Adam Snider

Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Why I go to church

In Religion on January 28, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Since I first visited the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE) four weeks ago, I have attended every week. Part of the reason for this is that I’m still trying to decide if UCE is the right place for me.

But, my reasons for continuing to go to church are more numerous than that one point alone.

I have a number of reasons for attending church, not least of which is the fact that each sermon at UCE is as much about learning new things as it is about connecting with my spiritual side.

My reasons for going to church include:

  • Feeling a connection to god, whatever god may be.
  • Feeling a connection to a caring and compassionate human community.
  • Connecting through physical contact with other people.
  • Feeling more connected to Sara.

Let me explain each of those points in greater detail.

Church makes me feel closer to god

While this may seem like a strange thing to say, given my view of god as something impersonal and largely absent from the day-to-day workings of the universe, I feel closer to god when I attend church services.

I can’t really explain why. I guess it’s just that church brings out my spiritual side. That’s one of the main purposes of attending a church service—nurturing the spirit—so I suppose this should come as no surprise.

Watching people light candles of caring and concern, or lighting my own, makes me feel close to god (and to other people). Listening to sermons sometimes make me feel closer to god. Most importantly, moments of quiet meditation make me feel closer to god.

It’s that last point that, in a way, surprises me the most.

I have always thought of faith and religion as something very personal. The experience of god is a very individual experience. In this regard, it makes perfect sense that a moment of quiet meditation would be a moment where I feel close to god.

What surprises me, I guess, is that I feel that experience more strongly when I’m sitting in my seat at church than when I’m meditating anywhere else.

But, again, church is designed to be a spiritual environment. It’s a place where we can open ourselves up to whatever it is that we believe in.

The nature of the space allows me to open my heart and mind to the possibility of the something greater than myself, and so private meditation within the bounds of the church building tends to be more intense than it would be in another situation.

Church connects me to a real and human community

The second major reason that I go to church is because it is a community. I am a social creature as much as any other human being, so I enjoy the idea of being a part of a like-minded community where I am free to be myself.

While I am not a humanist in the secular sense of the word, my beliefs are heavily influenced by humanist thought. I believe that the human world, the everyday actions that define who we are, is as important and as spiritual as anything supernatural that may or may not exist.

Being a part of a church community, a community made of fellow human beings, helps to remind me of the importance of our humanness. It also reminds me that, as humans, we are more alike than we are different.

This reminder that all humans are, at the core, mostly the same, helps me to move beyond the prejudices and stereotypes that all of us tend to develop. In many ways, I think this is what the first principle of UU—the affirmation and promotion of the inherent worth and dignity of every person—is all about.

Church gives me a physical connection to others

This is a small thing that has a big influence on me.

I’ve read before that physical contact is a basic human need. We are healthier and happier when we touch other people. This is in no way a sexual thing. (Unfortunately, I can’t seem to track down the study I’m referring to.)

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been a fairly closed off person. I used to be uncomfortable hugging people as a way of saying hello or good-bye. I am not uncomfortable with this anymore, but it’s not something that I do often.

To be honest, other than the occasional handshake with a client or co-worker, I would likely go for days, even weeks without having physical contact with another human being if I was not in a romantic relationship (one of the few places where I’ve always felt comfortable touching another person).

However, despite the fact that I’ve often been uncomfortable touching people, this is more to do with social expectations than any kind of physical comfort. We live in a society where we’re not supposed to touch one another.

In fact, quite the opposite of not wanting or needing to have physical contact with other humans, I enjoy it. It makes me feel happier and healthier.

Because of this, I really enjoy the fact that, at the end of a church service (at least at UCE) we hold hands with the people on either side of us and sing a short song. This simple act of holding hands with people who are, for the most part, strangers, has a powerful effect on me.

It heals me. It connects me to other people. It connects the spiritual to the physical (in my mind, the two are often one and the same, which probably goes back to my humanist beliefs). Without this simple act, I would have far less physical contact with other people, and I would likely not feel as happy as I do.

