On My Faith
I’m on the train to NYC, where I’ll hop a bus to Ithaca later this evening. I hear multiple languages, see multiple races, and can easily pick out different cultures. The train is full of different stories; those already told, and those yet to come. But this one ride, this short jaunt through New Jersey, is one we will always share.
One hundred fifteen different people have now shared time on Woodside’s mission trip to Grand Bahama Island over the last eight years, creating a commonality amongst the least likely of friends, leaders, and teens. The groups have ranged from 16 to 51, and we are on an upswing in attendance, enthusiasm and interest.
How could we not be? The fulfillment of helping, of serving, is palpable for the entirety of the trip. We are facing a new generation that wants to help, but might not quite know how. This trip is a perfect place to start them, not just on a path of service, but on a walk with God. After all, it is a trip organized and run by a church and a ministry.
Sure, growing in faith and in understanding of the world can happen over longer periods of time, but this week intensifies it, purifies it, and concentrates it in a way that often produces extraordinary results in relatively short amounts of time. It’s like how all the roommates on The Real World always hook up, but instead of entertainment value based on attractive people overwhelmed by their surroundings, we’re creating lifelong followers of Christ based on the opportunity to serve while being potentially overwhelmed by their surroundings. So really, it’s nothing like The Real World at all, which is probably a good thing.
I don’t talk openly about my faith often, and have struggled to maintain a connection to a church ever since leaving for college five years ago. I could easily proclaim that I fell into the typical “college” trap, but it’s never really that simple. I’ve always prayed consistently, read the Bible and highlighted favorite verses. I was also perfectly happy to minor in religious studies, gaining new perspectives on how religion has evolved in culture, film, and especially virtual reality. I met many others that were simultaneously critical and curious about religious expression, and more than a few late night conversations with friends turned to God.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I’m tired of copping out on my faith. I began attending Woodside Presbyterian when it felt like my whole childhood was crashing down around a divorce, a parent going back to school, and my struggles to find myself. I learned immeasurable amounts from peers, pastors, leaders and more. I played drums in high school for the youth band, pretended I knew how to act for Vacation Bible School skits and even spent time moonlighting as a janitor when the building was in heavy use and needed a few extra hands.
There’s that game with your hands that people do that opens the steeple and shows you all the people inside. You know exactly which one I’m talking about. For a large part of my life, those people inside that church (the fingers wiggling around at the end of the rhyme) were my people. I miss that.
Community is important to me. Camaraderie is important to me. And the sense of trust, security and warmth that comes from community and camaraderie is paramount to me. I’m not saying I don’t have that now, but the feeling of being surrounded by genuinely good people while making positive changes for others is an incredibly freeing experience.
Of course, obvious objections abound. Not all who identify themselves as Christians are what I, or you, might define as genuinely good. And you might want to throw general Christian views on certain issues in my face. That’s fine. But you’re reading my blog, and obviously found something I said at some point interesting for some reason, so why not have a substantive conversation with me?
One of the reasons I’ve found it increasingly difficult to discuss my faith is the general idea that a Christian is a Christian is a Christian. You’re not going to hear any “war on Christian values” talk from me because it’s an overblown hyperbole built for political gain, but what you will hear from me is that there are lots of good, honest Christians working very hard to make their communities stronger, at home and abroad. My church in Pennsylvania acts as a shelter for the homeless when it it too cold in the winter, and sends missionaries to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. They also support their members through a plethora of programs; programs my family was often a part of when I was growing up.
Somewhere along the way, I became nervous about talking about all that. And that’s when I began to shy away. I’m not proud of it, and I don’t have the most stellar track record when it comes to being a genuinely good person to everyone I meet - it’s just fact. But recently I feel myself headed towards a place where I am stronger in myself and my faith than I’ve ever been, and that’s pretty damn cool.
I’m on the bus to Ithaca now. Surrounded by new people, new stories yet to be created and told. Barring catastrophe, this ride will be of no consequence to any of us in a few weeks time. (There are two Cornell students flirting behind me though, so if they hit it off there’s at least two people that won’t forget this trip for a while. UPDATE: Dude totally blew it in the home stretch, but it was fun to listen to.) I don’t have a plan for attacking this incessant mission trip hangover yet, but I trust that there is something greater at work in me.
I can’t wait for God to show me what it is.