By Scott Westerman
Nothing like talking about religion to stir people up. When we lived in the south, it seemed like one question that was on everybody’s list was, “have you found a church home?” If we said, “no”, the inundation of proselytization began. One of my most vivid Florida memories was a visit from some local Presbyterians. We had just moved in and had warm memories of our involvement with the young marrieds group at our last stop. So I assumed that this entourage was the welcoming committee. We were interested in daycare, dentists and doctors and were eager to get some friendly advice. When they swung into the “do you know where you will go when you die?” stuff, I cordially escorted them out the door. We made a note to avoid that particular church. It took almost ten years and a new pastor before we gave them a second shot.
There is wisdom in the old adage that you should avoid talking about sex, politics and religion. So I guess it’s totally appropriate that I do just the opposite and share what I believe.
I was born a Methodist. My grandfather and great grandfather were Methodist ministers. I taught Sunday school and was an elder in the Presbyterian Church. I am not currently affiliated with any religious entity. I worked in the radio mission field for a couple of years and as Colleen and I became more financially secure, we began to feel that most organized religion ultimately was less about the spiritual and more about the cash flow and how we could contribute to it.
When I studied the history of the bible, I quickly learned that the process of deciding which books got included was a political process. The writers put pen to paper generations after the events they describe happened and were edited and interpreted by men who may have had ulterior motives. We played the telephone game in junior high and I got some first hand experience in learning how the message get’s confused as it is passed along the chain. I’m not questioning the efficacy of all biblical teaching. And the Jesus of the bible was an amazing man. I do question those who use his teachings as a weapon to intimidate and control.
I also find it at once both amusing and troubling that some religious groups who preach loving your neighbor are the first to ostracize those who don’t fit their definition of how an adherent should behave. A moment of pride in my relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, happened when the huge Baptist Church there rejected Christian singer Amy Grant because she was divorced and had exhibited what they felt was “sinful behavior”. Our pastor invited her to to perform at our church saying, “Hey, all sinners are welcome here.”
Ultimately, I try not to judge others spiritual paths. As the Dalai Lama’s said, “I don’t want to convert people … all major religions, when understood properly, have the same potential for good.” Whatever gives you peace and helps you be the best possible person is what you should do.
I believe that God is the creation of a limited human mind that can’t begin to comprehend the secrets of the universe. I believe in the ethic of human kindness, tolerance and compassion. I believe in loving one another. That includes keeping the bad guys away from situations where they can hurt people and neutralizing them if they intend to cause harm. I believe in working to understand where people hurt and doing our best to alleviate suffering, wherever it we find it. I think the golden rule is where it’s at.
I don’t feel the need for a god to keep me centered, but I trust that if I try my best to do what feels right, things will work out for the best.
Now that Colleen’s cancer has returned, a few of my spiritually inclined friends ask me if I have “asked for God’s help” to cure her. Many of them have added us to their prayer chains at their churches, something for which both Colleen and I are deeply grateful.
I’m amazed at the healing power of love and friendship. Colleen and I feel that every day. If it’s rooted in someone’s spiritual beliefs, more power to them. We are thankful that they care enough about us to help us make the best of a challenging situation. It helps.
I do have a spiritual hope, though. I’m hopeful that at the end of our lives, when our essence leaves our bodies, we’ll return to an infinite energy pool where all things make sense and purpose becomes totally clear. But I’m also ok if that doesn’t happen and this turns out to be our one chance to shine. My intention is to be the best possible person I can be, right now, in this moment, and let the chips fall where they may.
My spiritual friends (and I have a lot of em), tell me that all of this indicates that I’m truly more spiritual than most. Stephen Covey liked to say that, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey.” The pastors I know who prioritize their flock ahead of the collection plate are happy to embrace me just as I am. I love them right back. Like Aslan said to the Calormen soldier in C.S. Lewis’ Last Battle (If you haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia, that’s a wonderful experience) – “All the service thou hast done to Tash (the bad guy), I account as service done to me (the good guy), … for he and I are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.”
If that’s how things work, I believe that most of the time, I’m doing the right thing. But I dont beat myself up too badly if I stumble.
After all.. we’re only human.