I’ve noticed lately that there are a lot of blog posts devoted to why and how people have lost their religion and/or their faith. Reading these has got me thinking about why I still believe. First, if you’re expecting me to quote scripture and expound why my religion (or any other specific religion) is God’s one and only way for us, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. Second, I’m not going to condemn people who don’t believe – it’s their choice, I haven’t walked in their shoes, and I wouldn’t presume to know what they’ve experienced. Their views deserve as much as respect as anyone else’s, and I intend to honor that. Third, I’m not going to spend time trying to convince why I’m right and you’re wrong – I don’t believe that’s true, for one thing, and I also don’t believe talking to people in that manner is respectful or convincing. It just creates defensiveness. Finally, this is MY opinion and only my opinion – I don’t claim that this is God’s word for everyone, or that I”m right and someone else is wrong. This is my personal faith and my personal journey.

Ok, now that the caveats are out of the way, the obvious statement is “I believe.” I don’t believe in a thunder-wielding, lightning-bolt-throwing vengeful deity; the deity I believe in might hold back from controlling us, but is there and is involved in knowing what we’re up to. If you’ve read, “The Shack,” you know the kind of god I’m talking about. I also believe that scripture – no matter which religious group we’re talking about – was developed to meet the needs of the culture in which it appeared and was also penned and filtered through the minds of the men who wrote it. (I say “men” deliberately here, because most of the world’s scripture was penned by men.) In fact, I read, respect, and appreciate many culture’s scriptures and holy writings as being inspired by the same Presence that is with us all.

My faith is that we are all on many many paths. Some of those paths are closer to others and some are further away, but if we’re all oriented toward the goals of creating peace, increasing love and understanding among us all, and helping each other along the way, then we’re all headed toward the same goal. The destination of that journey -whatever you want to call it – is a great goal, but to me, it’s how we travel the journey that counts. Do we help our fellow travelers? Do we try to do the best we can to follow our own? Do we try to become closer to that Presence that guides us – whatever its name may be?

For me, I believe because I simply can’t NOT believe. That’s my experience though, and I respect others. Let me tell you a little about my journey to this place. I was raised an occasional Episcopalian, and then converted to the LDS church. I was looking for security and answers, and the LDS and their theology provided that. For me, though – I don’t stop questioning because it’s in my nature to keep exploring, to keep learning, and to keep growing. The LDS encouraged this, but my experience was that it was encouraged only within certain boundaries. For me, the answers I was hoping to find weren’t there – and yes, I still believe that Book of Mormon was inspired scripture. (and for the record, I believe the same of the Bible, the Koran, the Divine Principle, and all other holy books and wisdom.) After leaving the LDS, I became agnostic with pagan (Wiccan) leanings for a long time. This split and change allowed me to reconnect with the missing female side of deity that I felt existed but had not encountered up to that point. In the end, none of these answered all the questions I had. One point I want to make here is that I may have “lost my religion,” but I very much kept my faith. I’ve had some experiences that have led me to this point, and have helped me keep my faith even while turning a skeptical and sometimes cynical eye toward religion.

The difference to me is that faith is what you believe, religion is what you do. I’m currently a member of the Lutheran church, and their rituals and activities are what I “do.” I’m not at all convinced that I’ll always be here, and am open to what my journey brings me. I do pray, although I don’t always pray in a way that is traditional. Sometimes, after experiencing something good in my life or in the lives of my loved ones, I’ll simply say, “Thank you, Friend.” I also believe that prayer is as much what I do as it is what I say, and I try to make my life as much of a living prayer as I can. In one of my other posts, I talked about “Doing Love” (this was an article in my church’s newsletter, so it takes a specific focus: https://lauraburlingame.wordpress.com/2009/05/17/doing-love-originally-posted-in-oslc-signal/ ). Sometimes, it’s a simple, “Please…I need help getting through this. Please be with me, and those we all love.” (As you can tell, formality and distance are not things that work for me.)

In the end, I believe because I’ve always felt the Presence around me of something benevolent and loving. I wasn’t raised in the most stable of homes, so it’s not that I was insulated from the problems that “other people” have. In fact, it was just the opposite – we WERE the other people. It wasn’t that my parents took me to church religiously, either (pardon the pun) – again, in fact the opposite. We were “occasional at best” Episcopalians, and I often asked to be taken. In spite of all this, I have always felt the presence of “something” that has been with me, even through my darkest moments (and I have had those too, trust me.)

Whatever name you call it, whatever religion you attach it to – that constant presence is the reason I still believe. I call it “my Friend,” and it’s always there. At my lowest, when I begged to be able to die, because I was too chicken to do anything myself, my Friend was there – horribly sad that I’d want to do that, but understanding and wishing I’d make another choice. That presence is WHY I made the choice to want to live, through all it’s painful and joyful moments.

That presence is why I do what I do – I’m called to be where I am. It’s complicated to explain, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any church or any religious doctrine. It comes from within me, and from my Friend, and I trust that. Because of my life experiences, I don’t trust any person fully – but I trust my Friend, even when I’m frustrated by the answer, “Be patient and wait. It will all work out.”

I’m not out to argue theology, and I’m not out to convince anyone that God is real, a church is right, or that anyone else is wrong. I am simply explaining why I believe, and am hoping to offer up a contrasting perspective to the very valid expressions of un-faith. The truth is that horrific abuses, both physical and pyschological, have been perpetrated in the name of God, religion, and churches. Small every day abuses and judgments from “believers” continue to be perpetrated, and I try to separate myself from that.

We spend a lot of time in our society arguing morals and theological discourse – the nuts and bolts of religion. For me, I believe God works in the world through us and through the natural processes of the cosmos (and that’s just “The Gospel according to Laura” – my opinion, in other words). Even so, I can’t presume to know what S/He wants or thinks, because it’s so much greater than our perspectives. I am skeptical of anyone who claims to know “God’s will” or “what God wants.” For me, it’s pretty simple – we’ll be ok as long as we’re doing the best we can, are kind to and nonjudgmental of the people we’re with (not necessarily what they do – I can’t condone child abuse, for example – but I can work to help the abuser) and are mindful of the Divine in and around us (whatever you want to call it).

In the end, I believe because I feel my Friend close. It’s that simple. I try to live my life in a way that exemplifies the love and acceptance I have felt from my Friend toward me – I don’t always live up to this, but I try. I do what I do out of a pious need to “do right” or out of a sense of obligation – I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do and for me, is an example of sharing the love I’ve felt from my Friend. I don’t do this because I want other people to “know God” or “be saved” – my belief is that everybody’s journey – their path – is their own. I may try to help others along theirs – but not in a way that that tries to make them believe as I do. I don’t think I have the right to push other people to believe as I do, but I welcome respectful discourse from anyone. Please note: Respectful to me means NOT trying to convince me of the rightness of YOUR beliefs. I will respect your right to believe what you want, and I only ask the same of you. That said, I think we can learn a tremendous amount from each other, and hope to do so.

Part of my path is being a seeker, and I realize that truth is found in many places and in many ways. My guiding compass is my relationship with my Friend, and I’m willing to see and find truth in other places. I respect the people who do not believe, and wish them luck in their search and their choices – their path is separate from mine, and I’d like to hear more about their journeys. I also respect the people who are sure in their religion and in their fath – I believe I have a lot to learn from them as well.

The bottom line for me, right now, is I believe. My faith guides my actions, helps my heart, and fills my soul. And that’s enough for me, right now. I believe.

Rainbow set in the clouds

Rainbow set in the clouds