by Kasmeister on Jan 23rd in Religion
“I’m not into organized religion.”
That was the refrain my wife heard at work from a client the other day while they talked about their respective experiences with church and God.
“I used to go to church. It was very traditional. But I’m not into organized religion anymore.”
As she usually does, my wife seized the opportunity to talk about her relationship with Jesus and her experience with church – or as the woman would define it, “organized religion.”
After hearing the story, I had a suggestion. At her next opportunity she should invite her client to our church and claim that it’s actually quite “DIS-organized.” Perhaps that would be more appealing to her.
She could tell her about how people arrive at various times, anywhere between 9:30 in the morning until about ten minutes after we start at 10:00 am. Her attention could be drawn to the fact that some in the congregation sing, while others stand and stare like cows chewing their cud in a field. She might be interested to know that some folks raise their hands, while others appear to be afraid of their hands and hide them in their pockets. Some bring Tim Horton’s coffee to church, while others buy whipped-milk-coffee girly drinks on site. So it’s all very disorganized and a great place to be.
If her client wasn’t convinced, she could describe how sometimes the videos work, sometimes they don’t. How at times the colors on the screen change even though the picture remains the same. How now and then the words for the songs are wrong altogether. On those occasions we just stare straight ahead hoping the person running the video hasn’t ducked out for a pee, but has the wherewithal to solve a technical glitch on the fly. My wife could even mention how we never quite know when we’re going to finish, and when we do, a lot of people exit like there’s a fire in their pants. The rest seem to linger long after the lighting and sound guys go home for lunch. Sounds pretty disorganized to me. I think our church would be exactly what she’s looking for.
But what does “organized religion” really mean?
The dictionary defines “organized” as being “affiliated in an organization.” Unions and dockworkers are given as examples. Another definition describes the term to mean having a “formal organization or structure” and the examples include organized medicine and organized crime.
Organized crime? Oh, great!
When you see the word “organized” associated with both religion and crime, you know there’s a problem. I guess I do see some parallels, though. Criminals are usually after your money. Some would say that’s the sole purpose of a lot of churches! Crooks are often secretive, too, trying to hide their true natures. Again, bingo! The church has more people living double lives than John Gottie had visits to jail. But that’s just a coincidence. Let’s take a look, instead, at dockworkers.
When I think of dockworkers I picture them taking baggage or cargo from one place and insuring it goes to another. I think that’s a lot like church. People come to church with lots of baggage that they’d like to off-load to someone else. If they do it right, it ends up on the shoulder of someone who can really carry the load – Jesus. Unfortunately some people don’t make that connection so they either continue to carry it, or they try to dump it on some unsuspecting soul waiting near the cappuccino machine after the service.
Having been the recipient of some of that cargo myself, I’ve found most of it falls into one of two categories – hurt over relationships, or disappointment with God. Both kinds of hurt can run very deep and can take years to overcome. Ironically the inclination to reach out to someone is the right one. Where people run into trouble is when they expect the religious dock workers to have a quick fix for their misconceptions about God, and their unwillingness to forgive those who caused them their pain. Unforgiveness and bad theology go a long way to insuring baggage gets strapped on nice and tight.
So what do you say to a person who says they’re not into “organized religion?” It’s not like us church goers can lie and say, “Yeah, I’m not either. I’m just into Jesus.” The truth is if you show up once a week with a large group of people, at or around the same time, and you stand up and sit down pretty much in unison – you’re organized. More organized than most kitchen pantries.
So nice try Guido.
In the end I don’t think it’s so much the organization as it is the “religion” that turns people off. The idea that we have to make an angry God happy or we’re going to fry like a sausage in Hell some day. That just doesn’t do it for most people.
Religion is about rules and regulations, and while it is easier to process in our minds that God puts things on a scale to see if we measure up, it’s not in fact what he does. The scales of justice we have pictured in our mind do not figure into the equation at all. The reason for that is quite simple: justice has already been served. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and rebellion against God. It’s not how hard we work, but how hard Jesus worked for us.
Where we fall off the rails and drag unsuspecting people with us, is in withholding mercy and trying to be stingy with God’s grace. As I heard this past Sunday in church, “God will forgive you. People in the church may not, but God will.”
That’s pathetic, but so very true. I think some people really enjoy reminding fellow believers of their failings. It becomes part of the “punishment” that they didn’t receive from God when he forgave them.
I think that those who oppose “organized religion” are in fact turned off to God because of his small-hearted followers who would rather see people punished than welcomed home.
“Organized religion” is about keeping people in straight lines, walking down narrow roads, with no party hats in sight. It is definitely not fun – but it is organized.