The Common Good

Meet the Nones: Building Bridges Between Nones and Nuns

Editor's Note: Alyssa Bain tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

Last weekend I watched Sister Act (both of them, actually) with some friends (who also happen to be nuns) in the living room of the convent I currently call home in New York City. 

I am not a nun. I am not a novice. I am not Catholic. Some days I wonder if I am even Christian.

According to a recent study by the Pew Forum, I actually just might be a “none.”

The research is out, and it seems that my generation is stumping the world as the generation that, for whatever reason, refuses to label itself. 

Personally, I’ve been having trouble with labeling myself for quite some time. Lutheran. Non-denominational. Methodist. Universalist. Evangelical. Protestant.

But none of them quite fit right. The problem with labels is that there are always exceptions. Nothing is black and white. The label “none” lumps together atheists, agnostics, and, well, me. I am not an atheist. I might be kind of agnostic, but there really is just something about that Jesus guy. 

However, I am more and more hesitant to label myself Christian as I see traditional denominations come to the spotlight for being closely affiliated with so-called right-wing politics. Instead, I distance myself.

As I said, I currently live in community with several other women — nuns, in fact. I pray and eat with the community four nights a week. I intern fulltime as a “missioner” at an immigration-focused non-profit affiliated with this specific order of sisters, where my days are currently spent helping young undocumented Americans (yes, you read that right) file for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. 

On Sundays I attend a local self-labeled “progressive” Methodist church. In my free time I practice yoga and meditation; Eastern religions intrigue me. I’m a feminist. “Heretical” Christians like Pelagius and Rob Bell have places on my bookshelf. So does my Bible. I am unsure of whether there is a traditional Christian hell, and I would say that I live more for the earthy Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of than an ethereal and distant heaven. I believe God reveals Godself differently to different peoples and different cultures, so I just might be Universalist in saying that there are multiple ways to God. Someday I want to get a Masters of Arts in Social Change from Iliff School of Theology so I can continue to integrate faith, action, and interreligious dialogue.  

It’s safe to say that I live in a perpetual state of grey in what I often perceive as a world of black and white.

To be quite honest, I sometimes feel like I am living a dual life. Like many of my peers, both in my generation and in those across all ages who fall into the “none” category, I am much more socially “left” than traditional Christians (the left-right labels are just as tricky as any other label, mind you). One area where this is made especially evident is the fact that I am a proud clarinetist and ally in the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps. I firmly believe in fighting for equality for ALL of God’s children. However, I sometimes joke about the fact that I am “in the closet;” the nuns don’t know I’m in the gay band and the gay band doesn’t know I’m with the nuns. When members of either group do find out I am affiliated with the other (which is not something I hide, I simply don’t bring it up), they tend to be surprised. 

Some might say that this generation, these “nones,” simply have no strong convictions; they are “wishy-washy” and uncertain. 

I guess I can only speak for myself, but my path — my God-given path — is completely based on my passion and deeply-held convictions about God, God’s love, and the humanity of that love made evident in the person of Jesus Christ. Guided by this example and these convictions, I seek justice for the oppressed, the marginalized, and the poor. I feel called to be a bridge builder between groups that traditionally would choose distance rather than dialogue, whether the divides between those groups are based on differences of culture, religion, race, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, nation, etc. The list goes on, and Jesus loves each and every person in each and every one of these groups. 

I might be a “none.” Or I might not be. Quite frankly, I love Jesus, and I see a beautiful Kingdom coming about on this beautiful created earth. Rather than wasting time pinning a label on my own forehead, I hope to instead spend my time loving, reconciling, and trying not to slap labels on other people’s foreheads.

It’s all a work in progress, and I am nowhere near perfect, but I’m okay with the mess of it all. 

I’m okay with the grey.

Alyssa Bain is 22. She is Colorado born and bred, was schooled in Los Angeles, and currently lives and volunteers in New York City. Her passions include reconciliation and justice, creativity, and riding her motorcycle to beautiful hiking spots in the Rocky Mountains.

Photo: SVLuma / Shutterstock.com

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