I always feel very nervous when I write about God. Seems so arrogant for a little human like me to publicly explore the mysteries of God. But soon after I started this blog, I woke up one morning and decided that the only thing that’s more arrogant than trying to get closer to understanding God is not trying. So I try here, Izzi. It’s scary though, because I don’t know anything. Nobody knows anything, really. We should probably start there.
I read somewhere that the less likely someone is to consider that she might be wrong, the more likely she is to actually BE wrong. That sounds true to me.
Some people of faith take a different approach, certainly. I know who you’re talking about, Izzi. These people tend to raise their voices and noses and talk more than listen, and they certainly seem quite certain and adamant about what God disapproves of and prefers. Their main religious concerns seem to revolve around what others are doing. I think these are the people, Izzi, about whom you are concerned. You said that all the violence, exclusiveness, bossiness and zeal of people of faith made you drop out. Made you stop believing in a God altogether. I understand. I get uncomfortable, too. Sometimes it feels like these Lovies think of themselves as crusaders and the Kingdom of God as if it’s territory to conquer or something.
But it’s not. It’s not. The kingdom of God is inside. It’s not out there. The only kingdom of God each person needs to conquer is inside her own heart. That’s where battles are fought and lost and won. Here is the map of my faith journey:
*I am totally on this God train. My enemies are anyone who thinks differently about Him than I do. I will help them change.
*My enemies aren’t people at all. My enemies are fear, apathy, and ignorance. I must help others change these horrible things plaguing them and therefore our universe.
*Oh. My only enemies are MY OWN fear, apathy, and ignorance. Ooooh. I will change. Everyday, every hour, I will change.
I think that the results of genuine faith are gentleness and courage. Both are good. But if I had to choose one, I’d choose gentleness over courage any day. People can be quite brave and hurt others along their path, in which case our world might be better off without their bravery. I always try to choose gentleness first. “And these three remain, hope, faith, and love, but the greatest of these is love.”
Anyway, when a person’s faith transforms her into a more gentle and courageous being, people around her become gentler and braver, too. One at a time. On their own, with God. That’s how the Kingdom of God is spread. It’s simple, I’ve seen in happen. It’s like heaven.
Back to the point. Yes, Izzi, many people see all the nonsense done and said in the name of God and based on this, decide that God must not exist. I have lots of thoughtful, beautiful emails from these people which I save and cherish. They call themselves humanists, and they are my peeps, these people. They like me and I like them. We respect each other and we don’t secretly believe anything awful about each other. And the thing is that the more I listen to them, the more I understand that these people, these humanists, believe in LOVE. They are just so sensitive to others’ pain that they’d rather drop out than be associated with any group that causes it. And so they say Truth and Peace and I say God and Jesus but we agree not to call the whole thing off based on semantics.
And so I tell my humanist friends that it is just fine that they don’t believe in God and we can still be great friends and get much done together here on Earth. And then I add that when I die, Jesus and I will wait for them at the gates of heaven with mega-sized hugs and smiles and sparkly TOLD YOU SO! signs.
And I can almost see them rolling their eyes and hear them banging their heads on their desks through cyber space, Izzi. But they’re smiling, too.
And since they’re still smiling, I feel safe explaining that to me, responding to the religious obnoxiousness by giving up on the idea of God would be like watching Chase and Tish pummel and tease each other about who daddy loves more and in response, deciding once and for all that Craig doesn’t exist. Just because my children behave like raging fools doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t come from a loving daddy.
To be clear, I think that there are plenty of reasons to doubt God’s existence. Poverty, genocide and natural disasters come to mind. I guess I just don’t think people spewing nonsense and violence in God’s name is a logical reason to give up on God. Because we all know that these Lovies are not defending God. They are defending their egos and fears. I suspect that the religious wars and arguments and rhetoric actually have less to do with God and more to do with human pride and our deep desire to “belong,” to be members of a club, to be right, to WIN, to be powerful and popular. These people want something that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God, with Truth or Peace. We know that every religious war in history, whether it’s fought with guns or words, is really about wanting something else. Land, Money, Power, Attention, TO BELONG. It’s just done in the name of God to justify it. There’s true. And then there’s TRUE. We must watch closely and decide what people really want. We must figure out what people are really talking about.
