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Feb 11, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Thank you asking about "cool church" vibes in the interview. When the concept of Sacred Design Lab first came up that's where my mind went.

The interview also reminded me of the book "The Art of Gathering" by Priya Parker. Similar topics around what it means to gather and hold ritual. Parker's book goes more into specifics about how to design a meaningful gathering, but she does mentions similar touchstones like The Dinner Party.

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I am just so so so so so wary of that aesthetic, but *also* understand how difficult it is to get people on board with an idea or organization in the year 2021 if your website is still from 2002 and using Comic Sans (although I guess that could be a different kind of cool, right?)

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It's such a tangled knot, figuring what we ache for because it is a communal experience, but simultaneously resent because that communal experience occurred in a place that can be violent like a church.

I was in Austria a few years back, eating dinner in a tavern set atop a hillside vineyard. The person who took us there was an ex-pat, and a professor of history at a local university. He had arranged for his tavern choir to perform for us and somewhere around the fourth glass of wine, they sang. It was perfect, and a few times a year I wish that there were more safe, non-religious options in our (non-pandemic ravaged) country for people to participate in these soul-opening communal endeavors.

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Yes! I belong to a community choir and it really is such a wonderful communal experience harmonizing together! We do need more opportunities for making music in community outside of churches.

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I love that! Jazzagals aside, there seem to be SO few opportunities for that sort of communal expression (and especially in the South, where I live).

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Feb 11, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I'm an ex-Catholic and ex-vangelical. I left Roman Catholicism at age 15 (2002) when I stopped believing in Catholic tenets and Protestant Evangelicalism in 2015 when I stopped believing in the mainstream Christian version of God altogether. They were incredible losses that I would compare to major deaths. In both cases, I felt disillusioned, like I was deeply in love with someone who didn't even exist. The worst part was how alone I felt - like no one in these communities could understand how I could leave, because I was always known for being uber-religious. But I couldn't stop asking questions, which would lead to more questions, and that was a big no-no!

I'm really thankful that in 2016 I found out about Unitarian Universalism, which is a non-credal religion that evolved from two branches of Protestant Christianity in the mid-20th Century. They have principles that focus on love, spirituality, and social justice and everyone pursuing their own path together in community, and services include elements of many religious traditions (as well as humanism - lots of folks there do not believe in god). I can explore all of the faiths and ask all of the questions and will never be rejected for it.

I'm raising my daughter in UUism because then she will always have a community no matter what she believes. It's a place with traditions that go back 400 years yet able to grow and adapt (and admit and learn from its institutional mistakes) instead of being stuck in a proverbial time capsule from 2,000 years ago. I wanted to have a child dedication for her instead of a baptism as a baby, and then the pandemic ruined things...so we'll have a ceremony when church resumes in person. Having a larger community to celebrate life milestones is part of being human, which is why despite the unbundling from major religious institutions these celebrations live on.

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Feb 11, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I think you really describe well the particular ache, or itch that is created when you grow up religious and then leave that religion, or at least that form of it, as an adult. I've been trying to figure out how to describe it and you spelled it out really well. Thanks for that.

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Feb 11, 2021Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Me, reading the opening of this: God, I wonder if she's familiar with Sacred Harp singing.

Two paragraphs later, link to Putney sing. Which is...its own thing, I'm guessing based on my familiarity with the school and with shape note singing in Vermont, but literally also that is a song from the Sacred Harp that if I was in a room of people singing it, I could probably sing the notes to without looking at my book. Sacred Harp singing is an experience of community and faith that has anchored a lot of my life (and, uh, was the subject of my dissertation/book https://www.amazon.com/Belong-This-Band-Hallelujah-Spirituality-ebook/dp/B005K7OHOS/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=laura+clawson&qid=1613073256&sr=8-1) even as the Trump years have challenged my experience of that community such that I would have written a really different book had I been doing the work now, but I miss it nonetheless. When my father died I still got a very sweet phone call from someone who I know has posted memes on Facebook about literally killing people like me.

