I heard it on the radio and it immediately resounded with me. The droning craggley voice of one of the musical heroes of my youth. Remorsefully the singer laments the constraints of mental and emotional imprisonments juxtapositioned against unnerving raw exposure and the subsequent lack of security. "That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight" A well known song, one that many of my generation can sing nearly word for word.
Religion. This word is a lightning rod for conflict. Historically this conflict has been violent and it has been comfortably distant in text books and treatises. Wars have been waged in the name of religion; armies amassed and mobilized for territorial conquest or defense, in the name of religion. Or perhaps it is the preservation of religion that has been sought through the elimination of threats and challengers. Exposing and obliterating societal evil has often been the banner under which the masses have gathered. Fervor has often joined hands with ignorance to lead the charge in righting the scales, stamping out "the demonic" and restoring the ordained order.
Even we who profess faith in Christ equate Pharisaical religious blindness to those who nailed a Savior to rough hewn timbers in a cruel Roman execution. We have the luxury of comfortably scrutinizing their actions through the lenses of further writings of apostles, commentaries, and innumerable texts, bible studies, teachings, podcasts, videos, etc. We readily recognize the crippling institution that the original law of Moses had become as expounded upon by men and it seems only logical to us that Jesus would simplify their hundreds of extra requirements into only a couple of commands "love God with everything in you, love your neighbor as yourself". We recognize the insecurity of religion as power was stripped from the theocracy and freedom restored to the masses as the heavy yoke of "law" was lifted from their shoulders. We see the avenging nature of religion in reaction to that threat to centralized power, not only against this Jesus, but time and time again through the centuries.
And though we consider ourselves far more enlightened, far more wise and knowledgeable than those of centuries past - the fruit of this spirit is at our feet again. Religion is once again exterminating, removing dissent. It has been all along, but in obscure lands, or remote locations with liquidation practices that have scarcely crossed our stream of consciousness. But now it is on the offensive en masse, striking at interests closer to home. Of course this is "another" religion and it is in "other" lands so condemnation is correct and proper.
But in this time of global spiritual upheaval I find it unwise to ignore the parallels between faiths and fervours. We are quick to embrace the differences between faiths, but I don't want to miss the opportunity to purge from myself that which tethers me to the dead weight of religion along with most of the rest of this "Christian" nation who will one day look into the heartbroken eyes of a Lord and Savior, one who did everything possible in time and creation to redeem, and hear "I never knew you". That is the path laid before many of even this Christian religion, because religion cannot redeem - only relationship can.
Passages where we read of religion in the Bible fairly well erode at the philosophies and justifications for many of the actions performed in the name of religion. God the Father desired relationship, not religion as shown in Isaiah 29:13. Religion is rigid, constraining, imprisoning. Religion condemns. God has another plan as pointed out in John 3:17. When we're feeling unworthy or that we have nothing to offer, that we need shy away from an omnipotent and Holy God, to improve or alter ourselves before approaching - this is us giving ear to religion, lies whispered from the darkness; lies that a sinless man laid himself out to be nailed as a sacrifice on yours and mine behalf to eliminate.
Those of the adoption and orphan care communities are also typically very familiar with the following:
If anyone thinks himself to be religious (piously observant of the external duties of his faith) and does not bridle his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religious service is worthless (futile, barren). External religious worship (religion as it is expressed in outward acts) that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world.
James 1:26-27 AMP
Controlling our tongue and reaching out to the down and out - pair that with Jesus' two commands and an irrefutable example of life laid down for others and how can we legitimize any offense or selfish ambition that would bring harm to others? Further, how can we doubt our own worth when the very Prince of all existence specifically sought us out and purchased us with his own life? To do so is to give heed to the very heart of religion.
Yet I find myself regularly struggling with the trappings. Sin occurs and a resultant overcompensating penitent desire follows. The instruction is clear - "repent" - about face. Forgiven. Yet for many of us this isn't enough. We know there must be more required. Perhaps some extra quiet time, some extra prayer. Maybe some extra good works to seek out. Anything to assuage the gnaw of guilt clinging. We brush aside the still small voice stating "once for all" (Heb 7:27).
"But for those who have willfully and purposefully with ill intent harmed us; for them there most certainly is a tribunal formed somewhere for their actions surely heaped levels of sin upon levels of sin to have permitted their hearts to darken such. Their's will surely require a prolonged and arduous repentance for the damage done to God's child, let alone the work they will be required in rebuilding relationship and trust, won't it?" Many of us have had this expectation and many of us are still wrestling with it and the hurt born from others. Our own hurtful stumblings are forgiveable and misconstrued by the offended where the stumblings of others against us are deemed planned, premeditated, and hateful from a darkened heart, requiring that "extra mile" for recompense.
And yet through all of this "extra" we find ourselves still wallowing, still struggling, still enduring the same "thorns in the flesh". Perhaps new light comes to Paul's statement "His grace is sufficient". Is it possible that perhaps an omniscient, eternally patient and compassionate God who names himself "Love" is actually trying to purge religion and all of the extraneous weight that comes with it from us?
As a former student of architecture I spent many hours studying magnificent cathedrals constructed throughout the world. Each of them had the lofty goal of emulating the presence of heaven on earth. Many of them truly do leave the observer speechless as they stand gazing upward at the awe inspiring forms and heights. Colored glass ushers in sheets of rainbows that bring fantastically crafted stone figures to life in the lofty spaces above. Yet for all of their grandeur, for all of the attempts of man to bring the presence of heaven to earth, none have rivaled the clearest starlit night, or the hues of a westward sun sinking below the horizon. Failing to distinguish between the awe of the senses and the true holiness that resides within, these works of stone and glass sought to enshroud and possess the presence of God rather than point to his already existent presence all around and in us.
For this, the ruins of a time weathered and failing basilica juxtapositioned against the very heavens it is trying to capture is a potent picture. In this simple image can be seen man's attempts to secure the eternal (religion) and the folly of such efforts as they fail to even begin to touch the oceans of heavens beyond. It's not about our rites, our rituals, our requirements, our prescribed attendance or even the dollar figure. These will never even reach the outer gates, much less God's ear when they are the focus. Every day it's about losing our religion and pursuing our relationship with Him - and He's just a breath away.
"And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."
Romans 5:5 NLT