Monday, August 25, 2008

If I Had Faith, It Would, Like, Be So Totally Awesome

Normally, I shy away from the idea that God might have a hand in the direction of my life.

I guess I feel like the political right has co-opted the concepts of God and Faith so much that it’s almost embarrassing for a left-wing, liberal such as myself to admit to
even having an interest in the possibilities of faith.

A few months ago, the nonprofit organization that I work for held a massive national conference and, while there, I attended an interfaith session exploring the intersection between one's faith and service to others.

The session began with an interfaith prayer breakfast and representatives from Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian traditions shared traditional prayers and their meanings with the group.

I wasn’t raised in a particularly religious household, but I found this prayer breakfast moving.

Perhaps the inclusive nature of the session and the diversity of religious traditions participating made me feel more open on this particular morning.

The speaker representing the Christian faith said that he felt called to serve others from the time he was fourteen, but did not realize or believe that his calling came from God until later in his life.

Suddenly, an old memory came to me.

I remembered begging to go to vacation bible school with my friend Tomi at her Southern Baptist Church.

[From my point of view, vacation bible school seemed to be about crafts and candy.]

Tomi and I couldn’t have been more than eight that summer.

We were in the classroom in the church basement making bible verse wall hangings out of felt when the teacher asked us to come out into the hall with her one at a time.

When it was my turn, she asked me to pray and ask “the Lord Jesus Christ to come into my heart.”

I so vividly remember the hallway being dark.

I did as she asked.

Though I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time, the memory of it has never faded.

I remembered being terrified.

My focus and attention shifted back to the breakfast speaker as he began reading a prayer
written by William Barclay.

Equip me today, O God, with the humility which will keep me from pride and from conceit;

The graciousness and the gentleness which will make me both easy to live with and the joy to meet;

The diligence, the perseverance, and the reliability which will make me a good workman;

The kindness which will give me a quick eye to see what I can do for others, and a ready hand to do it;

The constant awareness of your presence, which will make me do everything as unto you.

So grant that to me today, so that people may see in me a glimpse of the life of my blessed Lord.

I liked this prayer asking for the strength to persevere in doing good, and sitting there, I thought about my career.

I work in nonprofit, specifically to increase the number of people who volunteer.

Suddenly, I was transported again to a conference I attended in the early 1990s where another theologian talked about the way that some people feel called to serve while others do not.

What struck me about his talk was the way he openly discussed how difficult it could be to both feel and answer that call.

“Why is it that when you witness suffering you feel compelled to do something but others can simply walk on by? It isn’t fair. It's a burden. It's hard,” he said.

That was the first time I had heard anyone give voice to how I sometimes felt about my work.

It is often hard.

At the prayer breakfast, the Christian speaker closed with a quote from one of my heroes, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through him who loved us.


For some reason, the Tutu quote made me think about my Granny, the evangelical, close talker in the thrift store, the song on the radio and my wish that Granny could reach me with a message from beyond.

I sat in the prayer breakfast flooded with these seemingly unrelated memories and welled up with tears.

What if..., I wondered.

What if all those years ago, when the Baptist Bible school teacher made me ask God to "come into my heart," what if something really happened?

What if my career choices have been faith driven but I'm too dense to get it?

What if God IS love… …and tolerance… and peace… and hope… and everyone really is welcome…

Every one.

What if Granny is trying to tell me something right now?

For a moment, it felt like an epiphany…

...but then I felt like a complete and utter FREAK, so I shoved it all deep down into that dark church basement and decided to think about it later.

[Maybe.]


41 comments:

Theresa said...

I believe that God creates us with a hole in our souls...we can live out our lives filling that void with many things, and that is fine. But if we fill it with Him, as he intended, yet our choice, then we have a peace that passes all understanding and a loving relationship with our Father, who owns the universe and gives us all good things.

I love being a Christian, its not always easy, but it works for me and gets me through everything I face successfully.

I think you're on to something positive.

HW said...

I am a Christian and a Republican but I always hope not to be confused with the Christian Evangelical Right Wing.
Sometimes it is the most visible of a group that gives that group a bad name.
Some of us just live our lives quietly, trying each day to do the right thing by everbody we come across regardless of their lifestyle or belief system. You know, like Christ.

Anonymous said...

I've lived both with faith and without it. With was easier--until I started to ask too many hard questions.

Fortunately, love and hope and peace and tolerance don't require God. What if you chose your career path because you're a good person trying to do the right thing because it's the right thing, and not just because some God wants you to?

How awesome would that be?

apathy lounge said...

