Monday, March 29, 2010

An Evaluation of Faith

I would be lying if I said that I had a profound understanding of religion. I can’t even offer the standard cop-out statement of: “I may not be religious per se, but I am spiritual.” In all honesty, I’m just not sure what faith means to me. I grew up attending a local Methodist church, a church that will still feel like home when I attend the Easter service next Sunday with my family. I appreciate this sense of community and belonging, a feeling that has withstood moves and sporadic visits just as I respect the selfless work many in the church organize, lead, or participate in. While I do understand and find validity in some critiques of religion – particularly in those instances when religion is used to justify discrimination and violence – I am not, therefore, critical of belief in and of itself. Whether I understand or agree with others’ motivations is irrelevant; as I mentioned a few posts ago, perception frames our respective realities, realities that will inevitably confront one another.

When I have lost people that I loved, the last thing I wanted to hear was “they are in a better place” or “it was their time to go” or “there is a reason for all things.” My reality at that moment was something completely foreign to these well-intentioned, believed and assumed to be supportive, statements. Better for whom? Why “their time”? What good comes from this? Even as I appreciated the concern that spawned these phrases I deemed inopportune, it frustrated me. I really just wanted people to acknowledge that the situation sucked, or even better, to just stop talking. In those moments, and even today as I sit in a rocking chair staring out my window at the Carhartt parking lot, it is almost completely unfathomable for me to think about why young people die, or loved ones get cancer, or bad things happen to incredibly wonderful people. Notions of fate and order and rationality thus hold little weight in my mind a good portion of the time.

With that being said, however, I respect the role that faith can, and does, play in the lives of many. It is humbling to read and watch news reports that chronicle the Mennonite community’s response to Friday’s tragic accident. I have heard no blame or hatred; support has been offered to the truck driver’s family just as it has for the family and friends of the Esh and Gingrich families. The response has, therefore, been one that pays honor to the lives these families lived.

While this sense of faith is not something I can truly empathize with at this point in my life, this incident has given me a renewed sense of faith in my community and more generally speaking, in human kindness. People who didn’t even know those involved have experienced genuine sadness. The commitment of community members to provide and prepare food for those attending the services is astounding. The offering of spare bedrooms to those needing lodging is heart-warming. The amount of people that I have seen come in and out of this parking lot is overwhelming. The distance some will travel to attend these services reflects dedication to a religion, a lifestyle, and a family community. Collectively, these responses serve as a testament to the potential for goodness and selflessness.

In my humble opinion, it does not matter what motivates these actions. If it is religion, fine. If it is a more philosophic notion of truth or goodness, good. If it is because one feels guilty if they don’t, that’s their business. What strikes me as important is that there is some sense that our actions matter; that what we do makes a difference to someone else. It is responsibility, and interconnectedness, and a belief in something more powerful than ourselves. This, I suppose, is my very elementary understanding of faith.

If anyone wants to comment on the role the Esh and Gingrich families played in our community or on the community’s response, I welcome it. Otherwise, I encourage you to simpy keep all families involved in your thoughts.


  1. Liza, I'm a lurker on your site and have never commented. But after reading this post I just had to comment. You could not have described my view of religion/faith more perfectly. The paragraph about losing a loved one rang true to my heart. I lost my Dad almost 4 years ago, and as much as I wanted to find comfort in peoples kind words, it just didn't help because I didn't know what I believed. Even more so, I knew my Dad didn't know what he believed. This may give away my anonymity (because I believe I have told you of this song before), but take a listen to Iris Dement's "Let the Mystery Be". It was how my Dad viewed things, and how I view them as well.
    p.s. love the blog!

  2. "Well, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.
    But I choose to let the mystery be."

    You were a joy to have in class, I have fun keeping up with you on facebook, and I appreciate this comment so much. I bet your dad was a fine man.

  3. I can't help but be reminded of when a mentally ill man entered into an Amish schoolhouse and opened fire a few years ago. The Amish response amazed me then and continues to do so. They were intent on forgiving him and reaching out to his family to provide the suppport needed. I'm not sure this is a natural "human" response but more a response born out of their belief system. I know that I could not have responded so gracefully. I have always, like yourself, appreciated the component of religion that elevates man beyond animal into something more. I try and judge any philosophy or religion based upon it's effect in the world. It is refreshing to know that the response of the people of Marrowbone has been as benevolent as it has been. It is religion at its best in my opinion. Thanks for the blog. Good food for thought Liza.

  4. I appreciate this articulate comment, Andy. In fact, wish I had come up with "try and judge any philosophy or religion based upon its effect in the world." It's a thoughtful point that does accurately describe my take on religion (at least I think). Seems much more logical to fear or embrace, be frustrated or inspired by, distrust or believe action rather than theory. The cliche applies: doesn't matter what people believe, it's what they do with it.