Getting Religion Wrong

lunchlady-serving-plate-of-lunch-in-school-cafeteria_StegiSXRHj.jpgI read this quote earlier today (Wednesday, May 16, 2018). I’d rather not say who said it because I don’t want to politicize this.  Here is what was said:

“The percentage of Americans who live out their religion on a weekly basis — praying, going to church, reading and believing in the Bible….”

This gets religion wrong. Religion is not “praying, going to church, reading and believing the Bible.” These practices don’t make up religion. They make religion possible.

I’m not opposed to any of these. In fact, I’ll even suggest that one cannot practice religion – at least not the Christian religion, without these things.

The problem is, these practices don’t make up religion. They make religion possible.

I grew up on the King James Bible, which includes the word “religion” exactly once. It’s in James 1:27, which says,

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Another text to which I feel strongly drawn when discussing what “religion” is is Matthew 25:31-49, which I’ll summarize in sharing verses 37-40:

“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

Fellow Christians, can we agree that faithfully practicing our religion is not fully grasped in the list of “praying, going to church, and reading and believing the bible”?

Who am I to tell you…?

question.jpgCan I admit to you here how much I hate being treated like I don’t know what I’m doing?

Except, of course, when I am admittedly a novice or rookie.

But: I’ve been at this pastoring thing for almost 30 years! So when someone approaches me – especially when they condescendingly share that it’s from the Holy Spirit – that I need to change this or stop doing that or start preaching this other way/topic/etc., I really, sometimes, want to scream.

So far, I haven’t scream in the face of anyone who has so intended to bless me.

You see, that’s the problem: in most every case (if not EVERY case), the intent is to bless, not to curse. The condescending tone belies the fact that, and I have to believe this, most everyone is really just doing the best they can.

Sometimes, someone else’s “best” includes advising me on something I have compiled a good bit of experience, prayer, reflection, and study on. So it hurts.

On the other hand: there are areas outside – even WAY outside – of my expertise on which I readily offer unsolicited and probably suggestions and insights.

Hopefully I don’t do so with any condescension in my voice.

Because, more often than not, I’m just doing the best I can.

Knowing When

as in: Knowing when to say what you’re thinking, and when not to.

Call center operator

I called 6 times before an actually person picked up. The message I received the first five times indicated I had called outside of business hours.

Business hours began at 8 am. I started calling at 8 am.

I cannot tell you how ready I was to lay into this unwitting employee when she finally answered the phone. A variety of versions of the script was rolling through my head.

Even so, that was secondary. What really mattered was the point of the call: getting a medication question answered for someone important to me.

The person who answered, as it turns out, was incredibly helpful and understanding not only in helping me solve the problem, but also in helping me understand the problem.

So much so, in fact, I decided not to bother with my lecture about being available to answer the phones the very second posted business hours begin.

Punctuality is a pet peeve of mine, and leaving an answering service on 4 minutes into the work day is not a good business practice.

Taking really good care of customers (or patients, or congregants, or visitors) IS a good business practice. It’s more important than punctuality.

Had I begun the conversation with rage, frustration, anger, condescension, it could have derailed the purpose of the call.

I think it is also a metaphor. Our denomination, the United Methodist Church, is on the precipice of division. Incivility dominates our denomination at least as much as the culture around us.

At least some of this, I believe, is because we don’t let less important things go in favor of more important things.  We are all sometimes Martha, and distracted by too things. (Luke 10:38-42.

I am NOT the (a) babysitter

Rachel has been out of the country for several days. She is leading a team from our Church on a mission trip in Belize. As other times she’s been away, I am humbled by the tasks required to parent alone.

And this is only for 1 week! And I have the incredible benefit of being married to a mom who has raised our kids in such a way that makes it a comparatively easy for me.

But let me make this as  clear as I can: I am not babysitting. I’m a dad.

Sometimes taking care of my own children is part of the title “dad.”

Not a few people have asked me, “How’s the babysitting?”

I don’t know: I’m not babysitting, I am being a parent. Actually providing care to my children goes with the territory. It’s in the job description.

Hearing without understanding

Businessman in helmet covering his ears over white backgroundI share a short message at preschool chapel twice a week. It’s one of those things that I don’t always look forward to, but always leave feeling better about myself and the future.

Kids have that affect on me.

Each chapel time starts with singing. And, as you can imagine, we sing quite a few repetitive songs. And we have standards; that is, some we sing every time we gather.

For one of these standards, we have many different flavors or styles. We have “baby style,” “mommy style,” “daddy style,” (which is my favorite, since it is everyone else trying to sing really low, and me singing normally).

And, for fun, the director often invites children to offer new styles. This elicits some serious creativity!  Last week, taking requests, the director thought she heard a child request “angel style.”

What the child had actually requested, though, was “ninja style.”

An honest mistake. And a reminder that we often hear what we want to hear.

Not to compete with the movie franchise…

I am writing this to be read on Friday, April 13th.  We’ll have another Friday the 13th in July of this year.

What do you think about Friday the 13th?  The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina estimated in 2012 that between 17 and 21 million Americans struggle to some degree or other with stress related to Friday the 13th. The same group estimates that people changing their behavior because of Friday the 13th costs between $800 and $900 million in business.

Symptoms range from mild anxiety to full-on panic attacks.
And, of course, a new movie in the Friday the 13th series debuts nearly every time one occurs.

Though many connect anxiety related to Friday the 13th to Jesus plus his 12 disciples making 13, there is no historical evidence of the day actually causing anxiety before the 19th century.

While I don’t suffer stress related to this particular day, I have to admit I have some of my own superstitions. For example, though I know Jesus tells us that God makes the rain fall on the just and unjust, I still sometimes imagine God as trying to send me messages through difficulty or trial.

All of which reminds me of a phrase I learned when I served in small-town churches. The phrase was “don’t borrow worry.”

Which reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34.

In teaching the disciples (and everyone else in the crowd that day) not to worry, but, rather, to seek God first. Peter advises us all to, “Throw all your anxiety onto him [Jesus], because he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

So, if you are anxious today, or any day, take a deep breath. Hold it for a 5 count, and release it slowly. Do it again. As you breathe slowly, try a breath prayer.

Here is a traditional breath prayer: As you inhale, think, “Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Imagine yourself actually breathing God’s presence in. Then, as you exhale, think, “have mercy on me a sinner.” Again, as you exhale, imagine yourself actually breathing your sins out, away from you.

Just slowing your breathing will reduce anxiety. Coupling it with such a prayer helps us to “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.”

Which is a good thing to do whether it is Friday the 13th or not!

Peace,
Pastor Steve Heyduck