When I tell you that I believe in God, it is not a judgment on whether or not you do. It is a confession that in the deepest part of myself, I feel vulnerability and awe at the mystery of being and have chosen to name it God and engage with God as a means not of gaining pat answers but framing questions.
When I tell you that I pray, and that I’ll pray for you, do not take it as meddlesome or superstitious. Understand that what it means is that I want to engage with what troubles you on the deepest level that I know how. In a way that reflects the pains and fears that connect us as human. It means I am giving the fullest and deepest part of myself to your concerns. I pray to be a better person than I am.
When I tell you that I am a religious person, and that I go to Church, I am not confessing weakness, but my greatest strength. Because I am a selfish human being just like any of us can be, I am letting you know that by means of faith and community, I am trying to unlearn what it means to be selfish. So that I can be a better friend, lover, son, and person. And, because in Church I get to experience ritual and rhythm and song as a means to celebrate the mystery of everything unknown and unknowable, it helps me to become humble. I hope.
When I tell you I read the Bible, I am not saying that it is to the exclusion of science books, history, economics, or other texts. What I am saying is that the stories of the Bible speak to the meaning-making part of myself, rather than the intellectual side which is daily under assault with information. And that those stories and their varied layers of meaning help me to find my place in the world and in my culture, and a means to respond with goodness. It does not mean I think many of those stories literally happened, but it means that I think they’re true. True in the sense that their value lies in what they teach us about being human and our search for meaning and our greater purpose.
When I tell you I am a Christian, I am not confessing that I am better than anyone else, but in fact that I am more needful than others. It means that I choose to follow the ethics and teachings of a lowly man who spent time with outcasts and riled up the authorities and proclaimed love, mercy, forgiveness, and justice. Precisely because I recognize my need for these things, and because I want to be able to offer love, mercy, forgiveness, and justice to others, I follow Jesus and his Way. And often, I do it poorly.
And when I tell you all of these things, understand that it is because I think this way of life makes me a better person so I can be more present for you…not that I think they will also make you a better person than whatever you have chosen to believe already makes you. Trust your own goodness. You don’t need me to tell you how to be better.
If I prove to be hateful and mean-spirited and judgmental, then you have every right to tell me that the path I’ve chosen is just not working for me. If I try to shove my beliefs down your throat as something I think you need to believe too – or else – then you have every right to call me out on it.
Do I believe that we all need to be better people? Yes, I do! And I have chosen the path that my own experience has proven to me works to help me become a better person. If you want to be a better person, I’m glad to encourage you, but I’m not going to choose your path for you. It’s not my place. Whatever path you choose, I will love and support you on that journey. Even if we see the world differently.
The world is made better by individuals deciding to become better people. Not better than others, but better than one’s self. We don’t all have to follow the same journey to get there, but we do need to agree on one very fundamental thing…
It won’t happen without all of us.