So What If It Isn’t Mine?: Finding Value in the Spiritual Lives of Others

Obviously, much of what this blog is about is the discussion of my last few months at Smith and also the months, weeks and days leading up to my entry into seminary. I haven’t thought much about continuing this blog into seminary. Hell, who knows if I’ll either have the time or the material to keep writing. But for the moment, I am perfectly content to write about what I know, what I feel, and what I am going through as it happens.

Along these lines, I realize how much my faith has grown and changed as a result of my relationships with those who have beliefs and faith(s) that are different from my own. This was especially evident when I ate dinner with friends of mine this past evening. Many of my friends are Jewish, some more observant than others. But regardless of their level of observance or level of belief for that matter, I have perhaps learned more about my own faith and beliefs from them than I have from many of my so-called Christian friends. Why, you might ask? How is it possible to learn more from people who have faiths, beliefs and practices so different from your own? That’s wrong, isn’t it? BULL. That type of attitude that gets Christians into trouble time and time again. It is the attitude that we can’t learn from anyone else, that our faith is above and beyond anyone else’s, digs us into this hole where people just don’t want to hear from us anymore. They just don’t want to listen to our speeches, our sermons, our pleas of “come to Jesus” just to name a few. But in my four years at Smith, my faith has become something that is my own in large part thanks to those who have faith that could not be more different than my own. This was especially evident this evening at dinner, as I mentioned earlier. I was sitting at a table with a bunch of my Jewish friends, who keep Kosher. They were discussing what they had to do to make sure that they were ready for Pesach, or Passover, which starts this coming weekend. Here they were, eating their kosher food, and all they could do was argue over whether or not the silverware was “kashrut enough” for Passover. I have some experience with Jewish traditions, as I am after all a Jewish studies major, but all I could think during this discussion was, THANK GOD that I don’t have to go through this yearly in my faith. Thank GOD that I don’t have to worry about whether or not my utensils are ritually clean enough to touch my food. Speaking from someone who has a food allergy and thereby must avoid certain foods…NUTS…I can understand the pressure to make sure things are clean, but at the same time, it isn’t even the same matter of discussion. I don’t willingly choose to not eat nuts, I don’t because it could potentially kill me. TOTALLY NOT THE SAME THING.

But then I sat down and thought about it. Their faith is so based upon obeying the commandments and tenets as set out by God thousands of years ago. They don’t have to keep believing, but they do. they follow without question, without showing a bit of doubt, because it is what they want to do. I wish that Christians could do the same thing. I have been encouraged to have my own faith because of the faith of my Jewish friends. I have been shown that faith isn’t something that is obligatory. It isn’t something that we have to have in order to survive; rather, it is something that we have because we have a burning desire within ourselves to follow God. Because we have nothing else that we would choose to follow. Many Christians feel as though they have to believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ because they simply can’t go to hell. Well that’s all good and fine, but you have to want it, not just have it because you’re entitled to it. It isn’t a matter of faith as something you are entitled to or you have to earn, but rather something you choose to assume because it means something to you. For a while, I believed things just because I thought I had to, not because I actually believed them, or even wanted to believe them. I’m not presupposing that Christians have it all wrong, or that their beliefs aren’t for the right reasons. Not what I am saying at all. What I mean to say is that we should believe for the same reasons that our other faith brothers and sisters believe – because we want to, not because we have to. Faith is something we choose, not something we are destined to have, or that we have to have. It is something that we grow and develop of our own choosing.

Hmmm…but what does this mean? How does my faith grow thanks to the faiths of my friends? I suppose the best answer I can give to this question is that my faith grows thanks to the faiths of my friends. Because I have friends who believe things that are both similar and different to what I believe, I am able to appreciate not only what I believe (and how it is significant to my life) but also how important what they believe is to them. By seeing other types of faiths and beliefs in action, I have more respect and understanding of exactly what I believe. For me, I have come to understand that I have the choice to believe what I feel led to believe, not what people tell me to. A friend of mine said it perfectly: I know exactly what I believe and why I believe it. No one told me one day that I had to believe certain things, I chose to believe them. If I don’t know where a prayer or a belief comes from, I won’t practice it until I understand fully why it exists and how it is significant to my practices.

I love that. I suggest that we all try that. Why believe something that we don’t actually have any connection to? Why not understand fully why we believe (or don’t) what we do before we preach it to others? Goal for the week. Game! Plan!

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