10-21-16 - Losing Our Religion

Exploring Jesus' parable about the two men praying in the temple, I have not been very tolerant of the self-righteous Pharisee. Neither was Jesus. But let’s give him a little credit. He was motivated to please God in the way he knew best – by following the rules and upholding the whole system that made the rules important. Perhaps the rules, the Law, had become his object of worship, obscuring the offer of relationship God gave along with the Law – “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

That Pharisee might represents Religion – capitalization intended, as befits an abstraction. And the tax-collector represents faith. Religion can be a wonderful vehicle for faith – but we should never mistake it for the God it helps us to worship. Uncompromising allegiance to words in Scripture or church tradition can blind us to the movements of our Living God. These are God-given gifts – but when we worship the gifts more than the Giver, we miss the next new thing God is doing. And God is always doing a new thing.

I don’t think human beings can get away from religion, hard as we might try to just be “spiritual.” It is human nature to create structures that allow us to repeat profound experiences that made us feel good, and to stay in community with others who have shared those profound experiences. Before you know it, we’re worshipping at the same time every week, using the same words or songs or rituals that “worked” last week to mediate an encounter with God. And if they don’t work as well this week – maybe we double down and get even more rigid.

Meanwhile, God is saying, “Over here, guys – I’m here now.” God is rarely in the last place we saw Him. She’s almost always on the move, doing a new thing, singing a new song, revealing a new facet of her identity.

Today, in prayer, let’s do another set of lists. Name one list “Religion” and the other “Relationship.” What activities would you classify “religion?” Which ones are life-giving? Which ones are stale, or like trying to wear someone else’s clothes; they don’t fit, or feed your faith?

Now, what activities would you name as “relationship building,” ones that enhance your relationship with God? Do any items on the first list get in the way of the second?

The other day the great REM song, Losing My Religion*, ran through my head. Doesn’t have much to do with religion (According to Wikipedia, band members said "losing my religion" is a southern US expression that means losing one's temper or composure), but it’s catchy as all get out, and a great theme song as we seek to unfetter ourselves from all that is human-made about our interaction with God, and open ourselves to the new winds of the Spirit.

The greatest gift we can give ourselves, and each other, is to lose our “religion” and open our arms wide to the relationship with God that Christ made possible for us through the Holy Spirit. All religion will pass away – but that relationship is ours for eternity.

*not the official video, which I feel distracts too much from the song…

1 comment:

  1. Every whisper
    Of every waking hour
    I'm choosing my confessions
    Trying to keep an eye on you
    Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool