Christianity: Ritualistic Religion vs. Relationship

I’ve never liked the term ‘religious’.  For me that invokes mindless rituals and a lack of personal interaction with God.  Sort of a Monday through Saturday apathy, but a false piousness on Sunday when people are looking.  I don’t like that.  For me, Christianity is a relationship- and it’s not about being in a specific place on a specific day.  Going to a shoe store doesn’t make me a shoe.  Going to church doesn’t make me a Christian.  What I do seven days a week makes more of a difference than whether or not I show up at a specified building on Sunday.  Yet I can’t ‘do’ anything to earn heaven.

I grew up in an evangelical church, and for me it was a great experience. The other kids were fun, the youth groups were active and kept us busy with activities and ‘field trips’, and the chaperones were generally goofy enough to not be embarrassing adults, but grown up enough to keep us from getting killed. The senior high choir even did week long tours during Spring Break to Kentucky and Washington, DC, and everybody came back in one piece. We had fun.

The teaching part was also a positive experience.  None of the pastors hollered. I don’t like to be hollered at. If someone wants me to listen, they have to treat me like my ears work, and I’m not in trouble before they even get started. Hollering is punitive to me. Normal volume gets my attention.  Just about everybody who had a pastoral position had a great sense of humor- that was also crucial. I didn’t want to sit through an hour long service with someone that sounded constipated and annoyed.  During the time I went to that church, I was lucky.  Humor was intact.  I learned a lot.

Sunday School teachers were also great role models. I remember several of mine. I even taught kindergarten Sunday School for a while, and it was a lot of fun. We had the curricula all spelled out, and projects to help reinforce the lessons.  There was singing, and with little kids, a fair amount of hugs. One of ‘my’ kids came from a moderately rough background. Her mom wasn’t in the picture much, and I was near the same age as her mom.  She tended to hang out with me a bit closer than the other kids.  I still have her school photo from 1984.

People who don’t grow up in a church often think that TV ‘Christians’ are representative of all of us.  Um, NO !  There is no magic handkerchief, or vial of oil (probably Crisco), or need for someone to pray on my behalf.  I’ve got the direct number. It’s “Hey, God?” 🙂 , or “Oh, Lord” 😮 – depending on the tone of the prayer or conversation.  I don’t always get very formal- sometimes I’m even sort of ticked off. God can handle my anger. He can handle my frustration and He WANTS to hear about my pain.  The Psalms are full of examples of David’s pain- and God used  him to be the lineage from which Jesus was born.  Check out YouTube and Amy Grant’s ‘Better Than A Hallelujah’… we don’t have to follow rules to pray and be heard! Just be open, and let God know what’s going on. Good or bad.

TV preachers don’t work for me for the most part. There are exceptions, but the ones nobody has ever heard of except for the people awake during the 3:00 a.m. time slot used to  suck money out of the desperate and disenfranchised are pitiful in my opinion. But that’s just me.  God gets to judge their hearts, and He holds preachers and teachers of the Bible to a higher standard than us regular folks.   God judging hearts- that’s good news in my book.  What humans think of me is pretty irrelevant, though I’d want nothing more than to be a good representative of Christ- but in the long run, it’s God who will judge me. NO human’s opinion even comes close.

Judgement and being a Christian aren’t the same thing. Becoming a Christian is a choice. It’s an actual ‘event’ of praying to ask for forgiveness, believing that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and rose again- and He’s coming back one day. That isn’t something that gets ‘revoked’.  People can choose to develop a stronger relationship with Christ- or not.  And nobody does it perfectly. People ‘backslide’ (fall away from their spiritual teachings and beliefs).  I routinely ask for forgiveness for stuff I do.  I will be judged one day before God- but my salvation is secure. My judgement won’t be the same as someone who has refused to accept Jesus.

I was also lucky to have a summer camp to go to as a kid for week long sessions. Between the summers before my senior year in high school and  freshmen year in college, and half of the following summer, I worked there as a nature counselor (and a few weeks of ‘cabin’ counseling).  Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, WI was SO much fun- and is still a very important part of my spiritual ‘roots’. People there lived what they talked.  It wasn’t put on for show. We believed what we talked about. For those of us who worked there, it was how we all lived, for weeks on end.  The immersion in 24/7 Christianity out in the open was special.  It wasn’t a ‘real life’ setting- but it was a huge blessing to have had those times there, whether as a kid going to camp, or a summer staff member.  I met people there that I’m still in contact with, and they haven’t become ‘less’ solid in their Christianity when nobody is looking…they were and are solid examples of loving Christians.  We do exist!  But we’re not perfect.

I’m not someone who spends a lot of time talking openly about my beliefs. I think as a nurse, I became less likely to just open up about God. When I was working,  I was at work to take care of patients, not preach.  (And, it could get me fired; being an example of kindness could do more than verbally ‘Bible-thumping’ someone)  It was that way for all religions.  If a patient mentioned something I also agreed with, I did smile and say I agreed. But that was pretty much the limit that was allowed.  I did support patients in their beliefs. For example, an orthodox Jewish patient needed matches (or a lighter) to light candles when his rabbi came on Friday nights. I had no problem finding those for him.  I took trays with pork products back to the kitchen at a nursing home for a Muslim resident.  I didn’t have to believe the same thing to be respectful.  I didn’t see that as a threat to my beliefs.

For me, Christianity is a relationship with God.  I’m physically limited as far as getting to an actual church building, but there is nothing wrong with my ability to read the Bible, pray, and have ‘general’ conversations with God.  I guess it’s a fine line between that and praying, but there’s communication.  I’ve read through the entire Bible a couple of times so I could see for myself what’s in there (and the study notes I had). Mostly what I learned is that I still have a lot to learn.

I also learned that it’s not my job to cram Christianity down anybody’s throat. It’s not my job to be offensive in my beliefs.  Being a Christian isn’t about ‘making’ someone believe something.  To me, it’s more about being willing to tell someone what I believe, and hopefully living in such a way that I don’t push people away.  The Bible is clear about being gentle in one’s approach to nonbelievers.  That gets missed a lot when the sensationalistic preachers are interviewed for TV, or taped as they holler on the streets.

Christ is about love.  John 3:16 is a common verse, and talks about how God sent His only Son to die for our sins and give us eternal life if we believe Him. What gets missed is John 3:17- that God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved…. there are so many more references in the Bible about love in regards to God and Jesus than there are about judgement and condemnation. Will God judge those who reject Him?  Yep… but He also isn’t cramming Himself down anyone’s throat….it’s a personal choice.  Free will.  If you don’t want Him, that’s up to you.

Religious rituals aren’t paths to salvation. It doesn’t take much to repeat an action without thought behind it.  A relationship is personal.  It’s voluntary and individualized.  I much prefer a relationship with  God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   I don’t ‘do’ Christianity exactly the same as someone else, and they don’t do ‘my’ Christianity either- which is the beauty of a relationship.  The big things are belief and faith.  Those are relatively simple decisions.  And continuing to aspire to be the type of believer that will please God is also a decision. I might not get it perfect all the time, but God does know my heart, and that is very reassuring.

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