Church helps improve my connection with Sara

I believe that humans are biologically predisposed to be spiritual. Even atheists engage in spiritual practices (though they may not recognize them as such). It appears to be a part of human nature.

If spirituality is built into our DNA, then is an important and basic part of who we are.

If spirituality is at the core of who a person is, then is only makes sense that I have begun to feel even closer and more connected to Sara (my girlfriend) since we started attending UCE together. While our spiritual beliefs are not the same, the Unitarian church provides us with a place where we can have a shared faith experience.

It’s also got us talking about faith and spiritual matters more than we used to. As we talk about our personal ideas of faith, religion, and spirituality, we get to know one another even more than we already do.

Sharing this important aspect of our lives has, I feel, improved our connection. I feel that I know Sara more intimately than I did before. I feel that I am closer to her than I was before. And I feel even more certain that she is the right woman for me.

Do you attend a church of some kind? What does church mean to you? Why do you go to your place of worship?


Environmentalism as a spiritual practice

In Faith in Action on January 19, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Environmental stewardship is a key element of my personal faith, and I believe that it should be an important part of any faithful person’s life, regardless of what they find faith in. Whether it be rational humanism or fundamentalist Christianity, environmentalism should play a major role in a person’s faith.

In terms of my developing Unitarian Universalist faith, doing what I can to take care of the environment is a way of living up to the seventh principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. To neglect the environment would be to disrespect the interdependent web of existence and, by extension, all living things. That’s a lot of disrespect, if you ask me.

Having respect for the environment is also important to me because being in nature is one of the ways that I attempt to reach out to god. Being in nature is one of the most spiritual experiences that I know of. To neglect the environment—to let the Earth die—would be tantamount to killing god.

I also have reasons that are, perhaps, not as directly related to faith, such as wanting to leave my future children with a world that will sustain them and their children after them.

With these reasons in mind, here are some the efforts that I make to try and protect the environment.

  • Reusable shopping bags – I’ve been using reusable shopping bags for a while now. Canvas, cloth or other similar options all work well. I prefer the bags that Superstore sells here in Canada, because they’re actually made from recycled plastic. Since they’re made from a waste product, they’re doubly green.
  • Purchase local and/or organic products – While buying local can be difficult living up north in Edmonton, I do the best I can. I try to buy local produce and meat whenever possible. If it’s local and organic, all the better. If a particular foodstuff isn’t available from a local producer, I will generally try to buy the organic option, since it’s usually a little bit better for the environment than the non-organic version. One of the added bonuses of buying local, at least when it comes to food, is that your meal will usually taste better, since the food is fresher.
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs – I have been slowly switching over to CFLs. Whenever a light bulb burns out in my apartment, I replace it with a CFL. I know I should probably replace all of my incandescent bulbs with CFLs, but it seems wasteful to throwout a light bulb that is still in working condition, even if it does use more electricity.
  • Eat less meat – Raising livestock requires a massive amount of resources and produces a lot of carbon emissions. Because of this, I try to eat less meat. I generally eat at least one meatless meal a week. It’s not much, but if everyone did this, it would make a huge difference. Plus, we eat too much meat in the West as it is, so cutting back a bit is better for your body, too.
  • Turning off the lights – It’s a simple thing that we’ve all been raised to do: turn off the lights when you leave a room. I must admit that I’m not the best at remembering to do this, but I try not to have more lights on than I need. Often, I have only a single light bulb burning in my apartment in the evening.
  • Use human-powered appliances – This one is something that you might not think of, but something as simple as using a hand-powered can-opener instead of an electric one makes a difference. In this vein, I use a French press instead of an electric coffeemaker to brew my coffee in the morning. This has the added benefit of making coffee that tastes better, too. Obviously, I’m not suggesting you stop using electric appliances altogether, but that electric can-opener is overkill unless you’re opening the huge 4L can of ketchup or something like that.
  • Use environmentally friendly cleaning products – A lot of cleaning products are not environmentally friendly. Laundry detergent, which typically contains phosphates, is particularly harmful. I have begun using biodegradable, phosphate-free detergent that is 3x concentrated (cutting down on the package size). It’s also free of a number of other ingredients commonly found in less environmentally friendly detergents, such as petroleum products. These products are sometimes more expensive, but more and more often they are the same price as the less eco-friendly alternative.

