Archives for posts with tag: religion

I came to write again, to relieve pressure on the dam wall of thoughts and anxieties in my head.  I planned a piece about Jesus, a cry of hope and love, a way through this madness.  I often resist Him or rail against Him, but I can’t escape the beauty of His life and teaching, and it’s relevance for now.  His moral clarity combined with grace and forgiveness.  And above all the fact that when they cut Him open He only bled love.

If only the terrorists knew His way.  They seek to drag the world deeper into fear and hate – the only currency of their religious understanding.  We can either withdraw in despair, or pour ourselves out in love, like the French opening their veins for the wounded.  Only radical love can drive out fear.  We are all responsible now.

Grief in FranceWith life already full of my own small concerns, I glimpse hope only occasionally.  Stressed and tired from work, I fail even to love my wife and daughter the way I aspire to, let alone cope with the great darkness in the world.

Just now I read a piece by a friend that could have been describing me – a time in her life when she was consumed by the pressures of a career while the really important things were slipping out of her grasp, and the demands were piling on.  She made some big changes, but the struggle continues.

And this reminds me truth and hope is found in personal testimony, not just theory or theology.  I have been struggling lately, big time.  Just knowing that someone else struggles is great comfort.  Even moreso to see they have found the strength to carry on.

We long for an easy solution and an end to troubles, but still the mess drags on.  So what we really need is a path, a way through, and the strength to keep walking however long it takes.   We need to walk it together.  We are made for relationship.  Connection.  We need people around us to share our burdens.

Yes, Jesus is the Way.  The Truth and the Life.  I believe this.  But too often in comfortable Christian circles that has been a learned response, a theological concept.  An exclusive ticket to our club.  When all along, if only we would see it, His every action and word said:

‘Love’ – at all costs love.  Not simply in order to convert to a set of beliefs, but because love is both the path and the goal in itself, and it is the very nature of God.

‘Love one another – this is how they will know you are my disciples.’  ‘Don’t let your love grow cold.’

Love your enemies.’

Why?  Because He first loved us, undeserving as we are.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Just as it is written:
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer
through Him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:34-39)

Do not be over-righteous, neither be over-wise – why destroy yourself?

Do not be over-wicked and do not be a fool – why die before your time?

It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.  The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

Ecclesiastes has long been my favourite book of the Bible.  The verses above from chapter 7 are a great reassurance to me.  I am a bit of a striver, and I like to keep my options open.  I find myself driven and restless, as if there is always something more I should be doing.

In the language of Ecclesiastes I am getting caught up in ‘chasing after the wind’.   This means a futile and exhausting striving that steals me away from the simple things of life (which might just be the real essence of life).  It steals a lot of things, this kind of striving – joy, peace and clarity of mind.  And in it’s most poisonous form it masquerades as godliness – a delusion of God-given purpose, or the nobility of a cross to bear.

When we drift away from a simple and humble walk with God, we can be tempted to cloak our own mixed motives with a veil of spirituality.   The biggest trap for me is seeing the Godly life as a matter of great and significant callings to be discovered as opposed to faithful, joyful service, here and now.  A preoccupation with ‘God’s plan’, without a calm reassurance of God’s presence, can lead to a stifling fear that we might miss it and take a ‘wrong’ path, or that we are not doing ‘enough’.

I would rather be like the Psalmist:

I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with his mother, Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

And I am reminded of the much-quoted contrast between the sisters Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10.

Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I sympathise with task-focused Martha, but I can see how much I need to start prioritising relationship instead, like Mary.  The desire to do things for God, without spending time seeking His transforming presence, can be the start of a dark path that leads ultimately to the worst excesses of religious fundamentalism.

I recently heard it said that religion, (in it’s more destructive forms) is obedience without identity.  The burden of having to do or not do certain things, trying to find our worth in these rules, instead of living in the freedom and peace that come from believing we are loved just as we are.

Still there has always lingered in me the question ‘but what should I do?’ (in terms of work/vocation) because I know I can’t just sit around focusing on relationships all day.  There are bills to be paid etc, and if my job is going to take up the most hours in my day, hadn’t I better be certain it’s the ‘right’ thing?  So this is why Ecclesiastes comforts me, because it answers that question very simply:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.  (Chapter 9 verse 10)

There is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot (Chapter 3 verse 22)

Don’t get hung up on calling or vocation.  Get to work with what’s in front of you and enjoy it as best you can.  And if it’s really not what your heart yearns to do, or indeed what you may ultimately be called to, be at peace that getting on with the present thing will not jeopordise your true calling – it will come about in good time.  (Probably sooner if you get on with things than if you fret about it all!)  But, it is my conviction that our real calling is not so much about what we do, but who we become – people of peace, love, joy… and all the fruits of the spirit.  And it seems to me that a humble calling is often the most fertile ground in which these fruits can grow (see sketch).

Growth in Humble Soil

Growth in Humble Soil

I have heard some people claim Ecclesiastes is a depressing book.  But from where I am coming from, to read the repeated claim that ‘everything is meaningless’ is a huge relief.  Instead of thinking there is some burdensome eternal significance in what I do, I find it tremendously freeing to think it doesn’t really matter all that much – I can do what I want (in terms of work); the important thing is to remember God in it and to be a loving, happy and giving person while I am doing it.  Much better (and more effective) to live that way, than to be engaged in some ‘high calling’ with no joy!

I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in his toil – this is the gift of God.

Or as Jesus put it, according to the paraphrase of the Message translation:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

(Matthew 11:28-30)

Living freely and lightly – that’s what I want.  And it doesn’t come by an immature fleeing from responsibility, but by a steady and faithful commitment to the responsibilities in front of me now, with a quiet humbling of my soul before God, and a watchful eye for His presence in all things.