So what's up with this series title, "Advent of the Nones?"
I suppose the easiest way to explain it is to break it down into its component parts.
Advent: Put very simply, this is the time some Christians observe before Christmas, when we await the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. We store up hope in our hearts. We light candles. We observe any number of traditions, including the Nine Lessons and Carols, fasting, singing Handel's Messiah, and on and on. But the important part is the waiting, the storing up of hope, the anticipation of a miracle breaking through.
Nones: Put even more simply, the "Nones"—and I'm out here advocating for a better name for this group—are those of us who are unchurched. Some of us have unchurched ourselves; others have been unchurched rather against their will. For the vast majority of us, it's been a combination of both processes culminating in a life without an organized faith group or a spiritual tradition of any kind to which we hew.
Wait. Didn't you just refer to "we" when you mentioned Christians? And again when you referred to the "Nones?"
Why yes I did, Nancy Noticer. Because things are never simple, are they?
See, most of us Nones comes from a spiritual tradition of some kind. We were raised in a faith tradition or at least familiarized with one at some point. And yet, at some point, that faith tradition didn't really pan out.
For me, it was several. I started life in the Church of Christ. When I made a conscious decision to live a life of engaged faith—known in some circles as "conversion," "getting saved," or "giving your life to Jesus"—I did so in a nondenominational evangelical church setting and among people who came from Pentecostal traditions. And though I quickly was drawn to the Presbyterian Church in America and was a member of it for nearly four years, I attended a Southern Baptist church one summer when I was home from college. When I came out as gay, I spent some time among the nice folks at Metropolitan Community Church. The divinity school I dropped out of is affiliated in some way with the Episcopal Church (hey, don't judge me for not knowing. I DROPPED OUT). When Brian and I got together, we joined a United Church of Christ and became Congregationalists for a little bit. Also, I lived in Catholic countries for six months when I was twenty and quite came to love the Holy See (even if it doesn't love me back). There are many things I love about Buddhism, and though I've adopted a meditation practice, I'm not a good fit with the Buddhists either. So, yeah. IT'S A RICH TAPESTRY.
None of those things stuck, each for various reasons that could make their own series of posts. Some of those reasons were theological. Some were cultural. Others were about how I don't like being yelled at during six-week sermon series on Bible prophecy or the written works of present-day politicians.
Christianity forms the basis of my theological ideas, such as they are. But in thirty-seven years, I've never found a church I both wanted to be a part of and that would have me in my rawest, realest form. For me—and, I suspect, for many Nones—Christianity's like that friend you made at camp who's always wanting to hang out, and you're like, "Dude, camp was a long time ago. I like you and all, but let's be real about what this is. And anyway, you were kinda mean to me a bunch, and you posted some really incendiary shit on Facebook during the election, and I'm having trouble letting it go."
So there's the scene: A None who mostly considers himself a Christian and has a Buddhist-style meditation practice recommended to him by his therapist, who himself was a Christian minister.
So Then What's a "None?"
In much the same way the word evangelical has been co-opted and poorly redefined by a media that never really understood the term or the community from which it came—everyone I know who once aspected it to themselves no longer does so—the term None is problematic. And not just because it sucks and sounds like Nun.
Because us Nones—SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS, HELP ME BRAINSTORM A BETTER NAME—don't self-identify as unchurched because we don't believe in anything. Some of us are agnostics, sure; some athiests. But most of us are just people who haven't found a communal, formal spiritual connection. Many, like me, never really found it in the church of our raising and spent many years searching for it, never finding it anywhere else either.
Maybe we even do believe. Maybe, as I said in my last post, we store up all these things in our hearts, noticing the little things our own higher power puts in our way: signposts, intuitions, tiny miracles, chances to help, little crucibles to discover who we are. We work hard to cultivate things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We get really distressed at injustice and don't have a lot of patience for religious types who seem to get off on it—or even those who don't seem to have much to say about it. We can't stand hypocrisy. Sometimes, we're jerks about these last two things, and we know; we're trying to do better. We're working on our mental health. We're concerned about how many of you aren't.
We're astonished by science; inspired by great art, music, and literature; hopeful for a society that treats our fellow humans fairly no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, hair color, unfortunate tattoo choices, or love of Nickelback. In general, we're not the kind of people who need to feel like someone is less than we are in the Grand Scheme in order to feel okay in it. And we might even believe in a Grand Scheme; it's just we don't really trust church to lead us to it. We've heard too many church people chide us for not behaving better only to turn around and behave worse than we'd ever dreamed of doing. Some of us have had believers up in our faces, yelling, spittle at the edges of their mouths, about how there's no absolute truth, you can't pick and choose what you want from the Bible (answer: Yes you can. Jesus did.), and if we don't shut up and get in line, we're going to end up on the wrong side of a certain bepitchforked fellow and spend eternity with Hitler and Bebe Rebozo.
Well, nertz to that, we say. Many of us spent half our lives chasing our tails in pursuit of God only to find out the people who sent us on that chase had no problem endorsing a serial sexual predator or two when it served their political interests. That made all that talk about how "There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong" and "Scripture is black-and-white; there is no gray area" a little hard to take. So we opted out, and we're probably not opting back in. We like it here. It's calmer; fewer people yell at us or hold impossible expectations they themselves are unwilling to try to meet.
What Are You Waiting For?
So then, why Advent, again?
I guess I'll stop speaking for other Nones now. For me, it's about waiting. About hope. Do I believe God is going to ride in on a fiery chariot and suddenly make everything okay? I don't know. Part of me wants to believe that, but a bigger and better part thinks that's our job. Maybe God put us here, on this little stretch of green grass between birth and death, to fight this great good fight for ourselves. To grow within us the courage and love to always try to do what's right. To love this world without shame, hesitation, regret, or a lusting after power. Maybe we're here to build the fiery chariot.
So, this Advent, I'm waiting for signs that humanity's story isn't one of being stuck, fixed, static. I'm waiting to see us do something amazing. I'm waiting for the little lights to show up right when I need them, for God to do a little showing off, for the clouds of hopelessness to part and the sunlight to peek through the cracks.
So this series, this "Advent of the Nones:" It's a way of writing my way through where I am spiritually, describing what I hope for, what I see coming, of laying out some signposts for the unchurched. It's a little like a Christmas chore I did recently.
Brian and I were putting up our Christmas tree, and the dreaded moment came to untangle our lights. It took an hour of backtracking, pulling impossibly large glass bulbs through little loops in green wire. But even tangled up, the lights were enchanting, spinning through each color of the rainbow, shining there on the floor, just waiting to throw all those photons, all that joy, into our little house—onto the art on the walls, the photos of us from years past, the ornaments, the friends who came to our Christmas party, the dog, the presents, and out into the night.