Do you think that caring for the environment is important aspect of faith? What acts do you take in order to try and protect the planet? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Should I explore Quakerism?

In Religion on January 13, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Quakerism is the religion practiced by the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers). In my readings about Unitarian Universalism (UU), I’ve noticed that there seems to be some overlap between the two faiths, especially in more recent times.

Several prominent Unitarians (and probably many more non-prominent ones) were Quakers, at one point in their lives. Of course, many members of the UU faith belonged to a different religion at one point in their lives, so perhaps this doesn’t mean much.

But, the point I’m trying to make is that Quakerism shares many similarities with UU.

Both faiths believe in finding your own path to god (or whatever is meaningful to you). In fact, although Quakers are generally considered Christian, many Meetings (a congregation of Quakers) have become more liberal and welcoming of non-Christians. It is now possible to be an atheist Quaker, or a Muslim Quaker, or a Humanist Quaker.

This sort of liberalism is, as I’ve said before, one of the things that I’m looking for in my spiritual life. The freedom to explore my own path to the truth is something that is vital to my spiritual growth and personal happiness.

After reading about Quakers and what they believe, I wonder if they might not be the faith community that I’m looking for. To be honest, I don’t think that they are, but I’m definitely curious about how they do what they do.

There is a Quaker community in Edmonton, and I think it would be interesting to check them out. I’ve read a bunch of the info on their website, and they seem like a welcoming group.

I plan to go to a Quaker Meeting for Worship at some point in the future.¬†From¬†what I’ve read, it sounds like quite a unique experience.

For now, I’m still very interested in exploring Unitarian Universalism, but I definitely think that checking out the Quakers will help me to better understand both my own spirituality and that of others.

I’m interested in hearing from you, though. What, dear reader, are your experiences with Quakers (if any)? What notions—either preconceived or learned through experience—do you have about the Religious Society of Friends? Does it interest you? Does it appall you? Please, share your thoughts in the comments.

What is god?

In God on January 7, 2009 at 3:03 pm

I’m going to get right into it with a big, meaty question. Perhaps the question. What is god?

Obviously, I don’t have the answer to this question. No one does. I do, however, have some thoughts on the matter.

My understanding of god (or, if you prefer a more value-neutral term, the spirit of life) is constantly evolving. I used to believe in an anthropomorphic god in the Abrahamic tradition. Though I often use pronouns and other “humanizing language” when speaking of god, I don’t really think of god as an actual creature/person these days (not most of the time, at least).

How do I think of god, then?

Again, that’s part of what this blog is about—trying to understand just what it is that I believe. But, for the time being, I think it’s safe to say that I think of god as more of an energy, a life-force, than anything else. God is a creative force, but not necessarily a creator.

Did god create the universe? I don’t know. If god isn’t a being, if god is a creative energy, then I don’t think it’s out-of-line with my scientific and rational beliefs to say that god created the universe.

What if we think of god as the energy that caused the Big Bang? Does that mean that the universe was created by an all-powerful, all-knowing creature? Absolutely not. Does it fly in the face of science? I don’t think so, but I suppose that’s partly a matter of opinion.

Is god an external force? This is where it gets tricky. I tend to think that, no, god isn’t an outside force. God is an internal energy. God is what makes us human. God is, I suppose, the soul, whatever that means.

