If you want to learn a lesson well, try to explain it to another.
Two weeks ago, our pastor stood there, and proclaimed "religion sucks." I was one of the people listening who cheered, but there were a lot of us looking around worrying about the impact on others. And then there comes sharing this with others to whom the meaning isn't obvious. And realizing that I hadn't pulled this apart and really examined it myself.
Christ came to hang out and invite us into community, into a relationship. To close this big spiritual gap that many people don't even recognize exists. He didn't come to start a religion. But wait - what about the Beatitudes, all those exhortations? Okay, then there was that bit about coming to free us from the law. But hold on, I did that licentious living and there wasn't a lot of hanging with Jesus involved. So yeah...
A little context here. Quest organizes services into teaching series. The subjects tend to be very relevant to what's actually going on our lives, addressing real needs like Life, Hope, Change, Forgiveness and Confidence. Not surprisingly, the lessons have to do with how Jesus is the true basis that we can build on for our needs. Each series ends with a week that kind of wraps all the previous weeks together, and really calls for those who haven't chosen to follow Christ to make that decision. The term "gospel clarification" gets tossed around to describe those weeks. "Religion Sucks" were the stirring words that rang out during Pete's gospel clarification two weeks ago. "Unleash your heart" was the title of the talk.
So not only does religion suck, but it's a point that's important in a talk specifically focused on leading people to Christ. In a church that emphasizes doing life together and being in community.
Religion sucks because religion is a superstructure that has built up around a vital concept and swamped it with rules, and takes us away from the loving relationship at the center. Religion is a distraction from God. It turns away the people who are the hungriest for love, for forgiveness, for grace. It was never supposed to be about performance, about following rules, about living up to some impossible standard. Jesus' coming was supposed to sweep all of that away.
And yet, I go to church more often now than I ever did. More than Flar thinks I "ought" to. I go because I thirst for the filling up I receive doing life together with other followers. I go because I get challenged to make it personal. I go because I learn about really accepting all the love and the power that comes with it.
Occasionally, someone will comment to me about how different I am than I was a mere three years ago. I hear things like "that church really has been good for you." And I get the opportunity to reflect on how none of this has been from striving harder or trying or following rules. The change has come from within, cause that's where Jesus is these days. He's in me.
And now it's time for me to scoot, cause I've gotta date with 12 other women to carve some pumpkins.