I recently attended a house party as the guest of a friend. I didn’t know anyone at the party other than the friend who took me. At one point, my friend went to find the bathroom, and I was hovering around the edge of the room when a guy approached and introduced himself to me. Within no time, the standard Washington DC introductory question was asked, “What do you do?” Now, a good friend and colleague of mine once told me that he tells people that he’s an electrician when someone asks because it doesn’t usually involve any follow-up questions. That being said, I was honest and said that I was the musician for an Episcopal church.

My new friend looked at me with some disbelief and said, “Really?” “Yep!” I replied. He then asked, “Why do you believe that stuff?” Not knowing exactly what stuff he was talking about, I offered an uncomfortable laugh and then proceeded to elaborate that I was (obviously) not homophobic, I believe that women are completely equal to men, I practice yoga, I don’t think God is sending everyone to Hell who doesn’t agree with the Bible, I accept the science of the earth revolving around the sun, evolution, and climate change, and that Pat Robertson and his closest friends don’t speak for me and my beliefs on most issues. All the while, I was looking longingly for my friend to return from the restroom and get me out of this interrogation.

The guy nodded along with me and said “That’s great. But, you haven’t answered to me why you believe in God.” I admit to being a bit surprised by his continued questioning, although I also recognized he was absolutely right. It’s easy for me to say what I believe (though often easier to say what I don’t believe). I could recite the Nicene Creed, or quote lines from hymns that share my belief, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been flat out asked why I believe.

I asked the guy if we could continue the conversation later, and he responded affirmatively – inviting me to find him on Facebook. I’ll admit that my mind spent the rest of the party thinking through his question even as I made small talk with others.

After a few days of thinking, I sent him the following message:

OK, you obviously caught me a bit off-guard the other night. And I hope I didn’t come across as sounding defensive in my answers. But I think you might be the first person to ask me why. Please don’t misunderstand my inability to answer you as being simple-minded or having accepted everything about my faith blindly. I probably have questioned my religious convictions as thoroughly as just about anyone else, but I continue to believe. I believe because I see evidence all around me every day. From gorgeous natural beauty in creation to the way my dog curls up to me on my couch – my mind can’t accept that this all happened just by happenstance. I’ve been in love before – I know that love is as real as anything I can see directly in front of me. But, I don’t know that I could ever prove to you or someone else that love exists. You have to experience it once to know how real it is. And I experience God when I hear music that can move me emotionally just because of the way the sounds are produced together.  Sometimes it is a sensation I get when hearing a large symphony playing music that makes my spine tingle and the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and other times I can get that same sense from the solitary voice of a child singing with so much enthusiasm that you’d think her life depended on it. Yes, I know Christianity is responsible for lots of bad things that have happened throughout history, but it also produced some of the world’s greatest leaders who have made the world a better place because of their beliefs.  Also, it has provided a catalyst for great beauty in the world – from the paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Michelangelo to the musical compositions of Palestrina, Mozart, and Bach. I don’t have the answers to all of the questions and there are plenty of things that don’t make sense to me. I believe that Jesus came to teach us how to live a truly fulfilled life. His teachings were so radical and different from the normal way of life, that he suffered the ultimate punishment for it – and I believe there’s much to be learned from that.

I’m a Christian, but I don’t choose to be one so that I can get into Heaven when I die – my Christianity isn’t a type of supermarket chain reward card that will one day make me thankful that I was part of the club. If there’s nothing after this life on earth, I’m still fine with having lived my life as a Christian. I’d like to think that I will have lived in such a way of respecting other people regardless of how different they are from me, or of how they have treated me.  I don’t think people should lie to one another, and I think empathy is something everyone should strive to have. I think if we help those all around us, we experience a bit of Heaven right here and now. I admit that one can live under these rules without being a Christian, but for me, it’s why I choose to live that way. And it’s why I go to church (other than the obvious reason that it’s my job!), because I want to be surrounded by other people who are interested in sharing the same journey for the same purpose.

So, that’s my why. You may disagree with me and I can certainly respect that; I ask that you respect my beliefs as well. I’m happy to continue the conversation with you if interested. If not, at least know that I give thanks for your prodding. I have found myself thinking more deeply of all of this ever since you asked. Hope to see you at another party soon!