Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seeking for Goodness and Trying to Understand What I Find

The upshot of this post is that I think there is a lot of good in the world. I don't think it's really popular to say that right now. But I also think that, in amongst all the people convinced that we're on our way to hell in a handbasket, it is important to highlight the sources of goodness that I have encountered.

And now is when I get controversial.

I was told recently by a man I respect very much, that he does not embrace 100% of church doctrine, but he follows all of it, because that is what a member of a community does. You don't always understand all the stuff that concerns the community and you certainly don't always understand the reactions of your fellow community members, but treasuring your community means that you uphold the integrity of what the community is for, and this even when you find yourself disagreeing. You can disagree because there is a strength in the community; people who understand the issue when you don't.

Another way that I've heard this said is that "it takes a church to make a statement of faith." That was said by someone a little more famous. It was Nadia Bolz-Weber; a very unorthodox Lutheran pastor who was interviewed early last month by Krista Tippet. It came up in the course of the interview that Bolz-Weber proclaims this statement of community faith. I think it is another instance where someone is articulating this idea that, as individuals, we may not be able to say that we understand every part of the creed or the doctrine, but that, as a community, we understand the entirety. And, moreover, we are then able to act on our faith, as a community.

This is where I go back to my original point; that I think there is goodness everywhere. If there were no goodness, how would anyone be willing to admit 'I don't understand everything about the church I love so dearly,' only to find out that the church responds 'that's okay. We can work with that.' I think it is an incredible testament to people that we can lean so much on each other, loving someone with all their faults and strengths, and transforming the whole group of learners into a something that can further the mission of God.

I think I should also point out at this time that both these individuals that I have referenced are Christian. One is Roman Catholic, the other, as I said, Lutheran. Both are important to the way that I do things and the way that I understand what goes on in the world. I, meanwhile, am neither Roman Catholic, nor Lutheran. I am Episcopalian (there, I said it). But what I can see, as these people admit their faults and begin to lean on their communities for understanding, is that I have an increasing awareness of how each community of faith admits their faults. Pope Francis has been saying that Catholic individuals need to consider how their messages are being received, and do work to make sure that the Catholic message is received well by people who are not Catholic. Lutherans all around me, not just the ones I hear on the radio, have become more articulate about what it is about the creeds or theology that keep them coming back to church. I see this as a big step, as I know more than a few Episcopalians who cannot actually articulate the reason that they keep coming to church week after week (well, they say 'this is what my family has always done...' but that's not a strong reason).

Each community of faith is made up of people who contribute to the greater whole. But what happens when we start looking at the ways that each community are affecting the rest of the world? There must be more goodness and understanding out there, right? I mean, if I have the gall to suggest that different Christian denominations can, collectively, offer a huge amount of goodness and understanding by leaning on each other, why shouldn't I keep going, and look out into the world to find more and add that goodness in with what the Christians have?

Oh, wait... I already did that.

There is a man in London who is an atheist. No shocker there, but he has gone ahead and founded a School for Life. If this school were founded under any other conditions, it would be called a church. But it isn't because all the 'congregants' have no faith in any god of any sort.

Alain de Botton is that man and he is something of a scandal for religious folk in England because he shamelessly uses traditional hymns and structures from many religions in the events that take place at his School. He is the source for further scandal, this time among the atheists, because he does not hate Christianity or any other religion. He openly seeks after what he calls 'wisdom for living' and he is more than happy to learn it wherever he finds it, whether that be Christianity, Celtic spirituality, Hinduism, Islam, wherever. And I applaud him for it. Moreover, de Botton is exactly the kind of atheist that I would love talking to, precisely because he does not harbor hate toward any other group. He simply wants to learn.

I also think that de Botton remembers what many traditionally religious people have forgotten; religion is supposed to be a structure that helps us learn how to live. De Botton talks about morality and ethics; how can people get married in a world where so many are unsatisfied with marriage? How can people cope with death when we think we're supposed to be young forever? How are we able to keep our heads and live our lives well when things seem so nasty? If these are not topics of wisdom, I don't know what is.

But how can I reconcile de Botton's school with the rest of the religiousness that I have been writing about? Because he has something that he understands in his pursuit of Goodness. On the one hand, I think it is a great testament to the created world that we find ourselves in (which I believe was made by God) that de Botton can find wisdom by examining what he finds before him, instead of examining God. On the other hand, I recognize that the wisdom he offers rings true. The wisdom he offers is the kind of stuff that I, too, want to learn from. I think there are many that can learn from what the School for Life offers. So is it so far-fetched to the think that the Lutherans and the Catholics and all the other Christians can lean on the School for Life in order that we all can have greater goodness and understanding?

Here, I'm going to make nearly full departure from what I've been writing about goodness and understanding, but it will relate, trust me.

One of the best-kept secrets, hiding in plain site of the Christian tradition, regards the Second Coming of the Messiah. In the prophets and books of revelation, there are references to the Supper of the Lamb and the Kingdom (or City) of God. It is always referenced as a far-away, unattainable place. And it is, without the intercession of Jesus Christ. In the Christian tradition, we always talk about what has been won for us in eternity through Christ's suffering, as well as how we 'await his coming again in glory.' It's that coming again in glory that I'm trying to focus on. When the Messiah comes again to earth, it will be to make all things new. It's not going to be near so much about plucking away the righteous and turning into a Holy Hoover; it is more about re-establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And we are told to prepare the way for that.

So how do we prepare the way for the Messiah? Well, that is what the Christian religion has been trying to do for millennia. With some mixed results, if I may add. But I think a core tenant to the religion has to do with understanding how to be good and encourage goodness in others. I think religion is all about emulating the Good Deity, thus drawing yourself and the world closer toward goodness.

So really, if we are supposed to emulate the source of Goodness, shouldn't everyone who strives for that band together and help each other? Shouldn't Lutherans help Catholics and Catholics help Episcopalians and Episcopalians help the School for Lifers and shouldn't they in turn help the whole group of Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindi and Buddhists?

I really do think there is a lot of Good in the world. I don't think it's popular to say that because everyone is too worked up about their brand of Goodness being the best. I, personally, don't care what brand it is, as long as it is Goodness that you are using.

Go. Use your Goodness. Find others who are good, too. Treasure them and your Goodness will grow. Use your Goodness for everyone because it was never really yours in the first place.