a call for religious dialogue at brown
Providence often surprises. Every time I venture off the hill, the unassuming capital of Little Rhody reveals little treasures. If you’ve never been to Federal Hill, for instance, take a stroll while the weather is still fine, and your stomach will discover what I’m talking about.
But as wonderful as this city can be, I want to speak about a different Providence. This other Providence can be at once as delightful as cannoli and as dreadful as last year’s winter (unusually cruel, for those who missed out). This Providence can be much more surprising. I speak, namely, of the ways of God.
My freshman self would be stunned to hear me speak this way. When I came to Brown, my Christian faith required intellectual gymnastics, and I felt I was steadily falling off the balance beam. But possessed by a streak of perfectionism, I wasn’t going to quit the exercise, because it seemed childish. I was going to finish it, or it was going to finish me. That meant I had to prove Christianity false. I was pretty sure I would complete this routine, leave this little ideological circus, and find my way out to the real world.
What bothered me, really, were the supernatural claims. I was on board with Christian ethics—I thought them rather civilized, actually—but the supernatural claims were ridiculous. We are supposed to be joyful but not necessarily expect happiness in this life? We have to die to ourselves in order to live? It’s a project of paradoxes—a god who is also man and who teaches that suffering, the Cross, is the path to wholeness. Naturally, it didn’t seem to agree with the logic of the world. Of course, now that I think about it, Jesus says as much, but then why say these things at all? As Ecclesiastes 3:7 says, there’s a “time to keep silent, and time to speak.” It seemed Jesus missed that first part. We would be much better off without illogical sayings, thank you very much.
But, as life often teaches us, things are sometimes not what they seem. I didn’t really understand the Christian God. I was looking for Him in books (as if my self-selected readings were really going to show me who God was). I had difficulty believing because every Christian I had met didn’t fully live what he or she believed (do any of us?). Well, because I was a bit small-minded, God had to do something rather obvious and give me a phenomenal Meiklejohn who was not only an active leader on campus but also an intensely dedicated Christian. He didn’t just sit on his Bible, nor did he shove it down people’s throats, but his faith inspired his actions. So the way I really began to know the Christian faith was the way Jesus taught the world, through a wonderfully lived human life. It seemed Jesus, if he was who he said he was, did know something after all about teaching us simple creatures.
My Meiklejohn owned his faith. He didn’t hold to his beliefs because he was raised on them, but because in them he saw Truth. This Truth is not an impersonal system trumpeting solutions to the world’s problems or an ideology with vague utopian promises. It is a Truth that shines in the lives of those who believe. It is a Truth so assured that it accepts the violence done to it without resistance. It is a Truth willing to die on a cross.
Eventually, as I talked openly with Christians at Brown, I began to see that indeed, here and there, the Gospel could be fully realized in life. I encountered people who really lived to love their neighbors as themselves. And so began the deepening of my faith, and so it continues.
Of course, it is all nice-and-well for me to say this. You may say that Christians do not always accept violence unto themselves the way Christ did. You may say Christians can be rather violent themselves. You may say we often talk too much and do too little. And this, of course, is sadly true.
But this is why I write. Let’s begin a dialogue on campus, religious and non-religious. The Brown community values open-mindedness, but, when it comes to religion, I have found it more often silent or dismissive. And I beg you to bring well-meaning comment and criticism! But I would also like to urge all of us, religious or not, to look at ourselves and determine how we measure up. Too often, we criticize without building up; we look for the speck in someone else’s eye without attending to the log in our own. To the Christians at Brown: Do not be complacent! If you believe the Gospel to be true, strive daily to live it out. Do not force others to live as you do, but be a witness through your life. If you hold to another tradition or to other beliefs, please, share the joy of that life with everyone else! We can learn much from each other. And if you do not believe or do not identify with the communities I have mentioned, you are as necessary and as valuable as anyone else. We need to hear your voices. I pray that, in time, all of us would be lifted above our petty squabbles to become our better selves.