Personal Journeys with Gramma

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Faith Beyond Religion: Stuffing Character into Your Carry-on

“Ladies and gentlemen. Have faith. Have faith…” When Representative Joe Kennedy gave his rebuttal speech to the State of the Union address, he departed from his distributed text only slightly. He repeated “have faith” a second time with passion. From my perspective, he was addressing the debilitating despair inflicting Americans (and others) who perceive the U.S. government trading its moral value for personal profit—betraying their trust. But I’m not here to talk about politics. I’m here to talk about that kind of faith.

Setting aside differing religious beliefs, faith is a conviction that life can and will be better in the future, that what is good and true will eventually prevail. It’s the kind of indestructible sense of the meaning of life that sustained Holocaust prisoners such as Viktor Frankl or prisoners of war such as John McCain through torture until liberation.

As we’ve witnessed recently, the people who maintain faith that they can survive are generally the ones who do—surviving floods, fires, horrific accidents, and even sometimes defying terminal disease. Faith has physical power. That’s a fact. American Olympian Louis Zamperini, (whose biopic UNBROKEN I mentioned in a previous blog) the son of Italian immigrants, proved to his Japanese captors that he could take whatever they did to him—including forcing each of the 220 inmates in the prison to punch him soundly in the face. He died in the United States at age 97 after befriending the man who had tortured him.

Faith doesn’t require that someone lose for someone else to win. Win-win endings are the best because they lift everyone simultaneously. Likewise, faith works better when it comes from more than one person. Congregations praying in unison tap into that power, but prayer isn’t the only way to pull together. Americans have used collective energy in the past to advance what appeared to be hopeless causes including extending the vote to women and minorities and ending our participation in the Vietnam War. Americans have been internationally famous for our optimism.

As individuals, we need to remind ourselves of our immense ability to rise above that which has knocked us down. Some believe that we’re here on this Earth to be tested, to learn, and to develop as souls. Even without the religious concept of souls, what we do IS who we are. We know everything we do either builds us up or tears us down, elevates or degrades our character. We can’t take our fame, real estate, and investment portfolios with us when we pass. Death isn’t the worst insult our selves can suffer. We’re losers only when we look away, give up, and stop trying. We can’t be afraid to face down that which is ugly and destructive—in our personal lives or in our collective lives. Many believe we do take character with us—without an attorney to argue for us.

Faith gives us a vision for positive change and the courage to make it happen—however long it takes. We do it for ourselves. We do it for one another. We do it because we’re interconnected. Plagues don’t honor economic advantage or national borders. Wars kill the innocent more often than they kill the instigators. Hate breeds hate. Love breeds miracles. We build the kind of world we want to live in. New champions are emerging around the nation. Have faith.

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