Just when we think the world can’t possibly get any worse than it is, it does. Just when we think we’ve seen the worst human behavior possible, we find something even more inhumane and deplorable. Even religion seems corruptible, often heaping contempt and humiliation upon the faithful.
The outdoor sign at a small church near my home proclaims this week "God loves America." Really? In four years of seminary, I never came across that verse in the Bible! In fact, if anything, Jesus’ life and teachings are the exact opposite. The bottom line is that we humans are endlessly, even marvelously, creative when it comes to doing bad things to our fellow humans.
And yet, we are born good. Every single one of us! I know, we’ve been taught the opposite since we were little kids. We’ve been taught that we are genetically infected with "original sin," a teaching incompatible with Jesus, but promoted by the church from very early times. Other Christian teachers who saw things differently were branded "heretics" (which really only meant that they were in the minority!), and were shunned by the church, often excommunicated. Dissent was not allowed. The doctrine of original sin has deeply damaged billions of people over the centuries, creating prisoners for the church instead of disciples.
The irony is that all of us know, in our heart of hearts, that no baby can be filled with sin.
Every day millions good and selfless deeds are done all around the world, by people of every nation, color, culture, and faith. Every single person yearns for peace; it is the deepest human hope. "The Kin-dom of God is within you," said Jesus. The inclusive word "all" appears innumerable times in scripture, so that we can clearly see, over the centuries, that the Kin-dom is for "all" peoples.
But, oh, how we get stuck on that word. As children grow, they learn the ways of the world. From behavior of those they observe around them or, more importantly, from their parent(s) and significant people in their lives, they learn about the "real" world. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? Before we even have a chance to learn the extravagantly abundant meaning of "all," we’re already lost in worldly ways and attitudes, resulting in all the sociopathic life-forms imaginable.
Perhaps this is a journey which is necessary before we can really begin to turn around and come back to who we are truly meant to be. We turn that transformative corner when we start to understand "all" in God’s terms rather than our own. Most of us use the word "all" as exclusionary, as in "all who are saved," or "all who believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God," or "all except ... " (fill in the blank). No! "All" is radically inclusive, embracing all of humanity. After all (no pun intended), none of us were born Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhist, any more than we were born American or Iranian or Chinese. None of us did anything to be born the way we are; depending on your point of view, these are either accidents or part of the wonder of God’s plan for humanity.
Either way, you can’t take credit for who you are and, therefore, you are on a completely equal footing with every single human being in the world. You are no better and no worse. Each person, regardless of nationality, religious tradition and upbringing, race, or any other distinction, is capable of reaching back into the memory that inhabits each of us, and of living a life of compassion, justice, and peace, those highest hopes and yearnings of us all. Each and all, we contain that spark of the Spirit, by whatever name, waiting always for us to enflame it with all the good in our hearts.
If you are beginning to get a glimpse of the holiness of "all," you are on the path back to your whole self. Even if the expansive idea of "all" comes as a surprise and shock to you, you’ve taken a first step on a healing journey. You have discovered that spark of the Spirit within yourself, by whatever name you call it. Treasure that, and begin to think about what your next steps will be, and then take them. Watch yourself grow in your faith, whatever it may be!
Rev. John Ransom is a non-denominational minister of peace and social justice. He is the author of a prayer book and "Emerging Revolution: Toward a Global Moral Ethic," to be published this summer. He lives in Readsboro with his spouse Michael, and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.EmergingSpirit.info.