You may know that my short book, The River Beyond the Dam: Shooting the Rapids of Progressive Christianity, is about a quest. The question was, “Is there a church for me?” A church that is inclusive, egalitarian, scholarship-infused, and vital–even fun. In the book I interrogate the baggage in my past experience and our society-wide concepts of Christianity. My experience with river canoeing frames my quest. Canoeing a river is there not simply a pleasing decoration, but because of what it taught me.
But here is some personal history that’s not in the book, and that you might relate to even if the thought of church doesn’t interest you. I’m talking about being spiritual but not religious. I worked at that for years, and gained a lot. And I don’t want my choice to join a church to imply that non-aligned spiritual seeking is necessarily an inadequate path. I don’t feel that way because I find that the river is there for everyone to ride–for the solo spiritual seeker and for the devout of any religion. The river has inviting banks and many spots where you can put a boat in.
I have great affection for non-aligned spiritual workbooks I have used. I am especially grateful for Hugh Prather’s 1986 Notes on how to live in the world. . . and still be happy and John Tarrant’s 2004 Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans to Bring you Joy. They helped me with work stress, the blues, and amorphous (and societal) anxiety. The work they urge on you is good work. Calming. Clarifying. Putting one in touch with the spiritual core in all of us. The results are good. If you work properly at it.
Bring Me the Rhinoceros points toward making a profound change of heart. “This change of heart makes the world seem like a different place; with it comes a freedom of mind and an awareness of the joy and kindness underlying daily life.” He also says, “Inside the unpredictability of the mind you will find not chaos, but beauty.” It’s a paradox that in buckling down to a discipline you increase your freedom and happiness. Essentially it’s the same with Prather. My copy has that tell-tale soft fuzziness of the page edges from years of use. Prather is even a smidge closer to my heart than Tarrant is.
So why bother with church? Even though spiritual and happiness work has been generative for me, there is something about joining with others. And that’s where my own book goes. The river ride is easier if I can look into other real and immediate faces and see the kindness. With my physical eyes. And receive the wisdom of others who’ve been afloat on the river for a long time, or a short time, as the case may be. Or who began in a different tributary or at a different entry point. In paddling, in riding waves, the sparkles off the water play with me. I see shoreline sights that I wouldn’t see driving a nearby road or hiking above the river. In the busyness of handling my boat I find rest for a mind prone to replaying old memes. Changes happen in me, happiness burbles up.
If you read my story, I hope you’ll be glad you did, whether or not you consider visiting a church. I hope you’ll be glad you know there are other kinds of Christians out there than what you read about in the national news.