It’s interesting going to a 12 step program. Every week, a group of people (20 – 30) will sit and talk about themselves and their relationships with the “gods of their understanding” and none of them will name their gods. We all come to the table with different understandings and different names for god, and for most of us, a lot of baggage that goes along with that understanding. But nobody ever asks anyone what their god is called or what kind of faith journey is acceptable to their god or what kind of trappings of religion they hold to.
It’s refreshing. I don’t feel a need to know whether their gods are Buddha or Allah or some other construct of god. Neither do I feel any need to tell them the name of my god, or try to convert them to my way of understanding. All that matters in that room is that we all trust whatever god we’ve come to believe in to help us overcome our compulsion. And we trust each other to be god’s helpers along that path.
This experience, apart from helping me deal with my compulsion, has opened me up to new possibilities. I have defined my god differently than I would have defined him before. I have taken little pieces of other people’s gods, and added them to my own understanding. It hasn’t weakened my god in any way – on the contrary - he’s stronger and more approachable than ever. I like him better now. And I like to think he’s pleased with my new understanding.
Growing up, there was only one way to understand god. He didn’t change his stripes, and if you didn’t believe in exactly the same god as me, you were doomed to hell.
There were only a select few churches that had any access to the “truth”. Mennonites were safe – the doors of heaven would open to them without reservation. Baptists were close to the truth, but they weren’t pacifists, so their access to heaven might be a little touch and go. If they’d ever been to war, forget about it. Pentecostals – well, they were close too, but they did a little too much dancing and speaking in tongues, so there was no telling if their communication was actually getting through to god. Anyone who wasn’t evangelical – dear god in heaven, THEY deserved our prayers because they were way off the mark. Most of them were just “Sunday morning Christians”, weren’t they? There’s no room in heaven for THOSE kinds of people.
But at least these other so-called Christians had a little bit of hope, because all they had to do was tweak some of their beliefs and god might allow them entry. All the rest of the world – the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists – they were all damned to hell.
One day, the path became too narrow for me. I began to feel lonely, walking along that exclusive path to god. Not long after I’d spent a few years immersed in good solid religious education at Bible College, my belief system crumbled. The world outside Bible College didn’t seem quite as black and white. There were shades of grey that didn’t seem to fit the old painting.
I tried to hang onto it, because I didn’t like the thought of a life without faith, but it just didn’t make enough sense for me. What little bit was left went out the window along with the man who’d broken into my home to rape me. A god who stood judgment over me and my friends, and who wouldn’t protect me from the hands of a rapist, even when I called out for his help, wasn’t worth my time. For the next few years, the grey was all I had left.
I was in a hospital bed the day my faith returned. No, it didn’t “return”, but rather a new faith arrived to take its place. This faith allowed for shades of grey and it allowed new faces on my pathway. There was colour where there once was only black and white. It was a “kinder, gentler” faith, and it fit me better than the old one had. This faith allowed me to ask tough questions – like why my baby was taken from me before I got a chance to hold him – and still have something to hang onto even when I didn’t find all the answers. This faith allowed for the possibility that truth might take different forms for different people.
It’s not an easy faith. There are some things I can’t quite get past. I want the pathway to be open and clear of obstructions, but what do I do with “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but by me”? Do I accept only portions of “the text” and abandon those that don’t fit? Or do I look for other explanations that make sense for my new understanding? Is heaven even relevant? If not, what are we striving for? If another understanding of god gives comfort and support, who am I to say it’s not truth?
When I lived in the mountains, a wise friend told me that god is like a mountain. We’re all standing on different sides of the mountain, he said, and my view might be quite different from yours, but that doesn’t change the mountain.
I think god is big enough to handle human variations. I think truth is still truth if it fits you differently than it fits me.