Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God Rides Public Transit

Have you heard of the controversial ad-campaign produced by the Free Thought Association of Canada that simply states, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” These ads are now appearing on Toronto transit buses and subway cars, while being rejected in some cities such as Halifax and most recently Ottawa.

When I first heard about this campaign I thought, “Good for you, you go get ‘em Free Thought Association of Canada!” What is the FAC about? According to their website, they are a “non-profit organization promoting education and outreach and the principles of various secular worldviews,” which include atheism, agnosticism, humanism, and skepticism. The goal of their “Atheist Bus” campaign ( is to “raise awareness of the presence of non-believers in our country, to make it okay for people to step out of the closet,” and also to “open up communication between faith communities and secular organizations,” a dialogue which Free Thought says is terribly lacking.

Anyways, there’s a lot that I like about the ad. Firstly, the words could be speaking to adherents of the various religions that bicker back and forth about doctrine, challenging them to tone things down a bit, though I doubt that many will suddenly agree that there is no God at all. Or the words could speak to people who are trying to jump through the various hoops they jump through in attempting to please a separate, all-powerful deity who is keeping a close watch on them from above. You know, the sort of Santa-God: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake; He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” I think that more than a few people view God this way. ‘God has a standard, I fall terribly short, so I’ve got to find ways to shape up. Living this way, with a deep sense or belief that one falls short or doesn’t measure up seems quite unhealthy to me. God can become the ultimate projection of low self-worth, and activities such as church services and prayer can become means by which people try to assuage this belief. If it’s between this God and no God at all, then bring on the free-thinkers.

Now, in response to this ad campaign, the United Church of Canada has countered with their own version: “There probably is a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” In a letter to clergy and United Church members, the moderator states that their campaign is also meant to encourage discussion. “Clearly, as Christians, we most definitely believe there is a God,” writes The Right Rev. David Giuliano. “ (We) see this as an opportunity to delve more deeply into what it really means when Christians say they believe in God. I would encourage you to bring your faith to this conversation wherever it arises.”

While the moderator states that it is the church’s intention to join the conversation, I think that more than a few people may see their counter-campaign simply as a defense of a deity who is more or less separate from humanity and life in general. Many people do not believe in this type of God anymore, including many United Church members. So I think that churches need to make attempts to present a different view of
God. If the counter-campaign leads to deeper conversation, it could be a good thing. There are a few other steps that I believe should be taken if Christians or any other religious adherents want to engage the world.

The first step is to take the “I’m the King of the Castle” belief and throw it on the scrap heap. For sure, most Christian churches and leaders have toned down or eliminated the damnation, or ‘dirty rascal’ language that was once prevalent, but the notion of original sin is unfortunately still believed in and taught. But any notion of “My religion is better than your religion,” or “My God is bigger than your God” has got to go.

Once this step is taken, sincere dialogue at the very least, and ideally co-operation and strong friendship between different faith groups can occur. This is more than tolerance. People of different faiths can see each other as equals, each on a unique path but fundamentally connected. One thing that turns people off from organized religion is the arguing that goes on between people of different faiths, and this would go a long way in having people take a second look at these religions.

But perhaps the most important thing is to present a view of God that does not involve an entirely separate deity. What kind of God is being offered to people? Is “He” solely seen in religious books or on Sunday mornings? Or is God the spirit behind and in all things, meeting us in the eyes of a stranger or in the fury of a thunderstorm, or in an embrace? I believe that God, or Life or Love or Spirit, is actually within each of us; the teacher, the waiter, the single parent, the imam. And this may be the message about God that many are looking for. What would the response be if we approached others with language such as, “You are important, and you already have God inside of you. Now let’s sit down, have a drink, and we’ll exchange our stories.”

That may not easily fit on the side of a bus, but it may do some good.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My, How You've Grown

There was a time when I thought I had you figured out. Or at least I had a good enough idea of who you were and what you expected, and I tried to live with you.

But You are more.

I thought I knew your name. Or make that names, all three of them. But now I am learning.

