or… how to REALLY Put the “Christ” back in Christmas
“What is faith if it is not translated into action?” — Mohandas Gandhi
A few Christmases past, I received the following Facebook message from a family member:
I don’t know if you are Christians. But in spite of anything you may have ever been told… there is not a single reason you can’t be… John 3:16 says it all… period! I love you and want to spend eternity with you guys. I know you follow some awesome philosophies and do so many good works…. just add the belief that Jesus died on the cross for our salvation and the promise of eternally life… sort of like icing on the cake:-).
I have to admit, I initially took offense. This is not a relative I have regular contact with and we have never had a communication about my faith. The first communication I have received in years and this is what she said?!? After my initial shock, I took a step back and tried to look at it from her perspective. Here is a woman with whom I have always gotten along although we are admittedly not at all close, maybe seeing each other once every three or four years. To the best of my knowledge, she was never really a woman of faith until she suffered from the second of two TIAs (mini-strokes). I think all of us, when faced with our own mortality, start to look for some meaning in life, something bigger than ourselves.
The part of the message that really bothered me is that, according to her, our spending eternity together is as simple as John 3:16 — For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. My assumption is that by sharing this quickly jotted out message on Facebook, she felt she had done her Christian duty and perhaps save my eternal soul. While well intentioned, it felt to me that she was coming from a place of judgment, either because I am gay or because I have worked with the Dalai Lama and other faith leaders her evangelical faith deems as "evil".
It is true, I have been exposed to many great spiritual teachers as well as several teachers that have taught me a lot about life in general. Some are very well known and a couple even lead major religions. Others are people known only by their friends and family. The common thing that they all have in common is that they live their lives in a way that inspires.
When I was in high school, I knew I was gay. I was also very, very religious. It was at my little Presbyterian church where I first saw someone living in a manner that I would call “Christ-like”. The couple was the Reverend Dr. Warren Rempel and his wife Pat. In addition to leading this tiny mountain congregation, they would spend their vacations building schools in Africa. In the mid 80s, their son contracted HIV. He unfortunately died from complications from AIDS but the love they showed him when he first came out and later when he was sick… I will never forget it. After he passed, the couple continued to work with the gay community in Denver, Colorado, USA to educate on prevention. His mother, Pat, a nurse, volunteered her time at hospice to help people dying from complications of AIDS. These were people that made me want to be a Christian.
In 2010, my grandfather passed away at the age of 89. He was a remarkable man who left an amazing family legacy while his work had a lasting impact on the world. He was a man of science, and despite not having any religious inclinations, worked through Rotary International to continually to ease the suffering of others in his community and around the world. It was his passing that inspired me to reevaluate what I was doing with my own life and to make the decision to live it in a way that would make him proud, to do what I could to make a positive impact on the world. It wasn’t until several years later when I started working with the Dalai Lama Foundation when I heard a quote by His Holiness that I feel sums up my life’s philosophy: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
As I travel around the world, I never cease to be amazed by the works of everyday people. I have a friend in Nigeria named Emmanuel who drove a cab at night so he could finance his organization to start an interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims. In Belize, I met a man named James who has brought his little Mayan community together to bring water to their village in a way that is conscious of the environment around them. And in Delhi, my friend Sarita works to uplift the transgender community through providing education and job training as well as making sure their immediate housing and other needs are met.
How does this all relate to the Facebook message I received? If you want to really make an impression on me — take some action! This holiday season, so many people talk in platitudes — “Remember the reason for the season” or “Let’s put the Christ back in Christmas”. I completely agree. We only get one shot at this life and in my opinion, the purpose is to do something FOR others. Liking or sharing things on social media can draw attention to certain issues, but it is pretty much the absolute LEAST you can do.
If you continue to read John 13:14-15, Jesus says:
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or even a scientist — the best way to inspire people to be like you is to be inspirational.
Wishing all of you a happy holiday and a peaceful new year. - BR