Like Margaret, many of us distance ourselves from religion – even those who continue to believe in God. ‘Religion’ is a word that has become associated with repressive dogma, guilt-ridden duty, and all too common hypocrisy. It is not unusual to hear: “I’m into relationship with God, not religion.”
But, hear that cliché with my ears. Imagine you are an adoptive parent looking at a nursery of toddlers – in this case, the toddlers are words that describe how we are related to God. “Religion” is over in the corner – obscured from view. Come on in so you can take a fresh face-to-face look at “Religion.” This toddler comes to us from Latin – re– (“again”) + ligare “to bind” (the origin of our word “ligament” which binds bone to bone). Holy connection!
Some things need to be joined together. What would we do without our ligaments? Why leave an open wound when we can pull it together with sutures? What good is a nut without a bolt? How rejuvenating – when what had been broken is restored – religamented – especially our connection with our Maker.
Let’s look at the big picture. Obviously, God likes diversity – he’s made a lot of unique individuals. Even as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are each valued, so individual dignity is prized. At the same time the Trinity shows us that there is more than individuality. Some fear that the only alternative to personal dignity is forced uniformity. But, in the Trinity there is true unity – true community.
Ah, we wonder: “Is community with God possible for people like us – people who are easily distracted, wrapped up in the complexities of our own lives – who would leave the toddler “Religion” in the corner?”
Let’s not continue to be stuck where we are. Let’s take a fresh look at Jesus.
When we understand what Jesus came to do, we realize that there is grace greater than our distraction, our alienation and even our wickedness. The good news of the gospel is that we can be religamented – in our relationship with God and with each other. True religion – the gospel – does that.
So, back to the nursery. When we take a good look at this wee bairn, we find we are smitten. We adopt “Religion” – take “Religion” home – because God has adopted us.
As we find out what life with True Religion is like, we are attracted to widows, orphans, all kinds of others. We undergo another home study and head back to the adoption agency.
Two toddlers immediately charm us. We find our culture has already helped nurture a place in our hearts for “Relationship” – Latin – from re – “back, again” + latus – “carried, borne” (note: oblate – a related word is “a person devoted to religious work”). When I saw “a person devoted to religious work” as part of the origin of “relationship,” my heart danced! In other words, building “relationships” – restoring friendships – can be a kind of “religious” work. What a concept – especially in our social networking age! And playing with “Relationship,” I saw her twin: “Connection” – Latin – from com– “together” + nectere “to bind, tie.”
We look closely at these two. Some relationships are toxic and some connections fail – like trying to put the wrong blade on a pair of scissors. But the reality of such disconnects does not mean there are no true relationships. We know what it’s like to have our connectors broken – and, Christian, you know what it is like to be changed from the inside out. So, we adopt Relationship and Connection and bring them home to Religion. The household of faith is growing.
As we become familiar with these little ones, our hearts enlarge. There are a couple of foster kids we know who need a home. The reality of community is so compelling – so stamped in our nature – that we are willing to curtail more of our personal freedoms. Someone greater than ourselves has shown us the extent of his love. So, we sign adoption papers again.
This time there are two new adoptees. The first is “Responsibility” – Latin from re – “back” + spondere “to pledge.” When we renew our pledge to care for another, we are being responsible. We find our true voice – as a spouse, a parent a neighbor – when we speak up in behalf of each other and when we are willing to lay down our lives for one another.
The older child of these two is “Obligation” – ob “to” + ligare “bind, an engaging or pledging.” Here we are back to “ligaments” again. Our physical health depends on ligaments that are designed to bear the weight of our bones. So, Obligation helps bear the weight our interpersonal health. What a servant’s heart this one has.
But how do we sustain such a life? How do we bear the weight of religious obligations? Is it possible to connect – to have relationships – without being overwhelmed by responsibilities?
The marvel of the gospel is that God has taken on himself the weight of reestablishing his relationship with us. This Hidden Father is there and, through his Spirit, we sense the reality of his care for us – particularly in the greatest act of love – his giving his Son for us on the cross. As we live with the reality of that grace, we do not deny the duties of this life. We grow weary. But, there is a renewing power that carries us along. We trust that since God has taken the initiative to re-bind us to himself in Christ, we can pledge ourselves to ongoing relationships. God’s love has persuaded us.
What would it be like for Margaret Wheeler-Johnson to be part of such a family? She feels alone. Afterwards we ride or walk back to our respective apartments, which do not feel like home, and on the way peer into store and restaurant windows, gazing at the human forms inside, the mannequins and the animate, and resist feeling all kinds of empty that we can’t name and can’t begin to fill.
Do you think she would reconsider looking for true religion? A possible secondary origin of “religion” is the Latin re– (“again”) + legere “read” (originally “to gather, collect, pick out, choose” (see “election”). In the process of “rereading” life, what if she discovers her heavenly Father has already chosen to establish rapport with her in Christ – that he has adopted her and is taking her home to his family?
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,