Friday, December 23, 2005

The One True Religion

I have to be careful now. I'm in one of my moods. I've taken up the utterly grueling sport of Brazilian jiu jitsu, and I continue to ache like I've been stomped by elephants. But every man should grapple. Word. And I came home and to relax I've been -- how do they say it? -- cruising the cyberway? -- luging the W? -- gleaming the motherboard? -- googling the ladder? I don't know ... does anyone else remember card catalogues? Ooo, look out! Skylab might hit you! I've been exploiting the resources afforded to me by ready access to the Internet. Upshot? The wasteland has become global. This isn't news, even to myself, entowered as I am like Rapunzel. But the mood, belying my airy tone, is dark.

I've been reading on this blogoglob people's, um, diaries. Particularly their ponderings -- how close that word is to ponderous -- upon religion. (No, M, it's not about you. Sheesh -- what an ego. Who does he think he is? Me?) It's understandable, given this eternity thing God always seems to be yammering about. I mean, gee, it's like a retirement plan -- gotta be responsible. And considering that there are boys who've memorized every Hardy Boy book, or dudes who can name every model from every issue of Playboy -- I myself can tell you the year of Noah's Flood ... wrote a book about it, in fact ... in fact, two books -- well, to immerse ourselves in trivia is so inevitable it may even be necessary.

There's some wise and funny stuff out there. (Yeah, right, M -- this MUST be about you. Wisdom will die with you.) But I've observed, in my varied sojourns, a universal phenomenon. The guys who never read, or who simply cannot read, have the loudest voices. Literally. Uninflected, dogmatic, and loud. With an edge of authority -- I shall brook no argument, here. Okay -- I won't argue. And far be it from me to say that details -- or actual, real, facts -- aren't important.

But so many Christians -- so earnest, so devout, so ... I wouldn't be unkind here, so I can't say empty.... It's like repeating something you've been told is true, and you believe it, because it's true, so you repeat it. And I have to be kind here, especially since I'm in one of my moods, so let me just say, surquedrously, that not everyone's intellect scintillates. (I feel safe in saying that, since no one, or hardly anyone, will read it. I wouldn't have anyone know it, but I'm a bloated monster of, among other things, arrogance.) It's not that their words are untrue. Their words are true. But there's something missing.

One of my masterful poems deals perfectly and brilliantly with the uselessness of words. Or maybe it's me -- I wasn't breast fed, you know.

So I'll repeat something I heard, that's true and I believe it, so I'll repeat it. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Is that true? No. It is a religion. That's the part that is so easy to get, so easy to talk about in a loud monotone. But that relationship part -- that's where I hear the echo of emptiness.

Years ago I read an ancient Egyptian proverb, something like, "Be kind to your wife, and love your children, obey the laws of the land, and perhaps the gods will have mercy on you." How very very true. That's religion. That is, really, true religion. No, really. What, you want a proof text? Okay, tough guy, I'll give you your proof text, and you'll like it, see? How about James 1:27? Pure religion "is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." Throw in visits to the sick and imprisoned, and you've got it.

So. Is there any real difference between James and that old Egyptian? No, not really. Be kind, don't be depraved. Isn't that what, um, EVERY religion teaches? Islam, Judaism, Buddhism ... make your own list. Frankly, the one true religion is all of them. And there is no embarrassment to any Christian in this, since religion doesn't and cannot save anyone. I think it's the Calvinists who say that the unsaved should still act rightly, since it's less displeasing to God. Maybe it's the Catholics -- I keep getting those two mixed up.

What, then. Practice your religiousness. It makes for good citizens. And while you're at it, in all the details of doctrine, in all the familiar homilies, in the echoing emptiness of your prayers, you might feel a hand on your shoulder. Look to see who it is. If it's Jesus, grab hold and don't let go. That was Jacob's religion. A masculine, sweaty relationship. Desperation like the need to breathe.

A metaphor, of course. A metaphor for a relationship. Grappling is a metaphor, like religion is a metaphor -- they are ways that might be used to come into contact with God. Neither wrestling nor religion is the point. But if you get submitted in either, then the metaphor is over, and the relationship begins.

