*first published two years ago….
I write this essay with fear and trembling, and with fervent prayers that it will be accepted as merely a description of our personal faith, and not a suggestion for anyone else.
I believe that Jesus was God and also God’s son, and that every word He said is The Truth, and that He lives and loves and breathes life into the hopeless.
I don’t believe that there is another human being on Earth who is more or less worthy of His love than I.
My commitment to Jesus and His way of life does not compel me to try to convert other people, ever. I assume that others’ spiritual experiences are every bit as real and sacred to them as mine are to me. If I seem different to someone and she asks why, I tell her all about my Jesus, without agenda. If not, I just assume I’m not being different enough to cause a stir. And I continue to stay as close to Him as possible, knowing that He is the Alchemist, and that everyday He’s making me more golden.
I love my Jesus.
My love for Jesus means that every day I open myself up to becoming more gentle, generous, truthful, and compassionate. Because I love Jesus I allow myself to be constantly used up…trying never to hoard the money, time, or energy for tomorrow that is needed today. My love for Jesus means that I try to see Him in every person I encounter…even, especially, the people I don’t like. My love for Jesus means that while I look forward to a heavenly afterlife, I concern myself mainly with inviting heaven to Earth now, by loving like Jesus loved- recklessly, without reservation, without judgment. My love for and utter trust in Jesus compels me to attempt a life without guilt, pride, or fear. He gives me the courage to live out what I profess to believe…that it is always right to turn the other cheek, to avoid gossip, to tell the truth, to side with the poor, oppressed, and outcast, to give till it hurts, and to live like the only power worth having is the power that comes from service, vulnerability, and dependence on Him.
My husband and I want to live like Jesus did more than we want anything else. Not because we are good people, but because we are thrill seekers. We want to suck every drop out of life and live lives of adventure. We don’t want to settle for small dreams, like more and bigger and better stuff. We want to live out bigger dreams… life changing, world changing dreams. We want to live on the edge, to witness miracles, to align ourselves with the energy of the universe. Judging from our past experiences, we feel most alive when we live Jesus’ way. And Jesus’ way is the reckless, senseless, revolutionary love that tends to make people uncomfortable. Jesus’ way is siding with the powerless, always. Jesus’ way is subversive and countercultural and counterintuitive. And this sort of thing suits us. We fancy ourselves rebels with a cause, if you will. So we try to keep everything liquid…our hearts, our plans, our money, our opinions, even some of our beliefs …and we listen for his guidance. We pray for the patience to stay when he says stay and the courage to jump when he says jump. We prefer jumping to staying, so we notice He makes us practice staying a whole lot. And we hear from Him all the time. We feel his peace and love like mighty arms wrapped around us and we experience his guidance like lighthouse beams through stormy skies. We know what He wants from us always. And we trust Him completely.
And when we hear Christians concerning themselves publicly about anything other than poverty and disease and hunger and oppression and violence – we turn away. Because really, who has the time?
Craig and I are also committed to knowing everything we can about other spiritual practices and religions. We read about Buddha and the Koran and the Bhagavad-Gita and we are comforted to see the same truths repeated again and again throughout every great religion. We find, like we always do when we look closer, that we are all more similar than we are different. We don’t allow extremists from any faith to scare us away from that truth. We teach yoga and meditation to our children as spiritual practices. We think there are some things that Eastern religions do better than mainstream Christianity, like helping their followers find stillness and the connection between the mind, body, and spirit. So we go to them for guidance and help in areas we find lacking in our spiritual experience. We believe that the whole world is God’s and everything in it and that there is beauty to experience everywhere. We teach our children that we respect and learn about all religions, and we explain to him why we choose to worship only Jesus. We tell them that Jesus is our religion. No denomination- just Jesus. We teach and show our children how Grace changes everything. We pray, every night, that they and Jesus find each other, but we explain that whatever path they choose, they are to respect and seek to understand those on other paths. And they are to assume that other’s spiritual experiences are likely every bit as real as theirs are. We hope that this commitment to educating our children about different faiths will result in their faith decisions being based on knowledge and freedom.
