Being Presbyterian, I am prone to thinking that God requires singing ”Holy, Holy, Holy” with the descant, debting instead of trespassing, and knowing the table of motions in Roberts Rules. I need to be reminded regularly that while our praise, our worship and our business are important components of our mission, they are ultimately peripheral. They are in the service of something larger. They are not what it’s all about.
And that’s what I’m searching for. What is this faith all about? I was recently having a conversation with my brother Ben, a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina. He was sharing with me that even as a child, he had a deep loathing for the Hokey Pokey. So I put on my best pastoral voice and asked if he needed to talk about that. And he said that it wasn’t the cloying melody or the insipid lyrics so much. It was the “that’s what it’s all about” part. Even as a child, he thought that if that was really what it was all about, then what was the point really? The Hokey Pokey seemed to him a waste of time and bad philosophy of life all rolled into one package.
That sense of pointlessness is what happens to us when our center is poorly chosen, when our ultimate concern is not of ultimate value. And so I find it instructive that at so many points in scripture, when the question is put in the simplest terms, ” what is my faith supposed to be about,” the answer is always active and directed outwards. Whether it’s Micah, or Amos, or Jesus we are always told that at its most basic our faith is about those around us, how we treat them, how we hold them in our care and turn to them in our own times of need. It is a social faith, a political faith, and it is underscored always by a firm commitment to justice. The instruction in scripture to care for those in need, to pay attention to those places where need lives and to move towards those places, is never ambiguous or conditional.
When my religious life becomes too centered on my own concerns, I get lost and frustrated. I know that I have been loved in such an all-encompassing fashion that I can never hope to repay that love. The only way I can respond faithfully is by living as a loved person. And that is what I try to spin around. I can choose to lead a life that increases the sum total of love in the world or I can chose the opposite. And while what I choose to do will not derail God’s ultimate plans for creation, I have a very real power to make life less livable and more miserable for those around me. I also have the power to make constructive differences, often small, but sometimes more significant. I can choose to love actively and boldly. And that’s what it’s all about.
Robert Trawick is an Associate Professor of philosophy and religious studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College. He is a Ruling Elder at Germonds Presbyterian Church in New City, NY and a former moderator of the Hudson River Presbytery.