"Whenever someone asks me, or I ask myself, 'What have I done to deserve this?' the larger answer is always, 'Nothing.' We did nothing to deserve being born. We did nothing to earn life's privileges of joy and pain. And on the day we die, we will still know almost nothing about what life was all about. Life on this planet is billions of years old. Our span of three score years and ten (give or take a score or two) is barely time enough to get our minds wet.
"By cosmologists' latest reckoning, there are some 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and ours is one of perhaps 100 billion galaxies. There are as many stars in the heavens as there are grains of sand on all the earth. And that is only our cosmos. There could be others. Divide the stars among us and, in our galaxy alone, every individual alive on earth today would be the proud possessor of some seventeen personal stars. If you choose to name yours (actually a fun thing to do), you can't start too soon. Naming one's own stars is more than a lifelong project. By my reckoning, the cosmic star-to-person ratio is 1.7 trillion to one.
"So what do we do? Do we name our stars and shake our heads in humility and wonder? No. We sit on a single grain of sand on this vast cosmic beach and argue over who has the goods on God. Is it the atheist or the theist? The Hindu or the Buddhist? The Catholic or the Protestant? The Muslim or the Jew? We duel (sometimes to the death) over which religious teacher has the best insider information on God and the afterlife. Is it Jesus? The Buddha? Muhammad? How about Nietzsche, Gandhi, or Freud? Billions of accidents conspired to give each of these compelling teachers the opportunity even to teach. Knowing this pondering numbers beyond reckoning doesn't strip me of my faith. It inspires my faith. It makes me humble. It fills me with awe.
"If our religion doesn't inspire in us a humble affection for one another and a profound sense of awe at the wonder of being, one of two things has happened. It has failed us, or we it. Should either be the case, we must go back to the beginning and start all over again. We must reboot our lives until the wonder we experience proves itself authentic by the quality of our response to it. The secret lies in how we treat one another. I may not believe as Jesus did, but I should dearly hope to love as Jesus did, to forgive and embrace others as unconditionally as he. The principal challenge of theology today is to provide symbols and metaphors that will bring us, in all our glorious diversity, into closer and more celebratory kinship with one another as sons and daughters of life and death."