A few weeks ago, my wife expressed the desire to attend a church service. My son and his wife have found a church they like, and I had assumed that my wife wanted to check it out because she misses some of the fellowship opportunities in churches.
Almost as if my guides saw that coming, I had been thinking that I need to be sensitive to my wife's religious needs. I had decided a few weeks prior to her bringing it up, that if she wanted to start going to church, I would learn to keep my mouth shut, and attend with her. She did bring it up, and I told her that I was completely OK with it. I promised her that I would be a gentleman and not challenge anything that people said in Sunday school or in a sermon. It would be good for me to exercise grace in the face of teachings that I could not buy into.
I should not have been surprised when she announced that she wanted to go to Irv Cobb's church in northeast Omaha. We had been members there many years ago, and we both developed a strong, abiding respect for Irv and his wife, Jan. I have always been comfortable with Irv, even though we are not in agreement on theological or religious matters, we always seem to be able to just be simple friends.
Well, we went to Irv's church for the main service. We were glad to see many of the old members there as well as Irv and Jan. I have to laugh at myself, though. I was psychologically prepared to listen to Irv's sermon and not analyze it. I had totally forgotten about the hymns. Singing hymns that are full of doctrine, praising Jesus as God. Oi Vey! I could not sing the songs. To do so would have been hypocritical because I simply do not belief in the divinity of Jesus.
Irv's sermon was from Romans. The Apostle Paul is one of my heroes. He was a Jew's Jew. He was a deeply spiritual man. He understood the spiritual journey and the many obstacles to spiritual growth. I had absolutely no problem listening to the sermon. I always appreciate Irv's insights.
What touched me the most about the experience is something Jan told as as we were leaving, “ I don't normally say things like this, and maybe I shouldn't say anything, but I have been praying for you every day since you left the church.”
Wow! First, we know Jan and Irv well enough to know they do not put on airs, they are down to Earth, real, and honest. If Jan says she prayed for us everyday, I believe her. Also, I believe in prayer. My immediate thought when she told us that was, “Only God knows how many times her prayer has kept my family from some extremely difficult circumstances.” I thanked Jan for those prayers. I honestly do appreciate those efforts to intercede and keep us secure.
Am I contradicting myself? I mean, I have expressed my disdain for organized religion, so how can I find it in me to try to tolerate the religions and/or the people involved in them. I admit, I have struggled with that, and I think when one walks away from a religion, it is kind of like a death of sorts, and there are multiple stages one goes through until one finds a balance, or finds him or her self, again. I went through an anger stage, I went through a guilt stage (guilty for being angry and hateful, not guilty for walking away), a justification stage where I had to find the “logical” justification for abandoning the religion (included a lot of reading, and a lot of self examination), and now I am in a near resolution of it all. I am content with what I have done, I am aware of a lot of errors on my part, and I am more aware of people and how religion works. Like Dr. Jonathan Haidt discovered as he wrote his book, The Righteous Mind, humans work best in groups with common cause. The ablility of humans to bond together is what has kept the human race ahead in the natural selection game. Religion is one of the most powerful bonding agents. While religions have been inextricably part of tragic human history, religions have likewise been part of the stories of love and healing. Religion, like any other tool, can be used for good, or for bad. So, for me, I choose now to look at the good it has done.
And I look at people like Irv and Jan, the life they live, and how they work with in the structure of a religion to bring hope and good things to other people.
I am absolutely a lover of the Most High God. I don't just “believe” in God. It is not a matter of faith to me. I have experienced God in my life. I see God daily in my life. I love God above all things, even though I let life distract me, at the end of the day, I bow before Him and thank Him for His kindness and His love. And I thank Him for people like Irv and Jan Cobb.
P.S. It is becoming less and less important for me to justify why I have nothing to do with organized religions in general, and Christianity specifically. I don't need to convince myself of anything anymore, and I don't feel a need to convince someone else to follow me. I am convinced that God is far more loving and accepting than most religions make Him out to be. His love transcends our limitations ands brings us to Him in the end, no matter what we believe at this time. God works within whatever context we happen to be in. He loves us that much.