Happy Easter to you, whether it’s a day that has great spiritual meaning in your life or you just enjoy the American festivities of eggs, candy and bunnies. It’s been an interesting month for Christians with the announcement of a new pope, the Supreme Court’s deliberation over gay marriage and to a lesser degree the success of Mark Burnett’s The Bible on The History Channel.
Personally, I consider myself a Christian though I don’t belong to a church. I pray, but not with any regularity or routine. I enjoy discussing religion with people, but in this news-filled month I’ve been discouraged to learn about how many people feel disenfranchised by it. More than disenfranchised…actual disgust and hate.
On my travels last year I visited Auschwitz, the home of the most famous Nazi death camp and one of the worst incarnations of hate the world has ever seen. Touring the camp is deeply disturbing, even life-altering. For me, it was a catalyzing experience. I pledged from that day forward to fight the impulse of hate within myself and do what I can to keep it out of others.
In that spirit, today I’ll share some thoughts on religion. I don’t intend to sound righteous so I’ll apologize now if I do. I believe organized religion has a lot of work to do and remain hopeful that they’ll fix what is wrong. Until then, here is how I’ll stay connected and encourage others to do so.
Your religion is yours. It can’t be taken from you by the laws of organized religion. Faith is not knowledge. Nobody knows what happens after we leave this mortal coil so it’s pretty difficult for somebody to say you are wrong. Use your energy to figure out what is meaningful to you and draw strength from it instead of using it to hate others for not believing like you do.
Learn and explore. Words cannot express how much I enjoyed seeing the churches, mosques, cathedrals, basilicas, monasteries, abbeys and temples in Europe and Central America last year. Experiencing their place in the culture and history was amazing. I attended about ten services in six countries, including a canonization in Vatican City. Learning how religion inspired leaders, writers, artists and others was wonderful and deepened my appreciation for it in our lives.
Be fair to organized religion, even if it hasn’t been fair to you. I don’t have to recite the atrocities done in the name of religion here. I’m sure everyone has their list of what they don’t like. I know I do, but I also try and balance that with the things I do appreciate. I like the spirit of giving and applaud the time, money and effort that religion gives to the less fortunate. I’m thankful for the role it has played in saving friends from the depths of alcoholism. I think it plays a big role in helping parents teach their children a strong code of morality and I know it gives strength to people in difficult times. I want and expect organized religion to do better, but I won’t be blind to what they already do well.
Look to understand first. Shocking as this may sound, not everyone who participates in organized religion is homophobic, crazy, judgmental and mean. Quite the contrary. I can name several very religious people who pray for my well-being and I’m grateful that they do. Their intentions for me are rooted in love. Sometimes we’ll discuss our faith. My goal in these conversations is only to understand their point of view, not to get them to see things my way. I do think that my willingness to listen to them increases their willingness to do the same. Perhaps we are both able to change for the better with this approach.
Pray. I don’t care who you pray to, but allowing yourself to believe that someone is looking out for you is therapeutic. I pray just before takeoff anytime I’m on a plane. I pray whenever my life feels out of control. I pray when I’m sad. I rarely ask for anything other than patience. Mostly I use it as an opportunity to give thanks for everything that has gone well in my life. Taking stock of all of the wonderful people and experiences I’ve enjoyed while allowing myself to thank a higher power for them makes me feel connected to the universe. It’s alright that I don’t fully understand my role, I know I belong here.
Have a wonderful Easter!