One of the first questions I was asked as I set out on this journey was, “What about people who don’t have a religion? Are you interested in their stories, too?” My answer was a certain and resounding, “Yes.” Atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and skeptics have narratives too. And, while still a minority,
“The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.” (2012) Read more.
I have every intention of including people with no faith in my project, not because atheism or secular humanism should be lumped in with the wide array of belief systems, but because I consider these to be perfectly suitable ways to live a meaningful life. Some of these are stories of leaving a faith, some are stories of coming out. Whatever the case may be, I find these narratives just as fascinating. And I want to know more.
To put it simply, a narrative is a story that is told or written. For the purpose of my work, a faith narrative is the framework in which an individual – and in many cases a community – understands herself in time and place, in relation to the belief system and the community to which she belongs. I set out with the notion that faith is narrative, narrative gives life meaning, and understanding what gives meaning to the lives of others creates a more emotionally connected world.
You may have noticed I’ve used the words “faith,” “belief system,” and “religion” interchangeably. These are insufficient and limiting terms, but they are nonetheless helpful. Not everyone sees themselves as having a faith or a religion, and many people prefer to identify as “spiritual, not religious.” I use all of these terms in an effort to be as clear and inclusive as possible.
But back to faith narratives… It may sound a bit lofty, but really all it is is sharing personal stories. The bulk of my time over the course of this project will be spent listening to individual stories from as wide a range of perspectives and experiences as possible. I’ve already been doing this informally for some time, and chances are you have done it, too. But for the next six months, I have been given the gift of time and resources to talk to people, listen to their stories and learn about the things that matter most to them.
Of course, there is a little bit more to it than that (isn’t there always?). As I listen to and gather these stories, I’m also looking for common themes, for differences and similarities. How do these worldviews affirm and inspire so many? How do ancient traditions remain relevant today and how are new traditions finding their foothold as more people choose their faith rather than inherit it? How can a genuine curiosity about other belief systems foster greater acceptance and understanding?
That is, in a nutshell, what I mean when I talk about faith narratives…stories. And I’d love to hear yours.
Earlier in the year, I prepared and submitted a proposal for something called the Barbara Marshall Award. This is a program that gives creative employees at Hallmark Cards (my employer) an opportunity to take a sabbatical during which to dive deep into an area of personal passion and creative exploration. About six weeks ago I learned that I am this year’s recipient of this award. I’m very fortunate and grateful to have won; my sabbatical begins tomorrow!
So, for the next six months, through personal conversations and immersive worship experiences, I will explore the many faces of faith across generations and cultures in our nation today. My goal is to learn how we can have meaningful connections and genuine relationships in an increasingly diverse spiritual landscape. I will be gathering personal stories, hoping to gain a deeper understanding of how faith narratives give life meaning. I’m setting out with the belief that engaging in honest interfaith dialogue has the capacity to bring out the very best – in me, in you, in all of us. I hope to make some new friends along the way, and I can’t wait to start.
I will be thrilled to hear from anyone interested in sharing a story with me. Do you have a question? A comment? Would you like to share your story with me? I’d love to hear from you, just let me know.