Love or Obedience: My Spiritual Journey Thus Far

Challenging Times

We are in tumultuous times. And to be clear, the tumult I’m referring to is living in a pandemic crisis, during a time of reckoning for systemic racism in our country, with a president who incites more chaos than peace and more hate than love. I’m referring to the fact that we have a president who proactively tries to dehumanize transgender people and deny them their basic rights. 

I vacillate between not understanding how so many Christians can align with him and feeling all too cynical and familiar with why Christians align with him. 

My Spiritual Journey

I grew up in the Christian church, and until my twenties I devoted my life to living my values as a self-identified Christian. The value that I held most dear was and is Love. Notice that I capitalize it in most if not all my writings when I refer to it this way. It is paramount. It is the dynamic vitality that breathes life into this universe. It is my Polaris when I’m lost at sea. It is kindness. It is humility. It is patience, and it is long suffering. If you are a Christian, then you know I’m referring to the qualities outlined in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s been quite a while since I threw down some Bible verses. But there it is. 

I left the church (and here I am referring to the general institution, not a specific congregation) in my twenties because it seemed that I had to choose between my deepest value of Love and my obedience to a set of beliefs. As I matured and lived into my own experiential truth in the world, it became apparent to me that many of the beliefs held by fundamentalist Christians were detrimental to human flourishing and downright oppressive. I’ve never been a huge fan of obedience anyway— seeing as it’s only as good as whatever or whomever you’re obeying—so with a heavy but resolved heart, I relinquished the title of Christian and set out on a journey with my compass set to Love.

As I embarked, some told me “no no no, you’re going astray! you’re going to get lost.” I believe that they loved me, but they were following a map. That particular map had been written thousands of years ago, and there was still a part on it that said “THAR BE DRAGONS” and the earth had edges to its quadrilateral form. But nevertheless, they trusted it. Even though there was an asterisk there at the bottom that said, “if all else fails and this proves to be wrong, follow Love.” 

What I think Religion has Co-Opted that Is our Innate Birthright

I left primarily over the church’s stance on sexual orientation. Several of my family members are gay, and I couldn’t stomach belonging to an institution that discriminated against people who are gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, queer, intersex, or questioning. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to remain a part of an institution that regarded some people’s identity as a sin. 

Sexuality was never meant to be governed or dictated by a religion. It’s an innate, wonderful part of being human. No institution has the right to co-opt that sacred birthright. I mean this in regard to sexual orientation but also in terms of how people discover their sexuality as a natural part of human development. There is too much shame and control around people expressing their sexuality outside of marriage in the church. I think it causes a lot of unhealthy repression, suppression, and ultimately untimely and misfit marriages.

Another sacred birthright: spirituality per se. I believe that our ability to connect with the Sacred  is innate because we have the Sacred within us. Curiosity and wonder are as biologically wired into us as thirst and hunger. To be clear again, what I mean is that I do not believe that Christianity is the one and only path to Truth. 

These are some of the reasons that I left the church and stopped considering myself a Christian. Many people would agree that this makes me ineligible. And honestly, I’ve accepted that. As soon as you use a title, people judge you according to their measure of that title. I do still believe in Love and much of my definition of Love resonates with the way that it is described in the Bible and was enacted by Jesus. However, I refuse to cooperate with the above beliefs or practices. I also don’t want to be held to the framework that identifies God the way that the Bible does. 

Following Love and Being Christian

I KNOW there are Christians whose value for Love goes deeper than their obedience to detrimental beliefs. I know that these Christians are inclusive and working to become dynamic in their love for people as they hold onto their faith. I admire this very much. I know and love Christians who are committed to evolving and relating to what the Bible refers to as the real Word of God: Jesus. They mull over the teachings and essence of their spiritual teacher and live accordingly. 

There are Christian change-makers who are widening the circle and accepting that everyone belongs to Love and Love is innate in everyone. Richard Rohr, for example, is one that I know shares many of my beliefs and still uses the framework of Judeo-Christianity. Many of my friends and family members are evolving, though I won’t name them here in case they want to disassociate from my views. I know that it doesn’t have to be that you are either justice-oriented and non-Christian or justice-oriented and Christian. There are many paths, and I chose to leave the latter. But many have stayed on that path while also being advocates for justice. I see that, and I honor that path. 