As a person who was raised a Southern Baptist (and got away as quickly as I could) I can tell you that there is one God with many names. Buddha, Mohammed, Yaweh, Nature, and even Jesus. God is NOTHING like the Christian Right presents him (and I'd say "her", but the CR refuses to even entertain the notion of a female dimension of divinity...assholes) to be. Nothing. That's because whatever power started this world spinning-- and then let it go to follow its own head and heart--created us in His/Her imgage and NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Fundamentalis Chritians use their Bible as a weapon to justify all manner of horrible things, but because they are "saved" they believe that this means they are "saved from judgement" or the consequences of those actions. They don't pattern themselves after a radical like Jesus (who was the first Feminist and the first to be color blind...and he wasn't white, either). To act like Jesus would mean that they have to think with their hearts instead of their own selfish need to be right about something. To corner the market on God and then be stingy in handing out compassion or understanding in the name of God.

My Hindu and Jewish friends are some of the most ethical and moral people I know. I truly believe their inner voice communes with God and seeks God. They just use a different name. But that's because--unlike people such as Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, Kenneth Copeland and their ilk--they don't use God as a vehicle for hate and intolerance.

There is only one God, but when you see how Fundamentalist Christians portray him/her...it's so obvious they've got a long, long way to go in really grasping what a divine presence or higher power is all about. Small people think small. That's mainly their problem. In fact, many Fundamentalist Christians have more in common with Fundamentalist Muslims than anyone else. I do not group HW (commenter) or (commenter) in that assemblage.

I'm not a fan of public prayer, but sometimes a person can really connect with me. If I had been there with you, I would have felt the same way. Overcome.

flutter said...

faith does not always equal religion, and vice versa.

Cat, Galloping said...

What if... a sense of right and wrong and an interest in helping people has nothing at all to do with religion?

What if... you just do hard, good things for people because you were raised right or because you have an innate sense of what is good?

What if... you only help other people because it makes you feel good about yourself to do so? (A Friends episode comes to mind.)

I get so frustrated by the idea that only religious people can have good morals. I don't need the bible to teach me to treat people respectfully.

Marit said...

"I work in nonprofit, specifically to increase the number of people who volunteer."
I'd love to hear how you go about doing this, as this is my work here in Holland as well. Could you maybe send over a link to your organisation?
marit dot brandsma at gmail dot com

Bridge said...

I was raised in church and I struggled with the way that the Right portrayed God, and I still sometimes struggle with the way God appears in the Bible. But I am growing in the realization that everything about Him is Love - that I don't understand all of it, but that I want to. And that the people who live their lives trying to figure out that truth are generally much more loving and kind and generous than those who bitterly blame on God all the bad things his followers do. I think in the end, two of the core truths in the Christian Scriptures are 1) that God is Love and 2) that He created us in His image. So, when we are who we are made to be, we are truly reflections of His Love. Whether we believe it or not. Regardless of how badly we screw it up or other people screw it up. He is Love.

Jill said...

That's a beautiful prayer. I feel that i have a lot of faith, but I prefer to exercise it outside of organized religion (if at all possible, which is hard to do with a husband who's Catholic). You don't need to go to church or believe what someone else believes to have faith. It's yours to have all to yourself!

Janet said...

I love this:

The graciousness and the gentleness which will make me both easy to live with and the joy to meet

Kyla said...

I've written and deleted a few comments, I can't seem to say what I mean. I'm struggling with my own faith, for reasons you've cited it here. It isn't that I don't have faith, it's that I don't understand how people with the same faith as mine can behave the way they do. I can't understand how they can uniformly say my kids don't deserve insurance or that people in love shouldn't be allowed to marry or many of the other things that make my head spin. I don't understand how we all can have faith in the same thing, I guess.

Missy said...

This just really made me smile.

I think everyone struggles with the really big questions sometimes. The why are we here, do we have a purpose questions.

Of course no one has the answers and no one has a monopoly on morality and evil has a very long history of hijacking religion for it's own purposes.

Still...

Well, okay I teach religious education, so that's where I'm coming from. But I believe in approaching people where they are in their faith.

It sounds like you were in a good room.

mamatulip said...

You have such a fabulous, gentle way of broaching these kinds of subjects. I really love it when you touch on things like this.

Lisa Milton said...

I love these thoughts, these questions.

I've been a ministry major and then left church for a decade or so; but I always felt something like faith.

Or a calling to serve.

Or something bigger than myself.

But I don't know how it works, how it manifests in each of our lives.

Thanks for the beautiful post.

