Posted by: smstrouse | February 4, 2012

Representing Christianity: Wow!

Last week I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of representing Christianity at the World Religion Day event. The assignment for each of us was to address what our respective traditions and sacred writing had to say about unity, harmony, and peace: all this under the theme of ‘Religion Should  Be the Cause of Unity.’  So I did a word search on the three words and prepared an outline of texts from the New Testament. When I arrived at the event, the man who would serve as emcee gathered us all together and informed us that he would be asking each of us a question – why are you in the religion that you’re in? – and we would have six minutes to respond. It appeared that my carefully constructed outline was about to go out the window.

Thankfully I wasn’t first, so I had some time to think about it.  So when it was my turn, I explained about my (boring) outline and the surprising change of our assignment. The answer to the question was very brief: I was born into it. The bigger question for me had been: why did I stay?  I told two stories that had been confrontational moments for me, which had me asking whether or not I could still call myself a Christian.  The first was when Elsie Leary of North Park Lutheran Church in Buffalo, NY came to me in distress about the study we were doing on Hinduism. I had invited a friend to come and talk about her beliefs and practices and the group was very warm and welcoming. Afterwards, though, Elsie was feeling conflicted. “If I accept that her faith is valid, then I’m afraid I’m betraying Jesus,” she said.

The second incident occurred at a funeral. It was in an Episcopal Church and I happened to sit next to a friend who is Jewish. When the priest read the gospel -“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me” – I heard it with new ears. I heard it as exclusion, not good news. Both incidents caused me to go through a period of questioning about Jesus and about Christianity. I emerged from that period with an answer of  Yes,  I can be a Christian – a different kind of Christian, to be sure, from where I started.

My six minutes ended, I sat down, and the program went on. Afterwards, as refreshments were being served, I was approached by numerous people who thanked me for my personal story. Many of those in attendance had been raised as Christians and were  now practicing Baha’i, Sufis, Buddhists, etc.  They had asked themselves the same questions but had not found answers within Christianity. They were genuinely glad that there are Christians who have found a way of being that is not exclusionary of other faiths.  As I was leaving, one of our hosts invited me to come back again and lead a discussion of progressive Christianity, and I think that would be very exciting.

I’m so glad that I had to pitch my carefully prepared outline out the window. It turned out to be a heartwarming time of sharing who we are – as individuals within specific traditions. All I can say about the experience is ‘Wow!’



  1. Here here Susan. Thanks for your words.


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