You are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are He, You are She, You are Mother. You are Love, You are Peace, You are Life.

I thought I knew where to find your words. But you have written in so many places. You are in the Bhagavad-Gita, You are in the Qu’ran. You are in aboriginal texts and stories. You are in the New Testament and You are in the Torah…I’m not so sure about Leviticus.

You are in my journal.

I thought I knew how to hear your voice. I tried very hard to hear it and to obey it… But I didn’t, I couldn’t realize that your voice and my voice sound remarkably alike.

My, how You’ve grown.

You are not confined to one name, one book, one path, one worldview. I see you when I see small babies with their little smiles and floppy heads and arms and legs. I see you in the unexpected smile of a complete stranger as I walk down the street.

You are all Power, with more might than a thousand storms and You are more thunderous than countless drums beating at the same time. Yet You are in a whisper, a glance, in the simple chorus of a song.

You dance through history, and have had thousands, millions of faces. Moses, Noah, Peter, Paul, Mary…Joni Mitchell. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi. The postal worker, the single Mom, the cashier, the doctor. Me.

Your love has no limits, even when my understanding does. It is there between mother and son, between sisters, between husband and husband. You raise your hand enthusiastically as to say “Present!” whenever barriers are broken, prejudices are abandoned, and when equality is fought for and realized.

You inspire me to push beyond the limitations I see today, yet you are not ashamed of them. Your gale-force power gently nudges me, encouraging me to move forward.

When I try to hand over the reins of my life to You, You hand them back to me, calling me to a new level of trust.

You are at the heart of me and You are beautiful.

I am You and You are Me.

My, How You’ve Grown.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Two Tables Over

I haven't been to Starbucks in quite awhile, but here I am, drinking a cup of Pike Place Roast. A few minutes ago, before I popped in my earphones and began listening to Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, I intermittently listened in on some of the conversation going on two tables over from me.

My ears tend to perk up whenever surrounding conversations turn religious. They were talking about a few things, including a Bible college, possibly even the one I went to several years ago. Another topic that came up was church planting. I have varying thoughts on this, and evangelism in general.

My initial thought when I heard them talking about church plants was that perhaps they are like bunnies; they can't really help themselves, and spend all of their time reproducing or at least trying to (I'm talking about churches, not the couple having the conversation. I don't think they were married, therefore they weren't having sex, of course.) Maybe churches reproduce because they simply think that's what they're supposed to do. After all, there's the great commission that has Jesus telling his followers to go out into all the world and make disciples of everyone. So people go out into the whole world, trying to bring people into the Christian family, sort of like Angelina Jolie goes out into the whole world and brings children into the Jolie-Pitt family.

Let me start out by being positive (no, don't call a doctor.) I have no problem with evangelism if the goal is to help people realize their full potential and to genuinely want to see people live fulfilling lives. There is a while lot of good accomplished by Christian people - many mouths are fed, scores of homes built, many bracelet manufacturers' bottom lines are improved.

I believe that many, if not most Christians have good intentions when setting off on evangelistic work.

A big problem I have is when doctrine becomes involved, when well intentioned people assume that they know the exact road to a more fulfilling and whole life, and then proceed to try to graft these doctrines onto every soul and mind, even if they are completely foreign and incompatible with the other person.

It is no one's job to be the bringer of some packaged truth to another who does not have truth within them. It is no one's job to bring goodness to another who does not contain goodness within them. For each person alive contains truth, as well as goodness within them. Because of this, I believe that any religious dialogue that takes place between people should be just that, a dialogue. It should be a conversation between two equals, both of whom contain God within them and are on their own spiritual journeys. Together they, we, can learn form each other, and we can bring thoughts and ideas that can help the other to lead a more fulfilling and whole life. Some of our experiences and thoughts will resonate with others, some will not. That's absolutely fine. Truth, unlike the scarf that I wrap around my neck, is not one-size-fits-all.

In closing, again, I'm sure that many Christians and those of other faiths who evangelize have good intentions. I just think that it is vital to remember that the person sitting across the table has plenty of goodness within them as well.