“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
― Luke 2:10
What does the love of Jesus call me to do in this moment? If “my religion is kindness,” (Dali Lama) as I believe Jesus’s teachings and life point me to, what can I say or do to best communicate that to my family on Christmas morning? My heart yearns to talk to them of Jesus and celebrate his effect on my life but…
One beloved daughter-in-law only half-jokingly said she’s triggered by hearing the word “Christ.” None of our three children or our two boys’ wives identify as Christian anymore. Not just because they don’t believe but because they are also appalled at much of what has been done and is still done in His name. I have some empathy for their being appalled. Jane, my wife, still has an appreciation for and some belief in Christ but I don’t really know to what extent. I’m not sure she does. To varying degrees, our sons and their wives have contempt for religion and are atheists. They have a special dislike for the religion of their youth—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The same religion I still find my home and service in and value despite my disagreements with. If I believed that God was as directly and overtly embedded in the leadership of my church or any church as I once did I might also have contempt for religion and disbelief in a God.
But like the natural world I explore and experience, my God is awe-inspiring and more complex and sophisticated than I can comprehend. Why would God baptize us into such an earthy experience if that experience didn’t have relevance and point to eternal truths? And yet my god is personal in ways I do not understand but continually experience. Even in ways, I can only describe as miraculous. This God is passionately engaged in my well-being and others while seemingly disengaged directly. While God may have numbered the hairs on our heads, this same God seems to have little interest in preventing them from falling out. This god of mine is perfect in the sense of being whole—holding darkness and light, destruction and creation, and sorrow and joy. But not complete or perfect in the sense we often wish our own lives to be—free of darkness, destruction, and sorrow. And in that wholeness God is holy. If we are the offspring of God and are Their work and glory as scripture asserts then these Heavenly Parents are not complete any more than I am as the father of my children. They continually evolve me. And me them.
My evolving understanding of God is more reflected in my life experience than in any sacred texts or authoritative prophetic utterances. This is not unique nor to be denigrated—it is good tidings! While Jesus drew at times from scripture, he more often drew from his personal experiences and relationship with his Father in Heaven. Jesus often referred his students to the natural world and familiar life experiences to illustrate his teachings. God is revealed to us through Their ever-evolving creations and our ever-breaking hearts and bodies. For me, denial of such a reality is not only irrational, it is faithless.
This is why the iconoclast Jesus matters. He did not just overturn the money changers’ tables at the temple. He uprooted ideas and ways of being that have always entrapped humanity in false and destructive narratives and biases. He showed by his own humanity—and divinity—that what truly matters are not economic systems or the powers of church and state. Or even kin and community. He showed that these cannot do their potential good work without each of us submitting to the cross—the death of our self-centeredness. This invites sacrificial attendance to the suffering of the least of those in front of us. To see the kingdom of God in the here and now of the meek and disinherited. The poor and imprisoned. And those who we deem enemy and anathema to us. To see the son of God as much within those who challenge as we do within our own souls.
This is why dissonance and discomfort are an indispensable part of our individual and collective journey. It is like Miracle Grow for our souls. It sure has been for mine. Which brings me back to where I began—wishing this Christmas morning to reconcile the dissonance I feel in wanting to share the tidings of great joy in Jesus to those I love the most but not knowing how. But maybe, for now, my silence is appropriate. Even Jesus found that best at times. Hopefully, my service to them and my deep affection and appreciation for them becomes a witness of Jesus and what he taught as the greatest of commandments—to love God by loving each other and ourselves.
I am deeply grateful to you for your participation in ThinkAgain-FaithAgain. You so often teach me and help me hold this uncertain yet sacred space of belief and discipleship in my ever-evolving journey.
May you be filled with the light of Jesus in thought, faith, hope and love.
MORE GOOD TIDINGS:
- Check out this excellent short video from Faith Matters.
- My amazing friend and long-time LGBTQ ally Suzanne Stott is interviewed on Listen, Learn, & Love. Episode 584. She was a Grand Marshall for the 2021 Pride Parade. I work with her in the Latter-Day Saint African Refugee Branch. What an inspiring life story! And if you’re curious, you can learn more about my life story there also—episode 597. Make sure you scroll down to find the podcast you want.
- Actually, I’m just discovering that there are a number of friends and ThinkAgain-FaithAgain folk that Richard has interviewed. The amazing Bob Rees #385, Jenny Richards #317, Jeralee Renshaw #571, 592, & 186, Erika Munson #56, Jody England #562, David Ostler #514 & 167, Terryl Givens #502, Terryl & Fiona #355, Patrick Mason #366, Thomas McConkie #356 & 157, Tim & Aubrey Chavez #199, Jana Spangler #144, Susan Meredith Hinkley #63, Jana Riess # 30. If I’ve missed someone, holler and I’ll add you to this list. I’ve got some listening to catch up on!
- I recently attended a Zoom only book review by Charles Randall Paul and Nate Nielsen of Books and Bridges Podcast. Randy, a ThinkAgain-FaithAgain attendee and prior presenter did an excellent job of exploring The Hopeful Last Words of William James: Living Better Together with Social Earth Quakes, based on James’ book, A Pluralistic Universe. Randy declares “this is William James’ eloquent summation of his life’s study of psychology, pragmatic philosophy and religious experiences. James died in 1910 a year after the book’s publication, but his hearty out-of-the-box thinking seems original 112 years later.” You can watch/listen to this truly fascinating discussion here.