Occasionally I get e-mails from well-meaning Evangelical folks who, knowing that I come from a Southern Baptist tradition, will challenge me to take my column to the next level.

I get comments like, “Why don’t you use your column to spread the good news of Christ?” If they are feeling particularly brave, they will issue stronger comments like, “Your meaningless drivel doesn’t belong on the religion page! Why don’t you tell people that Jesus is their only hope?”

There are two reasons I don’t use my column to proselytize. First, aside from the fact that I wouldn’t have a column if my editors thought I was using it to spread my own version of the Gospel, there is a simpler reason: I write a spiritual column, not a religious one.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Spirituality is that sense of awe and wonder we all have about the creation that surrounds us. It’s about who we are, how we hope, how we pray and how love works. Spirituality is that piece of ourselves that attracts us to something outside ourselves. It is that basic appetite or search engine we have that seeks our creator.

Religion is one of the destinations to which spirituality often can take us. Destinations can be different for all of us. Spirituality may bring a person to Christianity, but it might also bring a person to Buddhism or Judaism.

Personally, I’m not ashamed to say it here, loud and clear, that my spiritual search has led me to Jesus Christ and the God that Jesus is said to reveal. My personal faith is something I recommend to everyone who asks me about the hope I carry within me.

Since Christianity is my chosen
BURKES,from1Dreligion, I worship and dialogue with those who believe as I do. But in this newspaper column, I seek a more ambitious dialogue. I seek a dialogue that takes me beyond the Christian community and into a conversation with all those made in the image of God.

It is the same kind of cross-cultural dialogue I challenge my readers to seek and explore.

Now, consider the aforementioned reaction that I’ve received from some Evangelical readers, and you can see how easily it can translate into a metaphor about how we seek to share our own faith with others.

There are many folks who seek to share their faith and spirituality on the religion page of life and proclaim their faith only to people who would agree with them. The kindly expression for their strategy is that they are “preaching to the choir.” The less kindly expression is they’ve “become so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good.”

The problem with that strategy is that if we only look for a god that looks like us, we are going to miss God in a lot of places. The truth is, if you really believe your religion has relevance to life, then you’ll want to forgo the discussion with like-minded people and test it out where people really live.

So, in the end, I’d rather write this column in the same way I live, not as some kind of apostle or Elmer Gantry evangelist, but hopefully as a signpost or headline in life, gently nudging, not judging, people toward a relationship with a benevolent creator.