JS Nature Photos, Field of Light

On Faith

JS Nature Photos, Field of Light
Photo by JS Nature Photos, CC license.

I’m agnostic.

Well, I have pagan tendencies. But when it comes to organized religion, I have none. That wasn’t always true. I spent about seven years inside a very tight evangelical Christian bubble, which is a topic for a whole other time.

In spite of my lack of belief in higher powers (or rather, that any existing higher power would give a rat’s ass about us), I do believe that faith and religion have a place in our world. That they ought to make people kinder, gentler, more generous.

Historically, however, that’s not been the case. Currently the religious right in my country is taking the sides only of the wealthy white men in our society. I’ve lost count of how many states have strangled women’s reproductive rights in the past few months. One look at the demographics in the last presidential election shows that this strategy isn’t exactly working, but that point’s moot.

If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, you’ll know that a lot of editions put Jesus’ words in red. If you are a Christ follower (a Christian), I’d like to think that the words straight out of the horse’s mouth would be the ones you’d want to pay the most attention to. But in my experience in the very conservative evangelical bubble, those are the words most likely to be ignored. Because Jesus said some things that make American Republicans very, very uncomfortable.

Like that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. That if you really want to follow Jesus, you ought to sell all your possessions and give to the poor. He said nothing about homosexuality. (That was Paul, who in my opinion was a legalistic sycophant when he was a Pharisee and never changed his ways after converting to Christianity.) Jesus protected adulterers. Prostitutes. Tax collectors. Ray Stevens (who is a Tea Party member and sometime Branson performer with a lot of beliefs I disagree with — but occasionally says something really quite insightful) had a song called “Would Jesus Wear A Rolex?”

The whole point of the song was to ask what Jesus would do if he came back tomorrow. The chorus is something like, “Would he wear a pinky ring? Would he drive a fancy car? Would his wife wear furs and diamonds? Would his dressing room have a star? If he came back tomorrow, there’s something I’d like to know — can you tell me, would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?”

And that’s a good question. If you look at the Bible, Jesus cleansed the Temple when the Pharisees used it for moneymaking and stomping on the downtrodden. I think if he came back tomorrow, he’d take one look at America’s churches and do the same damn thing.

With this rather cynical view of Christianity that I’ve taken (or rather, had ground into me over the course of about 13 years by the harsh wheel of experience), there are a few things that have popped up in the past few days that have given me some hope for the state of the dominant faith in this country.

First of all, this new pope.

Most Christians on this planet are Catholic, and this guy is the head of all of them. And he’s…well…surprising. I saw a news story today where he was quoted as saying “Who am I to judge [gay people]?” He’s known for his humility. He’s known for washing the feet of prisoners, the elderly, the ill,  newborns, pregnant women (foot washing is one of the most symbolic acts in the Christian faith).

Here’s a quote from a 2011 book of discussions with a prominent rabbi about interfaith relations:

Dialogue is born from an attitude of respect for the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It assumes that there is room in the heart for the person’s point of view, opinion, and proposal. To dialogue entails a cordial reception, not a prior condemnation. In order to dialogue it is necessary to know how to lower the defenses, open the doors of the house, and offer human warmth.

Pretty sure just about anyone can get behind that.

And from a papal address in March:

“[W]e also sense our closeness to all those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the truth, goodness and beauty of God. They are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation.”

Defending human dignity. That’s something else I can get behind. Safeguarding and caring for creation? Peaceful coexistence? Downright utopic.

He doesn’t live in the Papal residence. He’s been the first pope to include women in the foot washing ritual of inmates. He has begun to speak out about the role of women in the Catholic church. Basically, this guy is championing just about everyone his church has marginalized for centuries. He’s passionate about the plight of the poor. In short, he’s acting more like Jesus than just about any other pope I’ve ever heard of. As far as popes go, this is encouraging to me. He’s not perfect, of course. No one is. But this is a church steeped in tradition (not all of it logical or good), and he’s shaking people up.

The second thing is a personal experience that happened yesterday.

I was at work, and there was a moment where we went from deadeningly slow to really busy in about five minutes. I had a full section and was hustling to keep up with all my tables. I had this quiet, nice couple at one of my tables. The woman had short brown hair and was wearing pretty enamel jewelry. The man had a big goatee tied with a rubber band. They were unassuming and kind throughout the meal, and when I dropped off their check, I immediately ran out to the patio to check on my outside tables as this table started shuffling cash around to pay.

When I came back in, they were already standing, the check book on the table. They thanked me and slinked out the door. I picked up the book, assuming they didn’t need change if they were leaving. And when I opened it, I saw this:

RedLettersBehind it was the cash they’d left.

Their check was $30.65. They left three twenties.

In case Monday is mashing your math skills, that’s a 100% tip.

They left me $30. Okay, $29.35. But still.

This little incident, aside from making this Grinch’s heart grow three sizes yesterday, made me ponder.

Religion and faith, to me, ought to make folks more kind, giving, generous, loving. More likely to help someone in need. More likely to comfort someone in pain. Instead, the images I see so often in this country are messages of bigotry and hatred. From horrific comments on what makes “legitimate rape” to using faith as a means to invade people’s bodies and bedrooms while (hypocritically) preaching about how government has no right to interfere in the lives of citizens.

