Finding religion by way of social justice

June 1, 2013 

My husband says I’m an entertaining companion because of my habit of acting enthusiastically with little forethought. The results can be hilarious sometimes. He says I changed ‘ready-aim-shoot’ into ‘ready-shoot-aim.’ It works for me. Poor planning gives my life many rich, exciting experiences.

How I began attending church again is my favorite example of backwards planning in action. I didn’t set out to join a church but to help right a wrong. Church was the furthest thing from my mind that day in September 2011 when I brought a pot of homemade soup to the Occupy campers at Heritage Park. At that point I was a spiritual None.

I’ve been told that None is a humorous term for members of a fast-growing group of U.S. adults who see themselves as spiritual, but check the “None of the above” box for religious affiliation on census questionnaires. Like a lot of them I had explored some traditional religions but not found my place. I called myself a dirt-worshipping, tree-hugging pagan who enjoyed occasional earth-based celebrations to feed my soul. I thought my social justice work was a separate, political activity, unrelated to religion.

In 2011, the brave young voices of the Occupy Wall Street movement touched my heart. Even though my basic economic needs are met, I couldn’t ignore the growing numbers of people losing theirs. I eagerly joined in when Olympia set up its own Occupy encampment. Soon the camp’s free food and goodwill attracted many homeless people and highlighted their dire circumstances.

InterFaith Works also noticed the plight of the park’s homeless campers. Danny Kadden, director of InterFaith Works, came to the encampment to announce the start of a new homeless housing program called SideWalk, inviting all who needed help to sign up. A few days later I attended the grand opening celebration of SideWalk. Some things Danny had said pulled me there, even though I felt awkward around all those unfamiliar InterFaith folks. I filled out a volunteer registration form, checking the None box for religious affiliation of course, unaware of the direction my life would soon take. I kept on serving soup at Heritage Park till the tents were forcibly dismantled in late fall. On that last day, I stood in the cold autumn rain wondering how I could help now.

I attended some Occupy spin off groups but didn’t find my niche. Then SideWalk notified me of their spring 2012 volunteer training session. In April I completed 50 hours of training and became a SideWalk Advocate. Now I began working alongside some of those same faces I’d seen at the SideWalk open house. These folks, many of them churchgoers, have turned out to be the fiercest advocates for social justice at SideWalk. They simply changed my mind about what it means to be religious.

My admiration for these folks compelled me to attend a monthly InterFaith Works business meeting to better understand how passion for social justice is combined with religious faith. At that first meeting I realized all the people at the table were representatives from their home churches — everybody but me, that is. This fact didn’t seem to bother them, but it got me thinking ... in reverse of course. I decided I’d need a home church so I could legitimately join the action at InterFaith Works. I finally found a reason to join a church — politics! And I chose to attend an interfaith church. I can keep my pagan beliefs, work for social justice, and deepen my understanding of the great religions of the world…with little forethought.

Julia Moore volunteers as an advocate at SideWalk, as a hostess for the Women’s Shelter, and is a member of the Community for Interfaith Celebration in Olympia. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service