And now I’ll hit the biggies, so hold on to your little hat (or Yamaka or habit or hijab or what have you).
No, we don’t think that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is going to hell, and we don’t allow anyone to suggest that to our children. If you do believe that, we love you just the same.
Yes, we believe that a church should not only tolerate but embrace every person who seeks refuge there…every race, background, or sexual orientation – without trying to change them. Based on our reading and research, this is what we believe Jesus would have done. We realize that there are parts of the New Testament that suggest otherwise. We have studied these scriptures. We have read them in several translations, researched different denominations interpretations, and sought insight from wise teachers. In the end we have decided to accept that there are inconsistencies in the human translations and understanding of these passages rather than accept that there are inconsistencies in our God’s perfect love. And we have decided that Jesus’ ultimate teaching was that there is no law that supersedes the law of love.
Finally, we believe that God can speak to us on our couch in our pajamas as clearly as He can speak to a group of ministers at a convention. So we read the Bible together… we’ve read every word of the Bible. Even those really long painful lists in the Old Testament. We read the Bible every day. We don’t accept secondhand information about our friends and we won’t accept it about our God. We always go to the source. And when making decisions about what scripture means we seek counsel, and then we pray, and we listen. Then we decide for ourselves what God is saying to us through the Bible. Just me, Craig, Jesus, and His Word. No other mediator is invited. We must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. And when we don’t understand a mystery of God, we say “We don’t know,” rather than accept someone else’s interpretation. I actually wish all people of faith would say “I don’t know” more.
It took us seven years and five moves to find a church that teaches the same things about Jesus’ divinity and acceptance and boundless love that we teach our children. We had to leave churches we’d settled into, people we called family, students I taught in Sunday school, families we’d grown with and cried with and loved. But when faced with teachings that didn’t match our understanding of Jesus, we had to keep moving. Because we couldn’t shake the hunch that where you worship makes a statement, to the world and to your children, about whom you worship.
We finally found our new church home, St. Anne’s Episcopal, several months ago. St. Anne’s is part of the progressive Christian Church. When I walked into the sanctuary, I saw people of all races, ages, and economic groups. There were people in African garb and Saris and Abercrombie. It seemed the only thing these people could possibly have in common was Jesus. And this realization made my heart split open immediately. Within the first five minutes of the message, the minister mentioned that he’d just returned from India where he’d been learning from the Hindus and worshipping Jesus in mosques. He spoke with love and passion and gentleness, not with the zeal and intensity that sometimes feels more like defensiveness and snobbery than love to me. He talked about things I think Jesus would have cared about, like health care for all and feeding the hungry. His eyes were so kind that they reminded me of how Jesus’ might have looked, had he been allowed to age a couple more decades.
Near the end of the service, he asked the newcomers to introduce themselves. The second I stood up I started crying and I couldn’t pull it together. I felt like I had found a path home after a long, scary walk in a very confusing forest. Everyone smiled encouragingly and compassionately, because that’s their job at church. Actually, that’s always their job. After I sat down, two women stood with their beautiful daughter and explained that they were going to make St. Anne’s their church home. Apparently they felt truly welcome and loved at St. Anne’s. I cried harder. This couple hasn’t spoken to me since that morning, understandably. I’m not concerned. I know I’ll win them over, eventually. Like Jesus and olives, I am an acquired taste.
I find that every time I keep myself open to hearing from someone else about their relationship with God, especially if it’s very different than mine, I learn something new and important. It’s almost like God designed things that way.
So anyway, that’s all…I’m a yoga loving, Koran quoting, Ghandi following, church hopping, child of Jesus.
And my sister and I are in the process of deciding which scripture to get tattooed on our wrists. We can’t decide between “Be Still” and “Here I am.” Because we like to keep our Jesusy edge.
And I vote for whichever guy or gal seems the likeliest to take the underdog in a fight. Regardless of what faith or party he or she professes.
Also I’m quite short, if you must know.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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