So yesterday? Those people are doing it right. To them, exercising their faith means surprising a frazzled server with 100% tip. It means giving back what they’ve been given. They didn’t appear to be wealthy. They looked like normal people. But they felt compelled to share with someone they didn’t know at all. I didn’t see the mention of John 3:16 as them pushing their religion on me, merely as an explanation for why they behaved as they did. It was not intrusive, non-judgmental, and really, without assumption or presumption. They were just being very kind. And because of them, we were able to pay our health insurance last night. If they’d left me a perfectly friendly 18 or 20%, we wouldn’t have been able to.

I think we can all learn just a bit about random acts of kindness from this rather fascinating pope and these two folks who just came to have dinner.



Like this post? Subscribe to get more in your inbox!

8 thoughts on “On Faith”

  1. I still consider myself a Christian basically because of the words in red. That Jesus was a smart dude. I think the rest of the Bible has a lot of great stuff in it, and that all of it had its time and place (the gay stuff, for instance, in a society in which it wasn’t totally uncommon for men to rape their boy-slaves and such), but to think that a set of oppressively specific life-rules that were laid down by humans 2000 years ago was intended to serve as the immutable word of God forever is quite simply insane (especially considering that no one who claims to believe that actually follows ALL of it — everybody picks and chooses, because you have to, because it’s all 2000-5000 years old).

    Jesus, though? He knew what was goin’ on. Those words were about human nature and basically just loving each other, and those will ALWAYS apply.

  2. Lovely post! I was brought up in church similar to the Evangelical ones too, and I have to admit, although I still believe that there is a loving and benevolent God out there, (although She has a wicked sense of humor), I have lost all interest in churches. My kids go to church because they like church, but I have been completely disillusioned with them over time. And I agree that too much emphasis is put on the Old Testament sayings, as well as other chapters in the Bible. Why is it everyone seems to forget about “Judge not, lest ye be judged?” as soon as someone’s opinion differs from theirs? No matter what anyone believes, it is not our place to judge others. (And yes, I’ll admit that I have pagan tendencies too.)

    1. I’m with you. It was the church (and my very Christian university, ironically) that caused me to break with organized religion. During that time I found that my questions couldn’t be answered to my satisfaction, and moreover that questioning at all was discouraged. I decided that faith came down to believing in a thing, and I didn’t. So I left.

      I don’t know why people pick and choose what they want to take seriously from the Bible — it’s a varied book with a lot of contradictions within it. The only part of it that I will buy into part and parcel are the red letters, and that only to the extent that Jesus was a cool dude who treated people with compassion. I can respect that even without believing in him as the son of god.

  3. This is so beautifully put Emmie, the new Pope is an inspiration and a great example to the modern world.
    I’m not Catholic, but we need great men like him!
    I am a Christian, and I think we, (who place vital importance on the red words and the man himself) are fighting against those who stick solidly, word for word, with old tradition. I believe Jesus’s words are still valid, but the world changes and so do we…much of what the Bible says (Old and New Testament) stands, but we need to interpret it differently now to how the pious would have 5000 years ago. If Jesus turned up today he’d be different to what he was 2000 years ago, I don’t believe he’d wear a Rolex, lol, he’d be ‘with the times’ and the people…and he’d not be hanging out with the rich, that’s for sure!

  4. Usually I read too many stories of atrocities committed in the name of God and Religion. And they have turned me away from any organized church. Your experience shows how things should be and that there may be hope for humanity yet. At the risk of mixing religions, I’d like to think some good karma will follow that couple!

  5. Emmmmm well. Jesus did talk about homosexuality, actually. Not in the way that that bastard St Paul did of course though.

    As you said in your post, Jesus condemned the sins of adultery (Matthew 19:18), sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9) and fornication (Matthew 15:19). These terms describe any type of sexual intercourse that is not within the confines of a marriage ordained by God. Jesus then proceeded to define exactly what God views as a morally permissible marriage. So he says –

    “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate (Matthew 19:4-6).”

    So like, as Jesus defines marriage as between one male and one female, Jesus effectively condemns all other arrangements.

    Before people go lambasting me, I’m in the LGBT spectrum, and I’m Catholic. That’s a whole other story. I do absolutely agree that the Christians who seem to be hijacking the media don’t really seem to have actually ever read the bible. I can’t remember why I’m writing this comment. In short, I liked your post, Jesus FTW, peace out mofos!

  6. I have a similar background in the evangelical world and only discovered my way out about… wow, has it been two years now? Go me!

    Anyway, great post, and thanks for sharing. I don’t think Corporate Jesusism ™ can last much longer, especially if you and I keep calling them out on this downright stupid misuse of a belief system. It’s like Christianity has finally calmed down from Kill A Bunch of People mode, but it needs some way to express its repressed aggression. Perhaps the new pope is a good omen for a kinder, gentler Christianity, one that would make even the good shepherd smile a little.

Comments are closed.