What Religion Is
Truth be known, I'm not inclined to be strident and pushy when it comes to religion. As far as I'm concerned, I discerned the true color of "religion" and religiosity at the time of my father's death. At that time I had appealed to my (beloved) pastor to approach the congregation about a donation/offering for my father's funeral costs, as my mother was destitute and could not handle the expenses. At the time of my request I was serving and enjoying the church in a variety of ways; I was a member of the "worship team", had worked as a Sunday school teacher and was involved in many different studies and groups. Yet my pastor declined my request. He said that my mother was not a member, and if he allowed the offering to be taken, he'd be setting an unwanted precedent.
It was an epiphany for me, his rejection. Though it stung terribly, my proverbial spiritual eyes were at long last finally opened. In and despite this man's dismissal, God found a way to reveal himself to me truly as he is, and not in any way I had expected him to be revealed.
It was obvious that what my pastor had done was make a cold and hasty business decision. His choice had not been informed by the simplicity and truth of Christ, but by what he feared others would think, and what other members might ask for if he "allowed it."
The hard-earned epiphany that followed was not the realization of this man's character, but the realization that I had ascribed far too much to this man (and his character). Pastors and priests are not conduits of Christ. They are not infallible mouth-pieces with a direct line to Jesus. They are but men (and women) who have a belief in a certain type of God as well as a certain concept regarding service to this God, and as a result of a particular facility with words and social charisma they then proceed to inform people of these ideas. But still, they are simply men. As such, and as a result of their station, they are more than vulnerable to fault, temptation, over-analysis and, sadly, error.
The true error, however, was my own. I had equated church and pastor with God, likened them as the same. Unfortunately there are many others just like me who continue to make the same kind of error...they occupy the many pews across the land and file into sanctuary every Sunday just like I did. I pray they learn the truth, as I feel I did. I just hope it will not be as painful for them as it was for me.
But I have no regrets. Though it was a harsh lesson, my spirituality would never have evolved and transcended without my learning it.
I no longer attend church. For a long while after this incident I could not stand to be near other "Christians." I would place each type of believer in a certain category, i.e., the starry eyed Christian who really doesn't say much save for regurgitating examples of God's goodness, and the dogmatic Christian who has a distinct inability to discuss religion, philosophy, science or politics without having to reconcile it with his Bible. (God help him if he cannot!) I'd get so disgruntled with the obvious limitations of these types of characters that I forgot to see them as simple people. People whom Christ loves autonomous of and despite my bitterness toward church and laity.
My goal is to one day be able to re-enter the congregational community. With sincerity, with a true desire to be there. I labor now in my personal work, and grab for myself snatches of God in and amongst my day, without the infrastructure and support of an organized group. Sometimes I miss the church, especially the people with whom I enjoyed a genuine connection. And I miss the music, very much. I have given up singing altogether. But I am accepting of my present faith-status. I realize, at last, that the situation that followed my father's death was a necessary evil I had to overcome. Had I not experienced it, felt it and assimilated it into my spirit, I would have never grown outside the limited faith life in which I had languished for too long.
So thank God for the shortcomings of men, even that man. (Should I say especially that man?) And although church in and of itself is a somewhat antiquated notion, and one that presently holds little appeal to me, I admit it can at times serve a rather noble purpose, and act as a vehicle to an individual's personal enlightenment.
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