Walking Our Faith: A Muslim, an atheist and a lesbian walk into a bookstore (column)
January 11, 2019
The religious beliefs of my family probably resemble those of America. One member was raised in the Pentecostal Church, baptized in the Holy Spirit and often speaks in tongues while praying. Another member attends a megachurch with 5,000 people and a rock 'n' roll band pounding out contemporary worship songs with a lightshow to rival a musical. Another member is a staunch atheist who eagerly argues his point with a passion that borders on that of a street-corner, Bible-thumping, preacher.
And then there's me. I joined the Catholic Church in my 20s after spending seven years attending every Christian denomination across the spectrum. Yes, I believe Christ is in the consecrated host and wine becomes the body and blood which was sacrificed for us. And yes, when I attend Adoration, I believe I am sitting in the presence of God as I sit gazing at the Blessed Sacrament. I enjoy Latin Mass for the beauty of its language. I guess this makes me a traditionalist.
As to how I view my family's differing beliefs? I jokingly say that I wish everybody would be Catholic, because that is where I have found God. But our Church has its own problems just as every other church does because we are still human. Still, I love every member of my family dearly and strongly defend their choice to hold the beliefs they do. Yes, even my favorite atheist. I believe God reaches out to each of us in ways only we will notice.
Some time ago I was sitting at the back of a conservative Christian church and there was a visiting pastor who began his message by congratulating the new pastor for returning to the church's original conservative roots and speaking out against liberals and homosexuals. As I looked around the church, I wondered how I would feel if I were a liberal or a lesbian who had come to church that morning with the simple hope of hearing the message of God's love for me but instead heard a message condemning what I believe or who I love. Afterward, I spoke with this pastor and he assured me that God loves every human being. But I forgot to ask him if he did.
When I think about the parables told by Jesus Christ during the three years of his ministry or when I think about the few times when he exhibited righteous anger, it was toward the people who he called pious hypocrites for their willingness to condemn others without considering their own sin. And then reminded us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.
It was the woman with five husbands, the adulteress who was about to be stoned to death by righteous men, the prostitute and the stealing tax collector, the man filled with demons, the unclean, the homeless, which Jesus Christ gave tender love, food, healing, patience and compassion.
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I know the counter argument saying "but Jesus said go and sin no more to these people." To which I reply, but first Jesus loved them, healed them, helped them.
"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins." (John 4:7-10)
We cannot scare an atheist with the need for "fire insurance" against a hell he does not believe in. Nor can we entice him to join us in a heaven filled with people who condemned him for his beliefs, filled with people he would not want to spend an hour, much less eternity.
When I taught overseas, a number of my Muslim students shared a love for God which was as palpable as my own. It was only when we acknowledged the validity of our mutual love for God that I was able to explain my love for Jesus.
When we say that Jesus saves, he is not only saving us for a life in heaven, but as importantly, he is saving us from ourselves. From our propensity to judge one another, to be cruel, to separate ourselves from those who are different from us.
Jesus lived a life of love and compassion and asked us to follow his example. That is why he said the two most important Commandments are that we love God with all our hearts and that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
If we are to ask anyone to follow Jesus Christ, we must understand that not only are they looking at Jesus, but they are looking at us, and noticing how believing in Jesus changes a person for better or worse. What will they see when they look at us? Will they see Jesus?
Mary Oliver, who is a lesbian, and one of our country's best-selling and most beloved poets wrote this: "I want to see Jesus, / Maybe in the clouds / Or on the shore, / Just walking / Beautiful man / And clearly / Someone else / Besides. / On the hard days / I ask myself / If I ever will. / Also there are times / My body whispers to me / That I have." ("The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church: The Eucharist," from Thirst)
Jesus can forgive and save a "wretch like me" knowing I will fall again and again and again, despite my best efforts, and still his love for me never waivers. He only asks that I keep trying, that I offer the same compassion I ask for to my neighbor.
A Muslim, an atheist and a lesbian walk into a bookstore and join me at the long, scarred wooden table for a pot of tea and conversation about the wonder of God.
Suzanne lives in Breckenridge. Her books are available at the Next Page Books and Nosh on Main Street in Frisco.
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