I'm still in one of my moods. But I've taken a lot out of this, because I'm being careful. Have I said anything here? Or am I repeating truisms, like some blogger on the internet, empty, obvious, and loud.



Miroslav said...

Jack H,

I'm dissapointed that you didn't keep with how you started (mentioning me in 2 out of 3 paragraphs). But, thats ok I guess. It takes time...

Good blogging here as usual.

I don't know if I agree with what I'm reading to be the point of what you've written here (if that point is well summarized in the third to last and second to last paragraphs). I read that you believe relationship, and Truth, to be the point (agreed)... and then you suggest that relationship can be found through either wrestling or religion (though surely not limited to those vehicles).

I definately agree with you on the wrestling part, though I admit it could because I'm in the midst of a big ol' WWF style wrastlin' match with God right now. I can't, however, say a I agree that religious practice leads any more to relationship than purely selfish or pagan living does. As a matter of fact, I contend that religious practice apart from truth of conscience and perceived relationship acts more as a barrier between said person and the God they pursue than it does a stepping stone to establishing relationship with Him.

I bring this argument both Scripturally and experientially.

Scripturally speaking...
I can't think of a single time when Jesus encouraged religious practice as a means to the end or suggested that through the practice of TheLaw you would find Him. As a matter of fact, I think more often than not, he delivered scathing rebukes to those who were caught up in religious practice (them pesky Pharisees). It is my belief that the Bible paints religious practice apart from truth in spirit in much darker tones than you have here. I think there are lots of examples in the Bible (which I'm too lazy to cite) where religious practice BLINDS people to the Truth rather than leads them to it. Thats not to say that no religious person ever accepted Christ... but like I said at the beginning, I can't swallow the notion that practicing religion to become "better citizens" will bring you any closer to God. Quite the contrary really.

Have you really seen it to be true that religious people are closer to discovering relationship with God than others? Not from my experience. A practicing religious Jew, Muslim, or Christian that lacks relationship with their God is more of a hypocrite or fraud than anything else in my book. They can become self-righteous, dogmatic, and judgmental. If anything it is THOSE traits, but not the religious practices that fostered them, that might bring such a person closer to understanding God. If by chance such a person could avoid these pitfalls, would they not become quite comfortable in their newly found state of good citizenship? Seems that they would become quite content with themselves and would therefore not have much need for the saving grace of God. "having a form of godliness but denying its power", no?

I personally prefer HOT or COLD.
Either have the relationship and be real about it... or wrestle towards or away from it. Don't pretend.

Yes, be nice. Be kind to your neighbor. Become a better citizen. But don't do it under the name of God. That just confuses the issue for everybody, youself included. (thats talking to THEM, not you Jack...)


M, who the world revolves around.

Miroslav said...

oh, and whats with this "being careful" crap. Come on man. let it all hang out. ;D

Just have these hand phrases ready to go if you do: "Oh... I didn't really mean THAT..." and "Sorry. My apologies, really."

Jack H said...

Yeah, right -- like you're the only M there is. Puh-lease! I'm gonna run out of "s"s, "h"s and "e"s, for all the "sheeshes" I'm sibilating.

Honestly, I bearly remember what I wrote -- I'll have to look at it, if I can stand it.

[ interlude of soothing music follows...]

Oh! Brilliant!

Re being careful, I offer no explanation, but the general observation that the world is an unsafe place. I could show my scars, but that would be too specific. Perhaps your life has been uniquely blessed. Tremble, lest it be otherwise.

Re the metaphors of religion and grappling, as I say, in themselves, they're just fun things to do. *I'm so right because of my religionosity* -- *I'm so tough because of my ass-kicking skills.* As I so sagely opine, "they are ways that might be used to come into contact with God." The telephone isn't communication, but it allows communication. If we come to a relationship via religion, fine. I wouldn't say it can't be so, because really wise people, and saved, say otherwise. If we come via a less formal struggle, and have a true relationship, how could I contradict it? Some lead the choir, some are hermits in the wilderness. It isn't about the journey, it's about the destination. Jesus is the Way, but only because he is the Brigegroom -- he's the alpha because he is the omega.

