Today’s question comes from Yvette. She wrote: “What is wrong with me?? You see, I am not per se’ religious. I believe there is a God, but I am not Christian. I believe that there was a Jesus– but only a man– who had his stuff together. I also believe that every sin is forgiven– based on past, upbringing, and mental state. So why do I not want people in the great Beyond or afterlife with me? Some people are just mean and judgmental– but myself, feeling this way, am I not the same?”
In my first fourteen years of parish ministry, I’ve learned that when it comes to people’s spiritual beliefs each person has a different area of emphasis. Some people, for instance, put their primary emphasis on the existence of sacred writings that guide their life and give it meaning. Other people put their emphasis on living an ethical and moral life. Other people put their primary emphasis on spiritual disciplines (or spiritual practices) that provide them with transcendent experiences. Still others put their primary emphasis on a belief in a specific form or understanding of an afterlife.
One of the greatest challenges I face as a parish pastor is getting people to first acknowledge that fact and then respect the reality that different people have different emphases in their spiritual lives. Lots of people think that because they have a particular emphasis in their spiritual life that EVERYONE should be equally invested in that same area.
I say this, Yvette, to say you are not the only spiritual person I’ve met whose primary emphasis isn’t based upon a particular understanding of an afterlife. Translation: there’s nothing wrong with you! You may, for instance, be a person who puts your primary emphasis on moral and ethical living.
Many of us have experienced pain over the years from encounters with rigid folks who feel that everyone should share their particular area of emphasis. Folks, for instance, who insist you see the sacred writings of the faith tradition exactly the way they do; folks who have a particular understanding of Jesus and insist that you do as well; folks who have a particular image for what the afterlife will look like and expect you to share the same image. When they encounter folks who don’t share their area of emphasis they can get VERY mean and VERY quick to condemn others (often to hell)!
The big question we face in those moments is this: how will I respond to their intolerance?
We have to decide if we want to meet their intolerance with more intolerance of our own; or will we break the cycle and allow them to hold onto their area of emphasis while giving ourselves permission to hold onto our own.
One of my goals in life is to help folks spiritually mature so they don’t live lives that demand others think like/believe like them! While that sounds like a simple goal, I’ve learned through many, many, many painful lessons that it’s not. So many folks respond to the pain they’ve experienced by inflicting their pain on others. They would rather hurt others, than heal themselves.
I know you well, Yvette, and have faith that you will – and already ARE! – breaking the cycle of intolerance and giving yourself – and others – permission to be who they are.
So what about you? What do you think about Yvette’s question?