Today as I sat in church I was struck by the thought “don’t let religion divide us.” I am not sure why that came to me so strongly but there it was and it kept repeating itself until it was rooted in my mind.
There have been wars about territory, water rights, expansion of empires, money and whatever else. There have also been wars over religion. The middle east (or the fertile crescent) has changed hands so many times. Mostly is has been about territory but religion was involved. The fertile crescent had many different religions over the centuries but the Jewish worship of one god persisted.
As Christianity grew it encountered other faiths and prevailed over most of the ones in Europe. A form of the Jewish faith moved south and morphed into Islam with Mohammad.
During the middle ages Christianity and Islam battled in Spain and the Holy Land. The crusades were launched to recover the Holy Land. Many died in this conflict.
Later Christianity became obsessed with itself and the Inquisition had many innocents slaughtered in the name of religion.
Conflict rose again with the protestant reformation and Catholic and reform groups both suffered.
Religion has added prejudices to the ones about skin color, nationality, and anything that makes someone “other.” Now there is much disagreement among Christian denominations.
If we add the widening influence to other cultures and their faiths: Buddhism, Hinduism and many others we now have a world with religions bumping into each other everywhere.
I think all of this leads me back to my original thought. Do not let religion divide us. It already has with Islamic extremists planning death to “infidels,” fighting between India and Pakistan and conflict almost everywhere.
I love the God that I believe in and I don’t think that his/her intention is for us to slaughter each others over our faith. Instead we are called to love everyone. We are told to turn the other cheek. We are not told to murder others because of their beliefs. God is greater than us and his plan is beyond our understanding. Please Lord, help us not to kill each other over religion.
Recently one of my favorite bloggers ( afracturedfaith ) wrote about difficulty in finding a church where you feel at home. It started me thinking about this. Since 1976 I have been in a church that felt like home. From 1976 to around 1997. At that point I was working with the minister of the church and found myself with ethical differences and joined the church I was working for. I felt at home there until they ended my job and now am struggling to see where I belong.
I asked myself what made me feel at home in the first church and I think part of the answer is the people. They were welcoming and caring. I also think it was a place where I fit in socially. Probably a lame reason but it helped me feel comfortable. The progress toward being at home came as I connected myself to the things going on. I joined the women’s group, helped with Sunday School and just generally made myself a part of the group.
With the second church I was part of the staff which automatically made me comfortable. However, it was the people who made me a part of the church family. I worked through 8 pastors so who was in charge was not a part of my belonging. It didn’t seem to matter.
Bottom line ….it seems that for me the people are the primary reason why I feel a part of a church. There are certain other things that matter to me. I like liturgy so churches like Lutheran, Episcopal etc. fit me better. I like the beauty of the service. That doesn’t matter to some people and they prefer a different kind of service. A church service can be boring if you don’t feel moved by what is happening. That is not all the time but once in a while the whole package gets to some place inside.
The question is can you be a Christian without going to church. In my opinion yes….but. It is a very BIG but. As Christians we are called to service. Living a Christ-like life is what we are to do. It is not easy but we must work to get better at it day by day. That means we can’t be Christian in isolation. Just to sit and read the Bible is not following Christ. Christ did belong to a community. He belonged and loved others.
Church may not be the answer for everyone but when you read Christ’s word make sure you are following his only commandment.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He also gave us the great commission in Matthew 28:19
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
I grew up in an era where church was important. Most of the USA were church goers. That doesn’t mean that they were really Christians but they went to church. Which church people attended was sometimes chosen for social reasons. Going to church on Sunday was just what you did.
In my family we had a mixture. My father (of Scottish decent) and mother were Presbyterian. My grandparents were Methodist and my Aunt and Uncle (of German origins) were Lutheran. It didn’t seem strange to me that everyone in my family went somewhere different. The one thing that was understood was that we all had Christianity as our roots. Of all the family my grandmother’s faith was rock solid. She read the Bible every day and prayed faithfully. She also was the perfect example of Christian living. I never heard her speak against anyone, she gave generously, and was kind to all.
Because of this upbringing I grew up believing in and depending on God. Because of all the different examples before me I questioned often, read extensively and never felt constrained by doctrine. I was free to find my path. I think being able to explore helped me to never stop believing in God. God was never static for me.. God was and is bigger than any box anyone ever tried to put him/her/it in.
Today people are exploring God/spirituality in many different ways. Church is no longer the norm. There are many reasons why this has happened. Most of us explore during out formative years. Maybe they find a different path. The path of other faiths may draw them. I only hope that the path each person takes gives them the strength that I find in mine.
My belief is the thing that holds me up when things are not good. I turn to that faith and rest on it. It gives me strength to keep moving on and has done so for 77 years. People help to sustain my life and reflect God’s image to me often but this doesn’t stand alone. I don’t know what people hold on to who have no faith to turn to. Maybe they don’t need one. It certainly wouldn’t work for me. “God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46)
There are many kinds of Christians. We are divided into so many denominations that I don’t think I could come close to naming them all. Even amongst denominations there is dissension. Most religions have people who see their faith in different ways. As a Christian it is interesting to me how we can spend as much time being upset about other Christians than we are about other faiths. We are busy telling others what they are doing wrong.
We know from history that there have been many wars fought over religion. It is sad that our perception of God can divide us so. Most faiths have extremists. It is certainly true of Christianity and it is obvious to us in Islam. Interestingly enough some of the ideas of Muslim and Christian extremists and the same. I don’t know that I have ever met a Buddhist extremist but I guess it is possible. How much damage is done in the name of religion.
God must weep over our ignorance and obstinance. We want to force our ideas on others. After all, what we believe has to be right! Why can’t we accept that we don’t all think alike or believe the same things?
(side note: I have just discovered that spell check doesn’t know the words amongst and obstinance)
We will never have peace in the world as long as we want everyone to think that same. We are not robots. God created us to be individuals.