Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Young Adults want a lifestyle and authenticity, not religion


I hope everyone had a great holidays! Sorry for the long break in blogging. We will be back on at least a weekly basis again beginning today.

Our Starbucks group continues to grow, with people inviting their friends. Last Monday we had some great discussion. We talked about how Jesus was liked by the non-religious people but disliked by the religious people. The reason he was loved by non-religious people? Because he ate with, drank with them, sat with them, talked with them, loved them. He did not shout at them with a bullhorn from afar, telling them how messed up they were. While calling them to a different life, he did this in close proximity to them, as he ate and drank with them.

On Monday, one of the Starbucks workers, a lovely young woman, asked what the book we were reading was about. She indicated that she didn't have much use for "religion," but seemed interested in a lifestyle of loving and serving other people. Jesus didn't have much use for "religion"--a bunch of heartless rituals that had no impact upon one's life.

Worship of God is important. But we should not forget that we are called to serve God and others continually--it is a lifestyle. Without this daily worship, our Sunday worship will be seen for what it is--a bunch of words without any substance.

What do you guys think about "religion"?

9 comments:

MattSmith said...

I think the word "religion" has become a word some people shy away from because of all the "negative press" its received by the hands of people that abuse the term. Everyone, even Atheists, believe in something. I think its human nature to want to believe in SOMETHING. Whether it be in Jesus, Allah, Buddha, etc. This is why there are SO MANY Religions out there. Even if someone has no use for "religion" but wants to help people and serve people... its still a belief in something, a "Religion" of sorts.

James said...

Matt, I think that you are right that the word religion has a bad connotation. Our language is important, so we must be careful how we talk about our faith.

In its negative, "religion" is about humanity trying to find God through rules and rituals. The Christian story, however, is about God coming to earth to reach humanity.

James writes that "pure religion" is helping orphans and widows. I doubt that the world would find this unattractive!

Jim said...

Personally, I agree that over the centuries 'religion' has come to provoke a different image in peoples' minds that what it really is poiting towards.

I also find it hard to swallow when people say, "I'm spiritual, but not religious," because I believe that our doing of God's will has to be done in community, rather than in a vacuum.

While personal devotion and relationship with God is a way into community, it should never replace community, which is what 'church' is.

Coming together as community, even with some rules and rituals (as long as those don't replace 'church'), is primary to our life as Christians.

James said...

Hey Jim. It's good to have you!

Yes, the wrong "religion" does have a negative connotation. I think that people use it to mean empty rituals. Interestingly, the New Testament seems to avoid the word, being really only used in James, where James calles "pure religion" the taking care of widows and orphans.

What you said is correct--we do need community. And yes, there are some very basic Christian rituals (i.e., Lord's Supper, baptism). The Christian life is not a just solo venture with me out in the mountains alone singing Kum By Yah.

We must hear the critique of our culture, that our lifestyles often do not match our rhetoric or rituals, while at the same time calling people to be part of a faith community. That is a challenge.

Hope you can become a regular contributor, Jim. God bless.

Anonymous said...

"our Sunday worship will be seen for what it is--a bunch of words without any substance"

Wow, is that all Sunday's assemblies mean to you?

James said...

Anonymous,

No, that is not what the assemblies mean to me. Here is the whole quote of what I said:

"Worship of God is important. But we should not forget that we are called to serve God and others continually--it is a lifestyle. Without this daily worship, our Sunday worship will be seen for what it is--a bunch of words without any substance."

You only quoted part of what I said and took it out of context.
I actually get a lot out of our assemblies. What I said, or meant to communicate, was that without a lifestyle of service, the words we sing about service are without meaning. This is consistent with many passages of Scripture.

Notice the words of Isaiah 1:13f, for instance:

What is this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen. . . . 17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow. (NIV)

Jesus said in Mt. 15:8,

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me. (NIV)

We sing about working hard for the Lord, but unfortunately most are totally uninvolved. We sing about reaching the lost, but most do not know a single non-Christian on a close level nor do they try to reach them.

Of course, many Christians are working hard and trying to reach out. Whenever we do these things, our corporate worship is acceptable to God. Without this consistent life, however, our worship is just words. With deeds, our faith and our worship have true meaning.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying. The last part of your original quote really had me worried.

