Ok, I've been thinking about Brandy's blog (http://www.mrsbroth.blogspot.com/) and her post about the LDS prophet. More accurately, I've been thinking about some of the replies to her post. It's been a while since I've tried to put my faith into words and after thinking about it in the bathtub this evening here is my best shot at defining my faith.
Last fall I wrote:
"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."
After much reflection I have found no better way to express my feelings towards religion. On a very personal level I can share what I feel while attending church and why I would lean towards one religion over another.
We come together, the church as the living body of Christ, to give thanks and praise to God. There is no ulterior motive in the formation of a church (at least there shouldn't be). We stand shoulder to shoulder and sing in praise of the Lord and my spirit is lifted. We drink from the loving cup and feel the power of the Lord as we accept his blood, shed for us. We come to the pastor and accept the body of Christ given for us... and our souls' thirst is quenched. We linger in fellowship after the service ends and break bread and drink coffee together and form bonds of friendship and love with others whose only purpose in being in this place at this time is to love and praise God.
It seems very elementary (keep in mind I did go to Catholic school) to post the Apostle's Creed here, but it's a very simple statement of belief- and, other than the belief in the catholic church, it captures my beliefs:
" I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. "
Although I am willing to give everyone the freedom to exercise their choice of faith it really bothers me when their choices are exclusionary, bureaucratic and fear driven. There is a certain comfort level among Catholics. They truly believe that there are those who are Catholic and there are those who are in error. It's also their belief that God will sort it out in the end and you have responsibility for your own soul. They don't have to save you. You will come to God or you won't. That struggle doesn't seem to keep them from spending time hanging out with you today and it doesn't make saving you their top priority. The Catholics I know seem to be very comfortable in their own skins.
Lutherans seem much like Catholics. They're a little more relaxed since the belief in personal confession to God frees you from visiting the priest and confessing all to him before repenting. I love the policy of open communion. Sharing the body and the blood of Christ is so important that it shouldn't be reserved only for those who are up to date on confession and baptized into any particular church. The prevailing message here seems to be; "All are welcome at the Lord's table, the check has already been paid."
Hospitality. The Lutheran's offer of hospitality is what made the small voice inside of me say, "This is the place!" All are truly welcome. The little old ladies waiting by the front door will make sure you know where everything is and introduce you to anyone you might have common interests with. The pastor will offer you spiritual advice or talk about the Superbowl- your choice. When you're ready for the heavy stuff, the pastor is always available- and he doesn't mind if the conversation occurs over a fine bottle of wine.
The important things seem so small when you look at them individually. What does it matter if your faith allows you to drink wine? Who cares if people not of your faith can take communion with you? Does it really make a difference that you can or can not sing loudly or reverently during your church service? Is fellowship hour important or just a chance to mooch cookies after the service? Is it important to offer the opportunity for spiritual leadership to women? Can non-traditional families actively participate in your church?
I've been to other churches (lots and lots of other churches- theology has fascinated me since I was five). Some of them feel very good. Some of them make me feel uneasy. One of the churches I visited brought me much closer to God. I hadn't had a very personal relationship with God for a few years. When people started rolling in the aisles and speaking in "tongues" I started praying harder than I'd ever prayed in my life, "Lord, please get me through this safely. I promise I'll pray every day- several times a day. I'll be good, kind, compassionate, honest. I'll work in service to others. Lord, just get me through this evening. Please God, I'm scared. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil...." It did bring me closer to God and I have found that the power of prayer offers assistance and refreshment in all situations. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing to have that particular church experience :-)
Something that is anethema to me is bureaucracy as a form of religion. Does God really care if you dot your i's and cross your t's? If your baptism isn't recorded in the annals of history does that mean God will not know you during the final days? If you never heard the word of God -are you forever doomed unless someone baptizes you long after you've decomposed? Does God expect us to "save" everyone we come in contact with? Does God expect us to perfect our souls by denying sensual delights and call all the pleasures of the flesh "temptations?"
I believe God made our bodies so receptive to pleasure because he intended that we enjoy our existence here on Earth. The great commandment: Love God and love one another was revealed in the new testement. Doesn't the coming of Christ, who died for our sins, reset the parameters and free us from Levitican law? Following the order to love God and love one another is a bit more complicated than it sounds and the ten commandments still apply (I can't think of a single one that doesn't build on LOVE GOD AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER). Moderation in all things is key. Denying pleasure for the sake of obedience may help bring some people closer to God, but others among us are wired differently. In no way am I suggesting hedonism is the way to go. Simply put, we would all be better off if we worked harder on loving both our neighbors and our enemies and spent less time judging those who believe or act differently than we do.