Friday, March 5, 2010

What's the Use?

I wrote this piece of prose one day as an answer to a comment I read, written by someone I love, on a questionnaire, asking “What is your religion?” and “What are your political views?” First of all, I sort of despise the questions in that context, because they appear to be asking something of consequence, while at the same time really indicating absolutely nothing about the person answering. People come in so many varieties, and each interprets “religion” and “politics” from their own perspective. So if you were to think you were finding a kindred soul simply by seeing that they may be a part of your own religious denomination, or a member of your political party, well, think again. Because the truth is, how we express ourselves individually within the contexts of our religion and our politics varies so widely as to lead some to complete alienation from one another, if not to violence of some sort - a sad fact apparent all over the world today.

The answer given to the two questions I am referring to is, “What's the use?” Seldom has anything caught my attention quite like that phrase has, particularly in response to those questions. While the answer speaks loudly of frustration with the institutions of religion and the political arena, I also infer not only frustration and dismissal, but an almost complete loss of hope. I say almost, because by asking a question such as “What's the use?” there seems to remain at least the hope that there is an answer. I can also, by the way, accept that the response was made off-the-cuff, and meant in a flippant way, a tactic I have used more than once to dismiss a topic I was not willing to either argue about or explain. And so, with that disclaimer, I present to you the following epic post that attempts to answer, only in part, what perhaps is the use for religion and politics:
"What's the use?" It is such an easy phrase to use. It lets you out of and off of so much. But when it comes to religion and politics, what's the use? Religion and politics are among the most useful things on this planet, indeed, in the universe.
I am using the word religion now, in the way it is popularly used, but what I really mean is faith. Religion, in reality is how you practice what you believe - your faith. It is so important to believe in something, to have something to hold on to, to stand for something; because, as I have said for so long, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. What you believe determines how you will act. How you act, how you respond, is the way we relate to others. I personally believe that Christianity gives us a blueprint for how we are to deal with other people in a way that creates healthy relationships. Unfortunately, how many people practice their own brand of Christianity bears little resemblance to the blueprint, which is Jesus Christ. Christ wants us to treat everyone as we would want to be treated. It is an active faith... “Do unto others...” It expands and adds a new twist on the old Jewish law which was “Do not to others...” If how you see Christianity practiced in this world today affects the way you feel about it negatively – to such an extent that you say “What's the use?” then you have not experienced true Christianity. Don't be afraid to explore all that Christ has to offer because some people show you their warped, judgmental, biased selves and foist it off as Christianity. Surely it bears no resemblance to the Jesus of scripture, and I and many others are seeking each day to understand and become the Gospel more each day. Take the time to learn about people of our own time known as “red letter” Christians. These are people who choose to use the words of Christ as their instructions for living and relating in this world (the words of Jesus in some bibles are printed in red), and daily they put their very lives on the line in defense and out of love for others. There are wonderful people in this world and many of them are Christians, but many of them do not call themselves Christians. This comes down to a discussion of what is in a name. There is a verse in Scripture: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11). This can be understood in at least two ways: One way is that everyone will speak and call on "Jesus" by that name. Another way is this: That the name of Jesus is what people will recognize, acknowledge, and before which they will bow.. The Biblical understanding of name is different than our present-day understanding. When you named someone back then, it was more than just giving someone an appellation. It was a way of attempting to predetermine character, or describing the circumstances around conception or birth, or it expressed a hope for the future, or a combination of all these and more, including the request of God. Name meant character and personality and expression. So, to me, saying “At the name of Jesus” means “at the presence of the nature of God.” Hence I believe that even people who do not know Jesus or profess Jesus, per se, are included in salvation, because they exhibit the nature of Jesus' name. What God wants for us, for all of creation, through the name Jesus, is action not just words. And the actions he wants are not for God's sake, but for one another, for us, for our happiness and growth and abundance. God wants for us, not just of us, because what he wants of us is for our benefit! God longs for our wholeness and joy, and God knows it only comes from knowing God through the name of Jesus and in the lives and needs, the joys and sorrows, of God's children on this earth.