But, then again, god could be an external force. If you think of god as being the energy that binds the universe, then I guess god could be seen as an external force (which, I realize, sounds dangerously close to the Force).

As you can see, it’s hard to explain exactly what god is, once you give up on the notion that “he” is some kind of grandfather in the sky.

I don’t really know what god is. As you can see, my understanding of god is far from fully formed.

What I do know is that I feel an internal energy that I think of as god, when I’m experiencing moments of true inner peace. Sure, it’s probably just body chemistry doing it’s thing, but does that matter? Does it really matter whether what I think of as god is physical or metaphysical, as long as it helps me find my personal truth?

I feel god when I am at peace. When I meditated during Sunday service at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton on the weekend, I felt something like god.

I feel god during and after sex—at least when it is the kind of sex that involves an intimate and spiritual connection with my partner (i.e.: god would likely be absent from a one-night stand).

I feel god when I enjoy very good food, and when I drink good wine (or beer, or scotch, etc.). I feel god when I am driving the lonely highways of the world. And I feel god when I am experiencing the wonder of nature (perhaps especially when I am in the mountains).

Does any of this answer the question, what is god? No, I suppose not. But, then, that was never really my intention. My intention was to explore my current thoughts on the nature of god.

This is my starting point on the journey that Exploring the Spirit will document. Now that the baseline has been established, we can observe the evolution that happens along the way.

Welcome to Exploring the Spirit

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Hello, and welcome to Exploring the Spirit. As is typical for me when I start a new writing project, and particularly when I start a new blog, I’m not entirely sure how to begin.

I guess the simplest thing to do would be to explain a bit about what I hope to achieve with Exploring the Spirit.

For a quick introduction, you can check out the About page. If you want more details than that, keep reading.

Why Exploring the Spirit?

Why call this blog Exploring the Spirit? Because it is about doing just that.

I intend for this blog to be an account of my personal spiritual journey. I set a personal goal for myself at the beginning of 2009 to become more in touch with my spiritual side. One of the ways that I will do this is through this blog.

I will use this space to record what I have learned and discovered during my readings, discussions, and other spiritually-related activities. I will also use this blog as a space to work out questions and internal debates. Hopefully, you—the reader—will join me in these debates.

What about religion?

The About page says that this is not a blog about religion. That’s only partially true. While I do not intend to only write about any one, particular religion, there is no doubt that I will write about various religions and religious ideas.

How can one discuss spirituality without at least touching on religion? It seems to me that it would be quite difficult.

That said, this is not a blog about any one religion. It is definitely not about Christianity. The spirit referred to in Exploring the Spirit is not the Spirit of Christ.

It may be the spirit of god, but I’m not sure about that. That’s part of what this exploration is about. What is the spirit? What does it mean to be a spiritual person? What do I, personally, believe in?

If you’re wondering about my personal religion, I don’t have one. I currently fall into the category of “spiritual but not religious.”

However, I recently attended a Unitarian Universalist church, and I find myself quite drawn to the openness of this liberal faith. It may be the case that I will begin to call myself a Unitarian Universalist at some point in the future.

For the time being, though, I am not a member of any organized religion.

Who is this blog for?

While Exploring the Spirit is primarily a documentation of my personal spiritual journey, I hope that it will help others who are on a similar journey.

This blog, then, is for anyone who is on the journey toward a better understanding of their own personal spirituality (or lack thereof). If you find my posts useful, insightful, or interesting, this blog is for you.

If you find my posts ignorant, useless, or just plain stupid, then maybe it’s not for you. Then again, maybe you’re the person who can educate me when I’m being ignorant. If you think I’m off-base or out-of-line, please leave me a comment.

While this is a document of my personal journey, and while it will often be very introspective, I am writing it as a blog, rather than a private journal, because I want to know what other people think of the topics and ideas I’m writing about. If you have an opinion about anything that I write here, please leave a comment.

Who is Adam Snider?

