Q: What is your religious affiliation? Are you a Christian, atheist, Buddhist? It may be none of my business, but I’m just curious. It’s hard to tell from your column.
A: I’d be the first one to tell you if something was none of your business, so don’t worry about overstepping any boundary. I know polite people aren’t supposed to talk religion or politics, but I think if everybody is respectful of differing opinions, we can really learn a lot. Having said that, I’ll gladly tell you what I believe, but my opinion is just that: my personal opinion and beliefs.
You may agree or disagree, and that’s understandable. No two people can agree about everything, but please be respectful and understand that if you ask my opinion, I’ll be honest and open and tell you what I think. It’s just that: what I think, nothing more. Not a Universal Truth or Universal Fact. My truth and my beliefs. You’ve got your own, and if you’re willing to tell me, I’d love to hear what you think.
I was raised very traditionally in the Episcopalian Church. Throughout the years, I attended a Lutheran church, Baptist church, Assemblies of God, Unitarian church, and my current church, Presbyterian. I was pretty much “normal” during those earlier years, in that I attended church without thinking too much about how I personally felt about God or spirituality. I tried to be a good person and to do good work.
In the late 80s, my perspectives (for some reason) started broadening, and I started reading about other religions. I thought it was important to know what else was out there. It’s not that I turned against Christianity, but I spent a good amount of time becoming more informed. Then something strange happened, and I’ll share it with you now.
I had a dream. In that dream I heard a voice give me the following message (if I can remember the message word for word after 15 years, you’ve got to believe it was powerful): “You can explore all the paths you want, but go through Jesus.”
Now, I’m no Sigmund Freud, but I was profoundly affected by that message, as I had thought it was “all good,” and there wasn’t much difference between the religions. I could do whatever, and it would be good. I didn’t think it mattered which specific religion I practiced. I thought about what that message meant, and again, everything subtly changed for me.
I am still interested in different world religions and have even taken some of the practices into my every day life (including meditation, which, although not strictly Buddhist in nature, is a big part of their religious teachings). But I have “returned” to my Christian roots, and to church.
I am currently reading “The Good Book” by Peter Gomes, who is passionate about bringing understanding to the Bible and making it more accessible to people. It’s both fascinating and practical. In my meditation practice, Dr. Vidya Anderson told me that her teacher, Gururaj, hoped that everybody, no matter what religion, would use meditation to be the best person they could be. If you’re a Buddhist, be the best Buddhist. If you’re a Lutheran, be the best Lutheran. And so on.
So that’s what I’m doing: trying to fully immerse myself in the religion of Christianity, and in Jesus’s message, and to be the best darned Christian that I can.
But I’m not the same “Christian” that I was all those years ago, serving (with a smile on my face) tater tot casserole to the funeral goers. I used to think that my way was the best way (the only way) and that Christianity was the only logical option. I used to tell people that I would pray for them if they didn’t believe the right things, i.e. what I believed (cringe).
Now I believe that Christianity is like a building in a field. Buddhism is another building, and so on. So now you look at this field and see all of these beautiful buildings. You can walk into one, stay there for a while, go into another one, or choose not to go into any at all. You have choices; it’s not just one or nothing.
What is common to all religions? They sit in this field, which is my definition of God, or Source, or the Higher Intelligence/Power. My understanding has broadened to encompass everybody else. I may still personally prefer Christianity, but I don’t say that everybody else is wrong or should believe what I believe.
I had an interesting discussion with my daughter a few years ago. She was questioning whether I was a Christian or not (kind of like your question). So I asked her to write up a list of all the things people must believe in order to call themselves Christians.
I call it “The Jesus List,” because there is no such thing (just a bunch of people telling other people that they aren’t Christians). Well, how do you know people aren’t Christians if you don’t have some criteria to follow? So she made a list. It goes like this:
You have to believe:
1. Jesus was the son of God.
2. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary
3. Jesus died for our sins
4. Jesus rose from the dead
5. The Bible is the official Word of God
Okay, truthfully I think there were about 20 items on the original list, but this gives you an idea of what she was thinking. We then went down the list item by item and talked about it. I won’t get into that discussion here, but suffice it to say that while I may not necessarily believe specifically in some of these ideas, I think anything is possible with God, so I’m not ruling anything out.
I call myself a Christian, albeit probably not in the traditional sense. I would be either closer to what the early Christians were, or maybe I’m in a category of New Christian (embracing and encompassing thoughts and ideas beyond what is traditionally taught in the churches). I don’t know exactly, because I don’t really do labels too well. I think they’re limiting.
I believe we should all be as kind and loving and helpful as possible to all people, no matter their religion or color or political party or sexual orientation or job. I believe we should be respectful and compassionate to those who hold differing opinions and beliefs. I believe in the golden rule above all: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
And I wholeheartedly believe in the two commandments that Jesus gave us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul. And, love your neighbor as yourself. What’s the common theme? Love. And that’s all I have to say about that.
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