How do you recognize religious truth? Is it true if you hear it from a member of the clergy? Is it true if you read it in the Bible? Is it true if it comes into your conscience while praying? Is it true if a ranking church official tells you it's true? How do you recognize religious truth?
I was taught always to question. Always questioning makes it hard to subscribe to any one religion. It does make it easier to listen to other people's religious truths and keep an open mind- after all, they may have true revelations to share. Do you suppose there is any one church that knows all the answers?
I always pictured God's truth as a pie (probably an apple pie). That pie has to feed many people, and it is a continually replenished dish. Any religion you can think of has at least a small piece of that pie. None of the religions have a monopoly on pie. Where religious issues get sticky is that each church adds some of their own toppings to the pie. After all, apple pie surely should be served a'la mode. But then again, some people prefer their apple pie with sharp cheddar cheese. Some like the pie hot, others cold. Once in a while you find enterprising gourmets who drizzle fresh caramel sauce over the apple pie and ice cream. Delicious, wonderful enhancements. But how do we separate the enhanced toppings from the simple goodness of the apple pie God gave us in the beginning?
The extra ingredients get all tumbled together. The dessert may be palatable in any form, but we tend to begin thinking that apple pie a'la mode is the only good pie. After a while we forget that in the beginning there was just pie. God didn't serve it with ice cream, we added that ourselves. When we forget who added the ice cream we begin to condemn those people who eat their pie with cheddar. They aren't as apple pie-ish as we are. Their truth isn't our truth. What we really forget is that God already gave us the truth and we chose to add to it to make it more palatable to us.
I have great respect for people of faith who live their convictions. I have no respect at all for people who profess their convictions but don't live them. In the thirty-three years I have lived on this Earth I've met many people who wanted to "save me." There were people who preached their faith to me. There were people who sent missionaries to preach for them. There were people who "invited" me to their churches. There were people who educated me about the consequences for my eternal soul if I didn't believe the way they did.
And then there was Genaura. She wasn't the only person I met who helped shape my faith (in a good way), but she is the one who stands out most in my memory. Genaura had a deep and abiding faith. I did not know that because she said, "I have a deep and abiding faith." I knew that because she woke me up at 5:00 in the morning to secretly plant pansies for the old lady who lived on the corner. I know of Genaura's faith because I once tried to pay her back for a ride back home from school and she instructed me to do the same for someone else when I had the opportunity. She never used the words "pay it forward. " She lived her life "paying it forward."
As a college freshman I was a much more negative person than I am today. My outlook was pessimistic. I didn't particularly like other people, especially women. I analyzed the worth and quality of everything (material and philosophical). Always, I was searching for the flaw, the impurity. I could not see without judging.
Eventually there came a time when I couldn't sleep at night because my mind just would not turn off. All night long I lay in bed weighing the events of the day. One evening I went into Genaura's room to visit. She was writing in her journal. I asked her about it, if it helped her sort out her day or did she just chronicle her day? Her answer changed my life. Her answer changed the way I saw the world, and God, and my place here.
Gratitude. She journaled gratitude. It was the last thing she did before going to bed. Genaura kept a gratitude journal. When I thought about my day, I chronicled all that went wrong- all that I could have done better. When Genaura went to bed she chronicled all that was good in her day. She never mentioned the bad. Her end of day routine was all about remembering to be thankful and showing gratitude to God for the amazing day she'd gotten to experience.
We lived together. Some of classes had the same professors. We shared some friends. Our days were not that different. The way we saw our days was absolutely different. I saw trials and injuries. She saw wonder and light and opportunity. In the end, I saw God working through her.
I've met many "Christians" who believe in good works. They believe good works are required, commanded by God. Genaura believed that Jesus died for us, no strings attached. If you accept the gift YOU ARE SAVED. In gratitude you pay it forward and help others while expecting nothing in return. You are saved. Pay it forward.