I am not a spiritual guru. I am not a religious leader. I am not any sort of expert on matters of faith, religion, or spirituality. I’m just a regular guy on a journey of self-discovery.

My words and experiences are my own. I hope that this story will help you, but nothing you read here should be taken as absolute truth. This is my truth. You have to find your own truth, your own path.

If it helps, here is a bit of background about my spiritual journey as it stands at the time of writing this (January 06, 2009):

  • I was baptized as a Christian sometime after being born; as far as I know, my family is non-denominational, but I think I was baptized in the United Church of Canada.
  • I was not raised in a religious household. My parents, I think, both believe in God, and would probably call themselves Christian if pressed, but religion was never a major force in our house.
  • I was taken to church a few times when I was youngish. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was probably no older than 10. I remember that I thought church was boring and I didn’t like going. I think we attended on a regular basis for less than a year.
  • Sometime in my early teens, perhaps even sooner, I developed the idea that all religions are “correct” in the sense that they are all just different ways of understanding God. Since God is loving, he would not condemn anyone just because their understanding of him was different from someone else’s understanding. Around this time, I also began to suspect that the Bible was written by humans, and was not necessarily the divine word of God. I think my dad shares this opinion, and told me as much on at least one occasion.
  • I toyed with Wicca and other Earth-focused religions for about 5 minutes.
  • I toyed with Satanism for about 5 seconds.
  • Religion and spirituality were essentially absent from my life for most of my high school experience, though my best friend at the time was Mormon (sort of) and we did sometimes discuss matters of faith during our many coffee talks.
  • In university, I dated a woman who claimed to be very religious. She was a Christian in name only, as far as I’m concerned, but she sparked a desire to learn about religion in me. I began to read the Bible. I studied Christian literature. For a few months, I even referred to myself as a Christian. I attended a Pentecostal Church with her and was turned off of the idea of evangelical Christianity almost immediately.
  • During this time, I attempted to reconcile my humanist beliefs with Christian dogma that contradicted my personal convictions regarding things like abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex (in case you haven’t guessed, I believe that these things are acceptable, while the dogma indicates otherwise).
  • After breaking up with the aforementioned woman, I bounced between hopeful-agnostic (meaning that I wasn’t sure if there was a God or not, but I hoped so) and atheist.
  • After university, I dated a Catholic woman and again the question of religion came into my life. Questions about, “If we marry, how will we raise our kids?” came into play. I knew I could not convert to Catholicism, as it didn’t mesh with what I believed personally, but I again started thinking about religion and spirituality.
  • After that relationship ended, I started referring to myself as an atheist, despite knowing that I felt something greater. I didn’t know if this thing was God in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and so, while I started to use the word “god” to describe it, I no longer capitalized the word (as I wasn’t sure it was an anthropomorphic god).
  • I started dating Sara, my current girlfriend. She was raised Catholic, but isn’t sure if she still believes in that faith. She does, however, believe in God and (I think) Jesus as the Christ. While she made me aware of this, and we’ve talked about faith more than once, she never tried to force her beliefs on me the way that past girlfriends have done.
  • Sara suggested recently (just a few weeks ago, in fact) that we visit the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE). I hesitated at first, but soon agreed. I knew a tiny bit about Unitarian Universalism (UU), but not much. I read as much as I could find about it for a few weeks before finally saying, “OK, let’s go to church.”
  • Together, Sara and I attended UCE for the first time on January 04, 2009. While I’m still not certain that it is the place for me, it has reawakened my spiritual side. I will definitely be attending this church again, and probably visiting other religious services in an effort to learn more about my personal faith in whatever it is that I believe.

That’s pretty much it, in as brief a form as I can manage. If you’d like more information about who I am, or about my journey-to-date, feel free to contact me.

As for what’s yet to come, well, that’s what this blog is all about. If you’re interested in coming along for the ride, you might want to subscribe to Exploring the Spirit—it’s completely free and I promise not to spam you.