Herald Journal Columns
June 28, 2004 Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

True religion is reflected in the way this life is lived

By Pastor Bill Baldwin, Prairie Community Church, Lester Prairie

Maybe it’s just because I was a child and either wasn’t aware or didn’t know enough to pay attention, but it seems to me that people have become much more uptight about their religious beliefs in recent years than back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

I grew up Catholic and thought it was just fine. I have no idea what church most of my friends went to, and I didn’t care. We were friends first and only. We just liked each other because we liked to have kids to play with.

I never heard my parents mention anything about where the neighbors went to church, or if they went at all. We all just went about our own lives and let others do the same. People just were who they were, and religious affiliation seemed a more private thing.

Oh, I do remember hearing a few choice stories and remarks about how certain groups treated others in the little town of Wood Lake, where Dad and Mom had their drugstore. I just thought what they were talking about was ancient stuff that died out long ago.

Oh yes, I do remember hearing that for my Catholic Dad to marry a Norwegian Lutheran girl was about enough to cause war to break out. They were married Catholic, us kids were raised Catholic, and now my Mom goes to an ELCA Lutheran Church, as does my brother.

My sister doesn’t have any particular affiliation or religious interest. And then there’s me, the preacher and promoter of all things inclusive.

I do believe that hearing stories of exclusion and judgment based on religious affiliation formed a deep core of inclusiveness in me that has strongly shaped my identity. I have this idealistic dream that who we are will speak loudly enough about what we believe, so that if anyone likes who we are, they will ask what makes us the way we are, and we will lead them to our church.

Wow, wasn’t that a mouthful! I am personally much more interested in the way a person thinks and behaves than in what church they go to or their specific beliefs. I can learn all I care to know about a person in just spending time with them.

A decent person is a decent person, wherever they come from. That said, I want to make sure that my church is contributing to the process of creating decent people and decent families.

I like a person who will look you right in the eye, give you a warm smile and say “Hi.” I like a person who will still say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and even hold a door for you, regardless of your gender.

I am impressed with people who have a spirit of helpfulness and willingness to pitch in and make life a little better for everyone. I like a person who really sees me as being a person more like them than different.

I like a person who has an optimistic attitude about life regardless of what else is going on, knowing that happiness is always a choice. I enjoy a person who has an interest in the world and in learning new things.

I like a person who just seems glad to see you, even if seeing you for the first time.

No, these don’t sound like very sound religious doctrines to be teaching, but I think churches are a great place for them to be taught. After pointing people to God and acquainting them with a Savior, there is a lot to be learned about getting along with each other on earth.

While Jesus certainly had a true interest in heaven and the world to come, he also pointed out that the kingdom of God is right here, right now. He talked an awful lot about treating others with kindness, respect, and forgiveness.

I never had the sense that Jesus thought this life didn’t matter, but rather that this life is as much a part of the kingdom experience as anything to come.

I have a vague notion of where some of my daughter’s friends go to church, but it really isn’t a big deal. My daughter is certainly a richer person for the diversity of people in her life.

The criteria by which I judge my daughter’s friends is whether or not they are kind, respectful, polite, playful, curious, and healthy.

I can also say that my wife and I have a strong connection to the parents of every friend, so we look carefully at the values they are instilling in their kids. Again, not from what affiliation, but whether they contribute to civility and decency and, ultimately, safety and nurture for our daughter.

Remember, your true beliefs are showing every time you open your mouth. Your true religion is the life you live every day and the way you treat every person you encounter.

May your life be zesty and full of joy!

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