I have always been surrounded by wanderers. I swim amidst thinkers and singers. Artists and tinkerers of all kinds. Whether they have spouses or partners, dogs or made-up friends, these are my people. I’ve always been drawn to those who challenged life. Pushed back the limitations. Created things. I look at kids nowadays, forced and squeezed into certain stereotypes. What a shame to be so pigeonholed. What a waste to not absorb it all.
What’s come of the wonderful patchwork of friends I’ve gathered along the roadside is a realization that I’m a bit of a loner. That my faith defines me in a different light. The fact is that I’m surrounded by non-believers, whom I love dearly. I’d gladly sit for hours through nights and storms with these dear friends, despite our differences, holding their hands and crying into their pad Thai noodles.
I want to tell them what I have learned through so many hard lessons. That peace is possible. That God simply loves. Yet I’m forced to cut down so many negative stereotypes of faith, like hacking through a rainforest, that the message is lost. I won’t send sappy emotional poetry about how Jesus Saves. I won’t drag someone to church and make them sing Rock of Ages. I won’t tell someone in the grocery store I’m praying for them, because I know that won’t make any difference for them to hear. In fact, it will have the opposite effect.
And yet I pray for them all the same.
I think the problem with religion is there are too many people that think right-wing crazies and Rush-Limbaugh-for-president folks (and the bigots and the bible-thumpers too, if you’re counting) are all lumped together in one ball of dough. They all bake up into one hot and crazy loon that is not to be trusted. I don’t feel like a crazy loon. I don’t take the written word literally and like to question established truths. I thought Origin of the Species was brilliant and totally understand people scratching their heads at the thought of Noah building a large ark whereby eight people and a billion animals be-bopped into it two-by-two and floated along the entire earth for a few days. Yet I still think God is real. I still believe he guides and directs my life.
You don’t have to consider yourself a member of the crazy tribe to have faith. You can believe in metaphors, or think that our ancestors didn’t look like us, or that there is a plausible life form outside our solar system. You can believe Jesus was a great teacher. Or, like his father, a great healer, without surrendering your soul to stupidity. People who are blessed with great big thinking brains – the ones who analyze and process and deconstruct problems like science experiments – have a difficult time with faith. It is outright inferior to accept something because we are told to. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because everyone’s doing it.
We are more than this.
But sometimes, in your lowest hour, faith comes upon you like a whisper. A small breath of truth that tells you that you cannot survive the winter alone. That you must be able to let go of your demons and fall effortlessly into the arms of God. One who can keep you safe in those cold, bitter nights. One who accepts you right where you are, and forgives all that went before that one moment.
It’s hard to explain to my fellow intellectuals, who say they feel silly praying to a popcorn-covered plaster ceiling. To sit alone in one’s thoughts and think there is a God above, somewhere in some celestial heaven, watching nations get torn apart or seeing people drown a slow death, lost at sea.
To these people I just say – have patience. Don’t give up at least considering that this man people have revered for so many hundreds upon thousands of years wasn’t just some random bloke with a beard and dirty sandals, but that there was meaning to his words. That forgiveness really is possible. That peace happens.
Because deep down, that’s what’s holding us all back. Fear that we’ll be found out. That our insecurity will surface like a helium balloon and we’ll be the ones left with our pants down. But God cares not of this. We all start out from different places, with different gifts, and with different hearts. Some that profess to believe, and hate Darwin to wit, might not actually believe in much after all. All those pot luck casseroles and church committees for nothing. For regardless of where we are in life, or how silly we feel entering this new world, naked and starving, he simply forgives.
I believe that God is real. That he loved us enough to deliver a son to this earth to die for our behalf. This I believe despite having one of those big ‘ol thinking brains. I like to drink a cold beer and laugh at good, hearty jokes. I cut other people off in traffic. I might not take all written words – even some in the bible – literally, but I think God’s okay with the fact that we can question and explore and investigate. That we can still buy groceries and walk the dog and live in this crazy, silly world of heartbroken people, and still make a difference.
Yes, I’ve heard that still, quiet breath. When my life was screaming for mercy and chains wrapped around the walls of my heart, closing in faster than I expected. When I stared death in the face and told it I wasn’t ready. It was in that moment I poured out tears of guilt and shame. And that, my friend, is what grace is all about.
Pray for peace, my wonderful beatnik friends. If you can’t manage that, try to keep a sliver of your heart open, so someday, you might find the room to believe. And then, peace can start to happen.