I write these reflections in the wake of a further attack in London and following the attack in Manchester. My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by these horrible events.
On Friday I visited the theatre to watch Arthur Miller’s incredible play “The Crucible”. The Crucible holds a bit of a special place in my heart because, my first go at “am dram”, was playing Thomas Putnam in our school production. If you get chance, I would encourage you to go and see this amazing performance but, beware, The Crucible is a challenging watch – as my wife said “not exactly a laugh a minute”! (www.selladoor.com/productions/the-crucible)
Arthur Miller’s work can be read at several different layers. Firstly, it is the story of the characters involved in the Salem Witch Trials (1692-3) a really tragic time in American history. At another level, it is a damning indictment of McCarthyism (roughly 1947 – 56) of which Miller was a victim. It tackles issues of bravery, love, failure, morality and poses so many questions your head spins. But, I still recommend it!
My biggest challenge of the evening came as I stood in the ice cream queue (keep with me – not quite what you think!) and I overheard to ladies in the line behind me (you should never listen in on other people’s conversations). They were discussing the play and one of them said to the other;
It’s about time we got rid of this stupid religious @:*!!@
Part of me wanted to turn and challenge them but, part of me agreed.
Let me explain that and bring in my reflection on, recent, horrific events.
I believe there is a fundamental difference between “religion” and “faith”.
I am a Christian and would consider myself a follower of Jesus Christ. That does not mean that I am perfect, or a do gooder. I am a church minister who struggles as much with the “church” (meaning structure and organization) and rejoices in the church (meaning true fellowship with others).
But, I have a real problem when it comes to religion and, as I read the Bible, so did Jesus.
To my understanding, religion is about rules and regulations and leads to an outward display of conformity. Jesus spoke about the inward condition of the heart and our relationship with God and with each other.
Religion demands that you follow the set pattern to fit in. Jesus welcomed all
Religion demands behaviour that appears righteous, Jesus spoke about seeking God and then everything else would fall into place.
Religion demands you follow the ritual and deviation not welcome. Jesus taught about the shepherd who left the 99 and rejoiced when he found the 1 that had wandered off.
Religion demands you keep to the rules. Jesus spoke about grace
Religion points the finger at failures. Jesus came to set the prisoner free and proclaim the year of the Lords favour.
This doesn’t mean Jesus was silent about sin but, He urged us to realistic and honest about ourselves.
I have no doubt that, in the light of recent events, there will be many voices that cry out “religion is the cause of all wars”. They will, no doubt, point to ISIS, the Crusaders, the Inquisition and, yes, the Salem trials along with many other examples of man’s inhumanity to man. I know what they mean but, it would be more accurate to say “people are the cause of all wars” and it’s their demand that others conform to the “standards” they set.
This kind of religion has nothing to do with the faith that Jesus calls us to when He said;
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour. (Matthew 7 vs. 1 – 5 – The Message)
This is the same Jesus, who invited those who hear His message to come and follow Him and it’s only when we follow, in faith not religion, that we discover hope, freedom and the fullness of life that God offers.