Here is my most recent column in The Kenosha News.
Don’t talk about religion or politics.
People tend to have strong opinions about these matters, and they really don’t want to re-examine what they believe. Their minds are made up.
Today, I am ignoring that sage advice to write about something that is so important to me, and so much a part of my personal story, that I wrote a book about it. So, on a page usually dominated by political matters, I am forging ahead into the other “forbidden zone” with an excerpt from my new book, An Irreligious Faith.
Once you read what follows, you may hate or love me. Incidentally, I would rather be loved. However, I will risk an adverse reaction in order to be honest and true to myself, with the hope that these words will validate and encourage someone else who has experienced some similar twists and turns in life.
Incidentally, I was a pastor for over twenty years, and have been outside of church and Christian subculture for about seven years. After looking at this thing from both sides of the fence, I have concluded that people who support the institutional church, are not all simpletons, and those who avoid it are not all heretics. They are different people with different life experiences, at different places in their personal spiritual journey.
“Jesus was not only counterintuitive back in his day, even today there is still a gigantic contrast between his ways and the ways of the religion that goes by his name.
A Different Agenda
Contrasts between Jesus and religion …
- We have sacred creeds, sacred places of worship, sacred objects, and sacred leaders or clergy. Jesus had none of it.
- We are part of a subculture that insulates us from real life. Jesus talked about a different way of living real life.
- We obsess over trying to be better Christians. Jesus redeemed and restored us so we could reach our unique, individual potential to represent him and do his work here and now.
- We have Christian books, Christian music, Christian schools, and Christian t-shirts. Jesus didn’t figure on using his name to create a brand.
- We focus on what happens when we die. Jesus taught us how to live.
- We have codified what it means to follow him and we have constructed a systematic theology to try to explain (and tame) God. Jesus just said, “Follow me.”
- We have a church hierarchy of professionals and programs to make us better Christians. Jesus lived with his followers.
- We like to package things. So, we have a Sunday morning show with a carefully crafted sermon. Jesus taught standing in a boat and sitting on a hillside.
- We like to tell church members how to vote and we become upset when things don’t go our way in politics. Jesus couldn’t have cared less about the government.
A Likely Agenda
Jesus probably would…
- Hang out with gay people.
- Reach out to those who have had an abortion.
- Take a liberal to lunch (a conservative, too.) Maybe he would have lunch with both of them at the same time.
- Rip into some church leaders.
- Blow people’s minds with his teaching.
- Have a “colorful” group of followers.
- Love hurting and broken people.
- Be strangely silent about politics, government, “the culture war”, and “family values.”
- Be the only person to bring Democrats and Republicans together.
If I were to attempt to make a complete list of the contrasts between Jesus and the church, it would never end. It is absolutely bizarre when you think about it. No wonder the church is messed up. No wonder its credibility is shot to hell. No wonder it has fallen on hard times.” (77-79)
People have all different ways of following Jesus, but a lot of us are trying to find a stripped down, raw and real approach that makes more sense.
Following Jesus means doing the kinds of stuff he did, turning love into action.
Reminder to self: Watch, learn, reflect, mimic. Never let him out of my sight.
Jesus’ way isn’t complicated or convoluted. It’s raw and real; interwoven with life rather than separated from it. It’s not complex, but it is ultimately more challenging than anything religion or the church ever could dream up.
The awesome part is that his way is real. It is about life. It is life. His way makes a difference. His way gives meaning to our lives.” (81)