The tree is down, the lights are off the outside of the house, the presents have found their way from novelty to routine, and the days are ever so much longer than they have been. You almost can't tell the difference in the light, but if you look—and I'm always looking for more light—it's there. The morning and evening stretched, roomier, just enough—always just enough.
So that brings the collection of religious symbols in this household down pretty much to the things in this photo, unless you count the Jesus Action Figure in Brian's office, which, naturally, I do.
I did stumble across a few truths these last few weeks through the writing of these pieces on Advent, belief, and identity. I saw that by adopting, even for a moment, the label of "None," I was falling back into an old pattern that felt very unnecessary: I was trying to create an identity out of belief—or, in this case, a non-identity, which is just the same thing. It's like people who label themselves "outsiders." Aren't they, too, just joining a club? A club of the unwanted?
The fact is, I don't belong to the Nones. I do believe in the Resurrection. It's right there in my soul, and I don't know exactly when or how it got there, but I know I didn't put it there. I've been rereading the Bible a lot lately—I'm trying to read the whole thing this year, and I have an app and everything to help me not lose track. I just read the Beatitudes in Matthew, and though the ones in Luke hold a greater degree of emotional satisfaction for me in today's political climate—"Woe to you who are rich," Jesus says! Wow!—I did find myself getting emotional. Interested. Wanting to know more. God cares about the poor in spirit. What an idea. Those who mourn. The meek. The ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The pure in heart. The peacemakers.
This describes no one in the triumphalist American Christianity that seems to wear a Jesus mask everywhere I turn in 2018. Nor does caring about those people seem to be quite in fashion in America's church these days. Maybe ever. So though I believe, my belief makes me not belong. As a friend once said to me, "It seems like Jesus lives in your heart." But it'd feel disingenuous to call myself a Christian. I long ago lost the password to the clubhouse, and I feel no push to find it anew.
I do believe in—and attempt to follow—the Noble Eightfold Path. Imagine: Our belief, our thought, our speech, our action, our livelihood, our effort, our mindfulness, our concentration. They mean something. They get us somewhere. They're not right for no reason. They help the world. I value my meditation practice these days as much as any part of my daily life. I can chant a large part of the Lotus Sutra.
But I'm not a Buddhist. It's a culture and a faith that's not mine, a distant bell tolling for someone else. I'll always be a guest in that world. That's how it should be.
And I'm not a None. I believe things. I'm not a nihilist. And though I'm not sure I buy into the idea of a God who's so small as to be contained by a theology of humans, I don't think it doesn't matter—on the contrary, I think it does matter. I think it matters what and how we conceive of the world and the forces that move it. I think it matters where the world goes, and so I think it matters where we think the world should go and why we think it should go there. I believe deeply that we of the many faiths and non-faiths can do great things together despite and because of our differences, but our beliefs, our thoughts—they shape us. I don't think our world is beyond saving, but if I'm honest, I don't think anyone's coming to save us.
There's a great old story. A man goes to a poor country, and he's walking the streets seeing scene after scene of suffering, starvation, disease, and despair. He cries out, "How could a loving God see all this and not do anything?"
God says, "I did do something. I made you."
Identity is such an interesting thing, isn't it? We aspect these names to ourselves, and I wonder sometimes how much we do that to avoid being known by our own names. I've always bristled when people start describing me, because identities are dressing; I'm under them. There are bumper stickers, but they have nothing to do with the cars we drive. There are labels on clothing, but they have nothing to do with the hearts beating beneath. Adjectives modify; nouns identify.
So this is me, throwing off the box. I believe many things and know very few. I couldn't if I tried deny that I believe a man emerged from a grave a couple thousand years ago. And I couldn't deny if I tried that since I learned about the Eightfold Path and started a meditation practice, my life has improved a hundredfold. I sense more than a cold, indifferent universe before us. I sense something on the other side. I don't fear death.
Beyond that, I don't know. One day, hopefully a very long time from now, I'll lay dying. Someone may ask me, where are you going after this? I'll say, I don't know. I'm not sure how much control I have over that anyway. My better sense tells me it's little if any. In the meantime, I'm going to try to find the least of these and care for them. I'm going to continue to seek out the right thing to do and embody integrity the best I can. I'm going to aspire to greater kindness, harder work, deeper authenticity, better health, bigger love.
That's not nothing. That's everything.