By the way I happen to agree with you description of your original quote.

One thing to consider on this, we can't necessarily determine whose worship is pleasing to God and whose isn't. We don't know what people do in their individual lives. Just because they may not particiapte in an organized outreach effort doesn't mean their not doing something to reach out to people. Service to others is something that sometimes is unknown to most.

I vote for giving people the benefit of the doubt.

James said...

Anonymous,

What you say is true, and we can't look into hearts. That is not my intent nor my job. I do not assume anything of anyone on an individual level. And yes, much service goes unnoticed.

Remember, I am primarily bringing out the perspective of much of the world. We don't want to hear what they say, but we need to listen. The world hears from churches regularly about how their life is wrong and sinful, but they do not see that we are making a difference in our communities. For example, we talk against homosexuality, but it is a rare church that seeks to do anything about the AIDS crisis. They see the money that we spend on ourselves, and then point to the poor and say, this is a wrong emphasis.

We don't like to hear these criticisms, but the fact is, speaking broadly, we devote very little time or resources either individually or as a church. I'm not judging individual Christians. You do a great amount every week for others, including those outside the church. But the surveys of what Christians themselves say indicate that in a typical week, the majority of Christians do virtually no service or sharing of their faith. These are the sad facts. Check out some of Barna's surveys on this. Most Christians need help and encouragement to do this type of work, and so we must devote time to make this possible. I will tell you that I am as passionate about outreach as anything, but it is a challenge even for me to build meaningful relationships with those outside of the church. And this is the only way that we will really be able to reach a large segment of the unchurched population today.

Early church history shows that pagans were praising the Christians' God because of their selfless service. We must serve in such a way and to such a scale that the world takes notice. No matter what we would like to think or hear, we are losing ground in the US and at a dramatic rate. It will take a dramatic repositioning to make a turnaround.

I am encouraged by the fact that more churches are focusing on mission, devoting more time and resources to these efforts. The Christian Chronicle has highlighted many of these efforts over the past few years. My prayer is that all churches take up the missional call more fully.

SuseADoodle said...

James,

I like your blog and am glad I found it earlier today. I've been out most of the afternoon and am now getting back to read more of your posts.

I guess I'll take a different tack on this topic. I am, at heart, a writer but haven't sent anything off to a publisher. (I find all kinds of reasons not to -- I'm sort of a pessamist when it comes to my own accomplishments or talents.) Anyhow, sometimes I get finished writing for the day and go back to reread the day's work -- and I put down the papers and say, "I didn't know I knew that."

One of those days was quite a while ago; now, it is not just an unconscious belief, it is something I am aware of.

One character says to another, "Religion is a crock."

My main character, a Christian, then agrees. She explains why she agrees (and is a bit too preachy in the way she does that -- something I don't like to find in novels I read, and figure others won't care for either). The basis of her arguement is that being a Christian is about living in relationship to God, not about a religion which has a popular definition as being a set of rituals and behaviors designed by Man in an attempt to please God. Religion is Man's attempt to reach God; whereas, Christianity is really God reaching out to Man.

Having said that, I have also considered the role ritual can play. If it has no impact on a person's life, it is meaningless drivel. The ritual, if not devoid of symbolic meaning and understanding of that meaning, may have a role to play.

For instance, my mother died of leukemia last year. In the last week, she was hallucinating and making some strange comments. It was either the drugs or the lack of oxygen or a combination of both. And maybe some real fears coming through.

After she died, I realized just how comforting the ritual of "last rights" might be for someone. We are not of a church background that practices such a thing. Yet, as I looked back on those last days, I wonder how much comfort it woud have been for her to have someone come to her and say, "Your sins are forgiven."

She was a Christian woman, who trusted Jesus as her Savior. Yet, in those last few days, it might have been good to hear a positive message like that. I understood where certain rituals come from, understood how they can become lifeless if just an act to carry out by rote without a real heart in it. But also what it can be when the heart is there.

Religion as humanity's attempt to "appease" God is a fraud. Ritual as a way to comfort and serve the people is not necessarily a bad thing. It is all in the attitude and intent behind it.