Everyone has to go through that adolescent stage, of being dissatisfied and questioning -- the "I don't hold with all the churchianity" stage. Zen has the idea that on the path to enlightenment, first, the mountain is a mountain. Then, it isn't a mountain. Then, it is a mountain. Obviously, shallow, deepening, and arrived -- or, more kindly, innocence, trial, and righteousness.

That you and I may be black sheep in the flock, doesn't mean the white sheep are wrong. That's why I have to be careful. Not lest I offend, but lest I make myself a fool, with hard statements against people who are not wrong, but whose gifts are different than my own. I wouldn't be someone who is offended at simplicity -- like the popular kid who makes fun of the fat kid ... it's ugly.

Regarding "barriers" -- you and I can add nothing worthwhile to what Jesus says about religiousity. There's no one who's saved, who was saved through religion, anymore than anyone has been saved by wrestling. They allow contact, is all. There is a 16th century mystic -- the name escapes me -- who was a shoemaker. Every tap of his hammer on leather, he counted as a prayer. And with that attitude, it was a prayer. Would you say otherwise? No? Then why question people's religiousity? It's a good thing to be -- but it's not the point. To condemn shallow thinkers is not to be deep, nor does it enlighten them.

We are in agreement on every point. I've found that when I lower myself to argue, I win. Bully for me. By which I mean, I win the argument. I haven't won a friend, or made a convert. A gentle word turns away wrath. Who would have friends, should be friendly. These are more worthwhile tactics. As for being right all the time, as used to be important to me -- well, not *being* right, but having everyone *know* that I was right -- well, I've mellowed ... it's still important to me, but not nearly *as*.

We're probably defining "religion" differently. I remember Jesus saying something like, "do these things."
As I say, not because they save, but because they are the right thing to do. Counting your cumin doesn't amount to much. But visiting orphans.

Jack H said...


[autograph hounds]

RE the religious being more hypocritical of fraudulant than others ... well. I can always recognize a liberal, when they start a sentence with "Americans are" and then end it negatively. It always happens. What, then, of someone who says, "Religious people are..."? Can they be hypocrits? No duh. Is it a stumbling block? *Mais oui!* And is it ever anything better? Guess so. There are those who hear the word and receive it with gladness. *But, what of the wrestling? They can't be saved!* Oh, okay. If you say so.

Hot or cold? Of course.

Sounds like you have been surrounded by or closely associated with religious people. Would you rather it have been degenerates? Between these two non-saving options, I think religious is better. That's the only point to be made from me on that issue.

Religion is the finger that points at the moon. So what should we look at? -- the finger, or the moon? But because it's only a finger, does that mean it can't point at the moon? It has a job to do. Some people are hacks at it, and some get the job right. Because there is muzak, there is no music? When you take your eyes off Christ, and start looking at Christians, you will not be unequivocally thrilled. This is an observation insulting in its obviousness. But I try to be a practical man -- and if being fretful and critical brings one to Christ (we'll call it "wrestling"), well good. And if being holy and devout and following rituals brings one to Christ (we'll call it "religiousity"), well good.

But, of course, I've said more than needs to be said, offering nothing new while sucking up quite a bit of air. Ah, the more for me, the better.



Jack H said...

Jacob Boehme ... the shoemaker...

Jack H said...

Hear that, M? I'm "religious!" So I was right and you were wrong. Neener neener neener.

But seriously -- N, thanks for the, uh, props. I go by the general description of Christian.


Miroslav said...


