Last year, as I stood in line to see the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, I realized that tolerating other religions, beliefs, and denominations is a complete waste of time.
I grew up in a Christian home, with my mother having adopted my father’s mennonite denomination and beliefs in exchange for the Catholicism of her youth. The rest of the family, with the exception of my aunt who converted to Judaism after marrying my uncle, is Catholic and looking back, I realize I was extremely blessed to not be made aware of the history of animosity between Protestants and Catholics, particularly with the Mennonites and other Anabaptists, until a later period in my childhood.
Attending Mass with my grandmother and grandfather was a unique experience to me, but it never struck me as somehow opposed to or contrasting with the services at my family’s own Mennonite Brethren church. I didn’t even realize how many aspects of Catholicism I was exposed to until I saw some of my Mennonite friends attend my grandmother’s funeral and be taken back by the various standing, sitting, and kneeling rituals they had never experienced.
My grandmother was an amazing woman of faith. Her devotion to not only her church and community but her whole family is honestly unmatched in my own head. She was a saint, even if she still hasn’t reached the required number of miracles for official recognition by the Holy See. She instilled Christian virtues of charity, forgiveness, and hope in the direst of circumstances. Also she would buy me chocolate milk whenever I came over, so that was pretty awesome.
It was only years later I learned that although she had begrudgingly accepted my mother leaving the Church, she, committed Catholic that she was, decided the fact that my brother and I were never baptized as infants was not acceptable. She took matters into her own hands and secretly baptized us in her kitchen sink one day while my parents were out of town.
At my Mennonite baptism, many years later, I got to speak about her influence in my life (she having passed away that year) and what it meant to have a devoted woman of faith leading the family, regardless of our differences in denomination.
Many years later again, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with my aunt, for my cousins’ bar-mitzvah, held on the top of Masada in the dead heat of August. Although I had seen and participated in a number of Jewish traditions and celebrations with my cousins, it was only travelling to the Holy Land alongside them that really highlighted the biggest differences between our two religions. One of my cousins was astounded at how accepted she felt when we arrived, not in spite of, but because of her religion. She had been bullied and teased for her family’s heritage all through school and as a result, her belief was to her something secret not to show off or make a deal of in public, only within her own local Jewish community.
As we toured around Jerusalem, I learned how difficult is can be for a lot of Jewish people today to feel like God is still on their side. As a Christian, I grew up seeing history as split into two sections, with the set-up for Christ’s arrival followed by the current period, the almost-not-yet part of history where we eagerly await Christ’s return along with the New Heaven and New Earth. But somehow I never realized that when you view history all in one segment, with the tales of Genesis and Exodus connecting directly to those of the Diaspora and the Holocaust, it paints a much more difficult picture of continual suffering with abuse suffered no matter what country you settle in, even the one you were told was promised to you.
So as I got to enter the supposed tomb of Christ, conveniently located less than 50 feet from the place of his crucifixion, I realized how useless tolerance is. We can put up with those of different beliefs than our own, sure. It’s not hard. You make clear distinctions between what is and isn’t acceptable dinner discussion, you tip-toe around which names of God you use in your prayers, and you mostly shut up about your faith, which is supposed to influence your every waking moment.
In truth, tolerance is another form of indifference. We practice closing ourselves off from any potential religious clash in the same way we ignore all the facts we know about sex-trafficking and homelessness in our own country. Shut if off and ignore it, it makes things easier. But I know one of the most important aspects in my own beliefs, which my grandmother practiced day in and day out, is that living a life of faith is not supposed to be easy. Charity is not easy, forgiveness can be next to impossible, and maintaining hope that things will be all right, that every human being contains the image of God, and that the worst aspects of ourselves can be overlooked by an all-loving God is a Herculean feat.
And trying to maintain your own faith when there are so many ways to doubt what you believe really is right is downright frightening. How can I engage with someone else’s beliefs when I’m barely holding on to my own?
I can’t speak to the imperatives of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or many, many other beliefs out there. But for followers of Christ, Catholic and Protestant, we are not called to wall ourselves off and bury what we’ve been given. We are called to seek out the suffering of others, to engage with and love unconditionally those that we feel are removed from ourselves. Christ never called for me or any of his followers to practice tolerance, a calculated way of never having to be challenged by the lives and faiths of others.
Yes, Christ called Christians to spread the word of the Gospel. But if there’s one thing we as Christians have gotten so bad at is talking without listening. Shove a Bible in someone’s hands, keep quoting scripture at them rather than to them, and retreat back to a place of comfort and familiarity.
The bottom line is, I’ve had so many opportunities in my life to learn about beliefs outside of the one I chose to follow. I don’t think I have the ability to have real conversations with real people about things I’ve never known and never believed just to waste it. I think as a Christian, I’m not supposed to only learn from Christians. I think I need to abandon tolerance and take up a dialogue that will challenge my own faith and establish connections on a level that is not traditional.
I don’t want to coexist and tolerate. I want to act. I want to listen. I want to engage.