Time is all we have
One of the paths I take for my morning jog leads to, around and through a local cemetery. I like it; it’s very quiet and beautiful there just after sunrise. I love to feel the fresh morning air coursing through my lungs and feel the beat of my heart pumping fast as I jog laps around several hundred plots of sarcophagi. It’s a bit of a paradoxical experience.
Sometimes I stop and look at the graves. Some are adorned with flowers, some with small flags. Most, however, stand alone, with nothing but a last name carved in stone and two dates. Some have no names at all. Some date as far back as the 1800’s—names of beloveds, of children, of soldiers. Names I recognize amongst generations of locals. Names of those I never knew in life, but now see the only proof of their existence.
When I see the sun rise about an inch above the trees, I start to head back home. Jogging is my alone time, and there’s been a lot on my mind these days—plenty to do and worry about, plenty of stress, plenty of drama. But running through a cemetery the first thing in the morning is such a good thing. It reminds me that today might be all I have.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:25-26, NIV)
I once attended a lecture at Belmont University by author and atheist Dan Barker with the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The story of his conversion to atheism was fascinating, as it greatly paralleled mine when I had left the LDS Church (Mormonism). As he spoke, I remembered my own leanings towards atheism after leaving a religion that had enveloped and controlled every aspect of my life—a religion that had hid many truths from me for the sake of, ironically, not shaking my faith; a religion that controlled my time and what I did with it. A beloved religion dying in one’s life is an angst that is difficult to describe, yet I truly identified with Barker as he told his story. Trying to exist in a world of power-driven religious zealots who define God for you? Believe me, a godless, idol-less life certainly appealed to me.
After the lecture was over, I was one of the last to exit the auditorium while watching a flow of people make their way to the lobby to buy Barker’s books. Ah, so that’s what he’s doing with his time: Selling, marketing—making non-believers out of believers, furthering the cause of freedom from religion. And who could blame him? I’m sure he made bank that night as a throng of students vied for his autograph and a chance to talk to him about his views. Not me. I worshipped the gods of caffeine by purchasing a small cappuccino to-go, and headed through the doors and down the street towards my car, very glad that I attended that lecture. I agreed with many of the points Barker made that evening, and I’ll be the first to say that freedom from religion is a worthy objective for any individual that wishes to find peace.
As I was driving back home that evening, several questions ran through my mind: What makes Barker any different than the preacher at the pulpit on Sunday mornings? What makes his books worth reading more than books written by religious gurus and theists? What makes the Freedom from Religion Foundation different than any marketed religion, philosophy or way of thinking?
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6: 24)
The answer is, quite frankly, nothing makes him any different. It appears to me that belief or even the lack of thereof has become a substitute for living a simple, uncomplicated life of faith. Like any enterprise, belief has been marketed to the masses for money, influence, power and control over hearts, minds, souls and pocketbooks—and apparently, that includes atheism. And as I take my daily jog past graves decorated with flowers, pinwheels, stuffed animals and flags, even those with nothing but a cross or headstone jutting out of the dirt, nothing really makes a difference there, either—for everyone there has one thing in common: they’re dead (Luke 9:60).
So what makes Jesus Christ any different? No pastor’s or televangelist’s sermon influenced me to believe in him; no lecture at a prestigious university influenced me. Missionaries didn’t convince me, nor did clever media campaigns, warm, fuzzy commercials or tear-jerking movie or TV series. It wasn’t a worship song on the latest best-selling CD on the Gospel/Contemporary Christian charts, no best-selling, must-read books that convinced me. In fact, if I could send a message to all professing Christian ministers preaching in front of the empty, white-washed tombs of corporate religion, it would be this: I’m not a believer in Jesus because of you. I’m a believer in Jesus because of Jesus. And if I could send a message to Dan Barker and his followers, it would be this: I am not a non-believer because of you and your story. My belief in a “greater power” (let’s call It “God”) exists because of how It’s been revealed in my life, not in yours or anyone else’s.
We are not born as Christians or atheists. We are not born to believe; we are born with inherent faith, a reliance on things greater than our own selves, and on which we have no control. We are born to live, to love, to be loved and feel loved. For whether one believes in God or not, we all have faith that the sun will rise and set, that we will be safe in our homes, our workplaces and schools, our travels, while we sleep. That we will wake up to another day of life—and know that one day we won’t.
I can’t blame someone for turning atheistic or agnostic. Being told what to believe and how to believe it allows very little room for faith, for there is a difference between believing and knowing. I have to say, I’ve become quite unorthodox in my views because of this. I understand why the tall tales and fables in the Bible and other holy books deemed as “scripture” exist, but it doesn’t mean I believe them, nor do I have to. I have great trouble with those who claim they’ve had “visions” (Paul’s vision on a road, Joseph Smith’s in a grove of trees, Mohammad’s in a cave, etc.) and I don’t have to believe them, either (Matthew 24: 23-25). And I might get some audible gasps on this one, but…I don’t know if Mary was a virgin; maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. Nor do I know if Jesus was resurrected; maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I don’t know what his followers witnessed. I don’t know what parts of the Bible are original or have been manipulated for marketing Christianity to the masses throughout the centuries. Heck, I don’t even believe most of what I hear and see today!