Hm... I would like your opinion on an earlier post on my blog. Its quite a long read though, be warned. Here is the link:
Comforting Words

If you are too um busy to read it, let me try to sum it up quickly here. You mention: "We're probably defining "religion" differently. I remember Jesus saying something like, "do these things.""
On my blog we were discussing wether or not Jesus really advicated doing these "nice" and "socially responsible" things. At least one person on my blog didn't think so. I think she made a good point in that Jesus really was NEVER (that I can recall) impressed with actions so much as he was the heart condition. He seemed impressed at heart felt faith, and earnest repentance... but I can't think of a time whenn he applauded somebody's efforts who's heart was not in to it. The only people I think of that fit that description are them Pharisee types. Likewise, Jesus never seemed particularly upset at a sinful act as much as he was with the heart (adultery = lust in the heart, murder = hate in the heart, etc.). Anyhow, thats what we were discussing... It lead to another post where I tried to address a secondary issue... does doing the "right" thing when your heart is not in it make you a hypocrite? Here's the link to THAT one if you are interested:

Just FYI, I get email notification even if you comment on an OLD post, so if you've got sumpthin to say, feel free to.

Oh, and yer welcome for the mad props (ghetto speak here). I really do enjoy your writing style and the way you carry your faith.

OH... and ANOTHER THING. : ) .... yes, I've got some battle scars. I've got some of 'em outlined on the right hand side of my blog, 'bout 1/2 way down ... listed under "A Bit of History" ... if you are interested feel free to read up. 'Tis good drama if nothing else. No obligation of course.

: ) gotta sleep now.

Jack H said...

Your summary is too long. I'll just give my uninformed opinion. Hipokritz are bad.


Miroslav said...

wurd to yer mother.

Jack H said...

I'll most likely comment at "Comforting Words."

But re whoever thinks Jesus didn't "really advocated doing these 'nice' and 'socially responsible' things" may not be entirely clear in her ideations. James has something very clear to say about good works. They do not save, but there's no evidence of salvation without them. So are they necessary? As evidence, yes. So are they necessary? Here's the thing: you have a wife? Tell her you love her. It's not enough to feel your love for her. Let her know, dummy. Your words act as a witness -- they are a public confession. (For "words," read "actions".)

Re: "Jesus really was NEVER (that I can recall) impressed with actions so much as he was the heart condition" -- this is surely incorrect. The widow's mite. Actions arising from faith are very impressive. The thing is, he would have been just as impressed with a rich man giving everything he owned, as the poor woman giving all she had. It has to do, of course, with the quality of the action. But it is an action.

Re: "Likewise, Jesus never seemed particularly upset at a sinful act as much as he was with the heart" -- I think God is pretty upset about murder. The commandment isn't 'Thou shalt not think about murder.' It's a matter of focus. It's not ALL about action, cf the Ten Commandments. But it's certainly not all about feelings either. Balance. The NT balances -- we might say rebalances -- the OT. Neither, to the exclusion of the other. This is a sort of maturity. Do you like it complicated? We can do that. Do you like it simple? This too can be done.


Miroslav said...

re: James, yes... I see your point. If one has faith, or belief, or whatever you want to call the thing they want to give testimony to, then yes their actions are necessary. As a matter of fact, because such individuals take these actions that conflict with their desire, or cause difficulty may be caused in their lives as a result of their actions, a stronger case is often made for their underlying conviction. The example of the widow's mite fits perfectly here.

You make a good point about the balance that should be found between the OT law and the NT liberty. I agree with your: "Neither, to the exclusion of the other" statement. Very true.

Thanks for the input!

Deborah said...

Just scanned through all the comments here (it is Christmas after all and there is family to love on and goodies to eat) but wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this post.
Been thinking lots in our homeschool history studies about how what people thought about God and what people thought about other people affected how they lived life, set up government, went to war, treated the poor, etc. etc.
In other words, worldview makes one heck of a difference in the way one lives. It has in the past and it always will.
I would say that societies that live according to God's standards (i.e. good religion) are going to be societies that are more pleasant and safe to live in -- even if a good portion of the people in them are going to hell. Religion isn't bad, but relationship is better. You can have religion without relationship, but can you have relationship without religion (defined as good works)?
I think the relationship is so wonderful and good and satisfying, that Jesus trains us in "religion" like a daddy trains his little boy.
Enjoying this blog -- your vegan intro post was GREAT.
Merry Christmas!

Jack H said...

Mama --

Who finds a wife, finds a good thing.


Jack H said...

Rather than be specific -- Roman Catholic, Protestant, Episopalian, snake hander -- I just leave it at "Christian."