Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Finding Your Religion

Finding Your Religion: When the Faith You Grew Up with Has Lost its Meaning
242 pages

I didn't go into the library to find this book -- I pulled it off the shelf on a whim, and gained a little interest after seeing that it seemed to be a general guide to "spiritual paths". The clincher was the Doonesbury character on the cover of the novel promising an introduction from Gary Trudeau. I don't actually read Doonesbury, but I know its reputation. Author Scotty McLennan is a Christian Unitarian Universalist, although he may put emphasis on the first third of that description, and he has written this book in an attempt to help people with no religion or those who have been burned by their childhood religion find a spiritual path or to resume their journey. Why look for a spiritual path? This is never deliberately explained, but in the telling of his and other's stories, the general purpose seems to be to find meaning, purpose, and direction in life.

McLennan's story certainly is an interesting one: he sees his legal training as an asset to be used for spiritual purposes in helping people, establishing a "legal ministry" that defies the convention that spiritual matters and "secular" matters cannot mix -- as well as potentially giving lawyers a good name. It is clear that McLennan's view of spirituality -- which he practices and which he advocates -- is part of life, not just cultural identity. He begins the book by establishing what he believes to be the six "stages" of religion, beginning with a child's belief in magic and culminating in the "Unity" experienced only by mystics and men like Gandhi. The stages in between -- "Reality", "Dependence", "Independence", and "Interdependence" cover everything else, from cults to the standard religions.

One of his initial pieces of advice -- which I found surprising, since he is Unitarian Universalist -- was for those "seeking" a path to simply pick one and go with it. His analogy is that of paths leading up a mountain: those who choose to go it alone may tire of hacking away at the brush or may fall down the abyss of a cult. I thought it strange that he wanted readers to simply pick a religion arbitrarily and try to make it fit, but once I made my way further into the book I saw his purpose: the point is for people to get started. In "Crossings", he makes it clear that no one need be limited by their religion: the book is full of stories of people who have started in one tradition and grown into another one. McLennan believes in the universality of human religions/spiritual paths -- that they share the same essential goal of human growth and that they each incorporate similar practices. Many of the stories from the book come from his spiritual journey across the world, where he tries to drink in as much human experience as possible with an emphasis on spiritual matters. In one, he goes to a Hindu sage who admonishes him to be the best Christian he can be: Christianity is in the culture he knows, so he will fare the best there. McLennan reminds me of Marcus Borg (who also believes in the universality of human religions) in choosing this.

This book seems to me to reflect his and other's attempt to find a living spirituality: a sense of it that grows with them as it helps them to grow: a sense of spirituality that facilitates, not limits, human flourishing. He's a lovely guide and a readable author. Although I am not seeking a religion, I enjoyed connecting with McLennan's stories and the stories he betrayed. This is a recommendation for those interested in this kind of growth.

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