Because my faith relies upon the difference between believing and knowing, Jesus happens to do something for me, personally. He appeals to my belief. Why? He didn’t ask me to believe in a book of scripture, convert to a religion, or believe in a vision—didn’t coerce, persuade, convince or lecture. I like how his life and teachings ring true and make me feel. But feelings can deceive, so if I am to believe Jesus as “God in the flesh” right now, today, my own logic and reason tells me that he also wouldn’t expect me to know that he existed then, any more than I know those who lie in the graves I pass on my morning jog. So again, why do I believe?
Everything changes; nothing stays the same. All things go through some kind evolution. The world has certainly changed; many species have survived, adapted or have become extinct. Human civilizations, cultures and religions have survived, adapted or have become extinct. But one thing stays consistent: Time. And I don’t like to waste mine. If I believe in Jesus, I do it and I’m done. For I prefer that the “God” I believe in remain a mystery. The “God” I believe in is not a hypocrite. The “God” I believe in doesn’t invest in the stock market, profit on the poor and reward the rich. The “God” I believe in knows that actions speak louder than mere words. The “God” I believe in doesn’t command, “Do not kill’, then condones and justifies killing crusades, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The “God” I believe in does not command love and then does not love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Jesus knew would not be received by the world (John 1:10-13). And sure enough, the world continues to do what they do best: destroy. If my one belief was for sale (which it isn’t), I sure wouldn’t sell it out to religions, much less today’s duplicitous Christianity! But love? Ah yes, now, love is something I can grasp on to. Jesus said that the two greatest “commandments” were to love God and love our neighbors. He even went as far as to say to love our enemies. Yeah, that’s sure happened…not.
Have we still not learned our history lessons, or do we continue to live in denial of time-proven truths? Do we waste time perpetuating religious dogma and political agendas, or do actions speak louder than words—or scripture? For if people haven’t even learned how to be nice to each other and live in peace, who cares what anyone believes, whether Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy—or even Dan Barker? If people haven’t learned how to practice being kind, forgiving, generous, selfless, loving—who cares what is preached from the pulpits, the airwaves or the Internet? If people are still hating, destroying and killing in the name of God (and Jesus) then how should anyone expect me to believe in such a God?
I guess what draws me to Jesus alone (minus all the religious dogma), is what he represented throughout time. If there were a Higher Power that was mindful of the lifespan of a planet insistent on a destructive course, then why not sacrifice Itself out of love for it in order to relay the message to such a world that love is the only answer that will save it? That love is God, and God is love? As far as eternal life, I don’t know what is beyond death, whether we close our eyes and that’s it, or whether there are other dimensions of time and space that we do not know or cannot see, those “many mansions” as written in John 14:2. Even the most brilliant of scientific minds cannot explain or fathom the concept of infinity. But why does that even matter if we haven’t learned how to love each other? We are limited in our intelligence, just as we are limited in our time here. So what has the world done with its time thus far? It’s not rocket (or any other) science.
I have very little hope that I will see, in my life time, the world learning how to love each other the way Jesus hoped our little finite minds could grasp. So what matters most to me now is what I’m doing with my time. I cherish every breath, every heart beat, every caffeinated drop of blood that flows through my veins…but most of all, I believe in love. And it pains me to see that, throughout history, the world has been led to believe that love is not enough when the truth is, love is everything.
I am the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
I will always respect those who think outside the box and color outside the lines, and it certainly took some guts for Jesus to say that, especially taking into account the philosophies, mythologies and religions that existed during his lifetime. You know the saying: “I’ll believe it when I see it”? Well, I have to say that I’ll believe it when I don’t see it. When I don’t see belief marketed to the masses for money and profit. When I don’t see elaborate churches, temples, idols and mosques built in the name of God or Jesus. When I don’t see people dividing, hating, hurting and destroying and killing (Matthew 24). When I don’t see compassion and doing the right thing giving way to traditions, politics and rules, when I don’t see lies passed off as truth and truth made into lies. Bottom line, don’t be trying to prove to me that God does or doesn’t exist. Don’t be trying to persuade me about Jesus when your self-righteous, hypocritical, systematic belief system convinces me otherwise.
Do I have eternal life? Jesus promises it, but heck, I don’t know, does it matter? Technically, I don’t know what that is, nor can I even comprehend how that can happen. But faith gives me peace, my belief gives me hope—so I can continue my morning jogs, live my simple life, and trust that this little detail called death is covered.
What really matters is that I believe in love, because I know what it’s like to be loved and to be believed in. So first prove to me that love exists. Until then, might want to save your breath. After all, each one is numbered.
“Time Is All We Have” Copyright © 2012 by Carol Harper. Permission to publish, contact email@example.com