• Mairin Smit

No Faith Without Controversy

Nothing’s going to check all your boxes. No one’s going to teach all the perfect lessons. No community’s ever free of controversy. So what do you do?


That is what we're here for: to remind each other of where the truth lies and the power of simple ceremony. Richard Wagamese

Two weeks ago, I left one of my faith communities after a confrontation with the group leader about questionable language used in discussions about race.

It was hard. All my calls for change were ignored. And in the end, I was given an ultimatum – be ok with it or leave. So for me, there was no question – I had to walk away.

This situation isn’t new to me. And it’s not unique to me either.

Lots of people are making hard choices right now after the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks in the US and in Canada of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi.

They’re asking – What are my values? Why uphold a system that isn’t working anymore? And why support causes that harm my family, friends or people in my community?

It doesn’t surprise me so many millennials are voicing these questions. Because ultimately, they’re big spiritual questions.

We’ve been asking those questions for years of our faith communities, often times with no acknowledgment we’re heard. And so we walk away from them – the ones we grew up in, the ones we care deeply about – because they no longer represent our values.

I talk more about this in my Special Message on the podcast. And how this creates a spiritual hunger in our generation.

But I haven’t talked about what happens next. When we go in search of something to fill the void, to satiate our hunger for purpose and meaning.

Last week, I found myself down a Google rabbit hole – searching for a new community or teacher to fill the void I’d created in leaving my community. I looked up every name of everyone person that everyone had told me I might find interesting.

I combed through their blogs, podcast interviews and books hoping to find something that felt rooted in my values and reflected my personal spiritual journey.

But every time I found something that felt close – I’d find it.

The one blog post, comment or article by someone (anyone) calling out this group or person for not living up to their claims. For saying something harmful, hurtful or even prejudice.

And my heart would sink.

Something that seemed to check all the boxes suddenly fell short. And I’d feel frustrated and angry that nothing was without controversy.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? Faith is never without controversy.

It never has been. How could it be?

How could communities of people exploring life’s big questions not mess that up? There’s too much power in those questions and their answers. And power’s a tricky thing in human hands.

So what do we do? How do we explore faith when leaders, communities and people are always flawed, and inherently so?

Because spirituality’s all about nuance. Nothing’s ever going to check all your boxes. No one’s ever going to teach all the perfect lessons. No community’s ever free of controversy.

So how do we respond?

Leave our communities, knowing we’ll find controversy somewhere new? Risk the time and effort of joining a new community only to be hurt or let down again? Or give the whole idea of faith the middle finger? Because it can seem easier than wading through all of this.

It’s overwhelming stuff.

But we keep coming back to it for a reason.

Because we’re all innately spiritual. And exploring that’s been a part of us throughout all of history.

So again, what do we do?

Here’s where I landed after I emerged from the rabbit hole.

You have to get back to essence. You have to step back from the teachers, close the articles and stop reading the comments.

And go inward. And ask yourself what you know.

What are the truths you hold inside your heart? That keep coming up over and over again throughout your life. The things you know beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Then make those your check boxes. And start to notice.

Notice where you see those truths popping up. Notice the people and places seeking out those truths. And notice when they invite you in to exploring those truths together.

You might be surprised by what you find. They might not look like the spiritual teachers and spaces you’ve seen to before. They might not define themselves as spiritual at all.

And that’s ok. Because our spirituality’s a part of everything we do. So if these people and places are asking those questions, you’ll see it show up in their work too.

And the more you notice this, the more people and places you see asking these questions and exploring these truths. They’re not proprietary to one group, person or community. They’re bigger than any one thing can hold.

It was interesting to notice this on the podcast this season. The truths that were repeated over and over again, from guest to guest. Some things feel deeply personal, but in the end, they’re universal.

So if your community lets you down, realize you have a choice.

You can stay and push for change – that’s the right choice sometimes. Or you can leave and let it fall apart – that’s a spiritual path too.

But after you’ve walked away, when you’re ready, connect with those truths again. Begin listening for them in the people and places around you. And you’ll begin to hear them.

Because when it comes to questions of faith – these big spiritual questions and truths – we’re never the only ones holding them.

And if we all start listening for each other, one day we’ll end up in the same place.

-Mairin Smit

What brought you here? What truths are you listening for?

Share them with us – they might end up on this blog or our social media!

Here’s how – write 500 words or less in a doc (Word or Pages) or make a 1 min voice recording on your phone of your thoughts on this post. Then email it to us at: hello@keepingfaithpod.com.

We’d love to hear your personal perspective on how you’re working through these big questions. Don’t forget to tell us your name and where you’re from!

(If you want to stay anonymous, that’s ok too. Just let us know.)