A lot of my early thinking on the subject of faith and community was informed by the book After Heaven, by Robert Wuthnow, which counterposes a spirituality of dwelling against a spirituality of seeking -- on the one hand, rootedness that can be stifling, on the other hand freedom than can be ungrounded -- and offers a third way of a spirituality of practice. I might wish the book had gone a little further analytically, but the framework was really useful in my thinking.

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Of course! If there was Sacred Harp singing anywhere close to me, I would BE THERE

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The last thing I did before everything shut down last spring was go to a large singing and in retrospect I cannot believe it wasn't a superspreader event -- there were people from New York and Boston, and there we all were singing at the top of our lungs while sitting in a square facing each other. Just unbelievable we escaped that one.

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perfect timing. i have just finished reading _the power of ritual_.

my question is related to unbundling, but related to the unbundling of the family and stereotypical gender roles.

for example many societal rituals now incorporate friends such as "friends-giving". you hear about the person brave enough to attend their "homecoming dance without a date, just with friends." it seems far more common, especially where i live in NYC, to see older single people perfectly content, and possibly happier, not being married nnor considering having a family.

my impression is that the role of "friends as family" has grown over time. is that a trend you have noticed in your research? as we are more disconnected from family and as a result of technology, how much connection do friends bring back or contribute more than they used to?

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I would love to see more research and info on the rise of friends as family, too. There was a really good Atlantic article last month (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/01/why-parents-and-kids-get-estranged/617612/) about the major shift in the role of family from fulfilling physical duty (just providing basic needs) to fulfilling psychological identity (happiness). Honestly though I think it downplays the fact that we are no longer willing to tolerate any kind of toxicity and abuse out of duty, and that emotional abuse is still abuse. Leaving toxic family behind is a good thing.

Tying this back to toxic religiosity, conservative sects of religions HATE divorce. It's ridiculous to me to suggest that my aunt and uncle are better off in an emotionally abusive marriage than not, yet this is exactly what Roman Catholicism and Protestant Evangelicalism endorses. As a result, everyone is suffering - my aunt, uncle, their children and grandchildren.

Yet, I get where the article is going, because I have family members who won't talk to me beyond civilities and I don't fully understand why. (My best guess is value differences.) That rejection sucks but at the same time I've let it go because why waste my time trying to reconcile things with these particular folks when I could just spend that time with my longtime friends, whose love at this point is actually unconditional.

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I ended up down a rabbit hole and found this great long read about the breakdown of the nuclear family... https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-was-a-mistake/605536/ - it talks about modern chosen family movement that came about in the 1980s in the LGBTQ community as well as other alternative kinships.

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I grew up in a non-religious family, but attended a private school in which Episcopalian Christianity was practiced in the form of twice-weekly chapel services first thing in the morning, in an old chapel with stained-glass windows and a pipe organ. We sang hymns. I love music, and the Doxology was one of them. I ended up with no real religion, but an affection for the story of Christ and the music and art of European Christianity. At the same time I was acquiring a lot of education in literature, poetry, philosophy, mathematics, science and what we now call "western medicine." Today, at age 69, I have many ideas and methods of living, and I feel comfortable in my world. But all around me I see signs of a terrible disconnect between everyday life and any sort of genuine humanistic practice. I think organized religion has become much less popular and serious, which might be okay, but my concern is that nothing, literally nothing has replaced it. This leaves a void, in some ways a tremendous void. Many people seem to have lost touch with basic ethical thinking. Despite all the science in the world -- of which I am a big fan -- we still cannot get along without at least The Golden Rule.

Something is going to fill in the gap where religion used to be. I fear that one of the candidates to fill the gap may be authoritarian politics, in which a leader, possibly an unfit one, may almost be worshipped.

For that reason I am hoping a new social and ethical organization emerges, one which would indeed include ritual. In the US, at least, I think we are badly in need of some spiritual healing.

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As the rise of Trump, Q, and the insurrection have shown, authoritarian politics have already filled the gap.

