No, not for a job. My friend was asked to be a godparent for a nieceâ€™s baptism. And the clergyperson performing the baptism wanted â€œproofâ€ 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. Wouldnâ€™t it be devilishly easy to make snarky comments about that denominationâ€™s insecurity or lambaste the individual pastorâ€™s arrogance? How tempting to ridicule a situation where my friend must find â€œreferencesâ€ to help demonstrate the sincerity of faith.
But I choose restraint.
After all, Iâ€™m part of a denominationâ€”United Methodistâ€”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 â€œtribeâ€ refused to ordain women, andâ€”like so many denominationsâ€”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 â€œproveâ€ 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:
Iâ€™m trying to be a Christian. Iâ€™m working at it, and Iâ€™m amazed when people walk up to me and say, â€œIâ€™m a Christian.â€ I think, â€œAlready? Wow!â€
Iâ€™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 donâ€™t have baptism! Furthermore, a core UU belief is the acceptance of many beliefs. Literally, they are â€œcome as you are.â€ 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 didnâ€™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 â€˜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, â€œbe a Christian and hereâ€™s a checklist.â€ 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 loveâ€”and am challenged byâ€”the quote I used from Maya Angelou. Jesus declared, â€œNo one can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve God and wealth.â€ In todayâ€™s world (and probably in yesterdayâ€™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 shouldnâ€™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 Obamaâ€™s patriotism was questioned because of he sometimes didnâ€™t wear a lapel pin with a flag. If he wore a pin, did that prove his patriotism? And if he doesnâ€™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 heâ€™s happily married? And if he doesnâ€™t . . .?
How does one prove faith? Were you expecting me to give a definitive, brilliant answer? Sorry, canâ€™tâ€”and wonâ€™tâ€”do that.
However I once borrowed an idea from Doug Adams, the late great Pacific School of Religion professor. During worship, I read the Apostlesâ€™ 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, â€œWhen it says, the quick and the dead, I know what dead is. Whatâ€™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 tomorrowâ€™s worries and todayâ€™s joys. Do you need a letter to prove you are Christian? I donâ€™t think so.
Just keep struggling and seek to be among the quick that are still learning and serving.