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November 1, 2006 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Spiritually questing Chicago MeFite seeking Mefites' personal experiences with Unitarianism, Theravada Buddhism, Quakers, and neopaganism.

I'm a 32-year-old Chicagoan, and I'm trying to find a spiritual practice for my life that feels "right," the one I was brought up in no longer feeling right to me. Beliefnet had a few suggestions for me, and I'm curious as to whether any Mefites can share their opinions or experiences with these specific religions: Unitarian Universalism, Theravada Buddhism, liberal Quakers, and neopaganism. Things I should keep in mind — any best practices, any pitfalls? Any tips as to locales in Chicago in which someone could gain some exposure to these religions without fully committing to same? (I have no car, so suburbs are out — north side of Chicago highly preferred but not essential.) If it helps, I recently wrote this in a comment, which seems to me to be a little bit of my religious/spiritual philosophy. Thanks in advance for people's commentary and suggestions.
posted by WCityMike to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unitarian universalism was fairly popular in the community I grew up in. It's more of a community of people seeking meaning that a specific belief system - you could be a universalist and hold any of the other belief systems you mention, and depending on locale will find many others like you.

In so much as I like any traditional religious practice, I am a big fan of Theravada buddhism. I cannot reccomend Mindfulness in Plain English highly enough as a starting point. Resist the pull of superstition - belief in karma/rebirth are not required to gain something meaningful from buddhism.
posted by phrontist at 2:30 PM on November 1, 2006

I was a Unitarian Universalist for several years. At first I went because my mom dragged me, but then I kept going for a few years after she stopped. I liked it because we could discuss our spirituality without adhering to any sort of rigid dogma. Unitarian Universalism isn't completely without rules, they have 7 "guiding principles," although those can be summarized by saying "just be nice."
I eventually quit going to the Unitarian church for a couple of reasons. Mostly it was the fact that we spent more time talking about politics (national politics and church politics) than about anything spiritual, and it got kind of old. I'm sure this happens to some degree in all churches, but some are probably better than others. Since Unitarian Universalism is largely dependent on the church community, your experience will vary based on the church you choose.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:34 PM on November 1, 2006

A friend of mine has been going to Second Unitarian and enjoying it very much.
posted by sugarfish at 2:37 PM on November 1, 2006

You should add Ethical Culture/Humanism to your list of places to try out. The Chicago Society is in Skokie, but does have public transport access.

Ethical Culture grew out of Judiasm, whereas Unitarian grew out of Christianity. Both have similar attitudes about theism. You decide what you believe. One of the tenets of Ethical Culture is to strive to elicit the best in others thereby eliciting the best in yourself.

I grew up going to the St. Louis society, I knew a few folks from the Chicago society then, but haven't had much contact in many years.

You may find a fit there or not, but I would encourage you to visit and see what you think. Sunday programs vary greatly, sometimes they are in relation to living a humanist life/treating others well, sometimes they are political, we had a wide range of guest speakers, too.

If you want more info or have specific questions my email is in my profile.
posted by sulaine at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2006

For personal experiences with Unitarianism, you might check out some of the answers in this thread.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:53 PM on November 1, 2006

For more info on Theravadan Buddhism, you might want to join e-sangha.

There are individual forums for each type of buddhism. There are some real no-it-all freaks over there, but there are also some really great discussions and the other members will definitely be able to suggest a lot of reading material if you ask.
posted by milarepa at 3:16 PM on November 1, 2006

I was a Unitarian in high school. I find that Unitarian churches vary widely, but they tend to be fairly intellectual (rather than coming from an intensely spiritual place). What that means is, there is a lot of talking, less praying or singing.

For me that wasn't motivating because I can easily find liberal intellectuals to talk to in other areas of life but it's harder to find a transendant spiritual connection.
posted by serazin at 3:19 PM on November 1, 2006

This is the one area where I've found real use for a "what am I" type of internet quiz other than curiosity/fun group comparisons. My husband went through some similar questing some time back, and the best advice I could give him was to figure out what it was that he did believe and what faiths/religions followed those beliefs. While in an ideal world, we'd all have time to read in-depth material on all the faiths that seem as though they might fit (and, for that matter, some that don't), sometimes that's not possible for everyone.