The messaging I received growing up was how atheism and leaving the church was mega bad because then people would be fulfilling their own agendas and not following God. I was honestly offended by this messaging because I saw many good non-religious people in my liberal circles. But now I understand this message differently...because for most people that void doesn't create enlightenment but instead insurrections.

FWIW, I actually dislike The Golden Rule because it assumes that everyone wants to be treated well and will therefore treat others well. This doesn't hold up in so many ways. In my worst depression, I didn't see any value in myself, so how could I love others if I couldn't love myself? Also, I think of narcissists who want praise but will also accept cruelty because it fuels their agenda to be cruel back. But also - I think of white people who would happily turn down universal health care because it would mean that brown and black people wouldn't have it, either. The rule should just be to respect all people and value their inherent dignity and worth to the highest degree possible.

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Thank you for your interesting reply, Wren.

I have never read a critique of The Golden Rule before.

If I understand your point, I should not ask my neighbors to treat me as they themselves would wish to be treated, because they might not want to be treated in the same way I would. I need to keep thinking about that.

Do you think it might be possible to create something positive that would replace Q and authoritarian politics?

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I agree with Wren on the Golden Rule. I also think of countless conservatives who have said, "well I had to work two jobs when I was young to make ends meet, so stop complaining and being entitled and pull yourself up by your own boot straps." The Golden Rule doesn't acknowledge the systemic differences in the ways that others are treated and minorities are discriminated against. So it allows for the kind of callousness and cruelty of what Wren describes and what the "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" ideology promulgates. Also, since the Golden Rules assumes an individualistic framework, it doesn't acknowledge or make individuals accountable for the ways that they can, even and usually unknowingly, participate themselves in futhuring structural injustice.

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I love Casper's work!! These interviews on the newsletter have been awesome IMO.

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Just chiming in to say that as a former church person, hearing Sufjan’s “Come Thou Fount” is guaranteed to trigger the waterworks for the exact reasons you mention.

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This is such a great interview. I've spent the last year saying Mass on Facebook from my living room (I'm a Jesuit), and it's been such an unexpectedly positive and fascinating experience of community. I don't know that I had quite realized before the degree to which my normal life as a priest is constrained by fears that someone in authority is going to come down on me for trying something new. The pandemic has created so many opportunities to respond in a much more immediate and hopeful way to people's needs.

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For the last few years, I've been telling close friends about this pipe dream I have of establishing a low-key, low-stakes chorus where people come together to sing as a group, simply for the joy and catharsis and unifying feeling it provides. Sort of a feel-good group therapy session for the Trump era, was the idea. Not until reading this interview today did it FINALLY dawn on me: this thing already exists! It's called church! And here I thought I was really onto something, lol.

Anyways, yes, I have now googled Sacred Harp and I feel less alone for wanting something like this in my millennial life.

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Wonderful interview. I had a passage in the last chapter of my book about this -- about the binding power of a faith community (after visiting the 900-year-old Norwich Cathedral in England), and how interconnected physical communities can begin to fill that space. Faith bonds have filled a human need not just for connection, but also for the complexity of communities. All the arguments and fallings-out and rivalries and makings-up that scar and injure us, but also show us that community requires us to work and live and solve problems together despite the ways in which we don't get along. Faith communities have been strong ways to form these networks in a world where you were most likely to share faith with your physical community, but there is no reason that our actual physical communities can't over time fill that need. (I'm also vividly reminded of all the scenes in the Anne of Green Gables series of books where people wouldn't talk with each other because they were Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever.)

We went to a church in one town growing up that did the weirdest thing with the Doxology and my mom ended up switching us from the Episcopal to the Lutheran church in that town. Though the town I grew up in only really had the Presbyterian so that's where we went. I swear my feet still respond with an ache for baggy tights and hand-me-down dress shoes when I hear church bells in town!

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My spouse grew up a Church of England choirboy and can't stand going to churches where the singing is meh. I personally can't sing for shite but for him it's a necessary part of the whole ritual.

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