What does being a person of faith mean to me? I am always seeking an answer to this question. The answer can change over time, or from day to day, depending on what I am experiencing.
I have attended many different types of churches throughout the years. I started with the Lutheran church. When taking classes to join the church, the pastor said that when there are issues in the church, women have no vote. They can share opinions, but since Eve caused Adam to eat the apple, this has excluded women from having an official voice in the church. I didn’t know much about the bible back then, and I was young, but I remembered thinking “what the…?”. But I soldiered on and fit in as best as I could. Then took catechism and attended a Catholic church, then I attended an Anglican Catholic church, a Presbyterian PCA, a Presbyterian USA, and then some Evangelical (nondenominational and Baptist) churches. I now attend a Methodist church. Each church has provided me an interesting and unique experience, and I have learned a lot about the bible and about people. I have met many friends along the way whom I love dearly. I always figured that God made every one of His people unique, and He speaks to each of us in a unique way, and there are many denominations that exist so everyone can find a place to belong.
While attending all of these different churches, my views about the world, politics and my vision of Jesus never changed, even though in some churches it was clear that I was not fitting in with the majority. I remained an independent thinker. I remembered asking a Presbyterian (USA) pastor “what does the bible say about women in leadership in the church?” He responded, “You read the bible and tell me what it tells you about women in leadership.” That is maybe the best advice I ever got.
What this taught me was that God speaks to ME through His word, and He speaks to others using His word. To me, this is the magic of the bible and of God’s love and providence. No matter who is reading it, it has a message designed especially for them. This is so amazing to me. I believe with all of my heart that this is true. For me, when I have writer’s block, I can just open the bible and words come flooding into my mind and I suddenly feel the urge to write what I am thinking and feeling. Reading the bible awakens me spiritually.
I have met many people in my church journeys who read the bible in order to find out what sins other people are committing. I don’t think the bible was meant to be used as this kind of a tool. I believe it was a love letter for each of us to read and to use as a road map for our own lives. I have been told by people in some churches that if I belong to a certain political party I will go to hell. Personally I don’t care what political party people belong to. I don’t think Jesus belonged to one at all. Everyone is entitled to their feelings and opinions. But telling someone that their political party means that someone is not a “real” Christian makes me feel sad. I feel sad for people, who cannot feel love and compassion for people who do not have the same opinions as they do. And sad for the kingdom of Heaven, because language like this can cause people to turn away from God before they even get to know Him. No matter what one’s political stance is, being a follower of Jesus should unify us all, no matter what our differences are.
No one person has a complete understanding of the bible and how it applies to the lives of others. There are biblical scholars who know when it was written, by whom, what the cultural values were at the time, and the history of every person mentioned in the bible. I learned a lot of these things when I attended the seminary. All people adapt their interpretations of scripture as it relates to their own lives and circumstances. I have seen people use scripture interpretations to allow people into their circles who are like them, but they adhere strictly to other parts to keep people who are not like them out. I’ve heard people say that people who don’t agree with their interpretation of the bible “pick and choose” the parts of the bible they like, leaving the other parts out. But everyone does that. No one can obey every law in scripture because we are not perfect. But by God’s Grace, we are forgiven.
Historically, the general public were not allowed to read the bible themselves. They were told what the bible said, what to obey, and where to send their money by the powers that be. Many people died fighting for the right for everyone to be able to read the bible for themselves.
I am not saying we cannot learn from bible scholars. I read commentaries to learn more as I read and study the bible. I have led bible studies. I have learned from excellent teachers. We can still teach each other and learn from each other and help each other to understand God’s Word and how it applies to our lives.
So, what does the bible tell me? I believe that Jesus set the best example for how we are supposed to live. I love His wisdom, His fairness, His love for everyone, His patience (but anger when appropriate), His willingness to form a team of people who were not born leaders (and were quite a mess sometimes). I love His words about truth and justice and His example of self care when He would go away to pray or allow himself to be comforted by people who wanted to give something to Him in gratitude. He understood that everyone had a gift to give, and they should be allowed to give it.
Of course, the most important words of Jesus, to me, are in Mark 12:29-31:
“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’] There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV)
Imagine how the world would be if all of us followed these words of Jesus. This overrides all of the other commandments. In fact, if we followed these words, none of the other commandments would be violated. This is not an easy thing to do for any of us. We are only human, after all. God knows this. We fall short every day, but we know that his love is unconditional and that his capacity for forgiveness is vast. This is all the more reason that trying to follow these commandments is so very important. God has set the barometer against which we are to measure ourselves every day. This should go beyond politics and should be practiced on everyone, friends, neighbors and even strangers. Yes, strangers count as neighbors, as Jesus outlined in Luke 10:25-37 in his parable about the good Samaritan.
Life is hard. I think love can solve a lot of the problems we have. I am not perfect at applying this concept by any means, but I intend to try.