As a kid -- and later as a young adult -- I knew exactly what I believed and why. These days, I'm not as certain. But how can I be sure about things when the evidence of life inevitably points to the contrary, especially when I consider some of the goofy stuff I believed as a child?
Just Trying To Fit In
When I was twelve, my Christmas gift was goalie equipment. Real pads and a real blocker and trapper. My dad set up a net in the basement, and we'd play down there for hours. He'd pretend to pass it, wheeling around in front of me, "Ketchup over to Mustard, back to Ketchup, in the corner to Relish - shoots!" at which point he'd whip the tennis ball at the net. I was never sure why his top line consisted of condiments, but I thought it was pretty funny as a kid. Still do.
"Challenge the shot. C'mon out of the net. Challenge the shot. Yeah!"
The father's voice echoes along the quiet street. When you're a kid, you don't worry about your beliefs too much. You worry about your parents. Your family. Your friends. You don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about what you believe or why you're different. You spend most of your time just trying to fit in. As we get older however, we need an increasing amount of assurances that outline just how different we are from those around us. And yet, for the most part, we lock ourselves into patterns of thought that do the opposite, and prevent us from the life we really want; a life of freedom.
"Don't go down so easily! Stay up, and wait for me to make my move."
I look over in time to see the boy nod to his dad's instructions. Freedom sounds great, and people of faith talk about it enough -- but the truth is that most days I don't feel the freedom to simply "do" as I did when I was young? Instead, I end up with 'reasonable' answers to the questions about what I should and shouldn't do. About what I can and cannot be. In fact, sometimes I think that adulthood is primarily an education in being reasonable.
Stop Being 'Reasonable'
To not do this makes us arrogant and impossible, but to fall into this trap of 'reasonable thinking' costs us in other ways. It becomes a form of self-teaching, so when we see things that we could do to make a difference -- speak to the homeless person, start a charity, volunteer at a kids club, help at a Seniors center -- we "reason" ourselves into a life that is oddly reminiscent of every life around us. And so the uniqueness we all seek is lost in the tangles and squabbles of language, the buttressing of this doctrine and this creed, the "here-to-fores" and "thou shalt nots" that we believe separate us, but in fact, do nothing but reinforce the fact not only are we all sheep, but we're all sleeping in the same pen.
It is one thing to say that you are pursuing your dreams, quite another to pro-actively go for it. It is one thing to say that you are humble, quite another to admit someone with less money and no home is just as important as you. And it is one thing to say you believe we should love everyone, when it is clear that we do not.
Maybe we hold up these religious phrases, like "loving our enemies," simply to make ourselves feel better. Maybe we do it because we know what we're supposed to believe, and because we know that no one expects it from us. We're too "reasonable" for that. And so this outrageous idea of love, this true act of separation, becomes something quite different. And while we pretend to absorb this idea that a Creator who loves us must somehow make us unique, we reject the absurdity of the actual message. Instead of doing "love," we promote it.
|Selling "Love," Don Draper style|
So what do we believe? And why do we believe it? What does any of it mean, if we are merely the stewards of yet another religious diversion?
To think like a child makes us children, but to act like one is what it means to be free. Perhaps then, the idea is to worry less about the question, and more about the answer. To pursue less the science of influence, and more the struggle of love.
"Nice save, Sammy! Atta-boy!"
"Shoot it again, dad!"
I glance over at my neighbours and smile. There is something quite profound in being what we believe. Putting our creed down on paper may make us feel better, and delineating exactly why our beliefs are different -- better -- may make us feel more secure, but in the end, it takes us farther from the extraordinary life we all seek.
My hope this week is that you will lay down your paper barriers, that you will see through the walls you have constructed to separate yourself from those around you, and find in God the freedom of a life lived, and not simply believed.