Copyright, David G. Pace, 2010
In 1992 I moved from the religion of my childhood, to the religion of my ancestors. But I would come to believe that jumping spokes was only a lateral move. All spokes are required to hold the wheel of religion intact with God at the center. But what if the wheel itself is unnecessary? What if the wheel has become destructive?
I believe in daily giving myself and others permission to abandon religion. Giving up religion opens a space for me and I believe for society where enlightenment and meaning unencumbered by dogma and division can potentially emerge. For example, even though I have rejected the idea of a priesthood, I believe that my recurring, spontaneous blessings to my off-to-school grandson in which I use the word “Melchizedek,” have become a unique expression of meaning and intimacy for both Josiah and me.
I admit that giving up a religious system has robbed me of the instant sense of belonging to a community. But when I was religious, belonging seemed to rely more on elevating a system to a higher place than it did on facilitating spiritual growth. At church, I never really got to decide who or what I was going to commune with let alone serve.
Despite having abandoned religion, I believe that its icons are an important cultural vein from which I mine the history, the sensibilities, the imagination and the literature which I value. In short, religion’s effects often play a vital part in the language of my emerging soul.
The residuals of my religion are mysterious and they are powerful because they are utterly contingent upon my experience and my interpretation. Although it is time for me to abandon the cathedrals, the synagogues, the mosques and the temples, I believe that once I do I can then re-enter them as I enter my past, with appreciation, yes, but also with enough of a distance to be empowered rather than imprisoned by them. Most importantly, I believe one doesn’t have to be religious to be a Mormon.
I try to leave the church’s dusty, poisonous imperatives behind like Father Lehi left behind Jerusalem, imperiled by stasis . I put the potu above my nose, the kippah on my head, the holy garment on my body as a reminder of what I am rejecting, of what has been re-interpreted. And I aspire to gift the same time and money as I did before, but with greater commitment. I commit to my community, to the good of the collective and to my God. Every time I am inspired to action I am reminded of, in the parlance of my past, that “faith without works is dead.” Faith is better, I believe, without religion.
Still, I find the old stories worthy of re-telling, the old hymns worthy of being sung because they hint at who I am and, again, give language to my emerging soul.
I believe in giving you and me permission to abandon religion even as we claim our Mormonism.
[This talk was delivered at the 2008 Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, UT. Copyright, David G. Pace, 2010 ]
[Asked by the Obama Campaign to respond to the presidential election of 2008, this is what I wrote]
Perhaps I’ve never looked for an invitation from my government to share my story, or maybe the government has never asked. But I am grateful for the invitation now.
Sometimes people get involved in activism and advocacy because of something so terrible that is happening that they can’t not do something. Such is the case with me. I don’t want to dwell on the past 8 years and the reasons why I first joined organized efforts to understand and change the direction of our country. What I want to say is that doing so has been personally rewarding even as it has challenged my perceptions of what is right, good and possible.
Now that change is in the air, and a new optimism seems to be sweeping the country, I have to ask myself, what next? For too long I was content as an American to let forces seemingly too great for me to impact to direct my life and to direct those I claimed as fellow Americans and others. My story is that what changed in this nation in the four-to- eight years is me. I’ve changed.
I now believe that having the conversation with myself about what I can do in any situation, large or small, is its own reward. I found that at a certain point I had too stop anticipating the outcomes of activism and advocacy and start acting in a self-defining way–for my own edification. The way I see it, what started out as necessity—individual actions that told me who I was—ended up coalescing with the consciousness of others who were having the same probing conversation with themselves. I am glad that the grandson my wife and I are raising lived to see his “Poppa” figure this out. Maybe I have been an example to him.
I don’t believe that America’s problems are going to be easy to solve. Some, perhaps most, will never be solved. But there is something purifying and redemptive, something enervating and soulful about engaging authentically and honestly and passionately in the conversation, a conversation that is now, thankfully, in high relief and national in scope. Real conversation isn’t “just talk” or “mere rhetoric.” It breeds action, focus and understanding.
President-elect Barack Obama was right when he said that this was “our” victory. He and his administration are on the crest of something that happened out of mass intention and good will. People had to work through their uncertainties and even pain. But I am already much more interested in what we do tomorrow then what we did yesterday. Let the historians figure out what happened in November 2008. I want to be a part of what’s happening now. For this reason, I don’t make it a point to make sure people know who I voted and campaigned for. Instead, I try to listen to others and figure out how to join them, and for them to join me. I am interested in keeping the conversation going.
Mr. Obama, thank you for asking me what I think and how I feel about things. And thank you for respecting the process. Politics is messy and compromised and has its own wild vector of unpredictability, but principled, active and hopeful intention always pays off because it builds character and spirit. I am proud to be an American today because I’ve made an investment in America. That, perhaps, is the genius of democracy—the great potential. I hope that I can help fulfill that potential by making my own, personal contribution today and tomorrow.
Copyright, David G. Pace, 2010