I sat quietly in the audience as the violins began the opening measure of the of the Christmas themed music. It had been a long while since I had sat as an observer to a clearly classical musical performance, and I realized how much I had missed that kind of exposure. It was also the first time I had attended a worship service in several months.
As the choir added their voices to the small orchestra, I looked around the room at the other congregants. They were a blend of young families, singles and older couples, the latter of which dominated the people present. For some reason, I had a strong feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. For the first time in a very long time, I felt at peace in a worship setting and was a bit surprised by feeling so.
As I mentioned recently, I had found myself at a spiritual crossroads. I had concluded that to remain Christian was the proper religious pathway for me. But I had also concluded that how I’d been going about it needed alteration, or at least, reconsideration of exactly what mattered to me as a person of faith. Where it left me however was adrift, burnt out on religion, yet knowing I needed something to help me rebuild. I had taken some time and began reading the thoughts of others in regards to opinion about faith, the bible and Christianity. I’d done this before, reading the works of people like Billy Graham, Max Lucado, and Joyce Meyers This time I read the writings of more progressive thinkers, who gave completely new perspectives on the subjects that they taught. It was in those authors that I felt more an affinity to.
They were not so concerned with speculations on the future in regards to biblical prophecy, the quest to get more people to become members of the faith or how certain groups or activities were sinful, and why they thought the bible supported that theory. Instead, I saw that the focus was on what Jesus had to say, how His message championed ideals like social justice, peace, and equality amongst people groups. Their topical focus often had the reader challenge long held beliefs, which I found refreshing. It helped me to consider if a concept was a belief that mattered to me as a Christian, if it was beneficial to my growing awareness of where I was heading, Often I found that a concept was interesting, as how people may look at something, but it didn’t help me do what I thought I should be doing.
What I decided I needed to do was based on what was Jesus’s compressed version of the Ten Commandments.
Love god; love neighbor…profoundly simple, profoundly difficult in practice; profoundly worth every moment.
As I had already concluded that God’s love for me was so huge, that nothing I thought, I said, or did, would reduce that love, I felt that I had to try to at least attempt to try to be loving to others. I quickly saw how difficult that task would be and that my failure rate would be quite high. But knowing that I no longer had to question God’s love, the failure or success rate wouldn’t matter, the attempt would. I would be sharing love because I wanted to, and because I felt that God’s love shouldn’t be contained to just me. It just had to be shared.
Because of that personal epiphany, I decided to chuck anything from my faith that might hinder that oh so impossible task. I found myself growing more what people consider socially liberal, as I felt more and more that caring for the poor, the excluded, the different mattered, that they were as important as anyone. I found that discussions or sermons on topics like prophesy irritated me more and more. Part of that could have been from having it force fed to me in the church I grew up, but I kept feeling that such theology had serious problems, mainly because humanity has been woefully inept at accurately getting what God has up His sleeve based on any scriptural recording.,
Trying to get people saved also is not an issue. In reality, it never was. I’d decided long ago that being a Christian had little to do with what church one was a member of, or how many times one found themselves in church. As I examined the concept more, how someone else believed about religion was just not important. Spending a lot of time trying to get someone to change their minds about a religious concept just didn’t seem a good use of my time.
Whether one made it to heaven or hell, the latter of which, I’ve still not decided is an actual concept or not, was something else I found problems with. If God’s love was larger than I could define, measure or even contain, then why should I worry about how God worked his love with others in my faith of choice or not? I felt it more important to simply be concerned with how I treat people as they live today then fret over a possible afterlife scenario.
Other concepts I deemed of value, or not as I deconstructed everything about what it was I believed. Some things mattered, others did not. It became more and more obvious that my faith was clearly and purely individual, that it was about God first, how I interacted with others second, how others believed a distant third. I didn’t need to explain myself, accept without question a concept, just because someone said it was valid, worry or fret if someone thought I was wrong, a heretic or apostate. My faith was first and foremost, how I understood God and how I was to navigate life based on that understanding. It, being such an intimate thing, became a bit more difficult to define to others, but it mattered less to do so. Still its worth a shot now and then.
Coming to those conclusions had me want to return to a public worship setting. I wanted to belong to a church group again. This time, I wanted to be sure the place I picked would work on all points. I didn’t expect to end up in a Methodist congregation with a formal that sense of peace, as well as the warm welcome I received from the members. I learned that there was a variety of points of view represented in the congregation, but what mattered was the common goals of focusing on God’s love for all of us and community outreach, a great way to share that love.
Like anyone, my faith is completely unique to me. How I understand all things God, how I take that understanding and use it are mine alone. I find it silly to insist others to line up to my way of faith, just as I think it’s silly to have others insist their way is best. How anyone perceives the divine is unique to them. I find the beauty and value in diversity. I also feel it hinders us, as it is easy to use diversity to divide, discourage and condemn. We all have different approaches, different purposes, different strengths and weaknesses, different experiences, families, histories, cultures, hopes fears. We weren’t intended to be on the same page, but part of the multi-volume set God calls humanity. Unless I’m wrong, I’m guessing that we are God’s favorite reading material. He intended us to be different from one another, because it just makes us that much more fascinating, with greater potential and possibilities.
I feel, quite strongly, that in the future, I’ll be able to look back on my faith journey and see more alterations along the way. Faith to me is a journey, a process of discovery, learning, adjusting, figuring things out, considering a different way of looking at things, all for the purpose of learning about the God who made every bit of that journey possible. I plan on enjoying every minute.