The Bucket List
Finding Community in an Unfamiliar Religion
I don't usually think about religion. Faith has never been an important aspect of my life, but I guess you could say that I've been extremely fortunate in having relatively few occasions when I needed something outside and bigger than myself to lean on. In college, I've probably had the least contact with organized religion and personal spirituality than at any other point in my life. But attending a friend's, shall we say, "nontraditional" Seder last weekend combined with a lonely Easter holiday made me start to think about the role that religion can play in community building.
My personal history with religion is shallow and eclectic. I was baptized Catholic because my dad, a former altar boy, who I don't ever remember going to a Catholic service, was friends with the priest. I never go to a Catholic church because my father doesn't take me. Instead, my mother brought me to Sunday school at the Congregational church in my hometown.
In eighth grade, when I was deep in the middle school basketball game as a scrawny post player who wasn't aggressive enough to box out, my travel team started having games on Sundays. So my mom and I stopped going to church. In my high school, we had "reflections," or meetings every other week at our nondenominational chapel where a few students and faculty would speak and reflect on a topic of their choice. Since I've been at college, I haven't made any time for spirituality or personal reflection. I would call myself a None.
In 2012, 46 million Americans identified as "Nones," meaning they don't affiliate with any religion. According to a study of Nones by the Pew Research Center, one-third of Americans under 30 call themselves Nones. Our generation is more religiously unaffiliated than youth have ever been. Nones include atheists and agnostics, but also people who would say they are spiritual and pray every day.
Last Saturday night, I gathered with 40 other students and parents at the Roth Center for Jewish Life for a friend's Seder. It was the first time I had ever been to a Seder and my second time at the Roth Center since freshman year, when a Jewish friend showed me the glory that is the Hillel cookie dough stash. Though we did read and sing songs from the Haggadah and participated in other Seder traditions, such as eating the bitter herbs, we also read from a packet titled "The Nightmare Before Easter. Jews: They Didn't Ask to be The Chosen," the contents of which included a Margaret Thatcher quotation, a picture of a dog and a cat spooning and a humorous essay from the online literary journal McSweeney's Internet Tendency.
With dessert, we were also treated to an acoustic rendition of Chamillionaire's 2006 hit, "Ridin'," and a Passover-themed cover of Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." The dinner was an impressive production, but it wasn't about following all the traditions. The traditions might have brought everyone together, but what I found most beautiful was the fact that there were 40 college students eating a home-cooked dinner, drinking wine and enjoying each other's company. I was reminded why religious groups are important. Regardless of belief, they provide community and a reason to gather together, slow down and enjoy each other's company.
Easter Sunday, I was confronted with a much grimmer scene. Passing students coming and going from church in their pastels, I went to FoCo to catch up on work while grazing the brunch spread. My email pinged with new messages from my father. Attached were pictures of my young cousins smiling with my mom and their Easter goodies, at my house without me. My personal celebration of Easter involved eating chocolate. It wasn't my lack of recognition for Christ's resurrection that was concerning, but that for me, the point of any such religious celebration had been defeated by my solitude.