So, what difference has this learning and experience had for me? For anyone else?
First, my parents helped me build a solid foundation of trust and thankfulness. From my observations, particularly of brothers, it would appear that they at least implicitly invited some degree of freedom of thought and were not afraid of deviation from “the family way.” I have related either here or elsewhere my own flight from familiar places and ways and of my father’s acceptance of me as I was and as I have become.
My brother, Richard, a medical doctor, became convinced of the natural role of evolution in the life of the world. He was not afraid to express that and did so, with mixed reaction. My brother, Leon, for a time was a Seventh Day Baptist pastor. I recall one summer at a church conference he appeared wearing a black arm band in a test of something that I do not recall. My brother, Willie, has faced cancer several times during his life, beginning the year after his graduation from high school, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, which was, at that time considered fatal. Over the years, whether influenced by his fight against this cancer and the results of that, by other life experiences, the influences of a good friend of his, David Bowyer, or just by study, he has become fundamentalist in his beliefs. I believe that he would be willing to classify himself politically with the Republican religious right, and likely the Tea Party. I have one sister who is openly aligned with the Tea Party and another that, at least politically, would likely be aligned with that. My youngest brother, with whom my parents, in their later years, had been living, is very open to our parents that he does not share their religious ideas. Nonetheless, he acknowledged to me one time during the last few years that during his childhood, Dad would often ask him what he thought, and Dad valued his responses. At family gatherings, we boys, particularly, enjoyed visiting among ourselves, usually one-on-one with perhaps an onlooker, about religion, medicine and science, but particularly about religion. Dad did not enter into those discussions, usually busy with something else at such times; Mom would usually be within earshot of the discussion but expressed no interest in it, whether of approval or disapproval. Theological discussions have never interested Mom. For her, religion is not something that you discuss, although you may share your faith; rather, religion is something that you do.
In these discussions I noticed that although there may be among us different beliefs as to the reasons for caring about and serving people, or for loving nature or caring for it, there is no disagreement concerning not only our obligation, but our desire to care and to serve. In our family some more fundamentalist members are convinced that the Bible is God’s revelation directly to man, from which they can determine what is God’s will. There are others who not only do not share those convictions, but may even deny the “existence” of such a God. That statement, as I see it, does not necessitate the conclusion they fail to see the sacredness in life about us and in our living within it. When one of the members of our family has expressed concern to me about the “disbelief” of another member, I have in recent years responded, “Don’t worry about that. Jesus taught, ‘by their fruits you will know them.’ [He or she] clearly bears good fruit.”
I have come to appreciate people of other religions and faiths, and, despite any possible disagreement with me, they show that they care for others and demonstrate “respect for life” in the myriad ways that it is presented to us. I don’t need to see God as a great designer, as a great protector nor as rewarding right belief. I don’t have a good definition of God; in fact, I firmly believe that any attempt to define God or, for that matter, to name God, whether that be “Our Father in Heaven,” “Lord,” “Allah,” or “Yahweh,” the name can only point toward that experience of the divine, but can never contain it. I believe that an appropriate response to an experience of the divine, or of a perception of God’s presence or activity in our own lives, is reverence, awe and gratitude – but especially gratitude. Without gratitude, one risks becoming self-congratulatory, arrogant and self-important. I have learned that “no man is an island.”
I believe that the “program” for the “kingdom of God on earth” cannot be accessed except by compassionate living; it will not be imposed from without but obtained from within; it will be inclusive of the whole of life in all its manifestations and exclusive of no one; and it will be kindled by love. We don’t have to wait; rather, it is at hand. We need but open our eyes and our arms and claim it. We are more likely to experience it if, rather than going alone, we take others and all life with us.
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