Putting a Face on It

By the end of high school, I was a lot of things. Anti-abortion, pro-death penalty (ironic?), anti-gay, pro-gun, creationist, pretty much fitting right in with the Republican state in which I spent my teen years. Now, however, I am none of these things, much to the chagrin of certain family members and friends.

So what the hell happened?

Well, I went to college.

I don’t mean that in a liberal, “holier than thou, educate yourself” kind of way. To be honest, my professors had very little to do with my change of heart. I actually changed so much because I met different people and grew to genuinely care for them, on top of being free to think for myself.

I met gay people who were kinder and more compassionate than most Bible-thumpers I knew.

I met and grew to love nonreligious people and people of non-Christian faith backgrounds.

There were faithful scientists who believed in evolution and God.

There were women who had abortions or who had been raped and didn’t seem evil for wanting to not start a family with their rapist’s baby.

I realized I didn’t really agree with what I had always thought I was supposed to believe. The idea of my classmates carrying guns into class made me feel less safe and more likely to be shot if someone decided to go on a rampage. I realized that I would never want to force a woman to have a baby she didn’t want. I found that my faith didn’t have to be challenged by science, and even if it was, it’s okay to think things through. I found the idea of killing someone to show killing is wrong made no sense to me. Finally, I could never believe that God would be so petty as to cast good people into hell because of who they loved or what they believed when they were some of the best people I had ever met.

All of this change happened not because college is a “hotbed for liberal indoctrination,” but because I met and loved people who challenged my perceptions.

I think our world would benefit greatly from “putting a face” to what we believe. We should meet and get to know the people who are affected by our decisions and ideas, and we should grow closer to those who think differently from us. Only in such a context can our beliefs truly be tested and reduced to what is kind, honorable, and just.

Do I think you have to agree with my points to be kind, honorable, and just?

No!

What I mean is that kindness, honor, and justice are only possible when we are driven by concern for others. Therefore, we can’t go on supporting ideas just because they keep us comfortable.

Even as my newer, more liberal self, I live my life surrounded by conservatives. I don’t see these people as hateful, backward racists and you shouldn’t either. The reason I can say that is because I’ve spent time talking with them and listening to their concerns, fears, and values. I see the faces of people I love when I consider these ideals that run counter to mine. Honestly, we all have a lot more in common than you might think.

So whatever you think or believe, test it. Challenge it. Look into the eyes of that death row inmate. Put yourself in the shoes of a gay couple trying to live life together. Try telling a woman to her face that you would force her to have an unwanted child. Listen to the stories of those who bust their asses every day for an “American dream” they’ll never afford.

But also…

Have coffee with that supposedly backward uncle that still supports only “traditional” marriage. Listen to the fears and insecurities of someone who looked up and saw a world they couldn’t recognize. Get to know the family who lost a loved one in a brutal capital murder by an unrepentant killer, or the proud gun owner who never did a thing wrong in his life.

Difference is not the enemy. Indifference is. Being challenged is not evil. Complacency is. Having strong beliefs is not a problem, but a problem arises when we fail to think or care about the ones who are affected by those strong beliefs.

We have to stop drawing battle lines and start crossing them. Only then can we see ourselves in our “enemies” and love them as we wish to be loved. It’s only when that happens that we can expect to see a desperately needed shift in how our world currently works.

Peace be with you!

On the Way

Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” — John 14:6, REB

Being a follower of Jesus was once referred to as The Way, according to the biblical book known as Acts or The Acts of the Apostles (9:2, for example). In the Letter of James, faith is a way of life, demonstrated by what one does (1:22), for without a change of lifestyle, all the belief in the world is for naught (2:14). In all of God’s revelations, all of Jesus’ teachings, every epistle and apocalypse, there is always a behavioral component. All of these things are intended to amount to a change in the way a person lives.

When we look through the revelations of God from Eve and Adam to Jesus and beyond, every single one of them pointed to the way humanity and the Divine can achieve and maintain unity in a way that positively impacts the world. It’s God’s stated desire from the beginning that those in covenant with Him would be a blessing to “all the peoples on earth” (Genesis 12:3). Relationship with the Source of all life and being is meant to produce a way of living.

So why are we so caught up in belief?

Yes, beliefs tend to show in our actions. I’m not saying they aren’t important. But at the same time, the amount of death, destruction, and vitriol that has resulted from our obsession with metaphysical truth claims and our awful need to be right is pretty striking. Christians have gone to war with non-believers and each other over their understanding of God, even when there weren’t that many practical differences to separate them.

Even today, different denominations judge and condemn each other because one has a pope, the other won’t baptize infants, and another one believes Jesus is coming back to Independence, Missouri at the end of days to save only their congregation.

No, I didn’t make that last line up. I wish I had.

My point is that the obsession over “right” beliefs has gotten in the way of actually living out the point of those beliefs. If our metaphysical claims get in the way of loving, forgiving, and sharing of ourselves with others, we’ve become the very thing Jesus and the prophets criticized. Christ didn’t come to establish what amounts to another reason to mistreat people, but a way of life that provides healing to those we encounter, regardless of whether or not we agree with them theologically, politically, or otherwise.

The neat thing about practicing the Way of Jesus is that doing so renders worrying about orthodoxy unnecessary. Being the “faithful servant” of Christ puts us in a good position should the world be renewed by fire and brimstone, signaled by the angel’s trumpet, as some believe. It ensures a heavenly reward for those worried about afterlife issues. The Way is pleasing to God, whether He be explicitly Triune or not, and it affords us unity with Him according to the pattern set in Christ, making Him (directly or not) our Lord and Savior. Further, imitating Jesus and His Way requires continual connection to the Source of that Way, listening for what It has to say to us each day, so the relational component is accounted for.

Every theological concern and “belief box” is checked by walking according to Christ’s Way. The added bonus is that it comes with none of the damage that is caused by prioritizing doctrine over people. Arrogance and selfishness are nipped in the bud while we honor the truth revealed in Jesus. It seems like a win-win to me.

Peace be with you!