I don’t know if you knew this about me but I am a really religious person. That last sentence was a bit of a joke because any of you who know me know that I try to be spiritual but that I succeed at being religious.
A pastor named Kent Carlson once wrote, “At night I am a subversive revolutionary in a French cafe, wearing a beret and smoking cigarettes with some revolutionaries plotting the overthrow of the institutional church. The next morning I put on my nicely laundered button-down shirt, pull on my neatly pleated Dockers and drive my Honda Civic to the church office to try to figure out ways to build the organization.” (Renovation of the Church, 175. You can read my review here.)
These words come pretty close to describing me. I started this blog because I liked the freedom that the format gives me to pose revolutionary questions and give “third way” answers. Therefore, I write this blog as a revolutionary.
But after I am done today I will open up a word processor and write a sermon for institutional church ears to hear. Then I will go to Excel where I will work on an institutional church budget that hopefully represents our religious priorities. After that I will meet with traditional church guys for lunch and then go visit a woman who has given most of her life and money to the church.
I make no apologies for that. There is a lot of good left in what we so wryly call “religion.”
Yet lately I have been inundated with questions and claims that seek to defend our institutional religion against the big bad enemies. These questions and claims come from a defensive posture by those in our institutional world who want everybody to know, “we are better than them!” These come in the form of, “Who is the better Christian? Am I a worse Christian for disagreeing with you? Is our religion more or less violent than theirs? Is our denomination or tradition more doctrinally sound than theirs? Are our political views better or worse than them?” I could list many more.
I admit that sometimes I catch myself asking those questions and playing that game. I make lists that rank worldviews from better to worse. I find myself thinking, “if that one grumpy parishioner would just become a better Christian, like. . .wait for it. . .me.” I find myself in the heat of argument claiming that a “true(r)” Christianity would do A, B and C for the world. And I get defensive and stand on what others might call “molehills.” There I sit with my French revolution cigarette, holding a scimitar and daring anybody to try to push me off of this ideological issue.
Lately I have been laying down that scimitar and repenting of those tendencies, desperately asking God to cure me. I am doing so because I have found those comparisons are extremely unhelpful in following a God who requires absolute humility. In our system there is no room for better or worse, truer or falser, righter or wronger. After all, when you boil out all the religious fluff and pound down all the molehills, what remains of Christianity is a group of wayward sinners who are dying of spiritual thirst helping each other find the free water that gives life and then proceeding from the well to live faithfully to its owner.
In closing, I am reading a wonderful little book about Jacob Arminius, whose hometown Oudewater was completely destroyed by a Christian army because the Christian in Oudewater were not “right” enough. There is a rather dark report from Oudewater of the Christian army raping the nuns while the nuns cried out, “We are Catholic too!” This did not just happen in Oudewater. It happened all throughout Europe for over 150 years as Christians slaughtered Christians. Not coincidentally, that century also saw the rise of atheism as a legitimate worldview.
It seems that with that dark memory in my religion’s recent past we can stop arguing about who has the truer system and start seeking the truer God, a God who is not far from any of us and yet whose narrow gate we still refuse to enter.
Have a blessed day.