Lately, I’ve had something of a crisis of faith.
Not really of my own faith. I mean, that comes and it goes, as I’m pretty sure it does with all people. Some days I can practically feel God taking my hand; other days, I wonder desperately if there’s anyone out there to hear me when I cry. Most of the time, I’m somewhere in between – certain there is some kind of essence of Love protecting me, that I belong to that Love, and willing to trust that that’s really all I need to know.
No, my faith crisis comes in a global variety. I worry about the disconnect I feel from many other Christians. I believe that Christ was divine and walked the earth, and his words guide me daily. Other people believe these same things, and read their Bibles, but somehow they come to completely different conclusions than I do about how he would live his life on earth today.
The other day I saw a page on Facebook called “Stop the Execution of Pastor Nadarkhani in Iran.” (Yes, I know there are a million other things I should be doing besides wasting time on Facebook. In my own defense, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks at work and I don’t have the energy for much else.) The details left me with an ache of the soul. Articles on pages from the Huffington Post to Fox News confirmed the basic facts: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani lives in Iran and converted to Christianity when he was a teenager. The Iranian government declared him guilty of rejecting Islam and sentenced him to death because he refused to recant his faith.
That someone cannot worship God in the way that he sees fit makes me unbelievably sad. In this case the person happens to be Christian, but I would feel the same way had the person practiced Judaism, Buddhism, Islam or Wicca, or if the man faced persecution for not wanting to worship anything at all. What rings true to your spirit is up to you, and no one else should have anything to do with it. Just as an example, the automatic terrorist status frequently handed to Muslims in our country horrifies me. I really don’t care what faith the people were who carried out the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. It isn’t fair to punish all 1.5 billion people – yes, that’s billion, with a “b” - who practice this religion, because a few people affiliated with their faith did terrible things. Many of the members of the Ku Klux Klan regularly attend Christian churches. I don’t want everyone suspecting me of burning churches just because some of them do.
Having said all that, the Facebook page for Pastor Nadarkhani struck me in two ways. First, it hurt, because someone in the world might have to forfeit his life just because he likes to call God by the name of “Jesus” sometimes. The second way, however, brought the only good thing to come out of this for me: for the first time in a long while, I felt like I could sincerely connect with a wide group of other Christians. Many of these people probably feel very differently than I do about equality in marriage, reproductive choices and the desirability of prayer in school, but we could all finally agree on something. Every one of us knew that Pastor Nadarkhani deserved the right to worship in peace. I joined the page.
Every day, new posts popped up with heartfelt prayers for this man and his family. (I forgot to mention that he has a wife and two children. I can’t find details about whether their lives are at risk as well, or if they just have to watch someone they love go through this. Nothing good in it, either way.) I checked in periodically, trying to find news on his case.
Then one day, I was informed by a fellow page member that I needed to pray not only for Pastor Nadarkhani’s life, but for his soul. Apparently, some details had come out about the particular kind of Christianity he practiced. Our informant let us know there was a possibility – just a chance, mind you, but still – that Pastor Nadarkhani was “a member of a non-Trinitarian cult, and not an evangelical Christian at all.” He went on to say that if this was true, we needed to pray even harder, because there was no point in saving his life if he was just going to end up in hell anyway.
And this, I thought, head sinking into my hands, is where you lose me.
I don’t know a thing about this man, aside of what I’ve read in the paper. I don’t know the particulars of his religion, or how he views God, as one entity or many facets of a spirit. I know only two pieces of his personal puzzle: that he calls himself a Christian, and that he’s willing to die rather than say that he’s not.
Isn’t that enough?
The man is willing to give up his life rather than recant his confession of faith. He’s either an incredibly devout Christian, or he’s the most selfless person on the face of the earth. When someone of Arabic descent is automatically regarded as a violent criminal, I could run up to their oppressor and say, “I’m from the Middle East too, so if you’re going to look down on them, you’ll have to look down on me,” figuring the solidarity was worth the lie. But I haven’t. If this man has decided to die as a Christian just to protest the fact that Christians are persecuted in Iran, then he has taken loving your neighbor to a whole new level, and probably I should be asking for his prayers instead of offering him mine.
Somehow, I doubt that’s the case. I think he worships Christ in his own way, and he’s standing up for that. Maybe God has all kinds of problems with him, but that’s between him and God, not me. The discussion about how he worships demonstrates a sad fact. We here in the United States seem to have a real problem lately understanding the idea that different people can, for equally intelligent and loving reasons, arrive at different decisions, and that it’s okay that they do. We all have different beliefs. I disagree with people in my own church over some of the particulars, and there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, none of us really knows if we’re right. We all look at the facts, and come to our own decision about what is true. Facts, we can ascertain. There is no online database for truth. We each have to go on our own spiritual journey and take in the scenery for ourselves.
This past Christmas, my seven-year-old nephew and I were having the all-important ketchup/mustard debate. Me, I’m a ketchup fan. Have been since the early days. He’s more of a mustard person. He did concede, however, that he likes ketchup on certain thing, like carrots and green peppers. “You put ketchup on your carrots?” I asked in disbelief. “You’re weird.”
“Hey,” he said, pointing at me in irritation, “you do your thing, I do mine.”
Out of the mouths of seven-year-olds has God prepared wisdom. (Okay, and very possibly out of the mouths of the seven-year-old’s parents. I’m thinking this topic may have come up before, if perhaps his nine-year-old brother beat me to the weirdness assessment.) How much simpler can we make it? We each make our own decisions. You make different choices than I do. If it works for you and doesn’t hurt anyone else, who am I to say that you’re wrong?
I’m happy to say that most – I’d say 98% – of the posts on the Facebook page about Pastor Nadarkhani are loving and prayerful, and since I can’t control what other people think, I’ve chosen to focus on the overwhelming love I see there. I will pray for this man, that he lives a long and happy life, worshiping in whatever way brings him closer to God, the essence of Love. (I hope people pray that for me, too, actually.) At the same time, I pray that all of us, Christians and everyone else, may give up judging each other and get on with loving one another. Jesus told us to not to judge others. I don’t think he said it because he liked telling people what to do. I think he knew it makes us unhappy. In my own experience, he’s right. I’m sorry to say that on occasion, I’ve been an extremely judgmental person, and it always made me more miserable than anyone else.
Besides, we don’t really have time for anything besides loving each other. It’s kind of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time you feel you’ve done your part, you need to start over.
Kimberly needs to go watch Raiders of the Lost Ark again. Aside of being wise, Indy’s not bad to look at.