We took some of those quizzes to narrow down what religious philosophies fit the way we already believed to try to find a name or community for his beliefs (sorry for the changing persons--I walked through all this with him, partly out of curiosity and partly as a means of support, but I'm comfortable believing what I believe without belonging to a religion or religious community, though our beliefs are similar in practice).

Once we had a decent ordered list of what beliefs were close to his (and what were clearly far from what he/we believed), we started doing research on faiths that we thought might fit. He's been the Wiccan/neopagan lay leader on his last couple bases now as well as doing some volunteer work that's important to him (that's not specifically religious, but has been a part of his spiritual journey).

I think this Beliefnet quiz was one of the ones we used; I can't find the others, but we took several to see where the common threads were (since with subject matter like this, it's far too easy to end up on a page whose intent is to convince you that you really do believe in X).

For neopaganism specifically, All One Wicca was the book we started reading. It's probably also worth your time to attend a meeting or group for all the religions that interest you, to see if their beliefs or practice will fit your life or beliefs.

Good luck!
posted by Cricket at 3:28 PM on November 1, 2006

Neo-paganism is incredibly broad. I'm part of one religion that could be described as neo-pagan (but usually isn't, because we tend to go all ballistic), my partner of another.

But, if you are working down a list of religions, by all means, start with the UUs. They can probably even point you to neo-pagan groups, should you decide you can't live without attending a Lithuanian reconstructionist ritual, or something.

Or try the Church of the Sub-Genius, based on the Discworld reference. Or the Discordians.
posted by QIbHom at 3:29 PM on November 1, 2006

know-it-all, not no-it-all.
*hangs head in shame*
posted by milarepa at 3:29 PM on November 1, 2006

I know you didn't list Bahai above, but as you are in the Chicago area and on this sort of spiritual journey Ithought it might be a good idea to at least take a trip up to Wilmette. The House of Worship there is beautiful as is the Bahai faith (sort of a Middle Eastern UU/Quaker movement to be extremely brief).

You can even get to the temple by public transport. It's worth a trip even if you have no intention of exploring the Faith and the people there are always happy to have visitors.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:46 PM on November 1, 2006

I hang out with Quakers. The ones I know are lovely and progressive. Some meetings are more conservative. Find an "unprogrammed" meeting and drop by. They will welcome you.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:11 PM on November 1, 2006

I can't help you in Chicago, but I see you've already found BeliefNet. If you haven't already done so, I would encourage you to participate in the forums for those faith communities and they can help you learn more, and who knows? Maybe a Chicago connection will pop up.

I apologize in advance for BNet's slow loading forums; they are apparently halfway through remodeling the site and it's madenningly slow (to me).
posted by Doohickie at 8:06 PM on November 1, 2006

Oh, and if you haven't read it, check out A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service and Common Sense by Robert Lawrence Smith.

posted by Doohickie at 8:08 PM on November 1, 2006

I grew up UU back east, in New Hampshire. It was a great experience for me, and provided a much-needed refuge -- the church (and the youth group) was a way for all the progessive, non-capital-"C" Christian, outsider-y people (kids and grownups) to get to know each other, and create community. I'm still friends with dozens of people from that time.

Now that I live in San Francisco, I'm not so interested in the UU world. I'm able to connect with people and communities (civil rights, LGBT, etc.) without relying on the church. Also, sometimes I feel as though the UU world is all talk, blah blah blah, and little action. (Easy for me to say, as I'm not part of that world anymore.) But if I lived in a rural or more conservative community, I would probably go back to a UU church.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:02 PM on November 1, 2006

Born and raised Quaker here, but the family unit sort of dropped off meeting attendance after we moved to another state and the Meeting there was more of the programmed sort.

Quite a few years later, I returned to Meeting in search of a spiritual connection or something akin to it that my life seemed to be missing and found it within.

