In 2007 I was given an unexpected gift. I finally was entering the social networking world and was setting up my Facebook page. Like many forms and applications it was just a matter of filling in the blanks. I was asked to identify myself in certain categories: birth date, gender, hometown and current city. These took no thought whatsoever. It became a little more challenging when it asked for political views. At the time I was personally registered with the Pacific Green party. However, I had voted almost exclusively on the Democratic ticket ever since my vote in 2000 for Ralph Nader resulted in the electoral-college victory of George W. Bush. It took a few hours before I settled on “politics that support compassion and justice.” This allowed me to name the values that informed my politics without feeling boxed in by any particular party affiliation.
Then came the next question. Religious views? Dang!
One would think after an undergraduate degree in religion and a Masters of Divinity degree that I would have this pretty well worked out for myself. But, I knew immediately that this was going to be the most difficult question on the whole profile page. If I followed the lead of the census survey I would have just written in “Christian” and left it at that. But, I literally get tremors when I think of calling myself a Christian in public. In recent years a militant religious right has hijacked the term in the media and I want no part of being associated with a religious label that has come to be perceived as intolerant, rigid, non-thinking, exclusive and homophobic. Quite honestly, I would rather be called an atheist than to be called a Christian if that is what Christian has come to mean.
I thought of distancing myself from this religious right perception by reporting that I was a liberal Christian or a progressive Christian. These terms felt more comfortable, but all it did was push me more to the left on the continuum of Christian beliefs. These terms didn’t resonate with my soul and they still felt too narrow as if I was trying to stuff myself into an undersized casket.
I don’t recall now whether I left that line blank or whether I settled on “progressive Christian” for a time, but what I do know is that I spent the next six months working out a short pithy label that would capture both the depth and the breadth of my constantly evolving religious views. It reminded me of the process I went through in seminary when we students had to write our statements of faith and were given a full nine months to shape them, receive feedback from our peers, and get approval from the ordination committee. That statement of faith was supposed to be the boiled down version of everything we had learned and experienced both up to and including our three years in seminary. This Facebook request for my religious views was akin to the request for a statement of faith. This was no easy task! The only difference is that I felt compelled to come up with a clear, concise label rather than a 1000-word explanation.
In the end, I landed on “agnostic Christian mystic” and have been delightfully surprised at how well this label has both identified me spiritually and given me a religious label to live up to and in to. It leaves room for doubt and uncertainty as well as places me in the camp of those for whom the experience of the Sacred is more important than an unquestioned, static belief in God.
The truth is I am still uncomfortable with labels.
I don’t really think of myself or publicly call myself as an agnostic Christian mystic. I am more comfortable with associating myself with the values that emerge from my spiritual identity—values such as compassion, justice, peace, grace, presence, and a joyful heart. But, if the world needs labels and if Facebook needs to put me in a box, I would be willing to say that I am an agnostic Christian mystic. It may be a box, but this box feels less like a casket and more like a roomy RV with keys in the ignition and gas in the tank. I trust that this label is big enough for me, for now, until later…