A rabbi, a Baptist minister married to a Hindu, a Unitarian Universalist Muslim, and a Sikh and Muslim interfaith kid all…recommend a book. (Because not everyone walks into bars, and this book is all about inclusion). As you may have guessed by now, the book they recommend is The Interfaith Family Journal. And you can read their lovely endorsements on my author website here.
And new this week, for the growing number of people who do not identify as religious, interfaith and Secular Humanist speaker and activist Miranda Hovemeyer gave The Interfaith Family Journal its latest five-star review:
My husband and I are both non-religious. I am a
Secular Humanist and he identifies as Atheist, but we both grew up in
households where there was some kind of religious practice. The book contains
so much material that we can use ourselves to talk about our family and
non-religious identification now, as well as how we grew up, and what we want
for any future children we may have.
In my last blog post, I explained why two family members (spouses, partners, a parent and teen child, a guardian and a family mentor, etc) need two copies of The Interfaith Family Journal to go through the five-week process together. But just a week later, I am actually rethinking that proclamation. My readers have convinced me to recant.
What has perhaps surprised me the most, since the publication of the book just a few weeks ago, is the number of people who say they are finding The Interfaith Family Journal useful, as individuals. From the start, I knew this book would help clergy and therapists in counseling congregants and clients. But I had not anticipated that a friend who leads community engagement and diversity trainings with parents and children would find the book inspiring, and plan to use it in her work in the community, even though religion is not the topic of her work. In another case, a reviewer noted that while the book is an “amazing tool” for interfaith families,“one can also use it as a personal workbook to dig deeper into one’s most cherished but unarticulated commitments.”
It honestly had not occurred to me, until I started getting this feedback from readers, that individuals, even individuals who may not see themselves as part of an interfaith family, would benefit from the Journal. Now I am realizing that for some couples, one partner may be more interested in working through the issues of their religious and spiritual and cultural history, and will find support in the writing prompts and activities in the Journal, even if the other partner has no interest in the topic. But more broadly, any person, regardless of their family connections, could find the Journal useful in discerning how their family background, present beliefs, and dreams for the future are interwoven.
Whether you consider yourself part of an interfaith family or not, come out and tell us about your religious, spiritual or secular journey, or just gather ideas and inspiration, next week in DC at the Northeast Neighborhood Library, on Wednesday June 5th at 7pm. There will be copies of The Interfaith Family Journal for sale and signing. You might just need one for, well, anyone and everyone.
This week,The Interfaith Family Journal arrived. It is a slim but powerfully inspirational workbook with a jewel-toned cover and pages just waiting to be filled in, packed with activities and resources. And this is a book for, well, everyone.
Whether you are an atheist, or spiritual but not religious, or Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, or Pagan, whether you practice Vodun or Candomblé or Santería, or an indigenous religion, this book is for you. Whether you consider yourself part of an interfaith family, or an interreligious or intercultural or multifaith or spiritually fluid or “being neither” family, or you are part of a family with one religious label but many beliefs and practices and formative experiences, this book is for you. Whether you are gay or straight, whether you identify as a man or a woman or as non-binary or genderfluid, this book is for you. Whether you have a partner, or you’re a single parent with a teenage kid with an opinion on religion, or a grandparent guardian, or part of a group of parents and stepparents co-parenting, or empty nesters rethinking how you want to celebrate or affiliate, this book is for you.
This book is for people who are in couples or family counseling, or have just thought about it. It’s for people who want to find out more about a partner’s childhood and heritage and formative experiences, in deep and intimate conversation. It’s for people who like filling out questionnaires, and for people who like to write, and for people who would rather have a conversation while making art together.
This book is for people who have always meant to record a video of your parents or grandparents telling family stories, and for people who have not found time to put together a family cookbook, and for people who have thought about detailing instructions for your own funeral but never quite got around to it. This book is for people who are trying to figure out which religious community will work best for your family, and for people who have decided against joining a religious community.
So if this is you, you can get support and inspiration from The Interfaith Family Journal. Buy a copy for your sister-in-law, your daughter, your best friend. Buy a copy for every therapist you know, and every clergy member you know, because these folks are going to need this book in their toolkits.
Finally, it’s spring! Let us celebrate, together! Post a photo of your interfaith family on facebook or instagram, with the hashtag #MyInterfaithFamily. And contact me now for a book talk at your congregation, library, bookstore, or university. Together, let us support all the love in the world.
