The Pursuit of Bravery: This is my religion

Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz

The pursuit of bravery is the pursuit of love, for love is the purpose; love is the beginning. In the beginning there was love, but love has no beginning for love always was. Love caused the stars to be formed, and love caused man to rise from their dust.

I believe that love, the beginning before the beginning (what always was), the great Mystery or Spirit which can be experienced but not explained, are ways to describe God - among countless others. I believe that God is alive...that the fabric of God is within us and that we are within the fabric of God.

From a young age, I was given the language of Christianity to describe and to encounter God. I still speak in this language, for it is my mother-tongue, and I now believe that this is perhaps the best way to describe Christianity or any other religion: as a language by which humanity attempts to speak to each other about God, and as a means to know God.

Languages are imperfect means of communication, limited by the use of words we have created. In fact, much more is communicated without or beyond words. All religions are imperfect means to know God - a God I believe to desire to speak to us all in a language that we can understand. I believe that what, and how, we communicate (read here: how a religion or faith is acted upon, and how it works within) is more important than the language in which the words are contained. From the pen of the Apostle Paul: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1)

I prayed the simple prayer of salvation when I was seven, and I was baptized weeping as a teenager...I meant it. As a child I read the Beginner’s Bible with colorful pictures several times through before I graduated to the one with no pictures and the passages that are often dark and confusing. It too I read cover to cover. The church is where I learned to sing; I played on music teams and led worship services every Sunday for years, and as a teenager I would often lead on Sunday mornings and then again that Sunday night for my peers in youth group. Friday night worship gatherings, Wednesday night Bible studies. All of this to say, I was deep within the culture and I took my faith seriously. I spoke the language and I spoke it well.

But as I approached my college years, I found that I could not wait to go out on my own, away from the church that held much of my identity. This was not because I believed my church to be evil (I have only the highest respect for the community in which I was raised, and the integrity of the people within), or that I myself wanted to go through a “wild and sinful” stage to perhaps experiment with drugs and sex, but rather I had a growing dissatisfaction with, and aversion to, much of the doctrine and underlying messages of the Christianity with which I was presented.

I wouldn’t have had the words for it then, but I wanted to meet God on my own terms, away from the avenues in which I was raised, and to find my own story. What followed were years of deconstruction to the bare bones of what I believed, and the subsequent reconstruction of my faith. This reconstruction is not over, and I hope that I never consider myself to have arrived at ultimate spiritual truth, refusing to grow deeper or to continue to seek God in more fullness. I have much to learn, and I still have many questions...yet I believe my language and life to be richer on the other side.

Much of my spiritual dissatisfaction grew primarily from exclusionism; I feel that within the culture of Christianity, there is either blatantly professed spirit of exclusion, or a mentality found beneath the surface. We hold the one truth; us against the world, either sinner or a saint, saved by the blood of a savior who has done all of the work and heavy lifting for us.

For years I wrestled with the concept of a loving God that would create the earth and humanity full of beauty and innocence, but open to be wrecked...for the earth to become for so many a place of literal hell through wars, genocide, extreme poverty, and other unbearable injustices. And then, at the end of it all, if we did not accept loving and forgiving Jesus as our savior - through a simple prayer, and within the murkiness of human consciousness - we would not merely perish, but we would burn forever within the torments of an eternal hell. The privileged who had accepted Christ would receive salvation and live forever within heaven, a place of peace and fullness - communion with God.

I found that I could no longer believe in this narrative of God.

Richard Rohr writes, “Any discovery or recovery of our divine union has been called ‘heaven’ by most traditions. Its loss has been called ‘hell’. The tragic result of our amnesia is that we cannot imagine that these terms are first of all referring to present experiences. When you do not know who you are, you push all enlightenment off into a possible future reward and punishment system, within which hardly anyone wins. Only the True Self knows that heaven is now and that its loss is hell - now … Heaven is the state of union both here and later.” He further concludes, “If your notion of heaven is based on exclusion of anybody else, then it is by definition not heaven. The more you exclude, the more hellish and lonely your existence always is.”

When hell is solely something to come, we ignore the deep injustice happening all around us. When heaven is solely something to come, we ignore the present existence of God.

I still believe in some form of afterlife or reunion after bodily death, void of the suffering and darkness evident today. But I believe that the kingdom of heaven is to be found - and brought about - here, and now...amidst all of our beauty and wreckage.

I believe that we are eternal beings, and that in some form heaven or hell can be eventually fully entered by our own choosing (for love requires a choice); we can either live from the True nature in which we have been created, or we can choose to live fully from the ego - which ultimately tells us that we are god. The ego is not necessarily primarily evil, but has evil capabilities - unlike our True selves. The journey of shedding our false self, or ego, and realizing and reconnecting with our True self (that which is already one with God) I believe to be the way of “salvation”.

I have personally found the life of Jesus to be the ultimate example to humanity of transcending the ego, and further, that what Jesus represents transcends Christianity. I believe God to be bigger than our religions and the names we have ascribed to God, which divide the “believer” and the “infidel”.

I believe that the truth of God can be found in the pages of scripture, that its writers were inspired by God and intimately knew Him, but that the Bible is a part of humanity’s journey to discover and to know God, and not an overarching guidebook to be taken out of cultural and historical context. I believe that the character, heart, and desires of a living and infinite God can not, and should not, be limited to what we read in the Bible or any other text.

I believe that God is love, and that love is the most universal and fundamental language of all. I believe that God is within us all, regardless of our actions or beliefs.

Many people within the Christian community, many whom I respect deeply, would say that my convictions are at best a watering down of the Gospel, and at worst dangerous assertions. I would submit personally that I have found the true watering down of the Gospel to be a faith that costs nothing.

For if our faith costs nothing, it is worth nothing.

This is not to say that we are “saved” by our outward actions, but if my faith does not change the way that I live and love others, if it does not aid in my treatment of the land and my abhorrence to my own selfishness and greed, if it does not bring forth greater yields of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control, then my faith is worthless. My prayers are empty and self-centered, my heaven is empty and self-centered.

My words are not an attempt to attack Christianity or the church, and are certainly not meant to separate myself from the foundational teachings of Christ. Rather, my words are an attempt to call forth something greater both personally and collectively.

Jesus did not live a life of comfort or excess. He had little patience for religious dogma. He challenged oppressive authority. He broke down barriers and stereotypes. And he gave up his life for love.

I believe that we’re more alike than we are different. We may not vote the same way politically, hold the same beliefs about God (or even agree on His existence), but we all hold love.  

Love is the master key to it all. Love does not stand for injustice. Love does not count differences, it transcends. Love unites, love heals. Love is not a weakness, but a power beyond measure.

My religion is love. My creed is to love God and to love others, no matter the cost.

In this confusing world, both broken and beautiful, containing the first smiles of newborns, nuclear weapons, sunsets, marriages, divorces, poverty, racial discrimination, sex trafficking, favorite songs, the smell of coffee, the touch of your partner’s hand, murder, species extinction, deforestation, and seeds in good soil, God can be found and made known when we love.

This is my religion.

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