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Laughter and gasps following in his wake, he strode down the hallway of the shiny new building, wearing one of the cobalt blue tee-shirts that had been given to the entire student body on the opening day of the brand new school. Typical of such gear, the shirt bore the name of the school above the fierce snarl of the school mascot.
But this student had given his shirt its own creative twist. In indelible black ink between the name of the school and the mascot, he had scrawled the word SUCKS! in a clear statement of his feelings about the redistricting that had forced him to leave the school where he’d spent his freshman year. When one of my colleagues tried to convince him that he might like the school better if he got involved in a sport or an activity, he spat at her, “I’m not a joiner.”
I think of that student sometimes when I encounter people who say they believe in God but that they don’t believe in “organized religion.” Like him, they make sweeping statements about the institution as a whole because it’s easier than facing the reality that all institutions, including churches, have their benefits and their drawbacks.
It’s not easy to find a church that views God as inclusive rather than exclusive. And that, I understand. Each time I’ve moved, it’s taken a long time for me to find a community of faith that can somehow manage to embrace Christianity without insisting that only Christians have the ear of God. But they can be found. Last week my church hosted a young Jewish musician, Noah Aronson, who told us it was his first time ever to play in a church. Instead of a sermon, the service alternated between music and dialogue between our pastor and this young man, who is studying to become a rabbi. Hearing about how his own faith journey is so similar to our own was a joy, and he enriched our worship.
Prior to moving to our current home, we joined a church that shared sacred space with a Jewish congregation. Twice a year, our minister and their rabbi engaged in a “pulpit exchange.” We had a joint Thanksgiving service for the single holiday we both share. And several times we hosted panel discussions with a minister, a rabbi, and a Muslim imam to explore the commonalities of our faith.
It’s easier to work for positive change in the world if we join our efforts with others. And it’s healthier to be a part of a group where people aren’t afraid of the messiness of disagreement. We have to understand that no matter what congregation we decide to embrace, we as individuals will find things we don’t agree on—things that we wish were different. But if we want to take part in something bigger than ourselves—something that might help us change the world, we have to join forces for a world in need.
In the meantime, if you’re having a hard time finding a place where Christians believe that those of other faiths enrich our lives, here are links to a few resources from people and places whose ideas and communities have helped me imagine a bigger God:
Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church—Though both my favorite pastor there and I have moved away, I still sometimes read sermons on their web site, and they post videos of their sermons if you prefer that to reading them. I particularly enjoyed the recent sermons “The Gift of Laughter” and “Gone Fishin’.”
Dr. Susan R. Andrews—My former pastor at Bradley Hills, and one of the wisest people I know, has some wonderful sermons posted here and there online, including one she delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC: “How Eager Are You?”
Washington National Cathedral—The Cathedral sometimes hosts guest speakers of a variety of faith perspectives, and most sermons are available in video.
Noah Aronson’s blog—I just discovered this after Noah visited our church.
Sojourners: Faith in Actionfor Social Justice—Founded by Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics, this is a group of progressive evangelicals working together on social justice issues.
The Christian Century: ThinkingCritically. Living Faithfully—This is a magazine for progressive Christians that hosts links to many blogs.
Please share the gems you’ve found that have given you insights into yourself and others and, ultimately, into the Spirit that is in us all.