When shopping for holiday gifts, you'll do well to regard the attached warning labels.
I'm talking about the labels likely inspired by frivolous lawsuits and containing such warnings as "Remove child from stroller before folding."
The irony of these admonishments is that they are addressed to witless and cerebrally challenged people who rarely read such things. Nevertheless, we might find some wisdom in these cautious caveats by amending them into a helpful list for those contemplating a faith commitment.
1. Objects may be closer than they appear.
This saying, normally inscribed on a right-sided car mirror could be modified into a counsel for faith-seekers that says, "Truth may be simpler than it appears."
I say "simple" because we have a way of making faith more complicated, convoluted and contrived than it needs to be. We pack it full of rituals, ceremonies and routines that drain its intended simplicity.
As I've said in past columns, Jesus encouraged his followers to enter the faith journey as little children. In other words, he believed in KISS, "Keep It Simple Silly.'"
He believed that following God should "hang on these two commandments: 1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself."
Faith ought not to include a long list of indecipherable assembly instructions. There really are just two: Love God; love others.
2. Your mileage may vary. (YMMV)
This advice is embedded into every car ad and was repeated by the salesman who sold me a plug-in Prius. The car is supposed to get between 50-95 MPG, but I've only seen 55 MPG. This doesn't mean the salesman lied to me. It means that good mileage is subject to driving conditions, speed and mostly the nut behind the wheel - me.
When it comes to faith, experiences truly do vary. For instance, I won't dispute that faith can heal people of their diseases or help them walk on coals. However, I do dispute that faith is a one-size-fits-all deal. YMMV. Don't force yours to fit me and I won't make mine fit you.
3. Game requires two or more players.
This is more a qualification than a warning label, but it easily illustrates the community component found in faith that requires multiple players. It's an element heard in Jesus' statement: "When two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."
Whenever I meet someone who proclaims faith as a "solo practice," I can't help but wonder where they find the three elements necessary in a contemplative religious life: encouragement, accountability and community.
4. Wearing of this garment does not enable flight.
This one was attached to a pair of Superman pajamas. And like the superman emblem, faith can sometimes encourage "flights of fancy." The saying spawns a warning to the spiritually ambitious, "Faith doesn't make you a god." Another way to put it, "Jesus may be in your heart, but you're not his clone."
5. Finally, Harmful if swallowed.
This cautionary label is attached to countless products, but I found it particularly amusing on a brass fishing lure with a three-pronged hook.
It's also a good admonition concerning all elements of religion. In other words, "Don't swallow everything you're told about faith." Not even when reading a wonderfully witty and talented columnist.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of No Small Miracles. Visit his web site at thechaplain.net.