There’s a real danger to the lifelong study of religion. Learning to look at any tradition from the point of view of an observer will create a sense of being on the outside looking in. I’m a member of a religious organization. I occasionally consider pursuing ordination within it—this was my original sense of my calling in life—but I’m compelled to consider the phenomenon of being outside looking in. When I was an Episcopalian (before the church showed its true colors in my particular case), I wrote a letter to my rector asking how I could get off of the church steps and be invited inside. My rector wrote back with some insipid advice and was among those who voted, as a trustee, to oust me from my fourteen-year career at Nashotah House. Outside again.
Studying the history of religions provides dangerous levels of insight. Simple, mindless acceptance of teachings becomes impossible. This isn’t arrogance, as any who know me can attest, but rather a form of hyper-awareness. You can’t emerge from forty-plus years of reading about, and deeply pondering, religion unscathed. Many, of course, dismiss any observations by those lacking the denominational seal of approval. “If you knew what you were talking about,” so the reasoning goes, “you’d be a minister or a professor.” So you speak from the sidelines at best. Outside. Even within my own group I have merely the role of “member,” lacking the official piece of paper from the seminary or other accrediting body that states I might know some things.
Of course, I have much yet to learn. This religion thing is a tough nut to crack. Were I younger and better paid I might consider undergoing college again to take a different path. As it is, I’ve invested more than a half-century trying to get where I am, wherever that is. I sit outside watching the birds. They’re back pretty much in full force now. They seem so certain about where they’re going. How can you fly without a full level of commitment? Earthbound, I muddle about with my head somewhere above the clouds I cannot reach. I read about religious traditions unknown to me. Often I find nuggets of great value in them. Of course, I’m not clergy so you need not take my word for it. I, after all, draw inspiration simply by sitting outside, always outside, and watching the birds.