We are still fighting the myth that interfaith children grow up to be lost and confused. Rev. Erik Martínez Resly is an interfaith child who grew up to become an inspired community leader. I met Erik at the Parliament of the World’s Religions this year, and recently interviewed him about his work as Lead Organizer of The Sanctuaries, a racially and religiously diverse arts community in Washington, DC.–SKM
1. How would you describe your own religious family history and journey?
I grew up in a mixed religious family, Jewish and Christian, both practicing. My parents embraced the tension, encouraged me to experience both ritualistic worlds, find my own place of commitment and conviction. Living overseas in Germany, we attended the Unitarische Freie Religionsgemeinde, a free-religious community that served mixed families like our own, some Muslim-Christian, others cross-cultural in non-religious ways. As a teenager, I was “religious but not spiritual,” in the sense that I attended services but didn’t necessarily identify with the beliefs and practices in an intimate and immediate way.
However, in my last years of high school, all of that changed during a particularly difficult struggle with chronic illness. I was stretched and shoved to my physical and spiritual limits, and forced to make a decision about how to face death. I chose life, in the sense that I came to appreciate the small moments of rupture and revolution, the seeds of the spirit that broke through the pain and hardship. I will never forget the one time I was in great pain wrapped in covers on my hospital bed, and I all of a sudden had this urge to pray. I don’t know where it came from! I neither really knew how to pray, nor whom I would be praying to. My illness didn’t magically heal, but I felt the power of something or someone holding me up, giving me the strength and courage and resilience to push on. “Maybe that’s God,” I thought to myself, intentionally leaving the question open. It was a question that I would carry with me for many years, and one that I continue to live with to this day.
2. What inspired you to found The Sanctuaries?
After flirting with a career in international politics, I came to realize that institutions are only as humane as the people behind them. So I decided to devote my life to supporting the people behind them — empowering people to live as their best selves. I sought graduate training in religious pluralism at Harvard Divinity School, and was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister.
At the same time, I quickly realized that our inherited forms of organized religious community needed to shift to catch up with the changing realities of what it means to be a younger person in the economic context and cultural worlds that we find ourselves in. As an artist and activist, I found this to be even more pronounced within circles of creative and conscious people, who too often described organized religion as something that burned or bored them. Let me be clear: I have deep respect for more traditional religious communities. Nevertheless, there is an ever-growing population of younger people who do not feel connected to or well served by these institutions. And so, I felt that we needed to broaden the bandwidth on what a spiritual community could look like.
Towards the end of 2012, I spent six months meeting with people — at cafes, bars, gallery openings, music shows, and everything in between. I wanted to know what type of community they would value, what would be worth their time, what was missing in their lives. The Sanctuaries was born in 2013 as a collective response to those questions.
People told me that they sought a community that truly reflected the racial and religious diversity that exists in this city, and an opportunity to build lasting friendships with people they otherwise wouldn’t meet. People also told me that they yearned for a spiritual community that would welcome them as they are, without drama or judgment, and that would celebrate their questions, curiosities, and doubts. It would be a place where devout Muslims and committed Christians could grow spiritually alongside people who do not claim a specific tradition, but who still strive to live a life of meaning and purpose. Lastly, people told me that they wanted to help build a creative community that encouraged personal creative expression and artistic collaboration, across mediums, in service of a higher cause. A place where art and soul fuel social change.
3. So what does this work at The Sanctuaries end up looking like?
The Sanctuaries hosted more than 60 gatherings last year. One highlight was being invited to perform at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, a gathering of over 10,000 people from around the world, last fall. Another highlight was working with fifteen of our artists of diverse racial and religious backgrounds to record a seven-track album, “The Mixtape,” that sold out its first pressing. The album fuses hip hop and soul with folk and classical Indian ragas, incorporating spoken word poetry, thumping beats, soaring vocals. It’s raw, and sacred.
4. Where do you see The Sanctuaries heading next?
We’re about to launch our Collective, which will equip engaged citizens to harness the power of their creative and spiritual lives to promote social change in their own communities. We’ll host a three-month pilot this spring, free of charge, where ten creative people of diverse backgrounds and mediums will form a community, and receive studio space and supplies, tools for deepening their spiritual voice and artistic craft, and the opportunity to learn from and contribute to a local justice campaign. Applications are open now and will close on Friday, January 15th.
The Collective is part of our larger mission to bring new perspectives to the social problems that we face. The world desperately needs creative leaders of diverse backgrounds who are spiritually grounded and socially conscious.
5. What do you think makes this kind of community powerful for those from younger generations who have no interest in traditional religious institutions?
The Sanctuaries is an unapologetically inclusive and relevant community. It’s real and raw — a space to creatively explore what organizer Osa Obaseki, Co-Founder of our Collective, calls “spiritual gangsta shyt.” There’s an appreciation for the wisdom of ancient traditions, alongside a desire to figure out what it means to live well in the here and now.
Members of our community often tell me that this is the first community they’ve found that welcomes their whole selves — the creative and the spiritual, the questions and the convictions, the successes and the shortcomings. We don’t need to look alike or think alike to love alike.