This all sounds so preachy, but what I'm trying to say is that faith (“religion”) is the only thing that really does matter. There has been a belief floating around for some time ( from “Baby Boomers” and their progeny in particular), stating to the effect that, “I'm not going to imprint, indoctrinate, or impose any sort of belief on my child because I want that child to make up his or her own mind when the time comes.” The thing is, the child will make up his or her own mind, regardless of what you do. God has no grandchildren. You come to faith on your own and not through your parents; parents will serve as the example of a life with or without faith whether they want to or not! It is important to give a child something to choose from, to show your children how what you believe matters in how you behave, not only with the people you like or love, but with the people you do not. There are consequences to our beliefs and actions, and I'm not just talking about honors, rewards, and fame, nor about jail, heaven, or hell. I'm thinking of everyday consequences, that build on one another and give you a framework that helps or leads you to make choices. Decision making is not done in a vacuum...we need guidelines. I believe that Jesus Christ offers those guidelines in the most accessible way. Other people will differ, but make your determination on what you truly know and understand, not on what you think you know or what you have heard from others, which can often be described as “shared ignorance.” Read widely and wisely, listen carefully, and yes, even pray. Just talk to God, even if you think God doesn't hear or care, or even exist, because just giving a voice to your thoughts sometimes brings clarity. I happen to believe that God does that for us. Everything we have and everything we are comes from somewhere and is on the way to somewhere else. God gives us the choice about what, where and how. We are responsible to ourselves and to one another and we are, and will be, held accountable for how we behave, whether by other people, ourselves, or ultimately, by God.
God gives us an infinite range of possibilities and chances to make our lives count for something, and to lead others in the way of Truth. God loves us deeply. Once we, as mere humans, love someone else, and begin to feel that overwhelming sense of belonging to and caring for another, do we begin to get a glimmer of understanding of just how much God loves us. I do not completely understand this love. I probably never will in this lifetime. I just know that it's true, that I have experienced it in multiple forms through God's freely-given Grace. All of this has been borne out in my own life, and I pray that it is apparent in how I live, while acknowledging that I make many mistakes and have so much growing and learning to do. This cloudy mirror gives a far from perfect reflection. I see this Grace being borne out in the lives of those I love, in you, whether you believe in God or not, because I guarantee, God believes in you.
Politics is people. It is the interaction of people with one another and with events in this world. It is important, and it is of great use in everyday life because it intersects with every part of our day-to-day lives, just as faith does. Politics is often distasteful because of the laborious “busy-ness” and business of it...people, each from their own perspective and understanding, ying-yanging about what things are to be done, how to get things done, or whether to get things done: politicians working on their own behalf, or on the behalf of a privileged few at the expense of the many underprivileged and under-served citizens who put them in their positions in the first place. Yes it is incredibly frustrating, just like the institutional church is, because politics, like the church, is the world, only more so...a concentrated dose of people-ness and other-ness. Busybodies and do-nothings as well as dynamos and caring, articulate people on all sides of any issue. The free expression of politics, as well as faith, is to be celebrated - and not dismissed as being useless, because it is how we learn about one another, their needs and perspectives, even those we sometimes turn away from, dismiss, or don't want to know. Learning and then teaching your children to be involved citizens in the world, while at the same time being devoted citizens in the world to come, is very important because, again, if they do not stand up for something, they will fall to or before anything. Yes, show them that you are frustrated, but show them that you care, that you are working and hoping for and ultimately believing in the possibility of change. Show them that a vote and a single voice do matter, in both the eyes of the world, and in the ear and heart of God, because ultimately they do and always will.
St. Julian of Norwich wrote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I believe that, because I believe in the Love and Grace of God. God has never failed me, and I know that though people I love sometimes may, God never will. I pray that blessed assurance for you.

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