I was sitting in the sauna the other day with my sister Brittany. Don’t picture it. Turns out a sauna is a great place for quality conversation as there is nothing to do but sweat, stare at wood planks and gulp water like you’re on the edge of death. They say saunas are relaxing, I guess if you find hell relaxing, I don’t know maybe that would be your thing. But we chatted while the toxins supposedly released from our bodies and we ended up lasting the full thirty minutes talking about nothing but religion.
Brittany and I studied at the same university, shared many professors and even completed the same masters program. When we graduated from school we had a very similar ideology and would probably agree on almost anything. She stayed in the city we went to college in, got married, had beautiful babies, remained in a fairly similar community and became very actively engaged in a church that held the same values and beliefs that I held. This isn't to stay she has become stagnant, she has grown in tremendous ways, has a broad education, and thinks very deeply; however I have found that she has grown deeper into the ideology we once shared where I moved an hour away both in location and worldview. I joined a church that was different enough from hers, waited a lot longer to start trying to start a family, engaged in conversation with people who held very different theology from me and slowly inched myself onto a different path.
All these tiny changes took us different places and when we tried to discuss faith we kept missing each other. As each question rose she answered with a a very specifically conservative Christian response, one that hinges on the basics of faith that I am still grappling with but once assumed the way she does; things like the goodness of God. She has worked hard to understand these concepts and although they have deep and thorough meaning to her all I could hear was the repeated rhetoric of Christian education. Like her it was the reality I swam in and like water became almost unaware of it, my answers and thought life growing out of its basis and now it was one that felt foreign to me, murky and unclear. She has become a person I want to be in so many ways, and yet I felt far like we were shouting through a long tunnel and I wished desperately I could cut the distance. I wanted to believe like her, but of course I couldn't.
I had to ask what changed in me. Was I once like her and we let the cultures we immersed ourselves in dictate our paths? Am I simply a product of the culture around me? Is she a product of hers? Have I been too arrogant to think that I could hear the chaos of the multitudes, and yet still find the truth?
I was reading an article the other day about a prominent Christian pastor who is stepping out of his position to “bravely explore religion and his beliefs”. The writer of this article was critiquing this idea of bravery in religious exploration as he saw the pastor as doing actually what was easiest, going with the powerful and loud flow of ‘The River Culture’ towards tolerance, relativism and adventurous individualized faith finding. I suddenly felt like my whole struggle to believe was really just that I allowed myself to be prey to culture rather than religion. Am I less of an independent thinker and really just a product of my surroundings? I wonder, if we genuinely search for truth and thus explore differing forms of knowledge is it still possible to find the real truth, or are we fools to think the easiest and loudest voices won’t always win?
I talked to Rabbi Yehoshua about this and he encouraged me to ask questions of the culture around me and its affect on my worldview. We have to be aware of the lens through which we view life, a lens will always remain but we can choose it and form it, only if we’re aware of it. But although I may be affected by the world in which I live, my questions of faith might also be something real within me that is causing me to grapple. So I'm still looking for God in it all.
Some religious traditions would choose to define their worldview by keeping out the culture of the day and through isolation their perspectives are solidified. But is there a way to let our culture cause us to ask the questions of our beliefs and yet still find the capacity to be grounded and go against the flow of culture when there is truth upstream? Can we hear the wisdom of others while still somehow finding our irrational way back to faith because it’s the only real truth? Is it the only real truth?