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Study leads to respect

Saturday, January 17, 2015

My journey into faith led me to study to some extent the five major world religions, some minor ones, and even a bit of philosophy.

Because of my efforts, today I better understand, appreciate, and most important, respect other faiths and cultures.

I’ve found there’s no reason to be cynical, critical or dismissive of other religions nor, for that matter, overly defensive and protective about Christianity.

I agree with Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell’s quote in The Vindicator when she spoke at the Mayors’ Interfaith Prayer Breakfast sponsored by Mahoning Valley Association of Churches in November — “God can’t be owned or contained by one religion.”

Despite anyone’s claims, no faith or church has exclusive access to God.

Each of us feels or experiences God differently.

Gaining knowledge of religions outside the one I practice helped deepen my Christian faith.

I’d like to share a few examples of how I’ve been impacted.

A study of Judaism and the Hebrew bible gave me the courage to question my youthful beliefs.

Genesis 32:28 states: The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” The very word Israel means “struggles with God.”

I, too, had my share of spiritual battles and often came away bloodied, but wiser, for the experience.

Jews find many different interpretations and much deeper meaning in Bible stories than I had ever been taught, or thought, possible.

Reading the Bible as metaphor, allegory, and poetry followed by intense discussion not only saved my Christian faith, but made it come alive to me.

I now understand the stories in the Bible may not have literally happened but indeed speak many truths.

Jesus, and his apostles, were Jews who had many debates about the laws of the “Old” Testament.

Shouldn’t we, as followers of Jesus today, debate the Bible?

I accepted the Muslim challenge that, if able, one must pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime.

My Christian “Mecca” is, of course, The Holy Land.

There, I followed the footsteps where Jesus walked, taught, lived and died and was often overcome by emotion.

My time in the Holy Land resulted in many things: a life-changing experience, a connection to my religious roots and even a bit of disappointment.

Can you imagine if all Christians were required to visit the birthplace of our faith? What a spiritual experience that would be!

For me, a study of Buddhism put back the mystery in God.

Christianity, as it’s commonly taught, separates us from God (understood to be a male person in the sky) whereas Buddhism brings us together (God is distinguishable from humanity but not separable).

We are not two, but neither are we one.

Early Christian terms such as “Father” for God were meant to be symbolic but taken literally by many today.

Father Lassalle, a Jesuit priest, said, “We can use personal imagery for God but only when we realize the danger of doing so.”

When I ask people if God is male, they answer, “Well, I guess not.”

When I ask them if God is a female they answer, “Definitely not!”

Then what is God?

Ah, the mystery begins!

Buddhism, and a deeper study of Christianity, taught me that God is more complex than what is traditionally preached from the pulpit.

Gandhi, a Hindu, said we should “live as if we were to die tomorrow. Learn as if we were to live forever.”

We should, no, we must make the effort to learn a basic knowledge of, and develop a respect for, other religions.

All religions do their best to answer life’s difficult questions.

The major religions of this world have at their core the Golden Rule to “treat others as you wish to be treated.”

It’s critical we do so.

After all, we are all in this together.

Tom Bresko, retired from Mill Creek Metro Parks, is a Christian on a spiritual pilgrimage.