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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 25, 2006

Lessons from my parents

By the Rev. Dr. John Heidel

I've been reflecting on the significance of our individual spiritual journeys and the importance of having good role models along our paths; for me it's been people like Jesus and the Buddha, the biblical prophets and ministers of my youth, Gandhi and M.L. King Jr. and my parents.

My dad taught high school math and science while teaching the adult class and serving as superintendent of Sunday school in our local Methodist Church.

In addition, when my granddad retired from farming, Dad took over the management and working of the family farm. Dad loved wisdom, loved God, loved the land and loved his family.

My mom is a living saint. While she was raising her five children, managing a large farmhouse, being a one-person community service organization and an active church member, she read and wrote poetry, became engaged in social justice issues and read widely in areas of world cultures, religions and politics. At 90, she's still actively involved in these activities.

Mom, like Dad, loves wisdom, God, the land and family; she loves compassion, kindness, respect and justice.

Being grounded in these moral and spiritual principles was an integral part of my journey as a minister and I feel blessed by this foundational education.

The primary lesson I learned was the critical importance of a continual process of lifelong learning. I'm grateful for the encouragement to be constantly exploring, examining and evaluating my personal growth.

I learned that what a person believes (or doesn't believe) about God and matters of faith is very important. What I believe as a Christian undergirds everything I do. I also learned that right doctrine isn't as important as right living. If believers of the different world religions could respect and accept the validity of each other's religion, we could solve many of the problems related to intolerance and violence.

From my science-teaching, faith-based, farming father, I learned to integrate the mystery of life with the mystery of faith. As a person of faith I can understand the nature of a Creator God who played an integral role in the evolvement of life as we know it today. Every person has the right to believe exclusively in evolution or creationism or intelligent design or an inclusive view of science and faith. We need to honor these differences and resist efforts that further polarize our schools and communities for example, teaching intelligent design as science while denying evolution, or vice versa.

From my wise, compassionate, activist mother I learned the importance of putting faith into practice. She lives her faith in a way similar to the teaching of the Dalai Lama, who said, "My religion is kindness." Every religion has teachings that make this connection between belief and living.

Imagine the kind of community and world we could fashion if we simply practice what we're taught.

The Rev. Dr. John R. Heidel is a retired United Church of Christ minister, president of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii and a member of Christ Church Uniting Disciples and Presbyterians in Kailua.