Skip to comments.Gimme that Organized Religion (This was in the Guardian ?!)
Posted on 06/12/2004 6:33:55 AM PDT by Sam the Sham
We are often told that people are wide open to the idea of the spiritual - the religious, the numinous, call it what you like - but have no time for organised religion. And so the churches are emptying while they pursue their quest elsewhere. Well yes, organised religion can be a curse, no doubt about that. It can become a habit, a drug, a prison. I heard of a minister who, having conducted his last service before retirement, never entered the doors of a church again. His religion had been operating on auto-pilot and, when the plane eventually landed, he could not run away quickly enough.
But while recognising the dangers of such barren religiosity, it is worth asking what people who have no time for organised religion actually want. Unorganised religion? Disorganised religion?
I suspect that what they are, in fact, looking for is private religion - that is, religion they can practice with minimal interruption to their normal routine and without having to bother about burdensome responsibilities. "I want the feelgood factor, but not the cost of commitment" - that, in reality, is what such people are saying. Putting it bluntly, private religion is essentially selfish religion.
It is, after all, far easier to burn incense at home in a dimly lit room, or sit meditatively in an empty church, or scan the stars on a solitary hillside walk than it is to help with the washing-up at the end of a service, or play table-tennis with the local yoof on a Friday night after a hard week, or turn out on a cold evening for a difficult church meeting. But these things, in reality, are a large part not only of what organised religion is about, but, more to the point, of what true religion is about.
True religion is inescapably corporate and unashamedly down-to-earth. Yes, it starts in a personal, intimate encounter between the individual and God. But it never ends there. Christian baptism, for example, the sacrament of initiation, is initiation not only into Christ, but also into his community. You cannot become a Christian without becoming part of the body of Christ, the church.
And the church is not some nebulous, mystical entity. No, it is precisely those people you have to learn to love, even if you do not particularly like them: that man with the maddening habit of talking too much, that woman who never stops grumbling. And it is responsibility: working, serving, sacrificing.
This is not to dismiss the reality or the importance of the numinous: God forbid! But it is to locate it precisely where it belongs - in the sheer ordinariness of life in general, and religious observance in particular.
Moses had an encounter with God in a bush that burned but was not consumed. A numinous experience if ever there was one. But where did he have it? Out in the fields while he was getting on with minding his father-in-law's sheep.
Jesus went to synagogue every Saturday, Luke tells us, "as was his custom". Perhaps he did not always feel like it; but he went, obeying the call of organised religion. In the days before he went to the cross, he did plenty of praying and agonising; but we also find him kneeling down and washing the smelly, dirty feet of his disciples. Not much numinousness there.
"I want God, but I don't want organised religion." It sounds fine. Who, in their senses, wants to be like those poor saps on the parochial church council? But, sorry, you cannot have it that way; God is simply not available on those terms.
Your private religion may afford you a brief satisfaction; there is, no doubt, such a thing as a spiritual placebo effect. But for the real thing - the true encounter with God - there is nothing else for it; you have to roll up your sleeves and get out your diary, not to mention shouldering that rather disagreeable bit of penal apparatus, the cross.
Hard? Yes. But this is the way to enlightenment, glory and joy. There is no other.
· Colin Sedgwick is pastor of the Lindsay Park Baptist church, Kenton, Middlesex
Something actually respectful of organized religion ?
That's OK - If a Muslim misses services, he gets a not-so-nice visit from the Mullah - coming soon to England...
I have no disrespect for organized religion, but personally, when I feel the need to talk to God, I prefer to go to a local cemetery, read the tombstones for a while, and then find a quiet spot (preferably inside an empty chapel) and pray out loud where nobody can hear me.
I always come out of the cemetery with a great feeling of peace and reverence.
IMO...The true historical legacy of 9/11 will be an existential awakening, and it will happen even for the vast majority of the utopian left. The 1990s will be seen as an oddity, a time of forgetting at the end of a century of mass catastrophes.
Crumbs Or The Loaf
by Robinson Jeffers
If one should tell them what's clearly seen
They'd not understand; if they understood they would not believe;
If they understood and believed they'd say,
"Hater of men, annihilating with a sterile enormous
Splendor our lives: where are our lives?"
A little chilled perhaps, but not hurt. But it's quite true
The invulnerable love is not bought for nothing.