These are some of the things I appreciate about the Society of Friends:

Inclusive with respect to race, color, sexual orientation.

The Bible is not the final word on faith.

There are no ministers/preachers who tell you how to practice your faith, worship and/or judge. [Please note this applies to Quaker Meeting. There is a branch not necessarily affiliated that is a church format v. silent or unprogrammed meeting.]

Active work on both the national and local fronts for peace and justice.

The concept that my relationship with God is my own. It doesn't have to be put under any scrutiny nor do I have to prove my belief to anyone.

Hope that isn't too generalized for you. Check out Quaker.org for a whole host of linky goodness.

Best wishes!
posted by sillygit at 10:38 PM on November 1, 2006

From the comment you linked to, sounds like you find some spark of the divine in what the senses have to offer. If this is the case, I'd question whether a deeply ascetic path is the right one for you (e.g., many forms of Buddhism). If you're attracted to Buddhism-like things, you might consider looking into some form of Tantric practice -- at least from what (little) I've read, it's definitely not all about sex (as it's often portrayed), but rather about recognizing the divine in all things (both pleasant and unpleasant) via the senses.
posted by treepour at 11:14 PM on November 1, 2006

Neopaganism, even more than the other religions you've mentioned, is a really mixed bag. It's grown and splintered incredibly quickly over the past few decades — and even its early roots were in syncretic movements that merged beliefs and practices from dozens of traditions. The amount of diversity in the modern pagan community is truly mind-boggling.

And it's not the sort of diversity you see in Christianity, where every city has a dozen churches but each Catholic church is just like the next one. Some of the fastest-growing neopagan movements have been the deeply anti-hierarchical ones; the coven here and the coven in the next city may have nothing in common but their name. A lot of pagan groups are one-offs, too, not affiliated with any movement but drawing inspiration from a few dozen traditions and authors. With those groups, it's almost guaranteed you'll find nothing like them anywhere else.

So it really doesn't make much sense to ask "Is neopaganism right for me?" The answer — inevitably, no matter who you are — will be "Some of it probably is, most of it probably isn't." That's just the nature of the beast, given how diverse and decentralized it's gotten.

If you're interested, seek out your local pagan community. Following Sturgeon's Law, 90% of them will seem deluded, weird, wrong-headed or dangerously stupid. If the 10% who seem smart and decent seem to belong to the same group, ask about that group. That's really all I can say.

Well, okay, one last tidbit. In the UU congregations I've visited, there have been many people who liked the UU church's commitment to diversity but whose personal beliefs and practices were basically pagan. Hell, my first exposure to paganism was at a UU "Samhain service." If you're curious about paganism but shy about jumping in with both feet, odds are you can just go to your local UU church and ask around. (There's a similar tendency, in my experience, for Quaker meetings to be full of "closet" Buddhists.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:22 AM on November 2, 2006

I am a neo-pagan, and I find it suits me very well. The largest problem I have found with it is people assuming I am a certain religion. I am not Wiccan, nor do I follow Shamanism, Druidry, or any other sect exclusively. I have a very eclectic belief system, which draws from nearly every religion I have ever been introduced to. I do celebrate the Sabbats, I do have a broom over my door, but I don't relate every little thing in the world to something supernatural, as people tend to expect me to. So I guess the biggest "pitfall" would be stereotyping, but that's usual of any religion, especially those that do not fit inside a box. On top of this, I live in Arkansas, where I have found that a vast majority of people have no idea what I am talking about when I say "pagan," and many of them still equate anything NOT Christian as devil worship. I assume you wil not get the same reactions in Chicago.

Another point I should make is that I was basically raised pagan. I didn't have to go through the whole "finding a coven" thing. I have also attended UU church as a child, which I loved. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

I took the same Beliefnet quiz others are mentioning, and it was right on. It's be similarly correct for everyone I have suggested it to. I hope that you find what you are looking for.
posted by starbaby at 9:53 AM on November 2, 2006

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