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About the Spiritual Journeyer and the Religious Journey through Chicago Blog:
Like all spiritual quests, I suppose the impetus for this is a journey of discovery. As of 2014, when I’m writing this, I don’t consider myself religious or even particularly spiritual. Like a lot of nominal Christians, I go to church two or three times per year, i.e. the major holidays and the occasional service with friends or family. My wife and I haven’t found a home church, let alone decided whether lean more towards joining a particular branch of Christianity. Contenders would be Lutheranism (the church I grew up in), Catholicism (the church my wife grew up in), or non-denominational but mainline Christian (like several friends and family members).
I’ve always had deeply conflicting characteristics pulling me in different directions. On the one hand, I was an honorary member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at my university. I attended events at Hillel (and some of my fraternity brothers mistakenly thought I was Jewish for nearly two years because they never asked!). I went to services with my Greek Orthodox Uncle, even taking classes on its spiritual tenants and trying my hand at learning Greek to better understand the services.
Even though I have this incredible drive to learn everything I can, I crave routine and normality. I take the same walking route to the same train stops every morning, stopping at the same 711 and buying the same coffee and the same granola bars. I walk the same distance to the Prêt during lunch and order one of three types of sandwiches. I’ve always been this way, but it seems to become a stronger inclination every year. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with myself and my choices. I believe this is a good thing, that is, knowing yourself, but I also worry that I am getting complacent. I hardly have the time or the money to travel and explore like I used to.
When I was younger (even high school), I’d just get in the car and drive. Driving aimlessly, listening to the radio or the bootleg CD walkman plugged into the tape adaptor. While studying abroad in Spain, I took a trip to Morocco on a whim with no itinerary and no idea what I was doing. Somehow, everything worked out, and I made it out of the country no worse for wear other than a horrendous sunburn. Even five years ago, I went on a date with my now wife exploring the ruins of City Methodist Church in Gary on a freezing January day and proceeded to stuff my face with all you can eat hush puppies and crab legs immediately after at the Horseshoe Casino. Now, however, even spontaneity is planned. I’m comfortable. I have a great job, a wonderful wife, amazing friends and family, and the world’s best dog. But I need and want to break out of the self-imposed routines.
Leaving one’s comfort zone means different things to different people. For example, it could mean trying a new food. It could be taking a different route to work or taking a new form of transportation to the same place. I’ve always been somewhat eclectic, so trying a new kind of food, attempting a new language, or listening to different types of music is something that I’ve done. However, different religious traditions often bring together the interconnected elements of music, language, faith, and inform so much of our culture(s). Religion, even today is one of our most segregated spaces. With few exceptions, ethnicities and races splinter along religious lines. I imagine the popular image of the record stopping, and all eyes turning towards me as I enter a service. It is a thought that both fascinates me and terrifies me.
In truth, I have no idea what I will learn about myself or about the broader world. I am not particularly looking to “find” a different religion. I just want to experience what a service is like in a variety of different formats.
Starting October, 2014 I will be going to a different religious service every week. That could mean different denominations within the same faith, i.e. Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, etc. or something complete different i.e. Buddhism. While there may be considerable overlap, in the case of Christian or Jewish denominations, variations in locations and demographics will create a significantly different experience. For example, within Catholicism, I could attend a Standard English Mass while the next week attending a service purely in Spanish. Because I am concentrating on the experience, understanding the language is not a pre-condition for attending.
I will try and create 52 different experiences, put them into a jar and randomly select them every Sunday. That will allow me time to find a location for services and learn as much as I can before attending. I will be attending some services with family or friends, while most likely attending some services alone. For many of the different services, I really don’t know the protocol, so I may need to get permission in order to attend. Because of Chicago’s incredibly large and diverse population, almost all of the services attended will be in the greater Chicago region. In the event that I am in a different place, I will do my absolute best to attend a service there. After attending, I’ll try and write down my thoughts and reactions in a journal.
I am aware this plan makes me something of a cultural tourist, one who gains only the most surface experience of any particular faith tradition. However, I firmly believe that so much of our actions are guided by culture and faith is important component of that.
Religion and faith in general is a very contentious topic. Even today wars and sectarian conflicts are fought in the name of religion. People with strong religious convictions are convinced that their faith is the one true manifestation of god(s). I will do my absolute best not to pass along judgment or bring in preconceived notions prior to attending services. Despite my best intentions, however, I know that I will bring along some cultural baggage.
My hope is that this blog will encourage dialogue between many different people of varied faith traditions. This blog does NOT provide a license to practice religious chauvinism or attack someone else’s faith. The intent is encourage people to examine what they believe and why, as well as increase understanding.
If you have any doubt whether a comment is offensive, please do not post it. I will respond to e-mails at the e-mail provided. If you are interested in attending a service with me, offering suggestions for locations or would like to help facilitate connections, please let me know. I am also interested in the cultural aspects of faith, so if you know any concerts, festivals, or traditional meals associated with religious holidays, please let me know. Finally, thank you for reading and I look forward to taking this journey and sharing it with you.