Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life, Choices, Conversation, and Religion

I'm not sure religion exists. I mean, I know there are religions out there - organized faiths of one kind or another, but they're not really faiths at all. I don't think they're religions either - at least in the way we often think of religion. Religions are just sets of practices based on some core beliefs. When we think of religion, we usually think of people who have the same beliefs and share common actions. But when you look at religion, the actual common practices are few and far between. Most people actually live their lives the way they see fit. Sure, our lives are often influenced by our religion, but there's nothing particularly religious about it.

This is essentially ethics. Everyone has ethics and, I suppose, we could say everyone has a religion. It might not be formalized or commonly recognized or particularly geared toward spirituality, but we all have a religion.

If everyone has a religion, we could say no one has a religion.

We just live. We make choices. We act - and our actions reveal our beliefs (whether we know it or not). Even when we share our beliefs with others (sometimes many others), even when we share a few joint practices, even then we're making individual decisions.

When people talk about joining a religion, more and more I don't know what they mean. Sure, there are basic principles and faith statements we make and agree with, but (probably sadly) these don't often predict the way in which we'll live them out - if we live them out at all.

I imagine this sounds strange, coming from a Christian - and a pastor at that. To me, it seems quite natural. I suspect most people's impression of Christianity has more to do with the religion (ethics) that people have built around the idea of Jesus Christ than his actual life and teachings. Jesus has become more of a guilt trip or a scare tactic to most people, rather than someone with a unique perspective on how to live.

I'm interested in the way people live life. I'm curious about the choices people make, the beliefs they have and why we choose what we do. I think its important to act intentionally and to understand exactly what our actions say about our beliefs. If you and I believe differently or act differently, it's either out of ignorance - because I've never come across your particular way of life - or because we answer certain questions in different ways, and thus make different choices.

I'd love to get together with people and discuss life - things we encounter in our own lives and things about the world that make us think. I'm curious as to why people respond the way they do, why people think differently. That's the kind of religious discussion I like. I want to do more of that.

For me, it's not so much about finding the right answers, but examining why we do the things we do and maybe finding a better way to do life than we had before. It's not about converting or convincing; I don't want to make you believe what I believe or act the way I act. I do want to understand where and why we differ.

I know. I've been told. I often come off too obnoxious and aggressive when I have these conversations. I keep asking questions and people feel badgered. I'm sorry. I'm genuinely excited and, most of the time, I'd genuinely like to be convinced to change my mind. I spend a lot of time thinking. I ask myself a lot of questions and I'm usually desperate for other ways of looking at an issue, something I hadn't thought of before.

Anyway, whether it's because I'm a parent now and life is busy with other things, it seems like I have less of these conversations than I used to. That, in turn, means I've developed fewer deep friendships than I have in the past.

So I guess I'm asking. Anyone want to get together on a somewhat regular basis, share a meal, and talk about things beyond the typically superficial?

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