Definition

I’ve been asked to define myself, a number of times today. Who are you? What’s your story? Where are you from? What is your faith heritage? What will you do with your one wild and precious life? (Thank you Mary Oliver).

I’m sitting in DuPont Circle. Humanity everywhere. (Humidity everywhere). People, literally, circling around me. Each person with a story. How would they define themselves? By profession? Race? Gender? Family Role? Citizenship or hobby? Do we find our definitions by who we are or who we are not? Does it even cross my mind to define myself as a white American when they surround me? I bet it’s different for the woman of Iranian heritage, striving to raise her children as American citizens, still connected to their Iranian roots.

Who am I? I long to distill it simply, to land on something pithy like, “I am a child of God.” As the words mentally leave my lips, I see them colliding into an expanse of landmines. Who’s God? Which God? Is your God better than my God? Does your being a child of your God change how you’re going to relate to be? And so on. And aren’t we all God’s children? But which God?

This afternoon as nine of us, eight Beatitudes Society Fellows and a mentor, sat together for our first session, the following question was posed: What is your response to the term “progressive Christianity”? We wrestled; wanting to connect with some of it, distance ourselves from other parts. What to claim, what to reject? Wanting to be new and innovative and different, and yet, still drawn to the connection to our heritages, our history.

We played with naming progressive Christianity as a term in response to, and in opposition of, extremist, fundamentalist, conservative Christianity. A definition to tell what one isn’t, not necessary what one is.  One spoke a self-definition of being one who works to live the gospel and follow Jesus. Still riddled with baggage and potential assumptions, those words, but the humble, sincere tone in which they were spoken preached to me.

What if “a follower of Jesus Christ” meant being someone who is kind and loving, respectful and selfless? What if being a Christian, (let alone a “progressive” one) brought the assumptions of ultimate respect and honoring of each person on their paths of life and a movement of good and love in the world? What if when I said, “a child of God” I could look into the eyes of the one I’m speaking with and mutually connect knowing that we’re humbly standing in front of another human expression of the Divine love?
Quick! Define yourself.  Me? I say: “Namaste”*.

*In Sikh scripture Namaste, Namastung or Namastvung is referenced as salutation to the Primal being, the One God.The salutation is followed by an attribute respecting a quality of the creator of all religions, Akal. “The spirit in me respects the spirit in you,” “the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you,” and others, are relatively modern interpretations, based on literal translations of the Sanskrit root of namaste.

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