Integrating Faith

Having spent most of my life in Iowa, moving to Texas at the end of last year has given me the opportunity to experience some different ways in which people live. I truly have enjoyed these new experiences and you can read more about them on my other blog. One of these experiences has been the openness about the sharing of faith. I realize that Texas is considered part of the Bible belt but I really did not fully understand what that meant. There is seldom a visit to a nearby Starbucks when I do not overhear a conversation regarding personal faith or a specific congregation. Many people come into the Starbucks carrying a Bible.

As I sat in Starbucks doing some research last week, two people were sitting at a table next to me. They were discussing which version of the Bible was their favorite. Then a man carrying two Bibles walked in the door, searching for the person he was supposed to meet. I began thinking about this openness and how I felt about it. Having grown up in Iowa, my experience with faith is that it was not something people shared publicly often. I seldom encountered people carrying Bibles into Starbucks and rarely heard conversations of faith.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to learn about another person’s faith, whether the person is a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or even someone who states they have no faith, I have enjoyed listening and learning from them. One result of this is that it makes me very mindful that not everyone believes what I believe. I have also learned that there are different understandings and practices in relation to the manner in which someone lives out what they believe. I was thinking a lot about these things when I was sitting in the Starbucks last week.

I admit that I had a reaction to the conversation which I heard and the man walking in with two Bibles under his arm. My reaction took me a little by surprise since it was a negative reaction. I thought to myself how it appeared that these individuals were forcing their faith on to me. Even though none of these individuals said a word to me, I had this immediate reaction. My question then was why I would react in such a way since I am a Christian and am not ashamed of my faith. The conclusion to which I came was this amount of openness was an experience which I had not had while growing up.

Another thought that entered my mind is how a non-Christian feels when she or he experiences a similar situation. Are they offended by such an outward demonstration of the Christian faith? Does the person feel uncomfortable? What I described here is definitely not an aggressive action taken by anyone. There was no attempt at proselytizing anyone. No one made derogatory comments to me, in fact, none of the people who I mentioned even said a word to me. Yet, I still wonder how I would feel if I were not Christian and I experienced this regularly.

As I have thought more about all this throughout the week, I realized that at one level it is refreshing to be in an area where people have no concern regarding speaking to one another about their faith. I do not believe any of these people were trying to flaunt their faith but instead were making it a normal part of their everyday life, even in Starbucks. I also determined that I would want a Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or anyone else to feel comfortable to do the same. Everyone should have the freedom to integrate their faith into as much of their day in a manner they choose.

My first negative reaction to this new experience came out of a sense that someone was trying to shove their faith into my face. I was concerned about how it might also offend others who may not be Christians. Now I realize that not only was that not the intent of the people who I encountered but instead that I might actually have learned something from them on this day. I need to be more willing to integrate my faith even into trips to Starbucks. I will continue to be sensitive to those around me but I need to do a better job of not compartmentalizing my faith. While I may not carry a Bible around with me everywhere I go, I can still demonstrate my faith in my actions and words.

Answer Unavailable

For me, one of the most difficult realities in life is that times exist when answers do not. As a leader in the Christian church, I have often been present with people when they experience tragedy and/or loss. I have sat beside a person when they have been given extremely bad news. I have accompanied police officers as they have had to deliver news of a death to a family. It has been my responsibility to speak to a community when horror such as what occurred on 9/11/01 happens in our nation. In each of these situations, people have looked for answers that are beyond any human’s ability to provide.

This week, news of a senseless tragedy filled the airwaves and newspapers due to an event in my state. Less than twenty-four hours after this tragedy, another horrible act was committed in Ohio. Over thirty individuals lost their lives within a 24-hour time span because of the actions taken by two individuals. Right away people started seeking answers. The news media asked questions of law enforcement about motives and how these events took place. The politicians started discussing their theories and placing blame on others. The families of the victims, the ones who deserve answers more than anyone else, asked the question that always arises, “Why?

Over the years and my experience in seeking answers to questions like this, I have come to realize that some questions must be left unanswered. Sure, we can theorize, and we can rationalize but the reality is that the answer to Why? is not available. We can search the Bible, ancient manuscripts, history books, psychology books, and all types of writings, but the answer is not there. We can listen to civic leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement, professors, and anyone we believe to have wisdom and still there is no answer.

This lack of an answer frustrates us immensely. We are at the point of human development where we are used to taking on tough questions and with much effort finding the answers. In an age of technology and endless available information, we have convinced ourselves that no question exists which we cannot answer with Google and a little work. When we get frustrated, then we turn to blaming. We blame the cause of the tragedy, we blame our leaders, we blame ethnic backgrounds, we blame the internet, and at times we even blame the victims.

Here is a reality that may be difficult to swallow…there is no answer. No matter how much blame we throw around. No matter how much wisdom we seem to obtain. The answer to this Why? is not within our grasp.

Yet, there is still hope. The hope does not lie within our powers or abilities. The hope does not lie in the ability to “fix it.” Hope comes from only one source. This source has been known to people since ancient times. The name of the source may have changed over the years and throughout civilizations but it is the same source of hope. Some may call it Yahweh, some call it the Great Spirit, some call it Allah, and still others call it God as I do in my Christian faith. Our hope is found in God even when the answer to Why? is not obtainable.