On Thursday of this week, I put up a friendly message as my status: "Happy Beltane to all my dear Pagan/Wiccan friends! May those traveling to FPG (FL Pagan Gathering) arrive safely." Several of my Pagan buddies hit the "like" button. But what was striking was the comment from one of my devoutly atheist friends.
"You are awesome! You are the perfect example of being accepting, not hating!"
I appreciated the comment, and it made me stop and think a little. First, about what kind of Christians this person has encountered in her life. I've heard it said that the leading cause of atheism is Christian intolerance and bigotry. The other thing it made me think about is the pledge that all of us in the Episcopal Church make when there is a baptism. We are asked to renew our Baptismal Covenant, which begins with stating our belief in the nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And then we are asked five questions about how we will take responsibility, with God's help, to live out our lives in following the teachings of Christ. The last of those questions being:
"Will you strive for justice and peace among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being?"
Again, we all answer, "We will, with God's help."
Respecting the dignity of every human being, for me, includes recognizing that my path of Christianity is an excellent one for me, but God may have other paths and other plans for other people. Not everyone is going to be an Episcopalian. Not everyone is going to be Christian. But this doesn't make them wrong and it certainly doesn't negate the real possibility that they, too, are entering into a life of seeking and finding the Universal Love that exists all around us. My theology is confirmed in the recent readings we've been doing in the EfM program. Year Four has been assigned a book called, "My Neighbor's Faith," which is a collection of essays from people of many different faith backgrounds as they encounter people from other traditions and enter into dialogue with them. Sometimes, these are chance meetings, and sometimes they've occurred in more structured environments like a spiritual retreat. And pretty much always, the dialogues will highlight a revelation to the author of a long-held prejudice against "the other" that gets turned on its head. Love will do that. One of the essays, written by a rabbi who happened to get into a cab driven by a fundamentalist Christian in Syracuse, New York, captured the attention of both me and one of the other members of our group. In this discussion, the rabbi was asked pointedly by his cabbie what he thought about Jesus (the driver had already spotted the man's kippah). The rabbi tried to get by with saying he thought Jesus to be a great teacher. But the cabbie pushed him: if that's true, then why didn't he believe he's the path to salvation? The rabbi's answer was brilliant:
"I can believe that Jesus is a great teacher without believing that he's God's son and the only path to salvation. One truth doesn't negate the other. I can love Jesus in my way. And you can love Jesus in yours. There is room for both of our understandings of Jesus. I don't believe you have to be wrong for me to be right."
Like the cabbie in this story, my eyes popped open and I was so thrilled to read such a succinct and wonderful statement of what I believe to be the awesome Truth. My belief in Jesus does not make someone else's non-belief wrong. We're just looking at the life and witness and glory of Christ through different lenses. If only we could all relax into that idea, I believe that there would be less strife and less demand to be right. And ultimately, I think it could ease so much tension in the world, at least around this very contentious point about religion.
Perhaps, then, I would seem a little less awesome to some when I accept and love those who follow the Divine in their own way.