hybridize: mixing faith traditions for spiritual gain

by Amelia

recently i’ve been reading about buddhism.  my interest was piqued when a friend showed me bill moyer’s interview with pema chodron for his series faith and reason.  i’ve watched the interview a few times and find chodron’s ideas about groundlessness and being hooked and suffering compelling.  after my third viewing, i decided to pick up one of chodron’s books and read it to get a more in-depth understanding of her teachings.  her ideas about compassion and finding divinity within, among others, rang true for me.  maybe someday i’ll write about those ideas in greater detail.

what i’m interested in today is whether it’s possible to be a mormon hybrid.  i have real problems with the church.  some of them are cultural.  some of them are doctrinal.  some of them are ethical.  some of them have to do with my personal spirituality.  i’ve been struggling for a long time now with how to maintain my own integrity while practicing mormonism.  i regularly consider the option of simply not practicing mormonism, but i’m not quite ready for that step–if only because i don’t want to hurt my family.

while reading chodron’s book when things fall apart, i began wondering about the possibility of a hybrid religious identity.  this is not the first time such an idea has occurred to me.  i’ve actively experimented with providing myself a spiritual home in the local quaker meeting while still attending mormon meetings.  i find a great deal more spiritual peace in quaker meeting than in mormon meetings, which keeps me returning to meeting. and, having read chodron’s book, i find myself drawn to some of the private spiritual practices she teaches, including meditation and tonglen.  i think these practices could give me some spiritual equilibrium that i do not find in practicing mormonism–equilibrium that may allow me to continue as a part of the mormon community.  and maybe this hybrid of quakerism, buddhism, and mormonism will result in hybrid vigor.

What about you? Have you dabbled in spiritual hybridizing?  Do you think it’s possible for someone to hybridize spiritually and remain an active member of a Mormon community?  Do you see weaknesses in such an approach? Strengths?

Amelia

Amelia has recently relocated to Salt Lake City for her new job selling college textbooks (a job she loves). She's a 9th generation Mormon redefining her relationship with the church (the church she both loves and hates). She's passionate about books, travel, beauty, and all things cheese.

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20 Responses

  1. Madam Curie says:

    I think it is possible. I was raised Catholic and converted to Mormonism in college. I’ve spent the last year or so “rediscovering” Catholicism and consider myself a Catholic-Mormon. Why? Spiritual reasons, not doctrinal ones. Things like meditation and devotions are much more commonly understood among Catholics than Mormons. I still attend my Mormon ward, but dabble with Catholic retreats and faith groups.

    So, yes, I do think its possible to be in both worlds at once. Its not something I think would be well understood by 95% of folks I attend church with, though, so I don’t really talk about it except with people I think will “get it”. I also have friends who consider themselves Hindu-Mormons and Unitarian-Mormons, while they remain very active in their home wards.

  2. Lulu says:

    I’ve lived in Muslim countries for 5 years and have been hybridizing Mormonism, Islam, and Buddhism in some way for years now. There is a lot of truth in the world, why limit ourselves. I feel that I am a better member of my congregation because of this.

  3. Deborah says:

    I’m increasingly content with my hybrid status. If I need doctrinal support for my synthesis of faith traditions, I just invoke the 13th article of faith and my dad’s favorite Brigham Young quote: “All truth issues forth from the Fountain of truth. Our religion is simply the truth. It is all said in this one expression—it embraces all truth, wherever found.” I’m a seeker, and like having my feet planted in church while stretching my arms out wide to other sources of spirituality.

    For example, I spent a lot of time with nuns this year — meditating at a local cloistered monastery and receiving Reiki treatments from a Franciscan sister. Their love and spirituality were a God-send for me in these difficult few months. Energy, the rosary, the sacrament, scripture study, primary songs, meditation — all play a role in keeping me spiritually connected. As do my Exponent sisters 🙂

  4. Jana says:

    I absolutely believe in and embrace religious and spiritual hybridity. My one concern (and sadness) is hearing that the latest GHI says that it’s grounds for excommunication for an LDS member to seek membership in another religious tradition. I haven’t heard of this rule being applied to any of my fellow LDS religious hybridists, but it does make me concerned about possible repercussions about my choice to worship with the local Quakers.

  5. Madam Curie says:

    Jana – But isn’t there a difference between worshipping with another faith tradition and seeking membership (ie, baptism) into their faith? Just curious. Some religions don’t really have the “membership” mentality that we Mormons do.

