When I was growing up, and people asked about my religion, I would parrot the phrase I’d heard from countless well-meaning pastors, Sunday school teachers, and friends. You know the one…
“It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship.”
Then, there’s the viral video that’s been going around lately. I’m sure you’ve seen it making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and the Blogosphere:
(side note: for an excellent response to this video, check out Elizabeth Esther’s blog!)
I know what those phrases are trying to imply, and, to some extent, I agree with the spirit fueling them. Religion carries a highly negative connotation in our culture. Rather than wrestling with the definition of religion and working to change these negative connotations, it’s easier to distant ourselves from religion without trying to understand it.
But what if religion isn’t as bad as we think it is?
In fact, what if religion and a love for Jesus are inextricable?
How we answer those questions depends on how we define religion. That’s not the world’s easiest task. I’m in a class now called Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, and we spent most of today’s class discussing our definitions of “religion” and “spirituality.” Even when trying to come up with a broad definition, answers varied, and if we tried to paint pictures of what religion looks like in practice, we could fill museum after museum.
One man in our class discussion described it as this: “Spirituality (which I believe the idea of “loving Jesus” falls under) is like the act of getting into shape. Religion is like joining a gym in order to get into shape.”
I might describe it this way, “Spirituality is an emotional love for Jesus. Religion is an active love.”
We can disagree on the semantics. I understand that the term “religion” has seriously negative connotations, and using the term might scare people away and shut down conversation. I won’t argue with you if you feel the need to drop the word. But don’t just repeat these “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!” without stopping to think about what they mean to you.
Yes, relationship with Jesus is important, but…
If we want a relationship with Jesus, we have to do.
Not just be in love with Jesus.
If I love my partner, Abe, I’ll feel attraction for him. I’ll want to be with him and get to know him. I’ll be in love with him.
I’ll also do things for him. I’ll schedule time out of my busy college schedule to spend with him. I’ll compliment him and let him know I appreciate him. I’ll celebrate important days–birthdays, anniversaries, etc.–with him. I’ll wash his dishes while he’s at work. I’ll meet his friends–I’ll learn to love the people who he loves. I’ll love him.
Relationships are about action, not just desire. That action will look different in every relationship, just as different people approach religion in different ways. But if I “love me some Jesus,” then I’m going to do things for Jesus. I’m going to love the people that Jesus loves. I’m going to help him accomplish his task of redeeming a hurting, broken world. I’m going to embrace rituals and ceremonies and organizations that bring me closer to him and that provide an outlet for me to love his people.
This “love for Jesus” that so many evangelical churches support seems like the immature love of a 13-year-old girl scribbling on a bathroom wall a heart and the name of her crush.
I’m tired of settling for that shallow, intangible, romantic emotion of being in love with Jesus.
Let’s get off our asses and love.