trinity carving

Last summer, I wrote a series of posts about religion, spirituality, theology, Christianity, psychology, sexuality and equality (links are at the bottom of this post). I’ve been thinking for some time about renewing the series, continuing with themes such as religion and spirituality, spirituality and science, and how they may intersect and collide. I thought before I start though, I should back up and write about what exactly it is I believe. This post has been a struggle as I think and pray over this, and though I know it must still leave out a lot, it can adequately express what is in my mind and heart.

I grew up in the small town of Wiarton, a town of about 2,000 people and at least 10 churches. Our family was one of the few in town that only rarely went to church, something I was reminded of often. But what I didn’t hear from my classmates who asked me to come to their church (or roundly condemned me for not participating) was the spirituality of the church. What I came to understand was what church to go to depending on who I wanted to be friends with, but nothing deeper. Needless to say, this didn’t make my visits any more frequent.

With one exception. A close friend of mine and her family went to church more often than anyone else I knew, and from our group asking her to hang out after school, quickly saw how active she and her family were in the community. When we asked her what she did all those nights after school she’d invite us to join her and sometimes we’d accept, but it was really the only time she mentioned it. I understand now that they felt guided to speak through actions instead of words, something that has always stayed with me.

I grew up always wondering about Christianity and other beliefs, but never feeling compelled to step into a church. Too much of what I saw from the Christians I grew up with turned me away, for many years. Intolerance, anger, ignorance, and judgement. So much judgement. When I discovered the phrase “church burned”, I knew exactly what they meant. It frightens and saddens me just how many people this describes perfectly.

In time, I came to question and read many different religious texts, including the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, and writings by the Dalai Lama. I met my wife Sarah and my Baptist pastor father-in-law Dave, and was amazed at what I discovered. With them and through them I have met many liberal theologians intent on a message of peace, love, compassion and understanding. How much more amazing that it was all grounded in the same Bible I encountered as a child, the Bible so many know as a book of oppression and pain.

This takes me to what I believe. Through reading, questioning, searching, angst, anger, pain, confusion and prayer, I have come to believe in one God, that is three Gods. A God that loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for us. A God that fulfils an ancient promise, a God that is a contradiction. A God that created all, intending peace, love, compassion. A God…in a time we no longer need Gods.

The Bible is rife with contradiction, depending on how it is interpreted. I read the transition from the Old Testament to the New as a change in God’s covenant with us, one from fire, brimstone and judgement to one of relationship, forgiveness and redemption. In the personhood of Jesus, I believe that God sacrificed Himself for us, became us, died for us. And was reborn.

It is absurd.

It is also miraculous, though perhaps in a post-miracle time.

I grew up scorning the Christians around me, entertained they could believe in a fantasy, and a truly absurd one at that. If that self could see me now, would it laugh at who I have become? Maybe. In the darkness of the soul, I fear that I deserve to be laughed at.

Yet so much of what I have read, thought, questioned and tested has led me to this belief, strange and impossible as it seems. But I feel as if I am only grasping the edges of truth, or maybe even only mistaking illusion for truth. There is no certainty, but I am becoming increasingly convinced there shouldn’t be certainty, it may even be in the uncertainty that faith lies.

Part of what always bothered me growing up was the smugness of my classmates, even the adults. The certainty that they knew the exact nature of God, of a creator I was sure was in their heads. The presumption that they knew the nature of a being thought to be beyond space and time, in essence, the very opposite of our so-very-finite selves. I now think it was to cover a fear, a fear I know deeply, I think that we all do. No matter our belief, our perspective, our philosophy…could I be all wrong? Am I doing this all wrong? Can I even know?

I doubt often, as I suspect everyone does. I certainly hope we all do.

Then there is the nature of belief itself. My understanding of God informs who I am, what I believe, but I also pour myself into that new belief. How much do I believe because it is what I want to believe, and how much is what God leads me to believe? This is something I am never sure of, may never be sure of. My interpretation of God’s message is a very liberal one. I read, think and pray over my interpretations and seek strong theology, but I’m also a very liberal person.

Something that has always confounded and upset me is the apparent schism between science and religion/spirituality/theology, hearing both “Scientific belief X is blasphemous/disproven by scripture” and “Religion has absolutely no place in this century” far too often for my comfort. I take interest and delight in the latest scientific discoveries, the latest technological advancements…and believe that it is entirely appropriate for a Christian to feel this way. If God created the world and breathed life into it, why should we not delight in absolutely everything that teaches more about that creation?

One of the strongest guides on my path to Christianity was Grace Miedema, a former chaplain at Fanshawe College when I was there. Grace taught me a great deal about the Bible, but also taught me that scripture of any kind can only take us so far in understanding ourselves and our purpose in the world of today. Grace taught me that the entire world is a second Bible, one that informs and shapes who we are, and the two must be read in context of each other to gain a deeper understanding.

In some ways, my belief is confusing, complicated, even frightening. But at the same time, it seems blissfully simple, if only it could be fulfilled.

We are called to love our God and to love one another. How truly terrible it is that the experience for so many, including myself, when in God’s community is only pain, fear, prejudice and hate. I hope that this year may be a year of returned relevance for the global church as well as all spiritual communities, as we all work to step out of exclusive circles into one of brotherhood, sisterhood, acceptance and assistance.

As we enter Lent, I pray for healing. Healing within myself, within every church between members, within every denomination between churches, between every denomination, between every faith, between all people. All people, may we find commonality long before we find difference. How simple to write, how horribly difficult to put into action. But may it happen, each with our own acts of goodness.

It all comes down to this, the Greatest Commandment:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

May I, may we all, help fulfil this commandment, every day.

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