upper room daily devotions

Thursday, November 16, 2006

good religion, bad religion

This post is similar to the one that I wrote just a few days ago, but the weariness of the people around me has been unrelenting. It seems that every time that I answer the telephone the person on the other end is stressed, tired, hurting, and guilt-ridden. And most of these folks have some bad religion to thank for it all. I thought that I would write a few thoughts to remind myself - and anyone who stumbles across these ramblings - that good religion exists, and that it invites us into the fullness of life and the wholeness of being.

Bad religion is everywhere. It tells us to give until we're depleted, deny the needs of our own souls, and "do" until we're dead. Bad religion coerces and threatens in order to get its way. I know that I fall prey to it more often that I'd like to admit. Sometimes my heart feels heavy, my soul empty, and my mind too full. These are results of bad religion making itself at home in me. It sets up shop. It guilts, coerces, and uses.

Good religion has no place for such things. Good religion invites us into the fullness of life and the wholeness of being. It invites us into Being Itself. Good religion begins with Sabbath. Sabbath is time for God and the standard for justice. Sabbath should never be skipped - yes, I'm "shoulding" on you. Sabbath gives us a rule that demands that we (and all who work for us, people and animals alike) rest from work. In a society in which we work all of the time, I wonder at the changes that taking Sabbath seriously would bring. When we begin with Sabbath, we give ourselves one full day a week to rest at the breast of God, breathing in God's life (ruach). Good religion begins with this concept.

Good religion has no place for violence, threats, and coercion. It doesn't need any of these things because its purpose is different from the purpose of bad religion. Whereas bad religion desires to consume us, good religion desires our perfection in love. Good religion invites us into the quiet of sanctuary and the stillness of prayer. In good religion, we live and move inside of the Holy. From this place of completeness we move into the world as God's witnesses and stewards. You see, whereas bad religion sends us empty into a wounded world, good religion sends us radically connected to Life Itself into the world. It makes a huge difference if we're starting with a full gas tank or an empty one.

I wonder what the world would be like - what we would be like - if we believed in a God that loves us rather than despises us, encourages us rather than threatens us, invites us rather than coerces us. God demands that we offer all that we have and all that we are to God. This offering, though, isn't the death of ourselves, it is our beginning. In the ackowledgement that the world and all that is in it belongs to God, we orient ourselves toward right relationship with the rest of creation. We don't give up on ourselves and give out. We fill up with the connection of life and the radicality of God.

Good religion is an invitation to Life. Sometimes I want to kidnap those around me who won't be still and allow Sabbath. And while my inclination toward kidnapping may be honorable, I believe that it is also a felony. So I pray. I pray that all who are weary, hurting, stressed, and guilt-ridden will experience Life radicalized in God. For those who struggle, I pray that the persuasive power of the Creator and Liberator will buoy them in their hard times and give them strength. I pray that God's grace will shower down upon all who are bending under the weight of their hearts and the pressures of the world. And for those who souls are empty and depleted, I pray for the awesome wonder of the universe to pour into them, the light of the stars offering warmth in the cold corners of their beings. I pray that we all learn to dance with delight completely assured that God is our dance partner, gently leading us through the moves.

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