Last year I took part in an interfaith dinner, in which all the campus religious groups cooperated and hosted an evening of food, learning, and good conversation. It was advised to write your religious affiliation under your name on your nametag, and I saw many amusing ones: “Spiritual but not religious”; “Jesus not religion”; “Don’t really care.” The standard “Christian,” “Jewish,” “atheist” tags were almost…bland.
Last year I put “Christian” under my name. This year I’m not sure what to put, because if you know me, you know that the labels “Jewish,” “Christian,” and “agnostic” are all, in their own way, applicable.
I know better now than to assume uniformity under one label. “Christian” tells me something, and yet not enough. An “Eastern Orthodox” label, for example, and the aforementioned “Jesus not religion” one create two different images in my mind, as do “atheist” and “agnostic atheist.” All of them are designed to invite conversation, which is the goal, but still I hesitate to get creative in this area.
I appreciate the people who tell me that labels are stupid and limiting; that I don’t need to worry about fitting into anyone’s box. They mean well but they don’t understand how OCD works: I need clean, simple labels. I want the box. The labeled box fits easily into a shelf and looks like it belongs; a container with loose ends hanging out of it is a black hole where items get lost, not found.
Unfortunately, the labels that suit me best are paraphrased quotes, quirky statements, and borrowed lines from books that don’t fit easily onto a Hello, My Name Is tag:
“My doubt is threaded with faith.” “Jew-ish.” “Christian with questions.” “Doubt-filled believer.” “On a journey.” I recently came across this quote, which I love, but definitely wouldn’t fit: “I want the presence of God Himself, or I want nothing to do with religion.”
But they all invite probing questions I might not have answers to. Or, if I do, they come out jumbly, in part because I’m still working through things, and also because I’m allergic to small talk and crowds make me itchy.
And yet, I believe these events are important, and may hold a key – be it a person on a similar trajectory, or insight from listening to another’s abbreviated story – to figuring myself out. I have learned a lot about God from talking with other people. I’ve learned more about the elasticity and purpose of faith by listening or reading someone’s autobiography than hearing a sermon. I hope others react similarly to my story.
“Seeker of God.” “Skeptic.” “Searching.” They’re all me. They don’t fit neatly in one box. I’m willing to bet, though, that behind the cross jewelry, the yarmulkes, and other decorative articles of faith, most people don’t fit neatly in one box, either.
Like this post? Check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available on Amazon.