I have sat on both sides of the altar and can say: Lutheran worship is as varied as Catholic mass. Having experienced services in both denominations, I can happily report that the differences depend largely on the people who attend. I have seen spare Lutheran services that follow precisely in the footsteps of Martin Luther, and I have seen those closer to Vatican prescriptions than they might like to admit. The same is true of Catholic masses; how, after all, can such an international church maintain its members unless local congregations foster their own character?
While I find the need to change within large institutions of this sort to be heartening (and I assume most Christian denominations follow the same pattern), I know that many have not gone far enough. Faith is not a choice, nor is it the luxury of a certain people. Faith is innate – it is either fostered or neglected, shaped or ignored.
The essence of a person’s faith is the business of the faithful. What language is used to describe and profess that faith is also their business. But alongside these independent businesses is the responsibility to recognize the faiths of others. I do not mean that one should adopt a faith not their own, but rather that they should appreciate the need and capacity to believe in all humanity. This I maintain for the understanding itself (how it may inform personal or shared faith) and because faith is a dimension in any relationship. As we have learned from experience, relationship is also a human necessity; we must interact with each other. And, as we understand each other, we inevitably uncover a colorful array of faiths.
Let me make the matter clearer. Assume, for a moment, that I am a student of age 25, having recently completely my master’s degree in English literature, continuing on to specialize in modern American poets at the doctoral level. Throughout my education, I have needed to interact with experts on the subject so that I might garner and apply their wisdom. From their understanding comes my own – whether through personal conversation or as the audience of lecture courses throughout my program. Relationship in at least one sense has therefore been shown to be necessary. But what about faith? Supposing that my mentor, an esteemed professor of the university, holds fast to certain theories regarding trends in contemporary poetry. He believes that poets have chosen to write on certain subjects for certain reasons, and while he cannot possibly prove this to be true in all cases, he can offer evidence he finds in the literature he reads and in whatever societal stimuli that might help his argument. While he BELIEVES this trend to be apparent, he cannot prove it. In the same way, he cannot predict with certainty what poets will write about tomorrow or the day after. In this way, he has faith in a theory. But faith is far more diverse and profound than this trite example; while my scenario offered an real-world example, there are countless to choose from and they are as diverse as humanity. Suffice it to say, however, that relationship and faith are necessary: observe any human being at any point in their lives and you will see the presence of both.
Despite these seemingly transparent aspects of human nature, we have at times, thought ourselves to be self-sufficient and without need of faith. It is as I have said previously, though in another way – we cannot deny faith and not deny ourselves; we cannot isolate ourselves by choice and call us human.
The wonderful thing about faith and relationship is that they ALWAYS exist. For whatever we do to suppress, alter, eradicate, or numb these human characteristics, they come back full force (though admittedly, often in other forms). We are then charged with not corrupting the practice or understanding of these two—by, in fact, living out a meaningful life in relation to faith and communion. (Do not ask me what “meaningful” is – that is between men and their deities. The fact remains that all are called to make sense of relationship and faith as befit their own intellects, psyche, spirits, emotions, etc.)
Now I, in turn, offer my thoughts on the matter because I believe we are all due a voice in the discussion of faith and relationship – a shared human experience. (This, and for those who look for something more concrete, I have personally and professionally studied faith within Christianity for several years). I extol the praises of any community which believes in only love through a multiplicity of experiences. That is, in a community where there exists a foundational faith in and love for the universal good. Or, as might be otherwise said, that the belief is prevalent which speaks to a universal love founded in the experiences of all people. Not only does this force us out of limits (our own experiences) into capacities without end (joint/shared human experience), but it humbles us; we understand love to be the core of us, but nurtured only in relationship with others. Our innate love is illumined when brought to the understanding of others’ lives.
So, then, the paragon of faith-filled relationship for all seeking fulfillment is this: simply put, the community of faith that sees its members humbling themselves before others. If a human being is of such a spirit that he or she willingly kneels before any of the human race, then our much-diverse creation will finally witness a many-named God. For be it Christ or Mohammed, Vishnu, Confucius, or Spirits unnamed, such open humility must be the pinnacle of our faith. We must bow with intent to learn, hearts set on the nurture of love. If our motivations are otherwise – to be seen and praised, perhaps – then the act is corrupt. Even so, if there is some good in it, it will remain, and growth will be happily affected.