Religion Can Be Beautiful
An edited version of this was published in The Bluffton Packet
A spoken word video recently made the rounds on Facebook called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.” It was well rhymed and made some interesting points. It was so reposted (reposting is borrowing the video and sharing it with your friends) so often that NPR picked it up and had a representative from the Barna group talk about the non-institutional spirit of our young generation. Certainly, this video is an outgrowth of something I remember people saying when I was young – “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” I said it a few times when I was younger and I felt that it allowed me to be a “rebel” in the tradition of James Dean, but I could also love Jesus and read the Bible, both of which have always been foundational to my identity in one way or another.
Even a few years ago I would likely have felt at home posting this video myself, but since I have become part of the Methodist church, and have been part of a traditional church, I have found the trappings of “religion” to be like a beautiful art, a canvas in which the beliefs of people who have faith have placed their paint. At one time I would have joined the rebel cry as young people throw off the old and bring in new styles of worship. Not even “contemporary” worship as some people call it, but an even more progressive form of loving Jesus that would be considered all action with very little program or form. That seems to be the call of this video – more action.
As with any argument, there is an anti-thesis or I like to call it “push-back.” Jesus himself pushed back on the institutions, which would seem to support the claims of this video, but it the issue is so much more complex than that.
As I read the scriptures, I do not see Jesus as the anti-institutional figure that he seems at first glance. He spoke in the synagogues as an adult and even as a child he enjoyed being at the temple and talking with the religious leaders about his father, God. In fact, Mary and Joseph had a scare when they, like many parents have, left Jesus behind after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jesus in some degree felt at home in his faith. He was also called Rabbi by his disciples, he spoke of paying your taxes to Caesar in respect for pagan authorities, and he died accepting the punishment for a crime he didn’t commit.
So why does Jesus seem like such a rebel? He turned the tables at the temple, he broke wheat and ate on the Sabbath against the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law and he declared he was God – which went against all human comprehension. But at the heart of his rebellion, it is not against religion itself. It is against corruption of the heart which leads to destruction of the individual and society.
Read through one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and you will see that Jesus had a religion. True religion is about orphans and widows. Translated: True religion is about justice and compassion and love. When people forget this, all religion (the expression of our faith) becomes hollow.
So now I would say, “I am religious because I am a spiritual being. I ask God to make me pure so my religion remains pure as well.”
For your reference, I am responding to this video that went viral a few weeks ago: