Norm is living a dual citizenship as a Computer Information System Architectural Consultant and a "Head of Area Pastors" for a Virginia evangelical church; and he's doing very well at both.
At an Information Management System meeting, I asked him for his business card in return for mine. He sorted through his pocket and offered it up with the caveat, "I have one for my church too."I believe that many people would reply, "No, thanks" in a manner that closed the door to further conversation to such a troubling subject as religion in a business, down-time social setting; but I am not most people. The churched fascinate me in all respects.
"Oh, please," I replied and studied the card bearing a clever wave logo that was remarkable in the fact that it bore no visual association with religious symbols. I was doubly intrigued.
"What flavor religion is it?" I asked.
Norm knitted his brow and studied my face. I could see my own reflection in his glasses while he hesitated.
"I mean," I continued. "Are you Evangelical like Pat Robertson….."
"Oh yes..." he replied with slow emphasis on each word that spoke less of the evangelical nature, or association with any religious celebrity, and spoke more of an embracing of something that obviously pleased him very much.
"I see," I replied, not knowing quite where to take the conversation from there. With my ancestral Dutch roots that went the way of childhood Methodism to teenage Southern fundamentalism and then tore through the 1960's rage of "make love, not war" nondenominationalism and then by-passed through mid-life Catholicism with a short diversionary stop at Zen Buddhism and finally landed in a formless and exceedingly pleasing state of inner peace and reverie with an ever-present and responsive creation and creator, both of which are less concerned with names and forms…..well, needless to say I was intrigued to mine the mind of someone who appeared to have the same sense of peace found in quite different circumstances.
I was about to speak again when he finished his sentence. "Yes, evangelical. But it's not a religion; it's a relationship."
He offered no dogma, no prescriptions, and no instructions in how to take the "true path." He just smiled and said, "I am seeing great things…"
I believe I clapped my hands in response. And smiled. A phrase came back to me from hot summer nights in a stuffy rural southern church with honey-coated vowel singing, "By your fruits, He will know you…."
Most people interpret fruits as tangible items, deeds of attainment, direct evidence in the form of accomplishments. As an impressionable teenager looking at the radiant faces of every member of a congregation who sang from their hearts, I saw their fruit, sweet plucked wild strawberries still warm from the sun: their fruit, with a price far above rubies, was their utter and complete peace and contentment.
"It's not a religion. It's a relationship." What a wonderful phrase that closes diverse gaps and brings things together in clarity.
As a scientist, I have offered the similar line of thinking that paraphrases, "It's not a science; it's a relationship."
As an artist, "It's not an art; it's a relationship."
Disciplines of every kind often try to coalesce themselves into separateness: art, science, religion, politics, philosophy, etc. As if the separateness makes them more valuable, important, distinctive, impartial, or meaningful.
Instead, of separateness, I recommend dual citizenship to everyone.