The following two characters are a composite of a half- dozen acquaintances and a dear friend:

Otto is a kind and congenial man. He is a faithful member of “a true bible church.” With pride, he says that his community will never have female ministers because Jesus didn’t. He believes the ELCA branch of his Lutheran faith is wrong in its acceptance of homosexual folks. When asked if he believes the Bible to be the word of God his answer is “absolutely, word for word.”

A few weeks ago, Otto explained that before Darwin died he recanted his belief that humans had evolved from a lower life form, that the universe is less than 10,000 years old, that all humans were created at once, that the dinosaurs did exist but did not survive Noah’s flood. As a veteran, he wears a flag pin in the collar of his jacket and his devotion to his country is second only to his devotion to his concept of God.

He is a satisfied person, content in life and faith. There is little room for ambiguity in his thinking. For every question, every life problem, every political issue there is an answer. “Biblical values,” the Ten Commandments and his current minister’s interpretation of them can resolve questions as difficult as who one votes for in a presidential election. He says he sleeps through the night because he has a “clear conscience.” Many nights, I am envious of both his sleep and certitude.

Sammy says his early experience with traditional church “gave me a stomach ache.” Yet he conscientiously strives to live a life of ecological and what he calls “spiritual” balance. He is kind but firm in his belief that harming the environment is second only to doing wrong to another being, human or animal.

A superb craftsman, he believes that how he performs his daily work enriches or diminishes his mental and spiritual well-being. He seldom uses the word “God” but spends much of his free time in the mountains and speaks of the “universe” as a benevolent and gracious power that affects his life. Like many of his generation, karma is an active force that brings evil done back to the offender.

While frugal, he spends extra to shop for organically produced foods and drives a car that gets 45 mpg. It is his belief that protesting war produces negative energy while marching for peace can bring positive energy that causes change.

These two characterizations have caused quandaries in me for years. Is one truly more spiritual than the other? Is one more deserving of God’s unconditional love? When both arrive at God/the universe’s pearly gateway will one be greeted with more gratefulness than the other for what he has accomplished with his life?

Even more critical and risky to ask: Is institutional religion failing in its exclusivity on one hand, and unwillingness to adapt and address the world as it is on the other?

The Rev. Steve Oreskovich is an Episcopal supply clergy currently an instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Montana. He can be reached at sjoreskovich@live.com.

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