I teach parenting at a church in a room that has book shelves along two of its long walls – the church library, also a meeting room, also a classroom. Having set up for my class yesterday, I had some time left before the parents would be coming in, so I decided to peruse the books to see if there were something interesting to read. I came across a little pocket-sized book – Is There Life After High School? by Steve Swanson. I only had to read the first page to realize its bent: “As a Christian, of course, your life is not entirely your own. God has a stake in how you live your life and what you do with it. Also, as Christians you and I believe that Jesus died for us. He invested his life in your life.” I really liked the way he said that: “his life in your life.” I thought this might be a book useful for my grandchildren.
I checked the book out to read before I invest. I wanted to see first of all if it was useful. It is rather old, copyright 1991. Things have changed both in education and in the ways of our world of work. I also wanted to check out its Christian bent. I am rather fussy about Christian bents.
What I look for in Christian literature is how Christianity is presented. My own theology has changed over the years. It was inevitable that this should happen. I grew up a Catholic and at that time, in the 40’s and 50’s, we were taught that the Catholic Church is the one true church. Only baptized Catholics were saved. Non-Catholics could be saved by this thing called “baptism of desire”. This phrase was explained to us in our religion texts and by our teachers but, quite frankly, I always had a problem with it. The idea of exclusivism seemed to rub me the wrong way from the start. Having a couple of non-Catholic friends helped. I just couldn’t imagine God rejecting them. One of them was a Seventh Day Adventist and she and I compared our bibles one day…exactly alike. This teaching of the Church was crazy to me.
As I got older and my world expanded, I realized there were other religions beside Christian and there were people who didn’t seem to have any religion. These folks seemed like good people to me, some more loving than the Catholics I knew. I even found it hard to be exclusive about Christianity. I couldn’t swallow fully the idea that Jesus came to save only a few and the rest just go to hell.
I ended up getting a degree in religious studies in college, so I am pretty steeped in scriptures and theology. Since my schooling I’ve investigated a lot of expressions of Christianity and a lot of other religions. I have been fascinated by the similarities and uniqueness in all of these religions. As I studied and had some marvelous life experiences, I have found myself loving people who are members of these other faiths.
There came a time when I had to wrestle with some of the teachings about Jesus. There are passages in the bible that talk about him being the only way to the Father. This stings. These passages violate my human connection with people who believe in God but not in Jesus. It seemed I had to choose between Jesus and the love for these people. I myself am a follower of Jesus. His words and actions are the template for my own life. The struggle ended when I let go of my need to understand everything. I decided that I didn’t have to figure out what to do with the scriptures that seem to violate what I believe to be contrary to Jesus message of love. I just needed to “love God and my neighbor as myself.”
I listen to those who would say that only Christians are saved and I listen to those who believe that only Muslims (or Jews or any other religion) are saved. This is what I see. Taken to the extreme, these exclusive beliefs lead to prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, and eventually to violence. I couldn’t deny this outcome. I believe that it is the cause of most of the pain in the world today. I have come to believe that I can accept Jesus as my path to God without pooh-poohing the path others follow. This kind of openness has allowed me to be more loving and to treasure the goodness in others.
So when I choose a book with a Christian bent for a grandchild or for a friend, I like to check out what kind of Christianity it is based upon. I don’t want to promote that which is divisive among God’s creatures. There is enough of that in the world.