Hello, everyone. If you'd care for my story, it is below. If you have multiple tabs open, if you want the short of it, I'm an ex-Pentecostal turned humanist-stoic-universalist-Gandhist with strong Buddhist and pagan influences, who is also partial to Sufism and Bahai. And I go to an Episcopal church. I came to this forum because I enjoy sailing the open seas of human spirituality, of exploring friendly ports and soaking in the experience, the ecstasy of being human. I was raised away from these seas of exploration, in a landlocked sect of Christianity known as Pentecostalism. I wasn't at home there: the emotionalistic worship turned me off completely, I resented the authoritarian nature of the church and the preacher, and felt zero connection to God, Jesus, or religion in general. I found a forum for ex-Pentecostals, which introduced me to freethought and humanism, and that for me was the beginning. I went away to university and when my parents asked me where I was going to go to church up there, I said I wasn't, and that was it. I was quite happy being a secular humanist, whose view of the world was completely scientific, whose hopes for the future predicated on the conquest of everything bad by technology and government. I made a friend in my first year of college, one who betrayed me and crushed my spirits: in my pain I fell back on the words of a man whose work I'd chanced upon, Marcus Aurelius. "Remember," he wrote to himself in meditations long ago, "how much more pain we cause ourselves by dwelling on what has happened to us than by what actually happened to us." As the months passed I worked at not dwelling on what transpired, on not judging it, on simply dealing with the consequences. The anger and sorrow that once wrenched me faded, and I sought out new friendships -- healthier ones. I also read more of this Marcus Aurelius, and in the process, began studying his worldview of Stoicism. Although the theism of the early Stoics bothered me, its practices were completely applicable to a secularist like myself -- a perfect complement. It was perfectly natural that I went to the Greeks for my spirituality: didn't the humanist story of progress begin with the Greeks, who created science and democracy? The Stoic notion of god bordered on pantheistic; their deity was less personal. It didn't pitch fits or set people on fire. It didn't take people's headaches away. Instead, their God seemed to refer to some...order underlying the cosmos, an order that if we studied and practiced, could make our own lives more fulfilling. As I engaged in Stoic practices, I found a sense of reverence I'd never anticipated; I could suddenly understand that God for many people was not just an imaginary friend in the sky. And then I discovered the life of Gandhi. You know Gandhi, of course. Most people will acknowledge his commitment to nonviolence as commendable, even if they have no intention of practicing it. But when I read his words, and those of Martin Luther King, I was struck by the profound intent of their actions: they were taking abuse and absorbing pain out of love for their enemies -- to show them their errors, to heal them. I was gripped by this, so much so that I prayed sincerely for the first time in my entire life: I wanted to practice that kind of world-changing love. In encountering it, I'd seen a glimpse of divinity, and though I didn't believe in any deity to pray to, still I prayed. I found, as the months passed, that the prayer...worked. Call it Divine Intervention if you'd like: I'm more likely to think that I held the ideal in my mind, and then worked toward it. But I found myself suddenly able to forgive the friend who betrayed me, my personal Judas who in destroying our friendship became a better friend than he could have ever been otherwise. I was drawn to Gandhi not just for his nonviolence, but for his belief in self-reliance and small communities. He was also something of a universalist, studying Christianity, Buddhism, and Stoicism among others. I eventually came to the view espoused by Marcus Borg, that religions and philosophies were human responses to the Divine: and whereas for Borg that divine was an actual deity, a personality, for me it was...something else. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it was something profound, and it demanded response. And I knew in feeling it -- as I had, when I read Gandhi -- that it didn't matter if the divinity was something in me, or outside of me. Regardless of origin, it mattered. So much has gone into the development of my spirituality that I could write a book. My years of university were wonderful years, as I began exploring this newfound sense of spirituality. I spent my mornings under a tree, meditating and reading; I rambled around with my spiritually diverse friends, hiking and stargazing; we stared at the skies above, humbled by their enormity, and told stories of meaning from long ago. I used the university library to read in spirituality and philosophy, and explored practices from around the globe. I was drawn to Buddhism for its emphasis on mindfulness, but also liked Earth-based religions because I thought science and the natural world were Pretty Frickin' Awesome. At the same time I was developing on a 'secular' level, thinking about technology and society critically. Eventually I left university with a degree in history, which was somewhat useless from a financial point of view, but even now as I pay my student loans back I am glad I went -- not so much for the B.A., but for what happened to me while I was there. I emerged from those years someone considerably less sure of himself than when he'd begun. Although a lot of my dilettantism went nowhere, some permanent changes were wrought. I was and am an advocate of simple living, for instance. My worldview is still at its heart humanistic, or naturalistic: I view humans as natural creatures, whose emotions are usually based in instinct. They are there, to be neither embraced unthinkingly nor scorned at. If I feel anger, it is not a sin; it is not a false judgment; it is instinct. Anger can become sin or false judgment if I dwell on it, though, and act upon it. For me, rationality and health and goodness are all the same thing. I can respect religion without thinking of myself as conventionally religious. I still remain critical of it, though. As I have gotten older, I've learned to appreciate tradition. I find practicing it allows me to feel connected to those who have gone before, to keep their memory alive. I have a newfound need to 'honor my ancestors', which is why in recent years I've started studying pagan traditions. I like honoring their memory, taking time at the solstices to think of ancestors in ages past, feasting and celebrating the rebirth of the sun, or the coming of the harvest. I think some traditional practices were more closer to the earth than our developed ones: for instance, a funeral pyre is more appealing to me than embalming and burying. This is part of the reason I started going to a local church, one that allows for liberty of views while being "Christian": Christianity has been the religion of my culture for hundreds of years, and touching it means in part, touching those who have died. While I doubt I'll ever believe a god manifested himself as a man, then died to save them from hell, at Christmastime we celebrate peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, through the story of Jesus' birth...and that story means a lot to me, too, because I was raised with it. The stories of the Judeo-Christian bible are my stories, even though I sometimes think the Hebrews acted like the barbarians they scorned, and that Paul was a bit too intense. This has gone for far too long, and yet I wish I could say more...I've never spilled so much of my soul. Living as I do in a very conservative, traditional place that is uncomfortable with anyone leaving the status quo, I don't talk to people in real life about the full extent of my religious leanings. It helps that my rector is half-Buddhist, but even so she errs on the side of orthodoxy. If anyone read all of the above, I hope it was a productive use of your time. Peace.