What It Means To Have Faith Today: Part II
Note: This article is the second part of a three-part series.
When I was an English teacher, one of my favorite books to teach was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. It’s a beautiful story, and it asks us to consider what we tell ourselves about who we are and why we’re here. People who read this book have very different interpretations of what it’s getting at, but this is how the author himself summarized what he was trying to say:
“Life is a story; you can choose your own story; a story with God is the better story.”
To many of us, a story with God in it is infinitely better than any story we piece together and tell ourselves. It means life on Earth is not just some cosmic accident. It means our intuition is right: we are inherently good, but we just can’t stop ourselves from screwing up and doing things that are not good.
As a person raised in the Christian tradition, I find inspiration for knowing and experiencing God (or the divine, or Ultimate Reality) in the Christian Bible—both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It’s definitely not the only way I have come to know and experience God, but for thousands of years, people like me have found reading it to be helpful at making the divine knowable and experienceable.
I’ve made a living out of teaching stories, and through this work I’ve learned that what makes stories so powerful is that they have the ability to transform us. And the Christian Bible, as a whole, is a story—a story about the nature of God.
In her recent book, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans talks about the God of the Christian Bible in this way: “Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved. It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does.”
Unfortunately, the Christian Bible—and much of Christianity, for that matter—has been seemingly co-opted by a large, vocal tribe of fundamentalists whose distorted version of this religion has caused many to turn away because of its hypocrisy and backward thinking. People continue to leave Christianity in large numbers at least in part because rather than working toward social justice, many folks who identify as Christians are busy spreading dangerous ideas about who is in and who is out.
As parents, why would we want to pass on these ideas to our children?
Thankfully, there’s another way.
We can draw upon all the wisdom of the Christian tradition without subscribing to backward, fundamentalist thinking. Christianity, at its core, is all about how we can move forward as people. It’s all about how we can take better care of ourselves and each other.
For those of us who have faith in a God who is radically inclusive—a God who is constantly encouraging us to take a step forward, toward a fuller life—there are plenty of religious communities out there that can support our faith journeys.
The right kind of religious community can help us tune out the noise, particularly those ads and messages and people that try to tell us who we are and what we need in order to be happy. They can help us focus on what matters most, which, as any good religion will tell you, all boils down to radical love for each other.
This, of course, is the commandment that Jesus shares in the Gospel of John: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
No institution is perfect, but especially for families, a forward-thinking religious community can serve as what educational psychologist Robert Kegan, in his book In Over Our Heads, describes as a “holding environment” for us—especially as we work to become who we know we’re supposed to be. This kind of community can help each us become our True Self.
According to Kegan, a holding environment will “hold [us] well” (support us as we are right now), “let [us] go” (allow us room to grow), and “stick around” (remain available as we grow).
It can be a priceless gift to find a community that can do all this for us and our children, even if that community is a small group of friends and/or family exploring faith together and is in no way affiliated with a church. But these days, when the pressures on parents and children alike are unbelievably high, it’s helpful to journey alongside others who will stay with you for the long haul.
Having faith today means trusting that we’re a part of particular kind of story—one in which we are beloved and our real work is to remind each other of this. Especially those who have forgotten.
Our role in the story involves full participation in the world. And the right kind of community can help us learn how to participate. So can reading the same books that Jews and Christians have been reading for thousands of years. Because when we see ourselves and each other for who we really are, we see that the kingdom of God is not some distant, incomprehensible place. It’s right here in front of us.