Because sometimes I find myself listening to someone talk about “God” and it becomes clear to me that he is really talking about his own fear. And sometimes I’m listening to someone talk about art, or fishing, or children, and I realize with great joy that he is actually talking about God. I think sometimes we just don’t listen to each other hard enough. We hear, but we don’t try to understand. Sometimes the words a person chooses are the least important part of what he’s saying.
Still, Izzi. There is certainly a whole lot that is said and done in the name of God that makes me angry and sad. But I’ve decided that if I spend all my time and energy down here railing against what I hate, I’ll leave myself no time and energy to create what I love. No time to create and offer the world an alternative. No time to invite heaven, as I understand it, to Earth.
I could spend my life glaring at these people. Or I can look past them. To other people.
Because sometimes I wonder if we use the fighting, judge-y people as an excuse to give up. We are afraid to be associated with them, so we allow them to become an excuse to drop out, to stay on the couch, to quit working for Good, for Truth, for Love, for Peace…but all the while we know there are others. We know the real heroes of the light are not on TV. They’re not yelling. They’re not in meetings deciding who’s in and out. They’re out there. They’re in Haiti helping with the cholera outbreak. They’re in New Orleans rebuilding. They’re in classrooms reaching kids that the world calls unreachable. They’re in Rwanda hunting down child rapists. They’re in long lines at the post office trying desperately not to be jerks. They’re in inner city prisons helping incarcerated mamas raise their babies. They’re on a neighbor’s doorstep holding a casserole. They’re out there, and we know it. It’s just that they don’t have the time or desire to stop their work and offer a sound bite. They deal in a different type of currency. They don’t give a rat’s ass about publicity or money or power. They don’t care about our kingdom, they care about Lovingkindness, about God’s kingdom. Where joy comes from service. Where peace is chosen over pride. Where there is no time to concern oneself with imaginary boundaries because people are bleeding, damnit.
And so I really do believe that for now, it’s our responsibility to pat the judge-y yelling people on the heads, wish them good luck with that, and carry on with our work. Who cares? We people fighting for love, we people of the light….we are like EMTs to a hurting world and we don’t have time (or even the right) to stop our ambulance and gawk at the traveling sideshow. We are too busy. We have important things to do, people to love, and life to celebrate.
And you know what? I write to people of all faiths because I have a hunch that God would prefer that we put our differences aside and serve the world together, rather than render ourselves useless waiting to agree. Waiting to figure it all out. We ain’t gonna figure it all out, Izzi. And so instead of becoming paralyzed by our differences, we must find common ground and work together to make our world more beautiful.
My minister once sent me this quote…The problem with the faith pool these days is that all the noise is coming from the shallow end. I waded into the deep end, and that has made all the difference.
I love this metaphor, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since you wrote.
You know. . . the shallow end of faith is easier to spend time in. It’s not a real commitment. You can just hop in, stand around in tight circles and people watch. You can examine your nails and catch up on all the gossip. You can talk and talk and talk and come to a great many conclusions and decisions and still maintain your hairstyle and even avoid mussing your makeup. This is important because you never know when someone will pull out a camera. You can spend an entire comfortable life there, really, and just stand around and be heard. You never even have to learn to swim in the shallow end. Good times.
I think the reason we don’t hear from the people in the deep end as often is because they’re actually swimming. In the deep end, you have to keep moving. It’s hard to look cool. It’s tiring and scary even, since it’s just you and your head and your heart in the silence of the depths. There’s not a lot of chatting or safety in numbers in the deep end – you have to spend most of your time there alone. And it’s impossible to get any solid footing. You just have to trust that the water will hold you and you have no other choice but to flail about and gasp for air and get soaking wet, head to toe.
I guess what I’m trying to say, Izzi, is that I don’t know anything. I just have a few hunches upon which I’ve decided to bet my life. I’ve got a hunch that there’s a God. And that He and She loves and forgives us. And that even though I will never understand Her, really, that there is a way to align my life and my brain and my heart in such a way that it synchs with Hers. And the heart I try to synch my heart with is the Heart of Jesus. And that makes me feel like I’m floating with the current instead of against it. And this synching, this floating, seems to make me a more gentle and courageous being each and every day. Which is why I’m convinced that I’m on to something with this Jesus thing.
That’s all I got.
Oh – and one more thing, Izzi. If we die, and we find out that there is a heaven, and we arrive at the gates and discover that they’re not letting Timbuktu babies in, then I think you and I will have no other choice but to refuse entry and hold babies and sing until they open the gates wide enough for everybody. It’ll be good. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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