So one night at the World Fantasy Convention 2005, I was pulled aside by someone familiar with my work. He knew that I was both a Republican (despite my protestations of being the worst one ever) and a Christian and wanted to talk to me. He wasn’t interested in arguing or trying to convert me (or, more importantly, me converting him), but in a fascinating turn of events, he was only in trying to see why I believed what I believed and why. Not in a “justify what you believe” sort of way, but more in a “help me to understand your way of seeing things” sort of way.

We ended up talking about Jesus, religion, politics and philosophy without so much as a raised voice (or me pitching my novel to him, dang it!). The conversation also challenged me in a lot of areas. How do you explain faith to someone and the process of making it your own? And what do you say to someone who says “I want it, I just don’t buy it.” Someone who asks “how can you make faith your own”? Someone who says that they don’t believe in God, but every time he looks into the face of the woman he loves, he gets a glimpse of the fact that God must be out there.

Turns out that the gentleman in question was a voodoo practitioner because that is what he connected to. On the flip side, I recently received an e-mail from a friend of mine struggling with her spiritual journey from the Christian side of the faith coin. You see, she grew up in a Christian home, a home of faith, has always been the good girl, done all the good girl things, and now struggles with whether her faith is her own or if she has simply given into what she was brought up (or conditioned) to believe:

“I guess it’s becoming obvious that there really is no way to know that what you’re believing in is true. So really, you just have to make *a* decision and hope that you’re right. There’s really nothing more than that that any of us can do as far as determining what we believe about anything spiritual. So I guess I’m trying to figure out what decision to make about what to believe in. I’ve been brought up in an environment of faith, where it’s the norm to believe in what Christians believe in. But more and more questions have come to my mind lately. What about someone who grew up in a home where it wasn’t normal at all to believe what Christians believe? And what if they grew up wanting to determine the truth, but came to different conclusions than Christians have about God?

I know lots of people like this, and it’s hard to believe that a God that is really love would not allow them to receive the same privileges (heaven?) as Christians. Especially Christians who basically have blind faith – you know what I mean, those that grow up in the church and just believe because that’s where they’re placed and never even really go out in search of the truth on their own. It doesn’t quite jive with me that God would be like that.”

Look, we each are on our own spiritual journey. Guaranteed that the path and ways that I walk are going to look different than yours. And I’m certainly not afraid of questioning or afraid of anyone going through a period of questioning. Faith includes doubt. God is big enough for us to question, doubt, and wrestle with. In fact, He expects us to. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. Once we have all the answers, for one thing, we tend to develop a terrible hubris. Secondly, we certainly don’t need God anymore (sort of makes you look at the story of Adam and Eve in a new light as to what their sin was).

For the record, I didn’t grow up in a faith-filled home. My father and his father before him were about as God neutral, even anti-God as you can get. [My father, in one particularly chilling conversation, once told me that he understood fully the choice he made living his life the way he wanted. He recognized the consequences and if that meant an eternity of hell, then so be it, but he at least got to live his life his way.] My mother talked about God on occasion, but I had no sense of her having a spiritual life until the last ten years or so. I did grow up in church nonetheless, but if you talk to any of the folks that I went to church with, they can attest that I kind of did things the hard way. However, I appreciate being allowed to question and figure things out for myself (though I admit, part of it meant testing other paths before coming back to this one). The bottom line is that you have to make your faith your own. Your family can’t believe for you, your friends can’t believe for you. Faith isn’t an inheritance, it is a treasure sought after.

The only thing that I can think of comparing faith to, and the best way to relate to faith, is love: Finding faith is like falling in love. There is an element of mystery to both, and let’s face it, in any proposition, we’re uncomfortable with mysteries, the “I don’t know”s. There are times while we are falling in love where we feel like we have been chosen and times where we choose to do it. Let me tell you, when I’ve fallen in love (each and every painful time), it has caught me off guard and swept me up. On the other hand, I’m not always in love with my wife. Somedays I am choosing to still love her.

Why you people keep asking me questions, I don’t know. Now I’ve got to think through what I believe and why. Though that will give me something to blog about over the next couple of days.