Religion Free Jesus?

So religion has hurt you. Its sometimes exclusionary practices which separate pure from impure, holy from profane have left you emotionally bankrupt and feeling alienated. You are angry at those social structures that seem to disrupt your ability to feel spiritually whole and practice a set of beliefs your religion no longer seems to allow within its walls. You are likely hurt and embittered. In short you are resentful of religion and the structures of power it represents.

One response has been to dump religion in order to excise the object of resentment itself. If I still love Jesus as I see him but resent the religions that seem to shackle him, and as a consequence shackle me, then all I need to do is get rid of religion and all is well. I have seen this kind of response among disenfranchised fundamentalists, evangelicals, Catholics, etc. Emergents, progressives, liberals, outlaw preachers and many others have found safe spaces of people seeking the same thing: a place to worship Jesus without the chains of religion.

The result hasn’t turned out very well. Once we get rid of all religious practice and deconstruct religion before flushing it down the toilet of discontent, what are we left with? The task has been to reconstruct a religion free Jesus based on a pastiche of inconsistent ideas and practices snatched from numerous religious traditions. The outcome is a tradition free muddle of a religion grasping for a Jesus identical to those who just reconstructed him. They abandon the numerous traditions that have held his presence and narrative for ages proposing a collage as something new.

It hasn’t worked. Jesus himself was very religious. He valued the ideas and practices outlined and often dictated in the Torah. He wasn’t a revolutionary as much as a zealot seeking to purify Judaism to what he understood to be its true form and practice. He didn’t resent a religion and a Roman political system that mocked and killed him in far more horrific ways than most of what any disenfranchised Christian might claim has happened to them. He loved them. We might say he tried to love true religion, true Judaism, into existence.

There is something important in Protestant circles in particular that was thrown out in the Reformers great anti-Papist zeal: tradition. What i have realized as a Protestant for many years is that tradition itself has never been my ball and chain of suffering or spiritual hunger. I thought it was, but I was looking for something to blame. The problem is my resentment of tradition for not giving me what I want when I want it. The source of my victimization and feelings of exclusion are because of a choice. I hurt and needed to blame someone or something for my feelings of spiritual bankruptcy. I was the problem, not the church.

You may say, “Well you are a white, privileged, straight, educated male so I can’t hold that story.” I am that to many even if I choose not to rely on such a stark list of specific qualities which distort a much more complex interior life. That I can’t control. But I can control something far more universal and that is my interior life. Christian traditions for centuries before the Reformation or even the Great Schism of 1054 have focused on the importance of union with God through contemplation and discipline and with works of charity and love. Tradition and living a liturgical life were assumed to be the background informing the journey into God. This has been the center of the Eastern churches regardless of status, race, language etc. We are more than what we think we are.

Perhaps we spend so much effort trying to change things around us that bother us that we miss the critical point of contact to heal even our deepest wounds – our interior life. Rather than run from hurt, fear, and anger down by maintaining our victimhood, why not sit with these feelings, suffer patiently, and love ourselves and those who hurt us in the moment. We can only let go of something we have embraced. In these moments is where God enters our humility to heal us.

No matter the source of pain, this is a choice. Victims refuse to let go of pain. Warriors embrace it for what it is and allow it to go when it has taught them what they need to know. Choosing the path of the warrior might lead you back to the only Jesus we can truly know – the religious Jesus.

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