June 17, 2010

#$*! Religion

It was a beautiful day at the weekly farmers' market.  I sat at a table under the shade of a colorful beach umbrella, handing out flyers and inviting passersby to the summer events taking place at church:  movie nights, concerts, and vacation Bible school.

I was enjoying this, which, being severely introverted, was surprising to me.  Yet even an introvert like me likes to make connections with the community once in awhile.  It was with genuine cheer that I smiled and greeted folks with a friendly "good afternoon." 

I was hitting my stride.  I was in the zone.  Until a person walked by with a t-shirt that read "Fuck Religion."  The shirt was obviously meant to shock and offend, and for a moment, it worked.  For a moment, I was silent, unsure of whether I should greet him or not.  Then the moment passed; he disappeared from view, and I carried on.

I kept silent because, as an introvert, it often takes a moment or two to formulate a thought, then transfer that thought into speech.  (Or, as I like to put it, introverts -- unlike extroverts -- think before they speak!)  That's why almost everything I say when leading worship is written down in advance.  Years of experience have taught me how to "think on my feet" or ad lib when necessary.  But it takes an effort.

And so it wasn't until after the man with the t-shirt was gone that I realized that I wasn't nearly as offended by what the shirt said as one might think.  After all, in my sermons lately I've been saying that the way of Jesus is actually bigger than any religion, and that much of the New Testament was, in fact, an effort to expand the Jesus movement beyond the religion within which it had its origins.  The writings of the apostle Paul, in particular, have as a major theme the idea that one did not have to be a Jew in order to be a follower of Jesus.  The way of Jesus is bigger than that.

Nevertheless, the way of Jesus did develop into its own religion -- Christianity -- which developed a set doctrine.  Then the religion of Christianity tried to live out that doctrine in ways that weren't always Christ-like.  Over the centuries, Christianity became known as the religion of the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, persecution of non-believers, excommunication and imprisonment of scientific seekers of truth.  More recently, Christianity has aligned itself with those who believe in preemptive war, economic policies that favor the rich, pro-life advocacy that does not concern itself with those who are already born, and judgment and persecution of homosexuals and others.

The more I thought about it, the more I was tempted to see if I could acquire one of those t-shirts for myself.

I once heard or read about some Christians who set up a confession booth at a public place.  I don't remember exactly where they placed their booth.  Maybe it was a farmers' market.  They invited people into their booth, but instead of asking those people to confess their sins, they confessed to the passersby the sins of Christianity over the years.  And then they asked for forgiveness.

Perhaps that's something I should do the next time I set up my table at the farmers' market.  Most likely, though, I won't.  I'm not usually one to engage in such theatrics.

But I do hope I see the guy with the t-shirt again.  I'd like to ask him about the religion that he obviously hates so much.  I'd like to listen to him describe it.  I have a feeling that I would end up telling him that I also want no part of that religion.

As I continue pondering this issue, I think I might turn these thoughts into an upcoming sermon.  Anyone want to suggest a sermon title?  Besides the obvious, that is?

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