As I sat down to lunch with an executive client, she checked a text coming in from her daughter.
A few seconds later, I heard, “Thank God! I’m so excited! My daughter passed her bar exam!”
Did God have anything to do with that good news, or was her exclamation more a habitual shout of happiness?
In joyful moments in my own life, excitations about God have often spontaneously popped up – the birth of a child, a heart-to-heart talk with someone I love, the arrival of a check during a period of financial hardship: “Thank you, God!”
Other God-expressions have arisen from adversity – a remorseful convict I know is refused parole, a car accident takes the life of a family member, the basement floods just before the holidays: “Why, God?”
Then, at times, I am hit by the awe of day-to-day life itself – an old man refuses to give up, the sight of a glacier in Alaska throws me into a trance, forgiveness bridges a long-time relationship impasse: “Wow, God!”
Our spiritual beliefs influence our perspective in times of disappointment, success, and confusion. Whether we know it or not, we use those beliefs to explain things to ourselves, and to impact others. That’s why it’s important to step back from time to time to examine just what we believe and don’t believe about God, or the existence of “Something More” in life.
What I Do and Believe
In that spirit, I thought I would share a little about what I do and what I believe.
I make no claims that my beliefs are accurate; they’re just my beliefs.
I am a teacher, confidante, and relationship guide for those who lead others – in families, professional firms, businesses, governments, religious and educational institutions, and social movements. My chosen profession incorporates enlightenment and healing without the overlay of explicit faith reference or God language.
My life mission is to increase calmness, clarity, connection, curiosity, and courage – in myself and in all whom I encounter. Living this way involves lots of steps forward and backward. To help me progress in my mission, I continually seek knowledge about leadership and about family functioning.
The inner engine of my life and profession is a desire to learn and understand.
I am part of an exceptionally diverse multi-cultural family system whose members are German, Irish, Sicilian, Mexican, Bangladeshi, Laotian, Vietnamese, Turkish and Iranian. As a result, I have developed a bias towards acceptance and equality across all boundaries. I have purposely immersed myself into cultures different from my own, including developing nations, American people of color, urban environments, and the LGBTQ communities.
I tend to associate with people who make room for the entire world.
One Person’s Faith
I practice a faith of ecumenical openness. By understanding the commonalities and differences among many spiritual traditions, I have moved on from the rote Catholicism of my childhood and the radical Biblical faith of my young adulthood. I enter a mosque or temple with the same reverence as a small country chapel or a grand cathedral.
I respect all paths that do not judge the paths of others.
I orient towards stimulating personal responsibility rather than protesting social wrongs; towards understanding fear, anxiety, maturity, and resilience, rather than engaging in explicit religious worship.
I pay attention to the important difference between knowing and believing: Many believe, but no one knows. In reality, “agnostic” (“from the Greek, “no knowledge”) describes most believers. The people of faith I trust the most have questions and doubts.
In my personal view, believing without knowing is called faith. Thinking one knows is called delusion.
When I pray, my prayers come not from certain faith, but from gratitude, hope and desperation.
I consider myself a long-time seeker who doesn’t know (and doesn’t need to know) the “Truth” (with a capital “T”), but who imperfectly practices honesty and open-mindedness in facing the world, its questions, and its inhabitants.
“Truth” and Intolerance
I am disturbed and mobilized in response to two regressions now over-taking much of the planet: a narrow and polarizing insistence on Truth, and a brutal intolerance for the beliefs, lifestyles, and skin pigmentation of others.
Despite evidence that such intolerance is decreasing, there’s still way too much of it.
In my value system, practicing tolerance is more important than knowing “Truth.”
From that perspective, I am suspect of any spirituality that seeks to indoctrinate, change, or convince another, or that abdicates reason, responsibility, or doubt.
I believe that emotional maturity and spiritual investment go hand in hand in a well-balanced, integrated individual. In my view, one can be any faith one chooses, as long as one carries it with poise, acceptance, and careful judgment.
My lifelong pursuit of a clear belief system has led me to think about the hallmarks of an emotionally-mature faith. In my mind, more mature beliefs share these commonalities:
Grapples with mystery rather than claiming certainty.
Aligns more closely with reality rather than with magic and superstition.
Favors prayer that changes the pray-er, rather than prayer that tries to influence or bargain with a Higher Power.
Recognizes the delicate balance between justice and mercy.
Is biased more toward human responsibilities and choices than on Divine intervention.
Approaches certitude about “God’s will” with skepticism.
Avoids the convenient uses of “Evil people” and “Good people.” Applies these labels to actions not individuals. Accepts that evil often masquerades as “comfortable” and “good.”
Favors discernment (weighing and sifting) over certainty in matters of spiritual beliefs and important life decisions.
Repudiates the notion that God plays favorites, or divides the world into acceptable and unacceptable factions. Questions any faith that degrades the body, or favors one gender, race, religion, or nation over another.
Views with suspicion any God-name or religious path claiming to be “the chosen” or the “right” path
It’s taken me many years to achieve some degree of clarity about what I believe, and my beliefs could change based on new information or fresh understanding.
Seeing my beliefs as provisional keeps me open to new insights. That’s given me the space to keep growing as a person and as a leader.
What are your spiritual beliefs, and what difference do they make?