May Your Faith be Quick

A friend called and requested a letter of reference.

No, not for a job. My friend was asked to be a godparent for a niece’s baptism. And the clergyperson performing the baptism wanted “proof” that my out-of-town, unknown-to-the-minister friend was a Christian.

Here, of course, I might relish highlighting which Christian church this professional servant of God works for. Wouldn’t it be devilishly easy to make snarky comments about that denomination’s insecurity or lambaste the individual pastor’s arrogance? How tempting to ridicule a situation where my friend must find “references” to help demonstrate the sincerity of faith.

But I choose restraint.

After all, I’m part of a denomination—United Methodist—that included a pastor who, in relatively recent times, refused membership in a Virginia church to a man because he was gay. Yes, the non-member could give money. Yes, he could be in the choir. Yes, he could bring tuna casserole for a potluck. But forget membership! Much further back in history, my “tribe” refused to ordain women, and—like so many denominations—had a sordid, sad track record with racism and slavery.

So, I best be careful about tossing rocks or words toward other folks or denominations for their actions. (No matter how crass they are!)

But this lingers for me: how would you prove you are a Christian? Or, frankly, how would anyone “prove” being Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish and so forth? Are you Buddhist by wearing a saffron robe and carrying a begging bowl? Are you Sikh because of knowing the proper way to wrap a turban? Are you Jewish since you celebrate Passover?

What makes a person, a person of faith?

One of my favorite (and oft used) comments addressing that question came from American writer, Maya Angelou:

I’m trying to be a Christian. I’m working at it, and I’m amazed when people walk up to me and say, “I’m a Christian.” I think, “Already? Wow!”

I’m a Christian! Wow, already?

During a years-ago sabbatical, I worshipped at a Unitarian Universalist church. I know they would never seek a letter of reference regarding participation in a baptism. Of course, the UUs don’t have baptism! Furthermore, a core UU belief is the acceptance of many beliefs. Literally, they are “come as you are.” When I worshipped, I possibly shared the sanctuary with folks who had personal history with begging bowls, turbans, and Passover meals.

And yet, though I regularly question and can be cynical about my faith (Christian) and denomination (United Methodist), I didn’t feel comfortable with the UUs. Admire them? Yes. Respect them? Absolutely.

But I am Christian. And thus, I circle back to the question: what makes a person, a person of faith? How ‘bout this:

  • I was baptized a Christian and my parents received documents to support that statement.
  • I am an ordained clergyperson in a Christian denomination and have darn fancy paperwork for evidence.
  • I was married in a Christian ceremony and my wife and I kept persuasive, faith-based mementos.

According to my reading of the Gospels, Jesus never said, “be a Christian and here’s a checklist.” Oh, yes, sometimes we scour the Bible for a definitive test of faith. Are you in, or are you out?

Not long ago, I read Matthew 6:24-34, confronted again by why I love—and am challenged by—the quote I used from Maya Angelou. Jesus declared, “No one can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve God and wealth.” In today’s world (and probably in yesterday’s world), the seductions are constant and persuasive. I am always working at becoming Christian.

This I know . . . it would be easier for me to prove my wealth (or lack of) than my faith (or lack of). In that passage Jesus later talked about how a believer shouldn’t worry about tomorrow. Why worry? God loves you! But it would also be easier for me to prove how much I fret about tomorrow than to demonstrate a faithful serenity regarding today.

During his presidency, Barack Obama’s patriotism was questioned because of he sometimes didn’t wear a lapel pin with a flag. If he wore a pin, did that prove his patriotism? And if he doesn’t . . .? There have been those, with Donald Trump, who belittled the current president for not wearing a wedding ring. If he wears a ring, does that prove he’s happily married? And if he doesn’t . . .?

How does one prove faith? Were you expecting me to give a definitive, brilliant answer? Sorry, can’t—and won’t—do that.

However I once borrowed an idea from Doug Adams, the late great Pacific School of Religion professor. During worship, I read the Apostles’ Creed, stopping after each belief statement.

People who agreed with the statement stood.

Did they disagree, or were they unsure? Please, remain seated.

When we finished, I invited the congregation to ask questions.

One fellow asked, “When it says, the quick and the dead, I know what dead is. What’s quick?

Ah, the strange, ancient words we use. Long ago, of course, quick meant the living. The living, breathing ones who struggle with God and wealth, with tomorrow’s worries and today’s joys. Do you need a letter to prove you are Christian? I don’t think so.

Just keep struggling and seek to be among the quick that are still learning and serving.

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