Recently, I was introduced to the Baha’i faith by one of the professors at Boston University. She told me about their idea of progressive revelation, meaning their faith honored many of the world religious traditions in sequence. (Please forgive me for this rather crude understanding of this complex religion) They believe that many of the great world religions; Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism etc, spoke truths to their time and place and must be understood in that context. The religion’s followers also believe in the oneness of all things and highly value the individual search for truth through universal education.
Recently, I was invited by this professor to a salon, or fireside chat (they couldn’t decide on a name) at the house of a Harvard professor who was also a practicing Bahai. The conversation started off with a word of prayer and then a reading from their prophet Bahá’u'lláh’s Book of Revelations. Afterward they began a conversation about the concept of oneness. What ensued was one of the most pleasant moments of my life. Professors of every strip, artist, students, writers, all were engaged in a genuine struggle to make sense of this word, they struggled to figure out what others meant by it and they struggled to figure out what truths resided in their own hearts.
Recently, I found myself in the shower pondering some of the ideas of the Bahai faith and asked myself if they could be reconciled with the Christian faith. But in order to do this I first had to clearly articulate for myself what it meant to be a Christian. Usually, when people asked me about my religious faith I would always say, “I call myself a Christian, though others might disagree.” This clever turn of phrase was designed to create the facade of a man of deep spirituality who also valued sober reflection, I now realize that it had the inward motive of evading a question I had long been afraid to truly answer, fearing that any real reflection on my faith would lead me to abandon it at once. But on this occasion, standing there completely disrobed of my facade, I was forced to answer the question, what did it mean to be a Christian. When I finally got to the point of very clearly articulating that question which I had worked so hard to evade, at once a flood of ideas rushed into the the forefront of my being, for a moment it was as if they occupied their own space. As I stood their no longer thinking, but knowing, I understood that I was in the presence of truth. What happened next, I do not have the vocabulary or authroity to describe but I cannot help but note the divine irony of setting.
Recently, I found myself having a conversation with my boss during the 10pm-2am shift in the Mugar Memorial Library Print Center. He asked me about a recent news story regarding a mega pastor in my hometown of Atlanta, Ga. The pastor, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, had been accused of molesting young men. Three accusers came forward claiming that during their time in New Birth’s youth outreach program the pastor developed an inappropriate sexual relationship with them. To substantiate their case, they released suggestive pictures of the bishop posing in the mirror that he allegedly sent to them. The pastor initially denied the charges but later had to temporarily step down from his position and settle with his accusers out of court.
My boss brought this story to my attention knowing that I am currently wrestling with a call to ministry. He asked, “Are you going to be like Eddie Long?” I indignantly responded with a, “Hell no.” Apart from the obvious, I explained that 1) did not wish to be a mega preacher, self-gratifyingly uttering words about Jesus and a camel and 2) I asserted that I did not wish to be disgraced like Bishop Long. My boss then asked, “Disgraced in whose eyes?” Seeing his smirk I understood that I just walked into the theological trap my boss, a former pastor himself, set for me. He then at 1am in the print center at Mugar Memorial Library delivered the most intimate sermon I have ever witnessed. My boss explained to me how though he had erred and lost his way Bishop Long, like all of God’s people, deserved forgiveness and love. He had simply lost his way and needed to be humbled. My boss then explained what he saw to be the difference between Christians, real Christians, and the rest of God’s people. After his talk I felt ashamed at the harsh judgment I previously leveled at the man, I felt ashamed that I had forgotten Love and Compassion, Divine Justice and Redemption. However at this moment I recalled the wise words I received from a student I met at BU’s phenomenal School of Theology. She told me, “It is important to be self-critical and to measure oneself continually by the Christ standard, but at the end don’t forget to give yourself grace.”
And so I shall give myself grace. In this journey I am embarking on I know that at times I will fail at being my best self, I will fail and being truly Christ-like. I will fail at times at truly loving and being compassionate to others. I will at times fail and honestly seeking truth and not being distracted by false idols and ideologies. I know that at times I will fail to stand on the side of Justice and fight for the oppressed and the disadvantaged. This is the struggle I commit myself to and I know at times I will fail, but I will remember to learn from the divine and give myself grace. To be fair to myself I’ve only truly discovered that I am a Christian, just recently.
~Demarius J. Walker