A few months ago my son and I were driving somewhere and he suddenly asked me “why are there so many buildings with the letter “t” on the roof?”.
He was referring to churches, of course, with the crosses on top, and it was at that moment I realized how little I had spoken to him about faith and religion.
In the weeks since I’ve often thought about this moment. I’ve wondered why I’ve scarcely spoken to either of my sons about something that’s had an enormous impact in shaping who I am and how I see my place in the world.
For many years I was quite active in my faith. I not only went to church every week, sometimes even more than once, but also worked in churches for 4 or 5 years as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the Army. I started my career at the YMCA almost 20 years ago out of a desire to serve “the church”, or, more specifically, Jesus. I work for the Y because of the C.
But for the last 10 or 12 years I haven’t really gone to church. When we bought our house we didn’t really care for the church in our neighborhood and gradually fell away from attending. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the other routines of life, especially with a house to fix up and kids to raise.
But I keep coming back to wondering why religion can be such a difficult topic to talk about. Just think about it, even if you’re a person actively engaged in your faith: it’s uncomfortable if someone knocks on your door and asks if you want to talk about Jesus. Even if you’re at church it can be unsettling.
I was taking a class on listening skills a few weeks ago and we talked about something called the “righting reflex” – the habit many, if not most of us, have of correcting a person during a conversation instead of truly listening to them. Just think about how many times, when you’re trying to talk about something close to your heart, that you hear “well, what you should do is…” or “well, actually,…”.
We have a strong desire to tell others what to do.
Even now, as I write this, I can sense the potential comments I may receive if I post something regarding faith or religion: “well, the Bible says…”. “You must do…”. “We don’t believe x.” “If you were a true believer you’d…”. “Only our church has the true path.” Certainly not every conversation around faith sounds like this, but I’d be willing to bet that you’ve heard all of those phrases in some form at some point in your life.
Why is talking about faith so hard? Well, for starters, who wants to have a conversation where you walk away feeling like you’re going to burn in eternal hell-fire if you somehow screw up your beliefs or practices? That’s not exactly a warm feeling, even with all the promise of all the heat involved.
To me it really comes down to there being a difference between religion and faith.
Religion is important, for sure, but I feel it can often get bogged down in traditions and customs. We stand here, we kneel there, we don’t wear hats, we don’t wear jeans, we sing long, drawn-out “Ahhhhhh – mens” at the end of the song. It’s so easy to get tangled up in the “thine” and “thee” and “thou shalts”.
But faith? Faith, to me, is personal.
I have faith not because I did anything in any particular manner.
I have faith because at the most challenging moments of my life I’ve felt buoyed by something that lifted me up.
I have faith because when I’ve given up trying to things the “right way” I’ve felt a tug to do something a different, better way that I hadn’t seen before.
I have faith because, in the quietest moments, I’ve felt the barest whisper nudge me to serve and to trust.
For me, faith is not about hymns played out on a pipe organ but more like jazz. The good, spontaneous, heart-felt jazz.
Faith, to me, is finding Jesus playing low notes on a saxophone standing on the corner of a dark and rainy Boulevard of Broken Dreams, right where a shaft of sunlight breaks through the clouds to shine on a path of healing, hope and service.
Religion can be about what to do and how to do things, but faith is about being heard and held and supported.
Why are there so many buildings with the letter “t” on the roof?
Because as we stumble and tumble and fumble our way through life we want to know that we are valued and loved and cared for. And, when we trust that, when we really know it to be true, we want to tell others that they are valued and loved and cared for, too.
Just like you are.