It is better no doubt to give crumbs than the loaf: make fables again,
Tell people not to fear death, toughen
Their bones if possible with bitter fables not to fear life.
And one's own, not to have pity too much;
For it seems compassion sticks longer than the other colors, in this bleaching cloth.
On every sunny morning I go for a run in the woodlands behind my house. A little stream winds through the woods, and there is a wooden bridge over the stream where I stop to look at the astonishing beauty of light through leaves. I pray and thank God for the privilege of living here, and feel all peaceful and reverent. On Sundays I go to a nondenominational church on Sunday where the pastor gives clear direction on how to get closer to God (www.church-redeemer.org).
But a few years ago I had a conversation with a very godly lady who pointed out that religion is not about me and how I feel. It is not about me feeling holy in the woods, it is not about me hearing a strong sermon and feeling inspired. Faith is not a feeling, but a choice, a series of actions we engage no matter how we feel.
The Scripture commands us to worship together, as a group of us worshipping together strengthen and chasten each other, and form us into an army for the work of the Lord. Also, Jesus promised us, "Whenever two or more of you are gathered together in My Name, there I am in the midst of you." You can't get that effect by yourself. In addition, faith is about service, for "Faith without works is dead." That is, we're commanded to actually (as that pastor in this article points out) do some good work for others.
It's not as much fun to paint the church as it is to look at the sunlight sparkling on that stream near my house and feel peaceful. But while both are doubtless pleasing to the Lord, it's not the peaceful holy feelings that build the sort of character He wants us to have. Only time, and the discipline of humble, self-sacrificing work, will do that.
Perhaps I should have mentioned that I was not raised as a Christian, and am not one now.
I was raised as a reform Jew, but abandoned that tradition many years ago (though I did have a bar mitzvah).
You are describing prayer, not religion.
Prayer is lifting one's heart and mind to God. You can do it in the quiet of your room or a church yard or in nature.
But Christianity is not merely prayer.
Church services too often don't have prayer (which is why many Catholic freepers wish for the quiet Latin Mass to come back). But it IS about ceremony and worship. Christians are part of a family of believers, where we are not the same but we all have our own duties based on our own gifts.
And Christians have a belief that everything we do is a prayer. So washing dishes for love of God can be a powerful prayer. And serving others--especially the poor and children and the sick-- is serving God.
Most religions have all these dimensions, but the stress on which you do is important. Too many Christian churches forget the prayer stuff, so go out and pray (Christ went to the synagogue but said to pray in the quiet of your room). But when you finish praying, remember to listen to God's voice.
People make fun of listening to God's voice, but I always remember the author of "Dom Camillo and his flock" , who said if the readers didn't like the way he wrote about the priest, they could hit him over the head with a crucifix, and if they didn't like the way he wrote about the (communist) mayor, they could hit him over the head with a hammer and sickle. But if they didn't like the way he portrayed Jesus on the cross talking to the prest, they were out of luck because that is how Jesus actually talks with you: Thru your conscience.
Then I would say two things:
First, these principles and statements would still apply. For if you feel reverent, as you say, what are you feeling reverent toward? Toward God, presumably; and if you acknowledge the existence of the supreme Author of the universe, the guy who invented quantum mechanics and DNA and the galaxies, do you not truly wish to draw closer to Him? To find the path that will unite you with Him? Even to do His will, which must surely be better than your own? If so, if you are a logical and thoughtful person, you may want to consider taking further steps beyond talking to Him.
The great apologist C.S. Lewis, whose simple little book The Case for Christianity I heartily commend to anyone who is curious, says that organized religion is a sort of map of the spiritual/psychological world made by many brave and noble people who have explored this territory for millenia. He speaks about people who get spiritual feelings from looking at the crashing waves of the ocean, but points out that they can't even begin to sail cross that ocean without a chart, and organized rellgion is that chart. It's the combined wisdom of people who are far closer to God than we can ever hope to be, enlightened and inspired by His Holy Spirit as they taught and wrote. It may feel a little less exciting and spiritual than moments of watching stars over the mountains or seeing the morning sun sparkle on my stream, but it is taking us to a place where such transient pleasures are pathetic by comparison.
Don't misunderstand: I would not for a moment discourage you from moments of closeness with God found in a graveyard or anywhere else. I'm saying that there is more, and it is worth seeking.
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