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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"No, but - ?"

There is an old story of unknown origin in which a college student says to the college chaplain, "I'm an atheist."  The chaplain replies, "Tell me about this god you don't believe in."   The student proceeds to describe an autocratic, anthropomorphic, male god of judgement, anger, and vengeance who is out to get people who disobey his rules, and demands punitive penitence in order to be forgiven and saved from eternal damnation.  To this the chaplain replies, "Then I must be an atheist too.  Because I don't believe in that god either."

I don't know about you, but I can look at my life, especially my spiritual journey, and see a lot of negative energy expended toward what I "don't believe."  These negative beliefs were usually first identified in other people as in, "I sure don't want to be like them."   As a teenager I began to reject what I perceived as my strict Southern Baptist upbringing.  Then in college, like our fictional student, I abandoned religion all together.  For a number of years after college theater was my religion of choice.  Even after discovering the Presbyterians it wasn't enough to just be a church member.  I went to seminary to become a minister so I could correct the "wrong beliefs" of others.  Instead, seminary pulled a fast one on me and challenged my whole way of thinking.  As a result, I encountered a new set of stuff I didn't believe in, which just happened to be my own fundamentalism.  During my first years as a minister my new battle was against things like biblical literalism, adherence to orthodoxy, and exclusivity of certain people in the church.

I'm not sure exactly how or when, but somewhere along the way I began to ask, "What do I believe?" Of course the first and obvious answer was that I believe the opposite of everything I don't believe in. Ok, fine.  But how does that sound, feel, and look?    I couldn't just say "no."  I also needed a "but" followed by a "yes."

My guess is that too many of us, like that college student and me, spend a lot of time and energy being "against" something and not enough thought and effort being "for" a positive alternative.

How's this for a New Year commitment?  Every time we hear our self say "No" to something, why not add a "but" followed by a "yes?"

In doing so we may discover what we actually do believe.  Then we can start living it.

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