  6. Elaine says:

    What you are writing about here is religious syncretism, and is very common in non-Western religions but, well, not so much in the West. This has a lot to do with the Western prejudice that you have to be one thing or another but cannot, under any circumstances, be both at the same time. We’re very hung up on categories and often believe that they are hard and fast, with impermeable membranes, to bring in a biological metaphor.

    I don’t know if you know anything about any of the New Religions that have come up in Japan in the past few decades, but many of them blend aspects of different religions…Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, among others. Tenrikyo is one of these; it was founded in Japan by a female visionary. It’s interesting to me that this was going on during the same general time period when Mormonism was first being established in the United States, the first half of the 1800s.

    Several of the Afro-Brazilian religions also do this. Candomble incorporates aspects of Roman Catholic Christianity and local Native American religions into its African roots, while Umbanda pulls from African religions, Catholicism and Spiritism (French Spiritualism).

    I’m sure that it is possible to blend bits from Mormonism and other Christian denominations and other religious traditions, but I wouldn’t expect the leaders of Mormonism…or the other Christian denominations…to be sympathetic. It’s just like a friend of mine who is a practicing Roman Catholic who is also a hereditary Witch. It works fine for her, but she isn’t interested in letting her parish priest know that she is blending the two traditions.

    Sorry for going on at such length…it’s just some of my training in the anthropology of religion bubbling up in response to what you’ve written here.

  7. zenochi says:

    Believe it or not, there is a hybrid of this type already in existence, and it really works! (At least I think so.)
    Basically, it harmonizes the teachings of Joseph Smith with the “ancient wisdom.”
    I don’t know that it has a formal organization (yet), but you can read hundreds of enlightening articles by a teacher named J. J. Dewey at http://www.freeread.com
    One of Dewey’s books that pertains specifically to modern Mormonism is here: http://members.cox.net/zenochi/J%20J%20Dewey%20-%20Infallible%20Authority.pdf
    Very interesting stuff! (And no, I am not the author, just a seeker like you.)

  8. Jana says:

    M.Curie:
    Of course, which is why it dismays me that the church has such a rule on their books. It’s arbitrary and could be applied indiscriminately. So say your phone number appears on the list of your local UU congregation because you also worship there, could a Bishop initiate ecclesiastical action against you for that? Or would you have to go through some sort of formal ritual (like re-baptism?). Who knows? I suspect that the rule is there because of the FLDS church and other polygamous groups. But because it’s so vague, it’s left open to interpretation (and perhaps, misinterpretation).

    I say, do what feels right. But it makes me sad that other faith traditions are generally affirming of religious hybridity and the LDS church is not.

  9. Carol says:

    I am a very active Mormon but have studied Buddhist meditation practices extensively during the past year, and it has changed my life. I am calmer, happier, and more peaceful. I better understand who to implement the scripture, “Be still and know that I am God.”

    I was happily surprised to read in the Deseret News that a BYU group spent time at a Buddhist retreat in California and that the experience was transformational.

    I’m now writing a blog that incorporates many of the things I’ve learned from Buddhism in addition to my LDS and Christian background.
    I believe there is much of value that we can learn from other religions.

    The First Presidency has stated: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. … We believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation” (“Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind,” 15 Feb. 1978).

    Although Heavenly Father and my Savior are the center of my worship, I have learned so much from other religions and religious leaders. I believe they have much to teach us, and we miss out if we don’t seek out truth wherever it may be.

  10. I wouldn’t call myself hybridized but I do gain so much from my experiences of other faiths and other approaches to religion and ethics. For me thinkers such as Levinas and Brueggemann have so much to teach, I am much better at being a Mormon after a deep engagement with their work.

    Also, I have a lot of contact with Episcopalians. Last Friday I attended Integrity International’s Eucharist at the Episcopal national convention. Barbara Harris and Gene Robinson both spoke and a friend of mine was made a Canon of the Episcopal Church. It was a wonderful event, very uplifting but also an experience that is impossible in the Mormon context.

    I think if we are open to a variety of religious experiences and spiritual expressions we may need to do some traveling, even though we have a specific religious home.

    I think these travels help me better understand the Mormon faith and teachings.

  11. adamf says:

    Great post. I love Pema Chödrön. I started reading her stuff when I saw the book “The Places That Scare You” at a little bookstore in NorCal. I had to get it just based on the title. That book definitely led to a little ‘spiritual hybridizing’, and I even named my blog after one of her teachings, and if my wife and I ever have a baby girl, Pema is going to be her middle name.

    I also really like “Practicing Peace in Times of War” – I think that’s what it’s called… a lot of it has to do with not acting with aggression in one’s personal life, and how being aggressive contributes even to things like wars. Great stuff.

