Religious Answers

Ever read something in the bible, embrace it and regurgitate it to someone? Sure you have. I wonder if it is endemic of our need to have an answer when we don’t have a clue. Consider these passages from the first three chapters of book of Job:

Chapter 1: All of Job's children have died in one day. In that same day he lost all of his livestock. Here is how Job responded:

Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Chapter 2: On the heels of this devastation Job is struck with boils all over his body. His wife is in a level of pain that very few people can relate to. Here is Job’s response to his wife:

“You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Chapter 3: Some time has passed … Job has been visited by friends … the pain of his loss has taken hold. Job is coming out of denial and responds:

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

In March of 1990 my first wife Ellen had a heart attack and kidney failure at the age of 39 … after four years of declining health and hemodialysis Ellen passed away in 1994. My initial responses to my pain were very much like Job’s. Masking my inner devastation I often spoke words that were very religious … albeit empty and devoid of inner truth. Christian clich├ęs did not help me but got in the way of dealing with my pain. Phrases like “God is still on the throne” or “I am a victor not a victim” or the ones that Job spoke caused me to shrink back in fear instead of addressing my plight in courage. Religious words never help because they insulate us from our pain instead of addressing it head-on.

I attended a grief group after Ellen died. It was in this group that I learned that to heal on the inside I had to step into my pain ... I had to deal with the reality of my experience in a truthful way. I believe that Job began to take this step into pain in chapter 3. This step is one of the scariest that I have ever taken … it took more courage than I ever imagined. This first step took me on a journey where I began to shed my religious answers. I am still on this journey … it is a journey where I am challenged every day to live out of my dangerous heart instead of my safe mind.

Most of Job’s story is one where he and his friends trade religious accusations and answers … this dialogue was not helpful and did not result in comfort or encouragement for Job. The next time you or a friend is in crisis please refrain from giving a religious answer. Get a hug or give a hug instead.

Majoring on the Majors

I wonder, can we love our neighbor without knowing about their 'faith'? I suspect that loving people has more to do with building an interpersonal connection rather than obtaining an 'understanding' of another's religious tradition. I think that often this kind of 'understanding' can lead to stereotyping and some 'misunderstanding' as faith is very individual and often times veers from published dogma. Of course, if your religious tradition encourages hate for those outside of your 'faith' it may be difficult to make that relational connection. Consider this passage from Luke 10 ...

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[a]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b]" 28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' 36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" 37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

I think that the priest and the Levite probably had a dim stereotypical religious view of Samaritans ... but the Samaritan was the one that Jesus used to teach the Jews of His day ... who also had a dim view of the Samaritans ... about loving your neighbor.

The way we judge each other is a sad commentary on modern day 'faith' ... we justify this judging with words like 'contending for the faith' and 'fruit inspection'. The way we are attracted to talking heads that find fault with other believers is a sad commentary on the church.

I have learned with experience that accepting people with other faith traditions is a very rewarding experience. Loving people who are not like me and opening up to receive love from them makes me a better person. Judging each other is poisonous ... even when it is veiled with religious words. My aim these days is to Major on the Majors ... loving God and loving people ... all of them. Now, go and do likewise :)