Watching Religion & Ethics Weekly the other day, I saw a news story about President Obama addressing the United Nations General Assembly.

Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional – in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all.”

Now, I’m grateful to have been born in this country. But at a gathering of all the (reasonable) countries in the world, is it really necessary to say, “We’re still bigger and better than the rest of you!”

It’s the same with world religions. Every one of them seems to think their God is bigger and better than anyone else’s.

When I was a teenager, I was baby-sitting my next-door neighbor’s kids. As she was leaving for the restaurant, one of them asked a very deep question that left her discombobulated.

Mama?” he asked, all wide-eyed innocence. “Who’s more powerful. Jesus or Shiva?”

She had a look on her face that spoke volumes. As in, I don’t want to talk about this to my seven and nine year old kids, but our family is Hindu, so…

Well, I guess… Shiva.”

Why Mama?”

God is a belief, honey. Nothing to do with your real life. Shiva is just the one that we believe in, that’s all. Right, Ruthie?”

I flashed back in my mind – a recent emergency appendectomy had left me “minutes from death” according to my surgeon, so I’d gotten right with God, right quick. I took the altar call at a local church, figuring I had to commit fully to God’s path and never look back.

So when my neighbor asked me to agree with her, I didn’t know how to respond.

God is a belief! Goodness gracious. At the time, I thought that if I said or thought the wrong thing, God would smite me down. I didn’t have a foundation of faith so much as a fixation on fear. If I’d been minutes from death in the hospital and had been given a second chance, clearly I should spend the rest of my life trying to toe the line so that I wouldn’t be denied entry into Heaven.

Luckily, the conversation petered out as the kids turned their attention to Scooby-Doo.

It would take me years before I realized that having faith wasn’t about staving off doom. It’s about living fully and embracing the positive. Light and laughter. Joy, not judgment. A sense of purpose and a sense of community.

We may pray in unique ways and call Him by different names, but, in truth, we all worship the same God. Holding on to hope in a world that dares us to believe is an act of faith in itself. As it turns out, there’s nothing bigger or better than walking the divine path with peace in your heart and hope for the future.

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