[Un]Organized Religion: Riding Alone With God

Do you remember your first bicycle? I do. It was a Huffy covered in pink and yellow flowers. It had a banana seat, a basket attached to the front of the handlebars and two big clunky training wheels.

Although it was almost thirty years ago, I still remember the way I felt when my parents gave it to me: Thrilled. Independent. Even a little more mature because it was the same size as my older brother’s bicycle.

I rode my bike with pride every day until I noticed a trend in my neighborhood. It occurred to me that Saturday after Saturday, more and more of my friends were having their training wheels removed. This trend continued until I was the only one who hadn’t had them taken off. It wasn’t long before I decided that it was time to have a talk with my father.

“Daddy,” I inquired… “Can we take off my training wheels? I don’t want ‘em anymore.”

My mother panicked. “She’s too small to ride her bike without the training wheels!” Dad disagreed, and within a few minutes, he was outside with his toolbox augmenting my most prized possession. When he was finished, he hoisted me up onto the bicycle seat and lifted the kickstand. It was time for my first lesson.

“Okay, Crystal. Peddle. I’ll hold on so you don’t fall.” I peddled with all my might while Daddy held on to the back seat and ran behind me. Our lessons continued over the course of two or three weekends. Dad would go outside with me and hold on to the back of the bicycle, running and encouraging me to sit up straight, while protecting me from falling.

And then, one Saturday was different. Dad hoisted me up onto the bicycle and lifted the kickstand. “Okay, Crystal. Start peddling. I’m here.” I started peddling and the bicycle blasted forward. Daddy ran behind me, holding on tight. I heard him behind me, “Good job! You can do it!”– so I peddled faster and harder. It was exhilarating. I had never ridden so fast before.

After a few moments, I heard in the distance: “Crystal! You’re doing it all by yourself!” I experienced a moment of intense confusion and thought to myself: “Why does Daddy sound so far away?” I looked at the rear of my bicycle and realized that I was riding alone. Daddy had let go. I panicked, fell off the bike and cried out for my father. He came running to my side, picked me up, and walked me and my bicycle home. (Mom was not happy, but that’s another story. *wink*)

I recently realized that the spiritual journey can be a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. Most of us begin in community at a church or other institution. It’s where we learn the ropes and get our “training”… This is a comfortable place because we’re not alone there. Our friends and family are there with us experiencing faith– but tethered to the guiding hand of our doctrines and traditions.

Along the spiritual path, there are also those who decide to “break free” for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s because there seems to be a breakdown between the way religion actually works and the way we’re told it’s supposed to work. For others, it’s because we see that others have walked away without catastrophic consequences in their own personal lives. (Yes, in some circles –including my former churches– it is believed that those who leave the faith are under “God’s curse”.) And for others, there’s simply an element of their own humanness that cannot be fulfilled with one doctrine or tradition.

I do not oppose the guiding hand of tradition. In fact, I fully acknowledge that tradition seems to work like a charm for some people. However, for others, organized religion works better as a springboard to becoming independently spiritual. I think it’s important to understand religion in these terms and affirm the validity of both experiences. Some people prefer the guidance that organized religion can offer, while others prefer to break free and ride more independently.

There are certain benefits to organized religion that cannot be duplicated, but there is also something to be said for riding alone to see what’s on the other side of the mountain. It can be scary to untether oneself from the guiding hand of the familiar– but those who have dared to try will tell you it’s worth the journey.  And frankly, that’s okay.

11 responses to “[Un]Organized Religion: Riding Alone With God

    • The pleasure is mine! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. I saw the link to your piece on my facebook page. I will give it a gander later today when I have a few minutes to sit down and read it. See you soon! :)

  1. All i can say is “wow”

    Really spot on…

    I often feel organised religion has more adherents because it has a social pull. While that is relevant, the core is a one-on-one with God.

    If different people draw close to one light at the centre, they all get close to each other.

    Good stuff…

    I blog at http://christmeditations.blogspot.com/
    Let me know your thoughts

    Cheers

    • Wow… I really love the idea of different people drawing near to one light and ultimately getting close to one another. As I grow, I am continually convinced that God is indeed a spirit, and religion is an effort to draw near to that spirit. We do it in different ways, but are ultimately seeking something that is very similar at its core: Union with the Divine. Thanks for sharing your comment and the link to your blog. I look forward to reading what you have to say. :)

  2. Good post. I affirm people having their own ways as long as that doesn’t lead to isolation. I find it more compelling as one who has gone his own way many times to acknowledge that I have needed the support of many on that journey. I do not believe in individual spirituality and do believe that those who want individual and isolating spiritualities have less likely to see themselves honestly.

    • I think I agree– although I’m starting to believe that there are ways to be “in community” that don’t necessarily have to do with religion. In that sense, maybe it’s possible to have a “private” spiritual life and still have people in one’s circle who can help them to see themselves honestly… In other words, I think isolation is very unhealthy, but accountability is available in a variety of settings, whether it’s at a church or within an inner circle of friends or through membership in non-religious organizations… What do you think?

  3. Great image of learning to ride a bike. I think its difficult for pastors and others to navigate what is the difference between the responsible, faithful, and personal journey and the “follow your bliss” individualism of American consumer culture applied to religion. (and does it really matter)

  4. Hi Crystal! There is a benefit to being part of organized religion. To me, it’s the connectivity and community with others. Actually, it can be a shared human story of faith that resonates with me.

    However, it’s being out of organized religion that matures me spiritually. It’s the healthy scepticism, the questions, the call for open-mindedness, and the self-discoveries that help. It also helps me to see the Bible and the Christian journey in a whole new light.

    As always, great post! Peace!

  5. Crystal,
    A good analogy and interesting thoughts. I have been involved all my life except a few brief periods in some religious community or another. But for many years now (I’m reluctantly a “senior” as of late) I feel no pressing need or obligation to do so. My main issue with virtually all forms of institutional Christianity (UU and some of the similarly progressive excepted) is that they claim to carry not just a valuable “tradition” with proven practices for growth but “The Truth.” Of course, we could go into many issues from there, and that’s not the point here–just that such a feeling of certainty does attract many, while simultaneously stifling their insights and growth.

  6. Great post! Great writing, btw. If I were a lesser blogger, I’d steal your bike analogy! ;)

    In my experience God does this in our spiritual lives as well. There have been times when God’s voice was so far away when I thought he should be close, but he was telling me to learn to depend on what he has taught me and the tools he has given me and my own abilities and go. He was still there, of course, just like your dad. But he does want us to grow up and be able to pedal our own bikes. Also, I have kids now and that bent-over-holding-the-back-of-the-seat-while-jogging position is really uncomfortable. God bless! -Rebecca

  7. Pingback: What if the next Reformation requires a mass exodus? « Diary of a Christian Universagnosticostal·

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