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Loosening the Bible Belt

From bubble to bubble.

In early March I left the Boulder bubble of people who mostly think like me (spiritual, but not religious, into greens and free-range eggs, yoga, the mind-body connection) and I drove a total of 1900 miles to and from another bubble of fringy thinking, Austin, TX.

In a city whose slogan is “keep Austin weird,” I pretty much felt right at home in the oasis of wackiness, just as I had felt immediately comfortable in Boulder amongst the yogis and green juicers.  What is more intriguing, however, is what’s going on in the 950 miles between these two bastions of liberalism.

I often forget that the vast majority of people in our country not only don’t think the way I do, they think completely opposite. I was raised in a household that believed in everything: God, Goddess, tree divas, mermaids, fairies, Santa, the Easter Bunny, Jesus, Allah, OM-ing, Mother Earth, and the Divine Mother were all fair game. The response of a friend of mine in college when I asked her what she believes in religion/spirituality-wise sums up my philosophy perfectly: “There’s so much magic. Why choose?!”

The world is flat.

About an hour south of Denver on my drive I began to get this distinct feeling that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Billboards shouting about the evils of abortion (sometimes including disturbingly graphic pictures) and the virtues of our savior, Jesus Christ, began interrupting the surprisingly flat land. (It turns out that just ever-so-slightly east of the Rockies, America is FLAT!)

Yep, I was making my way through The Bible Belt. Here’s what I saw: lots of grass and farmland, cows galore, tumbleweed, a great deal of beauty, and a whole boatload of religion. Call me naïve, but having stuck to the coasts most of my life and immersed myself in communities of either an agnostic or spiritual, rather than a religious, nature, I just never really got it about how much religion is a driving cultural force in large portions of our country.

A combination of serendipity and Facebook found me in Amarillo, TX having a delightful down-home meal with my friend Judith. That morning on the way from Austin to Amarillo I passed a covered wagon on the side of the highway being pulled by two Clydesdale horses. The side of the wagon read: “Jesus saves. Just ask him.” I immediately thought, “Saves us from what?”

Over dinner, Judith looks at me and says: “So, Kate, tell me about your spiritual life.” It was phrased so directly and simply that I was caught off-guard and I didn’t know what to say.

The first thing that popped into my head was, “What spiritual life?” Despite having started daily practices such as meditation, Morning Pages, Pranayama, yoga, dancing, and a gratitude journal, I’ve never really stuck with something that I do every day. I don’t pray in any sort of recognizable fashion and on Sunday mornings I’m usually at brunch with friends or sleeping in.

The whole enchilada.

But after a beat, I realized my whole life is my spiritual life. Just as there is little divide between work and play for me, every waking and non-waking moment is infused with the Divine. Smiling at babies is a spiritual practice. Flirting at a bar is a spiritual practice. Taking a deep breath is a spiritual practice. I commune with the Divine through chocolate, romantic comedies, sex, asparagus, a good novel, and a good cry.

As I wrote this post this morning at a Starbucks in a strip mall in Arvada, CO, a guy came up to me and asked what The Freedom Tour was. He saw the logo on my car and wanted to know more. I explained what I was up to: touring the country (and possibly the world) on an indefinite road trip to explore, teach, and inspire people to create financial, emotional, and spiritual freedom.

This guy teaches Christian teens how to share their faith in a non-creepy way. Pretty cool, I thought. He told me about a documentary he filmed with young people from different faiths coming together to have an open dialogue about their belief systems.

I noted that when you really drill down to the core of the world’s major religions, the heartbeat (and I choose this word purposefully) is essentially the same: it’s all about love. He completely disagreed and explained how the Christian view is all about faith in Jesus, and that faith in this one being is what it’s all about.

Bind me up.

He told me all about how each religion is actually completely different AND he informed me that the root of the word “religion” means “to bind.” Woah. As he spoke he took one of his hands and clasped it tightly around the other wrist to demonstrate just how strong of a bind he meant. I was more than a little surprised that this man teaching youth how to have dialogue between people of different belief systems fundamentally believes that there is only one way of looking at the world. And that it’s about being bound.

My skin started to crawl and I was grateful when he exited the Starbucks. Given my newfound knowledge of the etymology of the word “religion,” I understand The Bible Belt in a whole new way. To bind. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Let me be clear and say that I have no judgment about anyone’s religious beliefs. To each his own. What I believe in is freedom and I’m grateful for the freedom I was given growing up to choose my own beliefs. Unbound and unfettered, I’ve always known that I’m a spiritual being having a human experience, and thus, life has been a far richer and more magical experience than if I didn’t believe in anything beyond what I can see, touch, feel, or understand.

My spiritual roots and believe-in-everything-ness have led me to be on the faculty of Reveal, an annual conference for the next generation of female spiritual leaders. It’s happening on May 7th at Urban Zen in NYC. It will be a gathering place for women of all ages to reveal their innermost soul callings, whatever those may be. In the spirit of true freedom we’ll come together to share the inklings, whispers, cries, screams, songs, and invitations that we’ve heard from within.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could loosen the Bible Belt a bit, unbind ourselves, and clear out the static enough to hear the truth once in a while? Simply believing in the Goddess and knowing that a spark of her lives within me as I drove route 285 in eastern Colorado and northern Texas felt like a loosening. I don’t feel the need to start a religious debate. I didn’t feel the need to get into an argument with the man at Starbucks or go around Archer, TX talking up the Divine Feminine. My spiritual life is my life, and my living it that way is a revolutionary act in and of itself.

Reveal with me.

Please join me and the other unbound, loose, spiritual souls for our spiritual throw down at Reveal, May 7th at Urban Zen in NYC. Register here.

***Editorial comment post-publication: I wanted to make it really clear here that I have NO judgment about people’s personal choice and religious beliefs. I was actually baptized Episcopalian! What I’m talking about here is freedom. The freedom for us all to tap into what’s right for us and what stirs our soul in the most beautiful way possible. I’ve had some comments over at crazysexylife.com that made me realize perhaps I hadn’t made my tolerance clear. Thanks!***