Bob said...

I've always thought that spirituality should be a personal journey, and that churches are there to guide you. Except that I've found that churches can hinder as much as guide.

I wish you a peaceful journey and that you find what you are seeking. Don't let your fears keep you from walking this path, because without your questioning, you won't find your answers.

miss bliss said...

Jessica-

If you prayed that prayer, even so young...something DID happen! You are His! And he will wait patiently for you while you figure things out. Being a believer doesn't EVER mean you will have a perfectly easy life, it just means you have extra support during those hard times.

Omaha Mama said...

I am forever questioning and always keeping the faith, though sometimes I even question that. What you describe here sure sounds a lot like faith and being a person with a calling to me. Be sure you listen to your grandmother's whispers.

The Sour Kraut said...

I think that if Jesus were alive today, he'd be a liberal Democrat.

Deana said...

I am a Christian and liberal. In our "faith" though, yes you would be saved. If you ask Jesus innocently at that time to come into your heart then he did. I did the same thing as a child. We may squish the spirit down as we get older and make our own decisions, but we have free will. And most of us return to our original faith. Don't let religion scare you. I took my faith out of the church and into a one on one with God a long time ago. I found doing for others seemed to make me feel better than being in a church "club".

CM said...

This is so strange. I was just thinking about the exact same things and, in fact, planning to write a blog post about them. (I may, in the next day or two.)

I have never been particularly religious, but in a series of recent conversations a deeply Christian friend has been telling me how she sees Christianity as the expression of God's love, and that she lives her religion by trying to show that love to every person. I can tell you Jesus has never come personally into my heart, but I can get on board with loving each other.

jeanie said...

I have a faith within but I don't necessarily give it a name. I think that, if there is a higher being (or whole plethora of them) they don't mind your language or way of interacting, as long as you follow the basic tenets of good.

I believe in good - I don't know about all the other stuff - I will listen to all and respect their religion and ask the same respect.

My favourite bumper sticker: coexist

I love that you are open to whatever journey that is ahead of you.

QT said...

There are so many great comments here that I feel like all I am going to do is echo them...

I am glad I grew up in a religious household because it taught me the one thing that applies to so many situations in life - treat others as you would like to be treated.

I'll never know if I needed an organized religion in order to learn this, but I'm glad I did.

Vodka Mom said...

I really do love the way you write. You are VERY talented. very.

SUEB0B said...

What flutter said!

I think we were created to take care of each other.

Anissa@Hope4Peyton said...

I hope that if you do have your come-to-Jesus moment, that it is one of complete peace and clarity. No doubts, no second guesses. Sure feels like you're searching for something, i hope you find it.

And religion and good works don't always go hand in hand. Some of the least compassionate people i've ever met were those that touted themselves as devoutly religious. I would rather be able to say that I'm faithful and honest, rather than pious.

jakelliesmom said...

Oh, Jess. I have these feelings, too, and I don't know how to talk about them because it's still an unknown territory to me. I have thoughts and beliefs, and feel very grounded in them but I don't know the language or manner to express them.

Growing up in a mixed faith family left to decide on my own...good and bad. For now, I continue to try to find my quiet place to talk with G-d when I can.

Michelle said...

If/When you do decide to think about it later. I pray that you will listen to the still, small voice of God (as well as all the louder voices of those around you). Find a Bible, and read the book of Mark, then another of the Gospels and listen for the voice of Jesus above the rabble.

I'm a Jesus-follower in an organised church, and I know that God loves all of us, even those who don't know or acknowledge Him. But I also know that there are a lot of people who are Christians who don't follow the Bible, who have no compassion or grace or mercy outside of church on a Sunday, which I think is really sad. You know, Jesus had more compassion on the sinners than on the organised church; and we are going to be judged for what we have done for Him, as well as what we haven't. I pray that I pass that judgment.

And I hope you find what you need. It takes a lot of courage to search inside yourself and say you need something/someone. I believe you have that courage and strength.

WILLIAM said...

breakfast at epiphiany's. Iliked that movie

Beck said...

I'm Christian, as you probably know, and when I first became Christian, I really had to struggle with what perceived as being the majority of Christians - how could I side with them?
But it was just my perception - I now know TONS of gentle, progressive, non-bigoted Christian people. And even though I personally am rather conservative, I also know tons of Christians who aren't. So you would not be alone.

Jennifer said...

