Religion is at its best when it shoves people a bit outside their comfort zones. When it forces us to re-examine our thinking, and most importantly, how we treat other people.
One of the most prolific, and certainly the most overlooked, upheavals of our time is taking place inside our churches at this very moment.
For the past 30-plus years, religion has too often been allowed to be twisted for the purposes of the political, and some have sought to use it as a tool to exclude.
The faces of religion, at least in the public perception, were all too often puffed-up television evangelists like Fallwell, Robertson, Bakker and Dobson. It is testimony to the will of good people that the thing has survived it all.
As politics have grown more conservative in the past couple of years, religion somehow has managed a revolution in a different direction. Not liberal, really. Inclusive might be a better word.
Who would have imagined that a Catholic Pope would be one to champion progressive social change, with a now-famous "Who am I to judge?" comment on homosexuality. Who would have foreseen that the Catholic Conference of Bishops would be celebrating a Mass on the U.S./Mexico border to encourage immigration policy reform?
Regardless of your denominational leanings, one has to admire the sea change Pope Francis has wrought in a short time. Statements he has made on economic inequality, homelessness, caring for refugees, women's rights, reaching out to Muslim nations and former atheist state Cuba, and now urging a greener response to climate change, would have been considered impossibly radical just a short time ago.
Suddenly, a church rocked for several years by sexual abuse scandals among priests and struggling to maintain numbers in Europe and the Americas is not only socially relevant, but seen as being on the forward edge of the news headlines in a positive way.
There may be no women priests, or sanctioned church marriages of same-sex couples, under Francis' watch, but even these changes do not seem so impossible as they once were.
The Dalai Lama of Tibet, of all people, has become a spokesperson for cutting-edge science working in harmony with religion, hosting a meeting of the minds at a major international university.
A protestant minister friend and former Storm Laker has been a steady and strong voice for understanding of LGBT persons and their right to marry for years. Not because he is promoting the lifestyle, but because he believes the church's calling is to love and serve all. His joy over progress being made in understanding is infectious.
There are too many progressive things being supported by or partnered with Storm Lake churches to try to list, but one would be the multicultural center Our Place, which has helped to make our community a more welcoming place. CROP Walk, Habitat for Humanity, Monday night food ministry - these and many more are things that people are supporting for no benefit to themselves, other than a feeling of doing the right thing and hopefully impacting someone else's life in a small but meaningful fashion.
One thing that is particularly encouraging is to see traditionally conservative and progressive Christian groups beginning to work together, sometimes even side-by-side with those representing non-Christian religions, on issues such as hunger, safety, the environment and immigration.
The only hope for lasting peace in this world is if people of good will - all faiths - can pull together. It's all we have powerful enough to stand up to hatred.
For those who choose to follow the Bible, the concept is not an entirely new one. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
The directions are not to love only straight people, or people of one particular faith or skin color, only wealthy people, only men, only people with no troubles or sins.
Change comes with a certain amount of angst. Those in the churches pushing for change expect their share of criticism, and are not disappointed. Be it the Pope or Dalai Lama, or a small-town minister willing to marry a couple others would exclude, there will be, in a figural sense, hell to pay.
But then, no one said following your beliefs was always going to be easy. And inclusion means being open to and respectful of people of all opinions.
"Saints," George Orwell once wrote, "should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent."
A community doesn't need saints, it just needs open eyes and open hearts.
Religion is in full resurgence. It's live and vital, and as much on the streets as in the fancy buildings. This deserves more notice than we're giving.