    Re: is it possible, I definitely think it is. JS said we MUST gather up all the good and true principles in the world or we will not be true Mormons. I not only think it’s possible, but that we SHOULD be doing it.

  12. adamf says:

    I should add though, that some faith traditions are a lot easier to hybridize then others. I think many kinds of Buddhism fit well, because it’s just so different. There aren’t many areas to even have a conflict, especially Zen I think. Probably UU as well.

    It seems quite odd to me that someone would get in trouble with church leaders for being a member of something else. DIdn’t JS join the methodist church later on? And the masons? Even if there was worship of a deity involved other than “God” – I don’t see the issue – the commandment is “no other gods BEFORE me” not no other gods “period.” On my mission in Japan there was an investigator in one branch who was deciding between the JWs and our church. Ultimately she chose us because the JWs wanted her to burn all of her buddhist stuff. Our branch president said it wasn’t a problem.

  13. mb says:

    Your essay reminded me of a quote from Brigham Young, so I looked it up. It’s part of a speech found in the Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 282.

    ‘It was the occupation of Jesus Christ and his Apostles to propagate the Gospel of salvation and the principles of eternal life to the world, and it is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their elder brother, being at their head,) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, to mechanism of every kind, to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and bring it to Zion.

    ‘The people upon this earth have a great many errors, and they have also a great many truths. This statement is not only true of the nations termed civilized—those. who profess to worship the true God, but is equally applicable to pagans of all countries, for in their religious rights and ceremonies may be found a great many truths which we will also gather home to Zion. All truth is for the salvation of the children of men—for their benefit and learning—for their furtherance in the principles of divine knowledge; and divine knowledge is any matter of fact—truth; and all truth pertains to divinity.’

  14. Kiri Close says:

    i love this post.

    I’ve always been open to different approaches to divinity. Here’s kind of a list of my religious hybridizations:

    LAKOTA ‘INIPI’, or SWEAT LODGE: Here on the Great Plains, the Oglala Lakota Nation of the Tititonwan (7th in the Oceti Sakowin) hold inipi, or sweat lodge (it is a place of sacred prayer, and not a boy scouts of america badge only). I sometimes attend the closest one on Sunday evenings located right here in Gordon, NE (pre-contact traditional Lakota name is Takca Wakpa – place of the deer). Hence, Takca Wakpa Inipi. Once inside, we pray in 4 rounds/songs (inipi tiopa or sweat lodge door opens after each round/song) while sweating from hot rocks that incinerate water (which makes the stem) & sage leaves in an enclosed ’round roofed, small tipi’. It is a time of prayer, reflection, reifying importance of family (in fact, every round ends with the saying ‘MITAKUSE’/’MITAKUYEPI IYUHA’, or “ALL MY RELATIVES” signaling to the doorman/doorwoman to reopen and uncover the covered sweat lodge entrance that darkens the inipi on the inside–it’s so pitch black, you can see nothing once the entrance is blanketed over). We pray together while the spiritual leader sings, chants in Lakota. After the last song, and the entrance left open, the peace pipe is passed around (they allow me to just have it touch my lips). BEAUTIFUL, reflective, family oriented.

    ‘SA’ AT NIGHT IN SAMOA: Most nights in American Samoa where I was raised, the village bells ring for several minutes. These sounds are to publicly initiate ‘SA’. Most house lights are switched off, cars are not driven on the observing village roads, stores shut down, young village men in uniform patrol the streets (made up mainly of young men/older men without family, authoritative titles called ‘aumaga’ or ‘taulele’a’ and are generally in ‘apprentenceship’ before titles come their way having been in ‘training’ for official leadership since preteen years). For about an hour and a half, gramma/grampa would call our family and anyone else found on the property when ‘sa’ bell hit (we say, “Eh! Ua ta le sa! Fago atu i le aiga”). All males with no shirts must cover themselves, all women must cover their shoulders and exposing leg flesh when called into the space in the house where prayer is conducted (it never EVER matters what church you belong to, believe or don’t believe, are atheist, buddhist, devil worhshipper–you MUST attend prayer if you are family or happen to visit the home of your friend). Lights out, all sitting in an imperfect circle on the floor (NO ONE must sit at a height higher than the patriarch and matriarch-in this case, my gramma and grampa). Grampa would read eloquently in Samoan his old bible, and also recite what he had long memorized, and what was on his heart (sometimes half drunk! LOL!), and then after about 40 minutes to an hour in the dark, gramma would begin the song: the simultaneous duet of verse and song, male and female together. At the right time, the rest of us (many times, 17+ in the house) would break out in 6 part harmony or so. I miss those days and will absolutely do the same with our kids.