I am spiritual rather than religious. I do not pray, but I meditate daily. I do not believe in "God the Father", but I belive in God. It has nothing to do with the Bible for me -- it just is. And I'd always kept church at arm's length because it was just so...churchy. But then I found a church where "God IS love… …and tolerance… and peace… and hope… and everyone really is welcome…" and now we are there weekly. NOT because it's church. NOT because it's relgion. But because there is something so amazing about being in community with a group of people who also believe in Love as a guiding force. Wherever it's found. (Church, work, school, neighborhood, whatever.)

Also: what sueb0b said. ;)

Bon said...

if faith is simply commitment to the goodness in the world, channelled through us humans, then i'd say you have it, friend, and spread it.

stoneskin said...

Not a freak, not at all. But if you dig it back up out of the basement it's worth sending your thoughts God's way. Seriously.

Angella said...

Oh, Jessica. This post brought tears to my eyes.

The North American church (and politicians) (in general) have really gotten in the way of God.

Seriously.

The God and Jesus of the Bible are so different than the God and Jesus of North America.

If you want some neat books to read (besides The Good Book), let me know.

Grim Reality Girl said...

1. You are not a freak.
2. DO think about it later -- take out the thought and examine it each time you are ready, it is likely a gem waiting to be polished.
3.I am sorry for the terrifying experience you had as a child.

I am sorry for the way many people view many people of faith (and likewise how those without faith are sometimes judged). For me, faith is a gift and a blessing. I do not think faith is a requirement of someone who does good things, but it is an AWESOME wonder if you have faith in your life.

I held my mother as she died. In the weeks that proceeded her early departure (yes, cancer) I was grateful. I was grateful for the wonderful mother I had and for the gift of faith. I was lucky that this gift was given to me by my parents in how they raised me. When my mom told me she was terminal I cried, then I thanked her for the gift of faith -- otherwise I would not be able to bare what was to come. She and I both cried together and were glad that we BOTH believed there was so much more to come even though her time left with me here was so horribly short.

Her faith bolstered mine. Her peace brought me peace. Her belief was a seed planted in me that has grown. Without faith I would struggle for hope. This is why I belief faith is a gift... but you do have to be open to receive it. I just think that the awesome wonders in this life can't be an accident. If that is the case, the hereafter will ROCK!

Do I agree with every single thing in my organized religion? No. Is there so much more good I can get from it than I can get without it? For me, the answer is yes -- I'll take the bad with the good and be happy.

A wise Catholic priest I know always said to seekers Go where you grow!

Best of luck to you on your journey! (Sorry for the long comment -- you inspired me on this one!)

Magpie said...

I don't ever go to that "maybe" place, but I completely hear you on this bit: “Why is it that when you witness suffering you feel compelled to do something but others can simply walk on by?" Because I think that need to serve, need to do, is hardwired into me. And you. And others. But not everyone.

I remember walking through the Village years ago, and someone was manning a table asking for donations to save the arts. I was with a friend, we both worked for a non-profit arts organization for no money and many hours, and I remember laughing at the guy - "we give our all already". Because we did, and we do.

Ben and Bennie said...

I haven't been by here in quite a while and I do apologize for that. Was it karma, fate, luck, or God that led me back here this morning? I think I know but cannot say for sure.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist environment and it did a number on me. I left the church in college. Later on in life I joined an Episcopal church (along with my parents) and I finally came to grips with mostly what God wasn't. Mostly it was all that gobble-dee-gook "born again" terminology that really had nothing to do with what I felt in my heart.

After our special needs son was born my wife and I both became very agnostic. But it didn't take long to discover God was working and moving about in our lives regardless of what we thought about Him/Her/It.

Faith isn't easy, that's for sure. But there has to be something in you that wants to serve others and better their condition. I would label that as a gift - a very special one indeed.

I don't know if any of this makes sense but I hope it helps you find what you are seeking.

Tis I. said...

You felt the "knock knock knock". And that is good. ;)

Love to you.

Ruth Dynamite said...

You're where you're supposed to be. All this hubbub is affirmation of that simple fact. Rejoice in that! Hallelujah and Amen!

Hetha said...

I absolutely love this. I relate to so much of what you said from beginning to end of the post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Leah said...

God has laid it on my heart recently that I want to be in a job that helps people. So I wait and see. He has blessed my life so much!

Joie said...

God IS each of those things you mention.

I am an Episcopal priest and I sometimes am embarrassed to call myself a Christian because of all the hate that comes from some Christians and the fact that their voices often seem so much louder than the sort of Christian I am. Then I think, "That's shortsighted. Show people you are a proud Christian and give them a different example."

Whatever path you choose, or if you don't...I wish you peace and many blessings.