"My Religious Jeans"
The word gene is defined as, "a hereditary unit consisting of a sequence of DNA that occupies a specific location on a chromosome and determines a particular characteristic of a organism." Our genes define us biologically. In many ways, they are the blueprints to our makeup. But what defines us spiritually? What are our spiritual genes?
For years I have struggled with my faith. I came to realize that like the clothes of my childhood, I have out-grown my religious jeans. So I went shopping, but all I ended up with was a closet full of doubts, skepticism and questions. Sure, we hear the argument that we are to have a "childlike faith," that even Jesus said, "Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15 NRSV) or "unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3 NRSV).
But I had outgrown these jeans. I am no longer a child - physically or spiritually! So what does it really mean to have a childlike faith? Does it mean that we are to have a faith grounded in ignorance? Are we to be spiritually naive? Children will believe just about anything you tell them, if told with enough conviction, authority or persuasion. Is this what Jesus had in mind? I believe Jesus was saying that we must seek a faith that is childlike - one that is innocent and pure. I do long for this kind of childlike faith.
As much as I long for the faith of my childhood, I realize that such a faith was bound and restricted, it was based on what others told me to believe. It wasn't my faith. It was what others had ingrained in me. I wasn't wearing my own clothes of faith, I was wearing someone else's clothes. As I began to grow out of these jeans and grow intellectually and spiritually, I realized that most of what I had been given to believe as a child was not true. Tempted to just give up on faith all together, I still found myself drawn to the church. There was something fascinating about the church that seemed to lure and captivate me. Perhaps it was the pageantry of the church that I found appealing. Maybe it was the idea that I could help people - encourage them. Whatever it was, it led me into the ministry. As I continued to grow intellectually, I found that most of what I taught and preached was not what I truly believed. Instead of helping and encouraging others, I felt as though I was lying to them. Not only about who I was, but also about who they were. I felt as though I was giving them hand-me-downs, instead of encouraging them to shop for their own spiritual clothes - clothes that fit them.
Somehow, I felt if I could just submerge myself in church tradition and teaching, then I would be okay. However, this baptism of religious tradition and teaching almost drowned me. I emerged from these waters gasping for breath and called out to God only to be met with silence. I became agnostic. I began to question the existence of God. I began to understand what Voltaire meant, "If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him." Maybe, I thought, we are just inventing God to appease ourselves and our inadequacies. I began to think that God was those who were weak, vulnerable and insecure.
But the more I pondered and questioned the existence of God and what I believed or did not believe, the more I realized that I do believe in God. It wasn't God that I had trouble with, it was religions' dogma and perspective of God. Religions act as if they own God. They claim God as their own, exclusively.
No religion owns God. God is not limited to time, place, people or religion. Once I began to realize this, I began to truly experience God.
I had become influenced by the fundamental beliefs and dogmas of the Church to the point that I had become blind, ignorant and naive in my faith. I do not believe God ever intended us to have a blind faith or one purely driven by emotion and not intellect. God has given us wisdom to discern what is real. In the words of R.E.M., I had to "lose my religion" before I could find my faith. Does this mean that I have given up on my Christian faith, or thrown Jesus aside? No! I am a Christian, but I am not a Christian solely.
It was the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche who was known for his famous quote, “God is dead and we have killed him.” This was Nietzsche's way of saying that the conventional God of Judeo-Christianity is no longer a viable source of any absolute moral principle. Nietzsche's right! On one hand, we are killing God by our attempt to trap God into our own ideological and theological boxes. And, on the other hand, we are ready to bury God, along with the Christian faith and the Church, in one mass grave of irrelevance. While I do believe that science and discovery have caused us to reexamine our understanding of who God is and even the way we interpret scripture, we cannot dispute the fact that God is alive and real.
I love the teachings of Jesus. I believe that Jesus is a WORD of God - a revelation of God's self. I believe Jesus truly embodies the fullness of who God is. But I am also cautious about laying claim to Jesus as the [only] Way, Truth and Life.
My own religious beliefs and faith have grown since I chose to refute the “dogmas” of the Church and instead explore the scriptures and my faith open-mindedly. This quest led to the exploration of not only Christianity but all of the world’s religions and philosophies.
One of my favorite descriptions for religion is that it is like a stained-glass window that refracts sunlight in different shapes and colors. While all religions are relatively different, they are all held together by a common bond: the search for Light, Truth, Meaning or God. I believe that because we are people of different cultures and temperaments, that God has taken those into account in the ways in which God chooses to reveal God’s self to us. Because we are a diverse people our faces and perspectives of God differ. No person or group holds the exclusive truth or revelation of God. God is beyond that!
Personally, it is in the person of Jesus that God has revealed God’s self to me. In Jesus, I have been given a precious gift - the presence of God. In Jesus, I have found a truth, which shall set me free. In Jesus, I have discovered “a way” to God. But this gift is not mine exclusively. It is not mine to hoard onto. I cannot claim that I am the one who solely has the gift of Light. I do not own the Light.
Especially when others have revealed this Light. In the teachings of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and so forth God’s Light is revealed. All of these religions and philosophies morally demonstrate what I have discovered in the teachings of Jesus and are certainly greater than the vaulted claims of orthodox ownership.
No one processes the whole truth of God. No one possesses the whole revelation of the divine. No church, denomination, doctrine, philosophy or religion can contain all there is of God. God is too big to fit into our convenient and comfortable little boxes.
My experience of God, as well as yours, is not an exclusive revelation of God. God is free. God’s light and truth are revealed in many facets, shapes and colors as a stained-glass window but each piece is beautiful. And it is amazing when you step back and begin to see other pieces of the stained-glass.
One of the many characteristics of my children that I love and enjoy is that they are curious. Inevitably, the response to every question that I attempt to answer is, “Why?” This becomes difficult because their “whys?” are endless. This "why?" response also follows every instruction I give. “Why?” And the response, “Because I said so!” simply does not work with them. It doesn’t satisfy their curiosity. I too tend to be very curious. I do not take things at face value. It is this approach that has caused me to grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Therefore, I welcome their "whys?" and try, as best as I can, to satisfy their curiosity.
Sadly, that is the problem with religion and faith. We believe what we are told to believe, instead of exploring our own faith. If we took on this philosophical approach, perhaps we could learn something new and exciting about ourselves and about God.
Sure, I find it hard, like the pagans who were introduced to Christianity centuries ago, to let go of my religious traditions and practices, but I observe them in a different light. I am not quite ready to throw out my traditions and give up on my religious jeans, especially when they fit so comfortably. Instead, I am seeking to see them for what they really are, means that seek to draw us closer to God - not the God who is defined by religion, but the God redefines us.
Perhaps, you are familiar with the idiom, "Try on these jeans for size," which in essence means, "to test something out" or "to think about an idea". Perhaps, we should "try this on for size" when when it comes to our understanding and perspective on God.