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Yesterday while I was busily wrapping presents by the fire and J and all the kids were out doing last minute errands, two young Mormon men stopped by my door. I know that many people dread those visits from missionaries, but I generally enjoy them, especially when they are young people.
We chatted on the steps for a while. Since it was cold, I invited them in. I was happy to let them sit, get a drink of water, be with a friendly face for a few minutes. Because even though I won't be swayed by their religious mission, I was in a particularly joyful mood, and wanted to share the joy. They asked if they could say a prayer with me, and I hesitated. That was, perhaps, the moment when I began to turn the tables and share my passionate convictions with them. Maybe I was on my own mission.
I had a Christian upbringing, and I was buoyed up through childhood by a general sense of being deeply loved by Jesus. The birth story, the star, the journey of the wise men and the awe of the shepherds, the animals sharing the manger with Mary and Joseph - they are all a beautiful tale of wonder and hope that could not help but fill one with warmth. I also have great appreciation for the fundamental message to which Jesus devoted his short life: Love. That's all.
Unfortunately, centuries of orchestrated religion have mutated, twisted and molded the words of Jesus into sets of rules and dogma that are exclusive and intolerant at best, and cruel and damaging at worst. For me, the bottom line seems clear. Jesus was Jewish, and loved his God. He wanted people to stop focusing on material things, to be good to each other, one and all, to forgive, to lift up the downtrodden, and to be guided by love.
I know that some of Jesus' words reported in the Bible say that we may ONLY reach God through Christ. But Jesus spoke in parables often, if the gospels are true. He did not lay out a concrete lesson or set of rules; he taught through storytelling. "I am the way," to me, means that the love and light that Jesus brought to the world were the way to salvation. He spoke to hordes of people, many uneducated and suffering. I believe he must have wanted so very much to reach people and lift them up in the best way that he could, with words that would reach them. The words we have today are only reports from years later, translated and selected by a bunch of men 100's of years ago. All we can do is try our best to listen to our hearts, meditate, pray, and try to feel the spirit that was so strong in that powerful, loving man born 2000 years ago.
I have listened to God as best I can. I do NOT feel him telling me that my atheist friends, my Jewish friends, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, are all wrong and doomed. If I feel anything deeply right that comes from something I might call God, it is that we are to look for love. Those that are led by love, that are devoted to goodness, kindness, making the world a better place, helping others, listening to their conscience and doing the right thing -- they are all finding the way. THAT is THE WAY.
Jesus knew it. That is what he was trying to tell everyone. That same spirit of divine light has been in other humans, and they all have something to teach us. That divine light was particularly strong in Jesus, no matter where or when he was born. But the story of his humble birth in the manger fills us with wonder and the glow of hope. It is a great story.
That was, more or less, what I tried to convey to two young Mormon men on their mission. Their religion, like many, has lost track of the bottom line, in my opinion. When a religious group feels that good, loving, caring people who do not ascribe to their particular faith are on the wrong path, then they are not listening to the truth from above and within. They are engaging in a tug of war with the message that so many people know in their hearts.
We are so determined to package the message and call it our own. When we do that, it is lost. Let the message fly free -- peace, joy, love, light, hope. A very merry Christmas day to all.