Finding faith in America’s most secular city

SEATTLE — In 1962, when my younger brother was just four years old, this city perched on the nation’s northwest … Continued

SEATTLE — In 1962, when my younger brother was just four years old, this city perched on the nation’s northwest rim held a World’s Fair that imagined a glistening future.

Grounded in a vision of science and technology, the Century 21 Exposition foresaw a steady economic expansion and an orderly modernity that would continue 1950s prosperity and stability far into the future.

They got the science and technology right. Seattle is now a world hub for software development and Internet commerce, as well as for the caffeine and jeans-clad lifestyle that fuel young techs.

Who could have foreseen the rest? President John F. Kennedy had to cancel an appearance at the fair’s closing ceremony in October 1962 because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A year later he was assassinated.

Then came political turmoil, military defeats, explosive unrest over race, implosion of urban centers, more assassinations, environmental alarm bells, collapse of mainline Christian churches, deterioration of public schools, wild economic swings, suburbanization, drugs, loss of industrial strength, decimation of the middle class, worsening poverty, predatory banks, bitter divisions in the electorate, and terrorist attacks.

Although exposition planners were exuberant about the promise of science and technology, those restless fields have done more disrupting than perpetuating. Hardly any corner of American life has been left untouched, from the corner hardware store to the neighborhood school to assumptions about human life and how people work.

Meanwhile, the postwar world that America was harnessing for economic growth began to push back. Just as one implacable foe self-destructed, another adopted economic expansion and emerged as more powerful than ever imagined. Freedom-fearing terrorism targets the land of the free.

Now comes 2012. My brother got married on Saturday, escorted by his two accomplished daughters, surrounded by friends made in living here since college, as well as family.

His employer — the public school system — is struggling. Boeing has moved to Chicago. Microsoft is fighting to regain its mojo. Urban infrastructure has fallen way behind tech-fueled growth. Racial unrest is explosive. But still groom and bride exchanged vows, sang a lovely serenade to each other, and set off on a new adventure.

Life, in other words, is more durable than fair planners’ visions. They could build a Space Needle. But, when optimism subsided and funds evaporated, people continued to launch marriages, bring children into the world, and dream of a better tomorrow.

Even as Seattle’s leaders ignored their own monorail and took the easy course of building the highways that now strangle the city, people found ways to form enduring friendships. They learned that living simply is OK.

Most of all, they allowed the divine to touch their lives. In what is arguably the nation’s most secular city, people found the core meaning of an incarnate faith: people loving each other. They formed communities of remarkable diversity and acceptance. As religion struggles with who is allowed in, these church avoiders have opened their lives to each other.

Unlike many Americans, my brother and his friends don’t bemoan the loss of 1962 or any certainties of that ebullient era. They press on, seeking new adventures, learning new skills, making new friends.

I once thought he stayed here for the outdoor adventures. But it’s the people. What I see here is people living freely. No scowling at modernity, no pigeonholing the different, and no bitterness over life’s inevitable and abundant failures.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter (at)tomehrich.)

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • SODDI

    It would be nice if at least one American city were truly secular. But those shaman, child-molesting priests, sacerdotes, cenobites, preachers, snake-handlers, faith healers, gay-hatin’ babtists and other religious plug-uglies keep sticking their greasy blue noses into anything worthwhile.

  • Chip_M

    Nice to see an article that’s so positive and accepting of secularism and the non-religious written by a priest.

Read More Articles

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.