By calling ourselves progressive Christians we affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.
In the small Massachusetts town where I grew up, there was one Jewish family, the Kramers. They owned the local dairy. Jane, the daughter and only child of this family was one of my best friends. We were in and out of each other’s houses and knew each other’s family members (and pets) well. Her parents took me along on excursions into Boston neighborhoods where we lunched on pastrami sandwiches and giant dill pickles at delis crowded with Yiddish-speaking patrons. Jane’s family invited me for Shabbat dinners where candles were lit and Jane’s mother, shawl draped over her hair, said a blessing.
Sadly for me, the family moved away the summer after Jane and I completed 8th grade. That fall I began confirmation classes at the Congregational church where I had been Sunday-schooled. Until then, for me, Jesus had been the serene figure who beckoned the little children to come unto him. Now it was time to be brought to a deeper understanding of the nature of Jesus and the special relationship he had with God on my behalf.
Our readings in John’s gospel called our attention to these verses:
Believe in me and ye shall not perish but have everlasting life
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me
The course finished. We stood in front of the congregation to be recognized as members in the fellowship of Christ. We were given King James Bibles with the words of Jesus printed in red. Signed, sealed, delivered we were.
But instead of feeling at peace and taking comfort with my sure and certain path to salvation, I had already begun, before that Confirmation Sunday, to feel quite uncertain about much I had learned. In particular, where did this special relationship between Christians, Jesus and God leave Jane and her family? Would they perish? Would the way to God be blocked to them?
Ironically, then, it was during this time when I was meant to be confirmed in my faith that my doubts about Christians having exclusive access to the ear of God and the Kingdom of Heaven began. By the time I set off for college I was done with Jesus.
Many of us have similar tales to tell.
As I matured into adulthood I found myself developing an interest in spiritual matters. I have been fortunate throughout my life to find “substitutes” for the Kramers. I have been privileged to have friendships with a Roman Catholic nun, women of Buddhist and Hindu sects, a Jewish rabbi, an Afghani Muslim woman and a Zoroastrian professor from Iran., diverse sources of wisdom all.
For these friends and most people who practice a faith, that faith is a significant part of the culture in which they were raised. The sacred books, the particulars of worship, the prophets and martyrs – all part of the family, ethnic group and/or larger culture of origin.
So it is with me. I have come back to Christianity because it is where I am most familiar with the iconic words and images that facilitate my personal spiritual development. But I am ever mindful and appreciative that there are many ways to experience the Sacred.