When I think of my church, really, I think of two main themes: kindness, justice, and walking humbly and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
So, I thought I was answering her question. But, her response was, "Don't they believe in God?"
That made me think. Not about whether they actually believe in God (they do, for the record), but that she could not infer that from my answer. Every single thing I named were things that Jesus called people to do, yet she could not see the God in them. She still had to ask.
I have a hard time with all of this. I personally do not believe in a sentient being that bears the name God. I don't believe in the God in the Bible. And, I cannot believe that God wrote the Bible. But, I can believe that it was written by (or, at least, influenced by) people writing about their own God experience. But, I cannot believe that even that the documentation of that experience remains untainted by humans and their inevitable failings, mostly greed (of money or power, most likely). In fact, I believe much of the book is to be read through that filter.
But, one of my favorite expressions is "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." Just because I do not believe in all of it, does not mean that I can't believe any of it. There is a freedom in that. If I believe I can take what I want leave the rest, and ignore the parts that offend me, I can embrace the beauty and leave behind the difficult to explain (the whole "ineffable" argument just doesn't do it for me). Sometimes, there is truth, even where there are not facts.
But, here's where I start having trouble reconciling things...I believe in what Jesus said. I believe that we should do everything we can to help even the score in life. I don't believe in hoarding money, and I believe success comes with an obligation to help others. I don't believe that those who need help necessarily did anything wrong, and I believe that sometimes shit just happens (okay, Jesus may have not said that last part, but I bet he thought it). I believe that kindness can be spread, that it is contagious, and that we all have an obligation to do our part to spread it. But, I don't believe in God, and I don't believe that Jesus was God.
What does that make me? Are you a Christian only because you believe? And what do you have to believe? Can you believe in the message without having to believe in the messenger? Are you considered a follower if you follow his instructions, but not him personally? And, who decides this? Couldn't God just be the love we pour out everyday?
I sit on a fence everyday. Not a fence of my own beliefs, but a fence between two worlds. I am an atheist who loves my church, my church that loves God. My church that believes in kindness, inclusivity, helping those who have less, social justice, and mercy. My church doesn't see this fence, this fence that separates us, and for that I love them. And, to be honest, when I am with them, I don't see the fence either.
Why does the rest of the world? If kindness, inclusivity, helping those who have less, social justice, and mercy are not enough to unite us...then what is?