Time for the New Story

Sometimes, it seems that when people leave the faith of their upbringing, they feel ill-equipped to navigate an authentic spiritual journey. It’s like organized religion outfits people with their leased equipment, and when you leave your stint with them you have to return your gear. This is why sometimes when people get disillusioned by church they go off the rails and engage in destructive behaviors toward themselves and others. 

Losing your religion doesn’t have to equate with losing all sense of meaning and purpose or ceasing a dedicated pursuit towards understanding truth and Love. Conversely, subscribing to a specific religion shouldn’t mean that you aren’t practicing the true muscles of spirituality (curiosity, wonder, love, mindfulness, etc). 

I am not a materialist. I never will be. I do not have enough faith for that, quite simply. I can’t experience this world without sensing deeply that we live in a very meaningful, connected Universe. Too often religion dominates this story with their specifics while intellectuals (many in the liberal, progressive camp) deny that there is any meaning. It’s time for a new story to emerge—a story in which a meaningful universe and religion aren’t assumed to be coupled and intellectual rigor and spirituality aren’t assumed to be mutually exclusive. 

Back to the Fact that A lot of Christians Support Trump

So, it seems to me that I shouldn’t be surprised that many of the people who elected Donald Trump are the people who heard him say the right things about their specific beliefs. There is a way to be obedient to a set of beliefs without embodying love. Does he truly live into the story of a meaningful, Sacred Being guiding the Universe? I don’t see any evidence of that. I see evidence of him embracing (only nominally) religion as a key part of his conquest ideology.

Here’s the thing, evangelical American Christians by and large, made a choice when they chose to back up Trump. They chose someone’s false promises of national “greatness” over true goodness. They chose propping up a systemically racist system and emboldening overt white supremacy over true remorse, reconciliation, and reparation. They chose power and greed over equity and generosity. They chose oppressing and dehumanizing LGBTQ+ humans and saying that they are not worthy of the same rights as everyone else. They chose someone who serves the Almighty Dollar but calls it the Almighty God. This is not the pursuit of Truth and Love. This all part of his conquest. 

Trump Voters who Regret 

I do think there are good-hearted and misguided people who voted for this guy because they wanted more change than they thought Hilary would bring. I know that there were some people who are one-issue voters and voted against Hilary because they are anti-abortion and they confused him with being Pro-Life (which he is NOT). I don’t think that everyone who voted for Trump in the last election knew the full consequence of what they were doing. 

In fact, I think what happened is that people’s deep psychological needs for purpose and meaning, a sense of belonging, and hope got tangled up with his promises of change. I think that he scooped up a bunch of voters who felt displaced in society and didn’t know how to relate to an ever-evolving and rapidly more complex society. We all have the need to belong, and our need for purpose and meaning can drive us sometimes to swear loyalty to a certain set of beliefs. It’s of the utmost importance to be careful to whom or what we give our loyalty.

We are all Connected

Let me widen my circle here and say that I believe that we are all connected. In fact, at root, that is what I’ve always wanted: to make the circle big enough for all. This is not meant to be an Us versus Them post. Or a post against followers of any faith. This is meant to say that we ALL have to find a way forward towards actual Love and Goodness that transcends and goes deeper than our specific beliefs. Let us connect on the deeper value of Love. We must consider that obedience is only as good as whom or what we obey. 

Furthermore, if you practice and follow Love, whatever your religious or spiritual orientation, then we share a lot of alignment. One translation of the word Namaste means “the light in me meets the light in you” and this is how my spirit feels whenever I’m relating with someone who abides in Love. 

In the words of Pauli Murray, 

“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all [hu]mankind.”

More Resources on NonViolence and Peace Literacy

Rivera Sun, novelist and Nonviolence activist

Paul K. Chappell, Peace Literacy 

Kazu Haga, Kingian Nonviolence

Rabbi Micahel Lerner, Overcoming Trump-ism

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