Friday, 10 February 2012

Love Jesus, Hate Religion, Tickled By People

There's a poem by Jefferson Bethke, Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus, gone viral on the internet in the past month. Especially amongst church teenage groups. Most of whom were brought up in church. What I would call 'religious kids'. You have to smile.

Also fun are some of the responses to the video. Religious people giving religious responses which mostly show that they just don't get it. You can see a good selection in a post on the Sojourners' God's Politics blog, Follow The Meme: lots of sincere people making lots of good points in defense of their religions.

I think one job of a poet is to make people think: Bethke has clearly succeeded in that. Another job is to move readers into seeing a different perspective, a bigger picture. The responses linked to above don't really seem to do that: they just stay defensively hunkered down in their old perspective. That's a shame. It's not Bethke's fault, it's just how these responders choose to react.

What Bethke's poem fails to do, in my view, is to help the opposite pole see a bigger picture. It challenges those inside the religious establishment to look beyond their walls, but I see no challenge to those outside the church to look inside: to see past the stereotypes, the media headlines, the loudmouth spokespeople, and to see the mostly-ordinary men and women trying to live out their faith together in the day-to-day realities of life.

Nick Mason, on his blog New Ways Forward, recently wrote an article about the need for us to define ourselves more by what we affirm and less by what we oppose:
Eventually we must break away from the pull of finding our identity in conflict and opposition, and be for something.

There will be things that need to be spoken out against from time to time, but perhaps it is more important, and more effective, if we spend our energy creating something beautiful, powerful, and transformative.
Eric Metaxas, at last week's US National Prayer Breakfast, gave a long (although entertaining) illustration of the positive side of the difference between religiosity and active faith that comes from the heart, using the examples of Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer.

There are around about a dozen churches here in Caversham, filled every Sunday with lovely people singing and praying to God. Meanwhile there are around about another thirty thousand people who are not doing this, and who don't see any meaning or relevance for such activities in their lives. The church-goers are focussed on their church, as an organisation, as a building, as a set of practices and behaviours which they find helpful, even life-giving; the church-abstainers wonder what they are on about.

What would Church look like if it was for the thirty thousand? How could Jesus be embodied in the lives and fellowship of those who need something more, or at least something different?

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