  15. Kiri Close says:

    SOUTH KOREAN BUDDHIST TEMPLES:
    While living for nearly 5 years in The Land of the Morning Calm (aka, South Korea), my husband and I would frequently visit the local Buddhist temples. Even though we never found time to do a week long Buddhist temple say (many of them cheesy and made for tourists, but still a cool thing to do), our times at the many temples that dotted that peninsula were mostly of a reflective, quiet nature, and varied in activity. At temples, I have often eaten a variety of delicious spicy, vegetarian dishes while enjoying the calm of the surroundings, the internal mayhem of surrounding monks attempting to gain enlightened living; other times, I have enjoyed the solace of Korean Buddhist style Tai Chi in a mountainous temple with monks; Other times we have simply gone to pay respects and burn incenst to Buddha while quietly ‘praying’ in my heart and mind for myself and my family (statues are not really idols, but are to display certain ‘states’ of enlightenment). While I have many temples I consider my ‘favorites’, I particularly loved the one in the system of hills we lived in. From our balcony, you could always see its roof, and every morning at 5am, evening at 6pm, you could hear it’s gingerly bell, the bosingak.

  16. Kiri Close says:

    Most kinds of disciplines labeled, ‘philosophy’ is very spiritual to me.

    And yet, everything (in my mind) can be approached in a spiritual, philosophical way.

  17. Kiri Close says:

    HAWAIIAN HULA:
    I love dancing ancien Kahiko (generally, during pre-contact times, males most performed hula in relation to ancient religion). So, when in ‘halau’ or hula school, I really love learning and performing the hula actions and words. It is a form of literary expression, as well as a religious recognition of divine beings, family: lele uwehe, ku’i, oli, ami, ami kuku, etc.

    MAORI HAKA:
    Other than my own Samoan ‘siva’ or dance, my favorite fellow Pacific Island performance to take part in is native Maori haka: the volume of group dynamics chant, the poi, the patu, the taiaha, pukana, wiri wiri, the tones of the song/chant, the words that ALWAYS include a being of deity, divinity and family (typical in native traditional Pacific Islander songs), it is impossible for me not to feel the ‘mana’, or spirit.

    HIP HOP FREESTYLE CYPHER:
    I’ll never be a talented MC, but have you seen those in the ‘cypher’ freestylin’, weaving rhymes (off the top of their heads!)? When the competition is on between those who ‘battle’ in the cypher, the impromptu lyrical rivers that flow (almost effortlessly) and with creative beats is spiritual. It is only there when all contenders ‘bring it’, don’t hold back at all, and pass the ‘test’ (the ‘test’ is when someone in the onlooking cypher says any word, and the MC creatively freestyle raps about it for several minutes–sometimes 20-30 minutes). Cypher is serious spiritual partly because there is no space for insecurity and everyone there understands that.

  18. waldo says:

    Are you kidding me? This post…I might have been reading from my own personal journal.

    I went through university taking all kinds of classes in the humanities, but religious studies– that was one of my favorites. And Buddhism…ah… it spoke to me and still does.

    I moved to a new city four years ago and looked up the Buddhist groups on the internet at least once a year but never had the courage to pursue. I moved again a month ago and again, googled the buddhist groups in this city.

    I’m always filled with such hope when I feel I can believe in more than ‘this’ and ‘that’. Thanks you.

  19. BWS71 says:

    After reading a fair amount of Buddhist literature while deployed in Iraq I have come to view myself as a Mormon Buddhist. To my understanding much of Buddhist philosophy is agnostic to the existence of God. I know some people practice Buddhism like a religion but my understanding of the original Buddha’s intent seem to discourage this.

    I remember going to the temple shortly after returning from deployment and talking with one of the temple workers who was reading a book of Buddhist thought right there in the temple.

    As far as feeling disquiet in the mormon community – my response to the same feelings has been to stay and attempt to improve the whole rather than leave and diminish it by my absence.

  20. How wonderful that I found your page Amelia as I do feel it is possible to hybridize as my mother, younger brother and myself are all doing so. We have all been babtised Mormon and attended the LDS church for years and then had similar problems with the church so we then had a wonderful Christian church that we attended for awhile and now we are practicing Buddhists with the SGI-USA and still Christians as the SGI buddhists do not pray to a god and therefore, do not place any god before Christ. So yeah, I think you should continue with your search for spritual equilibrium and would recommend you look into Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism at SGI-USA.org

    Sincerely,

    Michael

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