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For me, faith is more about a journey than it is a static thing or even a destination. Life has to be lived forward but seems to make sense best when looking backwards. Yesterday at church we sang "Amazing Grace". I've always loved this song. I've probably sung it several dozen times over the decades. But, almost every time I sing it it takes on new and deeper meaning for me. Yesterday, these lines struck me differently yesterday than they ever had before causing me to ponder where I am on my faith journey, what has stayed the same and what has changed.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
I don't know so much about it being Grace that taught my heart to fear. Maybe that was a necessary part of the journey and it was because of Grace that I had all of that fear. I was certainly full of fear at one time. Fear put into me by religion. Fear of an angry god who created me with the desire to torture me eternally. Fear of not being good enough. I always "believed". At first I believed exactly what I was taught. From the time I could talk or understand human speech, I "believed". But, for me yesterday, when I heard "the hour I first believed", it was the hour when I was around 40 when I finally really "believed" in the nature of G-d, the inescapable love of God to steal a phrase from Thomas Talbott. Not until I truly understood what Grace is were my fears relieved. The dangers, toils and snares were the dangers toils and snares set before me by religion; the impossible task of living up to a code they told me I could never live up to. And the task of loving a god who created the vast majority of humanity for the ultimate purpose of tormenting them for his "glory". I knew I could never love that god no matter how hard I tried and since He could read my heart, I just knew that even though I "believed", I really was damned.
The past few days I've been having a conversation with my friend Kansas Bob and my friend Mike. We like to think each of our stories, our paths is completely unique and, in some ways they are. But, what I find really interesting is how much alike so many of our paths are. I think everything Bob believes today I believed at one time. I'm guessing everything I believe today, Mike probably believed at one time. But, today our beliefs are very different. Bob is a Christian who takes the Bible much more literally than I do and as a result has a pretty different set of beliefs. I look at Bob and see where I once was. Mike was a pretty fundamentalist Christian. But, Mike is now an atheist. I look at Mike and see where I sometimes think (fear?) I might be headed. Most of my universalist friends have left the IC (institutional church) and wonder why I bother going Sunday after Sunday. Not only going to church but going to a struggling church and serving on the (voluntary) staff of the church. Sometimes I find myself wondering the same thing. Yesterday, during the talk back time at church, someone pointed out that she learned that we can be in church with people who don't share the same beliefs and that is OK. I said that, for me, what binds us together is not our beliefs but our values. What makes us "one" is our desire to see justice done in the world, our respect for every single human being on the planet because each human being is made in the "image of God" (or put in less Christianese terms each human being has a spirit that is of equal worth). Interestingly, when I brought up that I think it's our values that bind us together rather than our beliefs, our pastor said that he finds that "thought terrifying" (I'm pretty sure that's the word he used). I sat to wait to see how he would explain that. What I think I heard him say was that, as a progressive pastor, he finds it difficult to put together a sermon that speaks to our common values and our common belief in a still speaking God while remaining true to the traditions and the "faith". I guess as a professional clergy man that's really important to him. To me, not so much.
For me, it's just the opposite that terrifies me. When people are bound primarily by beliefs, what happens when those beliefs change? What happens when a historical, archeological or scientific discovery changes what we know about something? What happens when beliefs change, and beliefs are the only things binding people together, are excommunications, people being labeled heretics, denominational splits, crucifixions and wars. What brings Mike, Bob and I together is not our beliefs. What brings me together with the people of Nexus is not our beliefs. Our theological beliefs are very different. What I've observed is as long as we are discussing values like justice, compassion, human dignity and unconditional love, we're OK. When we're talking about acting out of those values, we're OK. But, when we start talking about beliefs, we begin to get divided. Over the last few days, as Bob and I have been wrestling over the hypothetical eternal fate of Satan and his demons, Mike pointed out (rightfully so and probably with his eyes rolling back in his head), that it's just easier to not believe in Satan (and God) than to try to figure out what we believe will happen to a being that Bob definitely believes exists, I think almost certainly doesn't exist and Mike doesn't believe exists. Really, the more I discuss this kind of stuff with Christians, the more I think about chucking the whole Christianity thing in.
I said earlier that I look at Mike (my atheist friend) and wonder if that where I might be headed. I think not though. While I certainly don't believe many of the things I once did, I cannot see ever actually chucking the whole thing in. To me, it's abundantly clear there is a "G-d", there is something from whence we all came and something that ties us all together. There is something to which we will all return. That I know as much as I know anything. I don't think there a binary reward system set up so that when we die we go to either eternal bliss or eternal torture. But, I do think that what we do here matters and I want to share that with people who believe the same thing. I don't care what they think about the Trinity, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or the Immaculate Conception.