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Jerry Earl Johnston: Making your 'faith option' compelling

Published: Sunday, June 24 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Let me begin with a quote from Reuven Kimelman, a respected professor at Brandeis University.

"While religious ideas may engage the mind," says Kimelman, "it is the religious person who makes the religious option compelling."

A religious person — perhaps like the young man I met at an interfaith conference many moons ago.

He was a leader of the Hare Krishna movement. And he had all the trappings — the robes, the shaved head, the top-knot, the red dot between his eyes.

His gods were the Hindu gods — those ancient deities with a variety of appendages and names.

His rituals felt foreign, odd.

I found his religious ideas a bit too exotic.

But I found him, as a person, to be authentic, wise, compassionate and filled with good humor.

I liked him very much.

Who he was, not what he thought, made the "religious option" he'd chosen compelling.

That young man came to mind just yesterday, when I read that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was linking arms with the American Red Cross.

In the minds of many people in society, Mormon theology is also exotic and other-worldly.

Much of the humor in "The Book of Mormon" musical comes from the elders expressing the unique, challenging beliefs of Mormonism.

And yet, there in the newspaper, I saw once again that well-documented LDS impulse to help, to care for others in need.

I see it every day.

At the soup kitchen in Brigham City, other faiths have had to limit the participation of the Mormon wards because they would overwhelm the project with volunteers.

Such behavior, I think, is what makes the LDS religious option compelling for the many new converts throughout the world.

Examples can be found in almost every faith.

The "religious ideas" of Buddhism engage the mind. But isn't it the peaceful sweetness and aura of goodwill the Buddhists display that make their religious option compelling?

Isn't it the same with the Amish, the Mennonites and dozens of other traditions?

"The difference between theology and religion," wrote Martin Buber, "is the difference between reading the menu and eating the meal."

A lot of religious people show the rest of the world what it means to be a religious person — not because of what they believe, but because of the way they behave.

I have to think professor Kimelman hit the nail on the head.

When my Hare Krishna friend would say "Let's talk religion" he didn't mean "What do you think is true?"

He meant, "What do you do with your life that is true?"

It's a question worth asking ourselves at least once every day.

EMAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com