Sunday, September 19, 2010

Losing Touch

Have you heard it said of someone that they were 'too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good'? Lately I've been wondering how religious people become so disconnected from the rest of the world that they seem like visitors from another place and time rather than neighbours inhabiting the same small part of the universe.

Part of the answer is cultural. Lots of churches have their own powerful sub-cultures that create a sense of belonging and safety for those who are part of them. The longer you are part of these churches, the less you notice the weirdness - the uniforms, the clapping, the music, the teaching - all form a kind of dischord with the rest of society.

Then there's a practical element - the do's and don'ts that come with each particular brand of religion. In most cases there's far more emphasis on the don'ts, though hypocrisy is frequently waiting at the door. Experience seems to show that church people fail in their marriages, steal from their employers, gossip and get abusive around sports just like 'regular' people do.

Finally, there's the ideological dimension - or theology if you prefer. The prepackaging of dogma and a tendency to favour answers before questions marginalises genuine thinkers. It also make authentic accompaniment alongside someone who is on a different journey rather troublesome indeed.

It would be easy to give up, if not for one thing. I actually find the life of Jesus incredibly compelling. The Jesus who sits down to eat with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners doesn't seem to have separated himself from the world. They don't find him weird, in fact they seem to find him good company - perhaps because he's far less judgemental than many of the other religious people they've come across before. And Jesus' theology is remarkably down to earth. He talks about crops, housework, farming and practical things like being in debt.

Jesus does have a vision about a different kind of society. He calls it the Kingdom of God. This new society isn't formed by withdrawing from the old one. Neither is it a place we wait to be transported to after we die. The signs of this Kingdom appear wherever people lead lives of love, compassion, generosity and inclusiveness. Such lives invariably inspire and at their best they call others into the same patterns.

Unfortunately, such radical living is also perceived to be threatening to some. It breaks the rules of polite society. It upsets those who have worked hard to be self righteous. It makes meaningless those religious clubs that expend all their energies on self-preservation.

Jesus wasn't a 'pie in the sky' kind of guy. He knew where people were hurting and showed them a salvation that met their most pressing need. It seems to me that this is the kind of relevance that never loses touch.

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