“Life is a journey, not a destination…” This is a well known quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that many are familiar with. It’s about living in the moment, not getting caught up with what you have yet to achieve, but enjoying the experience. However, I think this aptly can be applied to our spiritual life as well. The journey is as important as the destination. When it comes to spiritual growth, one might argue that there is no final destination, at least not in this life!
Not long ago, Rich (Connections Pastor at Fellowship Church) wrote about how when it comes to spiritual knowledge, we all have more to learn. None of us have reached the “destination”. I have always considered myself to be “spiritual.” I grew up in the Catholic Church, was confirmed, taught catechism school for 3 years to elementary kids, and was an altar server. I initially thought it was important to know all the stories, know all the prayers, and know all the routines as a means of demonstrating my religious prowess. As I got older, despite having my list “checked off”, I still questioned what I believed. I knew that I believed there was something more out there, but entering middle school and high school, I was also trying to check off the lists in science and history class; Darwin’s Theory, archeology’s revelations of human development, carbon dating, Big Bang Theory, cro magnon ancestry, and more. As a young man, all the way through college, I was inundated with the pressure to prove my opinions with evidence, research, expert citations, and evaluate my sources. In fact, as a high school history teacher now, it is still one of the critical skills my department is tasked with ingraining each student with before graduation. However, while going through my adolescence, at the same time I felt the need to research my spiritual life as well. I thought I could do this by seeking out other religions. I spent a couple years with Jehovah’s Witnesses, then attended Lutheran services, after that I popped into Unitarian services, buddhist temples, a synagogue, and even went to a few Mormon services. By the time I went off to college, I had come to the conclusion that I was spiritual, but didn’t buy into any mainline religion. Each time I got involved with one, I would research the religion, find perceived faults, and move on to the next option.
Two years ago, my family moved back to the south side of Middletown and we were invited to come to Fellowship. I initially was as interested in the family babysitting services as much as I was looking to renew my faith. However, the friendliness, the devotion, and over abundance of seemingly happy people peaked my interest again. I have to admit, that despite the fact that I had been taking my family to catholic services for the past 5 years, it was because I wanted them to learn about religion and be spiritual, much like I had. Although, initially a bit uncomfortable at first, I was quickly disarmed by the powerful, positive, and relevant message of the weekly service, and the church community. So, back to my research routine I went.
Perhaps it was Bible based messages, perhaps it was the growth groups, and perhaps its the fact that I’m 15 years older… but I realized I had made a grave error in how I was looking at the spiritual journey. In my past, I was looking for the “evidence” for religion in the dogma, routines, and history; yet for a majority of the time had ignored perhaps the most obvious piece available: The Bible. I started reading the Bible, writing down quotes, and asking questions, much like I do for a textbook or article I’m trying to learn and analyze. When I came up with questions, I asked church leaders and family members what their thoughts were. I read multiple books on the evidence for historical accuracy regarding Jesus, much like I would George Washington or Julius Caesar. The more I read, the more I analyzed, the more I questioned, the more I believed.
Coming from and working in the world of academia, we constantly regard religions as something that is faith based, whereas science and history are something that has to be proven empirically and researched. This creates a dichotomy that implies faith isn’t researched or inherently not fact based. But when put to the same tests, held by the same standards, and analyzed to the same lengths, I have been hard pressed to find any document that passes with more flying colors than the New Testament, especially when given its antiquity.
To circle back to Emerson, my journey has never been more rewarding than it is right now. I’m currently working on my second read through of the Bible, and without surprise find so much more to connect with the more I read. My challenge to those exploring faith is to read, and do the research without making assumptions, the same you would any article or book in question. When you start equitably applying the benchmarks of credibility, bias, and content (the 3 pillars we teach for evaluating a source), I have found it incredibly rewarding to know my faith built on the buttress of high historical standards and research, not a “leap” or presumptions.