Let me also say: partnership is powerful. It’s a form of support without suffocation. It’s a way to mutually commit to a shared cause, and collaboratively work towards a shared vision. I prize the partnerships we have with local religious institutions, as well as with small businesses, arts organizations, and justice campaigns in the area. They don’t try to do what we do, and we don’t try to do what they do. Rather, we share stories, learn from each other, find ways to share resources and celebrate shared successes. I truly believe: we’re better together.
6. How do you think growing up in an interfaith family helped to form your approach to religion and the world?
My family taught me to appreciate difference and embrace contradiction. Sometimes you can’t come to a resolution that pleases everyone. Sometimes life is just too complicated for easy answers. Rather than fight these impasses, I’ve learned to welcome them.
So often, finding an answer closes down curiosity. It stops a journey of inquiry, and sends everyone home, puffed up and proud. Points of difference, on the other hand, open up new questions and demand new perspectives. They force us to look at things differently. They stretch our minds. They expand us.
That’s not to say that answers are unimportant. They’re guideposts along the journey. But growing up in an interfaith family, I came to know a God who refuses to be put into a box, to be mobilized to reinforce our sectarian divisions, to be reduced to our human prejudices.
Interfaith families celebrating two or more religions are not actually “religious nones.” I sometimes describe my people as religious maximalists instead of religious minimalists. We may be atheists, or agnostics, or mystics, but we are determined to honor all of our religious heritages. Some of us spend double the time and effort on religious study and practice, rather than no time at all.
And yet, those of us with what theologian Duane Bidwell calls “multiple religious bonds” sometimes get swept into the catch-all category of “religious nones.” This happens because surveys do not let us check more than one box, and because researchers don’t really know how to deal with what they see as the theological dissonance of the way we practice and identify. So we get thrown into the “none” bin, with a tremendous variety of other fascinating, religiously complex, fluid and flexible people.
Writer Kaya Oakes paints detailed portraits of some of the people whirling about in this contemporary religious and spiritual kaleidoscope, in her slim yet revealing new book, The Nones Are Alright: A New Generation of Believers, Seekers, and Those in Between(Orbis Books, 2015). Oakes is the author of previous books including a spiritual memoir, and teaches writing at Berkeley: I have long admired her work in the literary online magazine Killing the Buddha. Rather than a dry academic study, she gives us clear and lively prose and even poetic phrases like this one: “…faith is a tidal motion, an ebb and a surge, a push and a pull.”
But the backbone of this book is journalism, which in this case means important qualitative research in an emerging field. Oakes interviews a series of (mainly) millennials who might find themselves in the “religious nones” category for a whole host of reasons. They grew up atheist, or grew disgusted with religious doctrine and became atheist. They continue to practice religion on their own terms while being agnostics, or go to divinity school while doubting the existence of God, or adopt Buddhist meditation alongside other traditions as part of “liminal” religious practice, or remain “believers” but disaffiliate from religious institutions because they cannot live under the doctrines oppressing women and queer people. Oakes describes how many of her subjects are involved in community service and social justice work despite their disaffiliations, and writes, “Lost in the hand-wringing over the rise of nonbelievers are these kind of stories.”
The book is clearly rooted in the author’s own complex, nuanced Catholic perspective–Orbis is the Maryknoll press. For those from other religions, the American Christian orientation is evident in the emphasis on “faith” or “belief.” (For Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and many indigenous peoples, practice and culture often have more weight than litmus tests of belief). And the second half of The Nones Are Alright focuses specifically on interviews with people who have left the Catholic Church, have perhaps rejoined it (“boomerangs”), and then sometimes left again.
But this is also one of the first books to emphasize the important contribution of interfaith families to the complexity of religion in America right now. Oakes cites Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, and writes that future children are “increasingly likely to grow up ‘both/and’.” For instance, her portrait of “Carolyn” reveals how the daughter of a Lutheran mother and Jewish father worked for a mainline Protestant organization, studied in Israel but was alienated by the anti-intermarriage rhetoric there, briefly considered conversion to Judaism, and continues to seek out both Christian and Jewish experiences. She tells Oakes, “This whole idea about you don’t have to fit into a box has been useful and a relief.”
In all, the author gives us a tremendously useful disambiguation of the rich diversity of people caught up in the broad sweep of the nones. Millennials and those who come up behind them are in the midst of organizing their own religious structures and spiritual lives, and designing the new academic field of interfaith studies. In this context, the depth of each new portrait in this book will help to further our understanding of who is disaffiliating from religious institutions, why they are doing so, what the role of interfaith families will be, and how many of us are finding and creating meaning, support, and community outside the boxes in the 21st century.