COLUMN: Ed Olfert — Nov. 15, 2012

Ed
Ed Olfert
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I spend three hours a day “to and fro’ing” to work.  I have recently used that time to figure out the vagaries of spirituality, faith, religion, etc. You are welcome. I am allotted 650 words. Surely that’s adequate.

I’ll use an original definition for spirituality. It is “that which makes being alive good.” You might well argue that definition demands its own peculiar mindset, that things like food, shelter and sex are part of what makes being alive good. Those certainly all have spiritual aspects.

The intentional search for spirituality typically evolves into an ethos, or belief system, that usually includes mythology, some measure of historical connection, written words in part accorded to a supreme being, a system of worship culture with varieties of liturgy and ritual that evolves somewhat over time.

This spiritual culture is set into a community that creates and sustains and disciplines itself in a way that equips it to search out “that which makes being alive good.”

Now, there are no aspects of life that do not have the potential to point us toward that “good.” However, within this peculiar worshipping community, that search for “good” is the central reason for its existence.

Much “good” is discovered. Faith institutions, world religions, all have discovered much that makes being alive a vibrant thing. Unique language and imagery and common assumptions, created for no other purpose then for exploring elusive spiritual ground, can and does serve both the faith community and the greater human good well.

An old joke suggests that on a visit to Heaven hosted by St. Peter, a tourist is taken by a room with closed door, and admonished, “Shhh, quiet! This is where the (insert the denomination or world religion you currently need to take shots at) live. They think they’re the only ones here!”

That image points to the place where religions, faiths, falter. When we become convicted that we are so, so right, that all others who differ must be inversely so, so wrong, then our search for spirituality, ostensibly for “good” becomes about something else. It becomes about power. And power is an insidious god.

Ponder a 14-year-old girl, shot by gunmen on her school bus, for reasons of faith, or perceived lack thereof. Yes, that story feeds righteous indignation.

Continue pondering. Because of notions of faith, of being so right, faith-based residential schools functioned for decades. “Witches” were burned. Pregnant girls have been made to stand before congregations, alone, to confess their “sin.”

Women are subjugated. Those with minority sexual orientation are ostracized. There are myriad folks, I have encountered many, who are damaged by their experience of church, of religion. I suggest all of that damage is connected to power, to the conviction of being so “right.”

What to do about that? How can that be made healthier, or life giving, more about discovering “good?”

Those “to and fro” hours offer this. Let our spiritual search be one of continual discovery. For Christians, for example, let faith be about the ongoing search for the face of Christ. Let us never assume that face has come into complete and sharp focus. We are not given that.

Let words like mystery, imagination, compassion, wonder, awe, patience, gentleness, guide us on that search. Let’s worry less about judging who will presumably not be in that locked and somewhat stifling room that St. Peter glides silently by, but instead simply offer relationship to folks who won’t, in our limited theology, gain access.

Let’s be excited that through those relationships, the face of Christ might become a jot clearer. For us.

A metaphor of journey invites us to travel humbly. There is discovery ahead. The road will take new turns, at times challenging, sometimes very steep. But the search for “that which makes being alive very good” is worth it.

Six hundred and fifty one. Close enough.

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  • Vern Faulkner
    November 28, 2012 - 21:20

    Ed, I brought your name up in a conversation out here on the East Coast, and thought i'd try to refresh my memory. I'm glad you're still writing spiritual columns that manage to speak to those of Christian faith, while being inclusive. It's a gift. Keep doing it.