Prior to this summer faith felt wholly separate from me and my life, an invisible line separated me from this other group of people who believed. I saw belief as static, as something you had or did not have. While I’m sure I understood the concept of questioning faith, I thought that for the most part people worshipped somewhat blindly, possessing an unquestioning, unexamined belief in something larger. A faith I couldn’t begin to comprehend, a practice that was irrelevant to my life.
When I found out we would not only be staying in churches, but going to services, my perspective did not entirely change. I was certainly interested in going to church, but I approached it as a research opportunity- a chance to observe a foreign segment of the population, almost an anthropological adventure.
After attending several services and asking the pastors what led them to becoming faith leaders my sense of what faith is and what it means to believe began to change drastically. I realize now that there are as many ways to believe as there are people, and none of them are as simple as I had previously understood. When talking to one of the pastors, he admitted that sometimes he questions his faith, sometimes he isn’t sure, but that for him, faith is about the process of questioning; it must be active to feel true. The way he spoke about religion meant a lot to me because it reflected how I often feel about this work. There are days I am deeply unsure if anything I do matters and days I feel confident it does, but I think that one of the most important parts is this process of figuring out what exactly I believe is best and how exactly I think we should operate. I realized that I may not have spiritual faith, but I do have deep faith in love and in community, and in that faith I’m not particularly different from those with a more explicit spiritual connection.
I still have reservations about some forms of organized religion, about their long histories of violence and oppression, but I feel incredibly unqualified to make any judgments about what religion or what faith means. What I can say is that it isn’t separate from my life. I don’t know what I believe, but that doesn’t make me wholly different from those who may know or at least appear outwardly to. There is not some line between me and those who actively practice religion. We may use different language, but we are often working towards the same things: justice, safety, equality.
I think that going to churches is one of the most important parts of the summer for me because it has not only opened my eyes to connecting with a large segment of the population that I had previously written off as wholly different from myself, it has also led me to examine my assumptions in general. Witnessing faith as a process helped me to deconstruct many of my conceptions of religion, which reminds me that most things are far more complicated than I originally believed, and also that I have much more in common with people than I often remember.