“Is Christianity changing?” I ask Jackson.
“No,” he says, “but we are.”
I nod. Almost everything has changed since the first Protestant settlers came here: our cities, our houses, our transportation. Our tastes in music and fashion. How we navigate in space, how we take in information. All these broad shifts that influence how we think and act. Not to mention the countless incremental and personal changes that occur over each of our lifetimes. Just in these last several months, I’ve changed. Who would have thought I would have engaged in this epic church-going experiment? Not me, and certainly not anyone who knew me. The mention of God used to make me uneasy because I thought it had to be a very specific thing: big man in the clouds.
Critics may claim that a particular generation or population group is more spiritually complacent or less curious, but I don’t think you can judge what’s going on in others’ hearts and minds. Because despite all the changes, something fundamental stays the same. It’s what makes our need for the tools Christianity offers as vital today as ever. Each of us struggles to come to grips with being here, and with the knowledge that we will leave—as if these realizations are a fresh new thing just added to the human experience. Religion reminds us that people have been grappling with them for centuries. It’s spiritual dialogue across generations.
But being told a thing takes us only so far. We have to engage in it, each of us putting in the effort to make sense of it for ourselves. We wrestle with it so that we can reach beyond for a deeper joy. It’s like the Biblical reference to the mustard seed—all that potential sits in us, but it is the process, the expansion, the opening, that matters. No single church has changed me, no one sermon. But the act of going, of walking in those doors, is changing me. I feel my heart softening to people I had dismissed, my mind opening to ideas I once ridiculed. Each time I show up and come elbow to elbow with others who have also showed up, the chances are I’ll have a moment, however brief or fleeting, where the beauty of creation strikes me—the awe of this shared experience—and it won’t feel overwhelming or like something I can’t handle, but poignant and profound.
One point Jackson made in his sermon about Nehemiah stood out for me. In the first moments after learning about the destroyed walls, Nehemiah is overcome with grief and begins to weep. Jackson paused and asked everyone to think about the sudden painful rawness of Nehemiah’s emotions. Nehemiah hadn’t witnessed the walls being smashed—it happened earlier and far away. But all at once Nehemiah realized it was not an abstract occurrence that happened to others, but his very own experience. After a moment, the wave of anguish recedes, and he makes his plans.
A flicker of understanding rises in me: I see that each fresh recognition of the awesomeness of life is the huff and puff of gaining elevation on a mountain climb. Because it’s the facing it—the working through it, the accepting it—that gets us closer to the top where compassion, for ourselves and others, and gratitude resides. Each time we grasp the intangible, the mustard seed grows.