Escaping division by ‘believing as a way of life’
Divisions are often difficult. Factions that fracture families and communities. Rifts that run rampant. Hard on organizations and collections of citizens. Also perplexing when occurring within a person. Not along the lines of being torn between three tempting flavors of ice cream. Rather the kind of behavior that we might want to dismiss as “just being human.” Acting in a certain way around some people and in a completely different way around others. Or expressing certain things in one particular place but contradicting them in another.
Religion is one of the lightning rods that can spark separations. Faith communities are (sadly) fairly notorious for fostering disingenuous behavior. The prophets of the Old Testament had a good bit to say about people who would show up in the temple at the right time with just the right sacrifice to present (is everyone looking?) but then go to work in the marketplace the next day where they would rig the scales to tip in their favor (did anyone see that?). Dishonest trade practices. Disregard for the poor. Displeasing to the God to whom the proper sacrifice had been offered. Worship is not to be disconnected from everything else in life.
Believing is a way of life. Not so much about doctrine. A Lutheran pastor whose commentaries I appreciate has said that what’s important is “not what I believe but what difference does it make that I believe?”
This perspective invites regular self-examination which may not always be a pleasant exercise. Do I treat the people gathered at Snuffy’s on a Saturday night any differently than those who assemble on Sunday morning in the church sanctuary? Does my faith have any bearing on how I spend my money? What causes I support? How I vote?
Many years ago, I worked as a paralegal in downtown Charlotte, N.C. One afternoon as I walked the several blocks to the Federal Courthouse a young man lobbed a question in my direction: “Do you know Jesus?” Without hesitating I pinged my response back: “I never leave home without him!”
Thousands of years ago, the prolific poet David wrote these words about God, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10 NIV).
Now this may not be especially good news for someone who would prefer to hide certain behaviors or camouflage rogue impulses. But from a faith perspective, these words are more comforting than confronting. We matter to our Creator. Inside and out. Day and night. And everywhere we go every day of the week.
Of course, we are human. And maybe it’s nearly impossible to be genuine and consistent in our thinking and behaving in every place and in every respect. God understands. But the closer we come to keeping our actions in line with our words and our words with our actions, the greater peace we’ll know. And the deeper trust we’ll engender. And perhaps a less divided self contributes to a less fragmented family, fewer rifts in relationships. And that would bring a smile to God’s generous heart!
The Rev. Rebecca Taylor is pastor at First Presbyterian Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org