Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Are You Religious?

"Linked Together"
- in my meditation garden -

The other day I was asked a question that really "floored me." This guy sitting in a chair next to me at a coffee shop turned and asked, "Are you religious?" My very first gut reaction" was,  "of course I am religious, after all I am an ordained priest;" but instead I was very hesitant with my response. The fact is that I'm not really sure I want to be classified along with all those folks who refer to themselves as "religious" in today's world and especially in this country.

Religion nowadays is often associated with extremism and fundamentalism. On the world stage, right-wing radical Islamists are in the spotlight as they behead infidels who do not follow their way. In the United States, religious people are often those folks who call themselves "Christians"- the people with the loud strident voices who make the news by attending Donald Trump rallies, spewing poisonous hate speech against foreigners and immigrants and condemning same-gender marriages as an abomination that violates the laws of God. 

So that's why I was so hesitant when asked the other day if I was religious. If being religious means being a judgmental bigot I don't want to have anything to do with religion. On the other hand, I don't at all think that being religious or being a Christian has anything to do with condemnation or exclusion or arrogant judgmentalism, and being a follower of Jesus doesn't mean that I possess the light of truth and all others are in the outer darkness - in fact the opposite is true.

I have been paying close attention to all the recent press about the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The other day I took special notice of a group of placard-carrying "Christians" protesting outside the local jail in Kentucky. They were rallying in support of the woman who said that issuing marriage licenses to Gay people would disobey the law of God, and she would rather go to jail than comply with the the civil law she was sworn to uphold. 

Those so called "Good Christian" protesters were carrying placards littered with heinous, hateful words about how much "God hates Gays," and at one point in the rally, they stopped, held hands, stood in a circle and together recited the Lord's Prayer:" 

Our Father who art in heaven....
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done 
on earth as it is in heaven. 

As I watched these "religious" people saying their prayers out there at that rally, I was reminded of something I once read by Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament Studies who also happens to be a rabbi:

I do wonder, do all those people who pray
'thy kingdom come, thy will be done,'
really want a change of the status quo or are they
pretty satisfied with the kingdom we have here and now?
Do they really want the time, as Jesus promises,
when the first will be last and the last first,
when we are assessed on how well we have loved 
our enemy and fed the hungry?

As I see it, if you dare to call yourself a "Christian," no one ever falls outside your embrace - a Christian is a follower of the way of Jesus and Jesus never "threw anyone under the bus."  He opened his arms of compassion to embrace fellow Jews as well as foreigners and pagans. He had a healing word for Roman soldiers and made time to be with small children. He ate meals with sinners and prayed in the temple with the priests. His circle of belonging was so expansive that there were no boundaries or borders, no walls to keep some in and others out. 

"Christians" who hold hands and pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" should perhaps be a bit more careful about exactly what it is they they are praying for.

There are a lot of people today who avoid the word religion and are extremely nervous about being identified as "religious" (I am one of them);  and yet that word "religion" is a great word. It comes from the Latin-ligare, meaning to connect, to hold together. Just as ligaments connect the bones of the body so should religion be a vehicle for connecting people together - a religious person is someone who is committed to being a "connector."

So, in this sense I am not at all leery of identifying myself as "religious" and I willingly call myself a "Christian."  I commit myself to the task of connecting people together and I am a follower of the Christ who puts no limits upon his love and compassion and preached a gospel in which everyone belonged. 

The Dali Lama once said: 

My religion is kindness.

Mine is too.

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