Just a few short thoughts and a bit of an apology. Despite my best intentions of keeping things updated every day, I’ve fallen down on the job. My only excuse is that I have been down with a nasty flu bug these last few days.
There, excuse out of the way and a pledge to do better. On to some of the thoughts I’ve been having over the last few days, and they revolve around faith, or lack of it.
Tomorrow isn’t just Halloween. It’s also Reformation Sunday, which in the Lutheran Church I grew up in is a very big deal. When I was a child in the Chicago suburbs, it was the Sunday that a very old copy of the bible, in German, was trotted out and put on display. A portion of the service was conducted in German, reminding us of our German heritage; most if not all of us in that church and that denomination, the Missouri Synod, came of German stock on at least one side of our family, and that was true of me. It was a time of celebration.
I’m still within the Lutheran Church, though at least temporarily in a church affiliated with the more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church America; we Lutherans since that October 31 more than 500 years ago when Luther allegedly nailed his theses to that door seem to be natural born schismatics. There are several flavors of Lutheranism ranging from the conservative Missouri and Wisconsin Synods to the more liberal ELCA. What’s discouraging to me about that, and what I want to spend some time talking about, is the idea even among different Lutheran groups that our particular branch or brand has the answers to eternal questions. We come by the conviction honestly. Martin Luther himself, after lifelong struggle with the idea that he was doomed to hell, became convinced that there was only way to be saved, and that was for God to reach out to us with his Grace and save us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
As I’ve grown older, that formula has grown less satisfying to me. I’ve grown much less certain that there is one way to salvation, or even what salvation is. I have difficulty with a God who demands blood sacrifice as a condition of holiness, and then condemns those to whom he chooses not to extend divine grace. I do not read the bible any more literally than I would other books of myth and ancient history (which is not to say that I don’t find value in it; I do find value in those myths and that history). And I’ve come to a place in my life where I see many different paths to God, or at least to the divine within each living being (since I’m no longer entirely convinced that there is an external God out there, but I am convinced that there is divinity within us all).
So I no longer view Reformation Day in the way that I did as a child, and I no longer view Luther in particularly heroic terms. In some ways, I view this day as another in a long line of tragedies that have separated us from each other, and thus, from the Divine ground of being. Luther’s challenge to the church, corrupt as it had become, may have been a necessary corrective, but it also furthered the argument on all sides that only through belief in some correct doctrine could we be “saved,” leaving the vast majority of humanity without the opportunity to participate in the divine.
It also, of course, set off a bloodbath of religious wars within Christendom that cost thousands and thousands of lives. All over the esoteric question of how or if we are “saved.”
I will, of course, go to church, and try to find the spiritual nourishment I can there. I will sing the hymns because I believe there’s value in communal contemplation of the divine, whether I agree with the doctrine and dogma being preached or not.
But the pride of exclusivity is a dead thing within me. I no longer think of one path as the path to God. I no longer believe in a religion of exclusion. And I suppose I mourn the loss of a simple faith even as I celebrate the emancipation to seek the divine where I find it.