The YMCA and Christian principles

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

When the YMCA came to Oak Park in 1903, the programming included Bible studies.  After all, the name is Young Men's CHRISTIAN Association.  Things have changed in that regard at our local Y now located at the corner of Randolph and Marion.

Now the "C" in YMCA is interpreted as signifying the Christian principles of honesty, respect and responsibility which form the foundation of Y programming.  That is a shift to emphasizing "fruit" instead of "the tree."

Here's what I mean.  Most faith communities emphasize a life of faith rooted in a connection with God.  That life is sometimes compared to a tree in the Bible which, if it is healthy, produces the "good fruit".  The emphasis is on keeping the tree healthy by keeping it rooted in God.  Although the Bible often describes what the fruit looks like—i.e. love, peace, patience, understanding, compassion…..—the fruit remains a natural product of a healthy tree.

The YMCA has replaced the tree with the fruit in their present interpretation of the term "Christian."  That's OK with me, and this is why.  In our increasingly multi-religious society we need institutions which find common ground on which believers from different traditions can create common, shared cultural understandings and values.

Multi-faith worship, in my opinion, is not the place to do that, because either the real differences in world views are glossed over or people from one tradition can't participate with those from another.  Muslims and Jews can't pray in Jesus' name, and Christians can't worship without it.  It's not a matter of one being better than the other but more a case of being true to one's beliefs about ultimate reality.

However, in the area of ethics there is an amazing overlap, as far as I have seen, of what all religions teach.  Although the nature of the trees differ from one religion to another, the kind of fruit described as coming from those trees looks and tastes quite similar.

I'm OK with the Y saying its Christian principles are honesty, respect and responsibility.  That statement allows them to keep the "C" in their name and still welcome Muslims, Buddhists and Jews into membership.  I swim at the Y and enjoy bumping into folks from an amazing variety of races, cultures, economic levels and personalities.  We all seem to want to cultivate the same kind of fruit.

For me, the most important thing to cultivate, however, is the tree.  That's why you won't see me at the Y on Sunday, because I'll be in church.

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