by other people) that you can’t be authentically you and still have faith.
So why are you prying at this, scratching like a not-quite-healed scab that itches? Slather it with some lotion, pop some ibuprofen, and move on. Deaden the nerves and don’t feel it, don’t process it, don’t dare to be moved by it. Mask the problem by suppressing the symptoms.
But the problem is still there. And it’s manifest in a growing realization of personal fragmentation – a sense that you’re not whole, that by not being true to yourself in all areas of your life you’re short-changing yourself. You’re not living up to your full potential, which means you’re not taking the best care of yourself which means you can’t take the best care of others. So you’ve come late but at last to school again, and you’ve been sitting with this and talking this and taking that word – faith – out and polishing it by squeaks and starts and seeing if it fits. Removing religion as you know it from the association, and finding other words – spirituality, interdependence, co-creation, creative manifestation, loonyverse. You’re framing your feelings and experiences with words, learning to articulate this mess, untie the Gordian knot and, perhaps, make a tapestry.
And that desire/need/call/passion (what is it?) to serve (how?) humanity/the greater good (what is that?) /the loonyverse/ all of us together, everyone (that’s a tall order)/ people, queer people (every single one?)/ people struggling to reconnect, people looking to find their authentic selves, people hungry for faith in something (I don’t care what you believe so long as you believe it and don’t harm others in the practice)/ humankind-unplugging-defragmentation-reconnecting-creating/re-creating/recreating-joyful-present-interconnection/we’re all in this boat together people. One person at a time, one connection at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time, making this world a better place. For all of us. Together.