|"Be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth." OKAY, NOW WHAT?|
I attended the church I grew up in this morning and was moved by this congregational reading:
We live as though Your power only belonged to the past; we do not trust You to do the miraculous work of healing or reconciliation or forgiveness. We know our desperate need for such things and we often come to You last, when all our need to control life's outcomes has been exhausted. Teach us to begin with deeper trust in You. Foster in us a desire to Listen more carefully to You, the Beloved, who desires only the best for us. Hear our prayer...
Beautiful, eh? This was followed by the proclaiming of God's goodness and grace. But not 30 seconds after the congregation had shared all these deep thoughts the pastor told us of the next concern on the prayer agenda. One of the church's college kids had been emergency helicoptered from his campus in Nacogdoches to MD Anderson Hospital in Houston this weekend; all of a sudden and out of nowhere.
Here we were praying for a sort of abstract personal enlightenment, reminding ourselves of God's boundless benevolence and this kid in the real world and his family were suddenly, bizarrely, tearfully, waiting to find out how severe the cancer inhabiting his liver is, just one week into his new school year. It was a grave moment from the pulpit and the contrast struck me in several ways: 1) God, the great creator/architect/planner, ain't always good is he? I mean, i've been saying this in a variety of ways for years to close friends and family. Seriously folks -- such thoughts are an oversimplification. More on that below. 2) Replace "You" in the prayer above with "Love" and you just might have an absolute winner. 3) Personify "Love" and the prayer above resonates in the same way as some of Rumi's best writing. 4) I'm really fortunate to be in good health. Hopefully you are too.
Obviously i'm not a religious scholar and i've avoided writing about religion my whole life, so i hope i do this in a responsible -- and brief -- way, first time out... As I contemplate global warming and the seemingly imminent demise of biology on Earth as we know it, i also reflect on my Southern Baptist upbringing, its relentless doctrine that "God is good and gracious," and the American Christian church's continuous failing at embracing life's complicated experiences and challenges. The blessings, the curses, the rights, the wrongs, the distractions, the differing world views, the alienation, the crazies, the cruelty, the greed, the compassion, the generosity, the heroes, the decency, the depravity, and so on. As i think about the Christian church's historical inability to make lasting transformational changes that Jesus would be proud of on broad societal level (such as putting "the least of these" first) and as i strive to embrace life's paradoxes (good and bad, greater and lesser), i feel i've uncovered the central and most redeemable value of religious faith: the teaching of trusting in and defaulting to Love. Simple.
Why is this childish thought so hard to learn, remember, and maintain? Centuries of religious/spiritual ritual, metaphor, aphorism, insight, pomp, circumstance and more have gone into trying to remind people of this essential value. But in a world of shrinking natural resources and swelling population, how else are we gonna get along if not by loving?
Now, if you're reading this you're probably not religious. About 90% of my friends are atheist and 90% of my family is faithful. (That's never awkward!) Regardless of where you stand i ask simply that you keep my little epiphany in mind. As our planet becomes more challenged than any of us can imagine in the coming years (read: our lifetimes), default to the central value of The Faithful. Default to Love.