"The Winds of Change"
-January comes to an end-
In some form or another, I have been connected to "religion" my entire life - as a child, a seminary student, a priest. So, talking about a "religious" topic comes second nature to me. Lately, however, I have discovered that even using the word "religion" places me in some dangerous territory.
I often post my daily blog in various online venues within the social media. While I never espouse doctrine or propagandize in any way, many times the blog will tout on topics of a religious nature. I have found that, oftentimes regardless of what my topic is, I will set off a storm of protests simply because I am a priest and have a religious connection. If I dare even speak the "R" word (religion), I can expect to set off all sorts of hidden minefields.
Yesterday I asked someone online why he had such a vehemently negative reaction to any sort of "religious" discourse. He responded: "because religious people are nothing but a bunch of superstitious bigots living in fear of a fairy tale god and spewing their moralistic judgments out upon the rest of us" (This is actually an exact quote).
"Yikes!" I thought, "Harsh!"
But the more I reflected on what this self-identified "atheist-type" young man said to me, the more I realized that this is indeed the way religion is likely perceived by many people today-especially younger people in their 20's and 30's. And if this young man's perception of "religion" is indeed a reflection of views widely held by others like him, it's no wonder I get such a violent reaction when I use the "R" word in the social media.
Yesterday (online) I came across a very telling article on the hot-button topic of religion.
A college professor in a "Comparative Religions" class had invited her students (mostly 18-24 year- olds) to start from scratch and design a "new religion" that they might find appealing. They could borrow from existing religions or they could come up with something brand new- nothing was off limits.
I spent most of the day yesterday thinking about the "new religion" they designed.
It was a religion without hell or punishment, no priests or formalized dogma. The religion would emphasize "meditation" and "pilgrimage." Meditation to get in touch with something bigger than themselves - a sense of transcendence. Pilgrimage because getting in touch with "transcendence" always involves searching and seeking. It is a journey.
In addition, there would be no requirement for joining this new religion and people could leave whenever they wished and always be welcomed back whenever they wished to return.
I gleefully read about this "new religion" as I said out loud, "this new religion already exists."
In one sense their new religion design could be the text for a flyer to promote and describe Buddhism- everyone is a Buddha on non-judgmental pilgrimage to enlightenment. But this new religion also "captures" the teaching of Jesus and the life of those first Christian believers in the first few centuries of Christianity.
Jesus came to invite and not to condemn. Everyone was always welcome to sit at a place of dignity at the table of life he set. He never established a religious hierarchy of priests and bishops who were somehow more favored than others - he had no favorites. He never set up a club with entry rules - no dogma necessary to be confessed in order to be accepted. He taught the way to "God" was through love, compassion and connection with one another, and this "way" was always a pilgrimage and a journey.
That new religion designed by those college students could have been written by Jesus, himself.
As I sit in my garden this morning, the winds of change are howling through the desert canyon. Winter is coming to an end and the winds are cleansing the valley floor, preparing it all for the spring about to come.
I know many religious people who are fearful that the church (perhaps religion in general) is coming to en end in this ever-growing secular society. I don't believe that for a minute. It's just that we are living in a time when the winds of change are howling - it's a time of cleansing change.
The walls of the old institutions of religion - controlled by hierarchy, trapped by rigid adherence to dogma, gripped by moralism - those walls are all tumbling down; and in its place, a new religion-that is actually an ancient religion - is rising up in the hearts of a new generation of souls who long for the living God.
The ever ancient, ever new religion has no priests at the center of it all - everyone a Buddha and a Christ, no hell, no judgement, everyone welcome, everyone of us on a pilgrimage as we swirl around together in this complex web of being we call life- ever connected to the ONE who is greater than it all.
The winds of change are blowing- the new religion is already here.