spiritualism, part 2 (also a lot of other stuff)
This past Sunday, June 1, I became an official member of the Church. There was a short ceremony in front of the congregation to welcome and initiate the new members, during which we were each given a rose, a certificate of membership, and a copy of the National Association of Spiritualist Churches Spiritualist Manual. After the service, I stayed and attended the annual board meeting. It reminded me why I haven't gone out of my way to make friends. You know it. I know it. Let's just say it like it is:
I'm kind of an acquired taste.
Listen, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I own it. I am, for the most part, pretty happy with myself. However, I'm shy and slow to warm up to people. I'm very goal-oriented, but I don't take much seriously. I hate wasting time. I'm a loner. I'm funny, and I like to laugh, but my sarcasm isn't always appreciated. And I have almost no tolerance for intolerance (ugh. paradoxes. I has them).
Generally, when I meet new people, I have to spend a pretty long time convincing them that I'm not actually an asshole; I am, in fact, a happy, positive person. This can be a problematic way to meet people because I don't really enjoy social niceties. So many people want to talk about nothing as a way of saying hello—and, you know what? I'd prefer not to talk at all.
ANYWAY- back to the Church meeting. It's not like I had a negative interaction with anyone, but I was just, once again, exhausted with humanity as a whole. I've had similar experiences with LGBT volunteer events, at work, at college—everywhere. I've found probably less than five people in my entire life who I really jive with, and that can be frustrating, because I see people seemingly connecting with everyone in the room.
I know that, spiritually and emotionally speaking, I'm basically going through puberty. I'm a a little awkward and still have so much work to do (which I'm looking forward to!), but what does this look like six months, one year, five years down the road? Well, what will it look like for anyone? You have to wonder if people are as aware of the concept of connection and community, and if they are actually seeking it out. Or, perhaps, they've been socialized to lie, in the hopes of creating a facade of connectedness: a disconnected faux society, if you will, full of people trying to create their own perfect falsity.
The question I'm asking: am I ever going to experience a deep communal connection? Does that happen? Does anyone experience that? Or is everyone forever battling others for their own perfection? How deep is the lie?
My life coach suggested that if I can't find my community, I may need to make my own. I've had this sinking feeling lately that she's right. The Spiritualist Church is the closest thing I've found so far- which is so surprising on so many levels, and is another great example of the Universe pointing me in the right direction. I have, in part, anyway, found community—certainly I've met people through the church who I feel are on a very similar page as I am—but some things just don't feel right. Ugh, that's not really it. Nothing feels wrong about the religion (in fact, the more I read about it in the manual, the more I love it), or the board of directors, or the space, or the services, or any of that—I guess I'm not totally happy with all the people who attend. Wait! Let me explain myself before you start calling me names.
I know that I'm never going to find a place full of 30ish people (or more!) who are all totally in sync (unless I'm in a monastery or a cult), but I do get frustrated when I find fairly conservative people who attend a fairly liberal church (which is part of a fairly liberal religion). When Spiritualism was at its height in Rochester, people like Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglas came to the congregation to speak. Today, this doesn't seem extraordinary—but think about it! In the early 1900s there was a woman who supported women's rights and an ex-slave abolitionist who spoke in a church in downtown Rochester. I guess a suitable analogy would be outspoken gay and trans activists speaking at the church today. It's a testament to the church's forward-thinking orientation and liberal mindset. This, in part, is what has drawn me to the church.
Another aspect is that many people don't seem to understand that Spiritualism is an actual religion. They equate it with spirituality more generally—an umbrella term for new-age-y belief systems that don't really have anything to do with one another, much less any organized religion. Don't get me wrong! I'm not saying that one is better than the other- I'm just saying that Spiritualism seeks to prove the existence of life after death, and many spiritual beliefs just assume it to be true. Interestingly, in my experience, people who subscribe to a vaguely spiritual belief system tend to actually be more socially and politically conservative than you'd guess. "New-Age" thought seems to be code for easy answers and, actually, very little thought.
AGAIN: I don't mean to belittle anyone. My sole point here is that Spiritualism is not actually related, in any way, to vague spirituality, as I understand them.
Once I started getting into Spiritualism, I looked for communities to become a part of. I found a community on Reddit called "Spiritualism," then was dismayed to find that it had nothing to do with the religion, but instead those vague new age concepts. I requested to take over the (inactive) community and become the moderator. I sought to change the focus of the community to the religion of Spiritualism (since there continue to be myriad active communities on Reddit about spirituality). While I was eventually successful, I was met with harsh criticism from then-members. No one wanted the distinction to be made! They wanted the title of "Spiritualist" to mean anything.
In this case, I decided that I would press on, and that losing a few members would mean I could grow a more sustainable community in the future (I was correct, by the way)—but it makes me wonder: when is it right to make these choices? When should I try and change the organization to fit me, and when should I try and change myself to fit the organization? I'm not perfect (um, see above), so I am open to change, but my goal is to be authentic, and it's hard to know when I'm being my authentic Self, and when I need work. I do worry about making people mad. Even if people started going to this church one day before me, I feel like it's more their church than it is mine. I have so many ideas to grow the church and increase member engagement- but I was surprised at the negative reaction I got from some people at the suggestion of pretty tame ideas (I'm not sure if this meeting was considered confidential, but, just in case, that's as much detail as I'll go in to). So, should I press on? Or should I stop being so ambitious? Or should I seek a new community? I just don't know.
Actually, I do know. The more I write this, the more clear the answer is. However, I am just such a sensitive guy, and I can get hurt pretty easily when my ideas are dismissed. I mean, why wouldn't you want me to do this crazy easy thing that very well may bring in more people and money? I can't understand.
So, what's my plan with the church? I guess if you, the reader, are a member of the church, you might be curious about that. I would like to be involved with the church as much as possible for as long as I can be. Regardless of my life-plan doubts, the services do fill a spiritual void in my life. I want to be a part of something that brings happiness and comfort to many people. I want to develop my own skills and gifts. I want to be of service. I suppose a long term goal is that I will develop my self through the church such that I can quit my job and support myself, and maybe be more active in the church. Who knows? I think my intentions are pure, though: I want to help, and I want to make myself better so I can help more. Identifying and living your own authenticity is the only way to create the world you want to live in. If I've learned nothing else in this year of growth, I've learned that as you become more in touch with yourself, the more likely it is that the community you want will appear around you. I have to remember that I'm not done yet. As I continue to change, so will my world.