Drowning in Religion? Truth Walks Out to Meet You

Drowning in Religion? Truth Walks Out to Meet You May 13, 2024

Religion is meant to support you like the sea floating a boat. But sometimes religion gets stormy. Is there a way to survive the storm?

Jesus rescuing drowning Peter
Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Jesus is a disrupter. He overturns the tables of ideology, refuses to participate in empire, and dismantles the dominant worldview. By contrast, religion as usual offers easy answers, a status quo, and a patriotic piety that makes people easy to control. No wonder so many people take the wide and easy path of religion, instead of the narrow path of Jesus! When religion is your worldview, you don’t have to question your inherited perspectives; you accept them unquestioningly. But Jesus, unlike religion, calls us to something greater.

 

Religion is an Emperor with No Clothes

Over the past few years, plenty of folks like yourself have seen religion for what it is—an emperor with no clothes. You’ve watched the religious right support a US President whose personality is the antithesis of the Jesus whom they claim to follow. And, you’ve read articles about sexual abuse and misogyny in the church. You’ve learned the history of Indigenous children ripped away from their families to be “re-educated” in Christian residential schools, only to die without family and to be buried in unmarked graves. And you’ve heard your religious friends insist that “all lives matter,” refusing to acknowledge the cry of those who simply need their plight recognized by those in power. Frankly, you feel sick from it all. You barely admit it to yourself even—but secretly you’ve wondered if you can still believe everything your church and parents taught you growing up.

 

Deconstructing, Like the Disciples

You’re not alone. Countless Christians are deconstructing their faith, just like the apostles before them. Yes, you’re in good company—Jesus’s first disciples plunged deep into the waters of deconstruction when they decided to follow him. They may have begun by privately questioning mercantilism in the temple, yet they accepted it as the way things were, and never acted on their misgivings. But then Jesus flipped the script (and the tables) and challenged the economics of religion.

The disciples had capitulated to the racism and sexism taught by their leaders. But then Jesus intentionally changed his course so he could care for one Samaritan woman at a well. Their religion taught them that traditionalism was the only way. But then Jesus told them that God doesn’t care about cultic formulas, but only wants people to worship in spirit and truth.

The disciples grew up steeped in nationalism, but here came Jesus, doing miracles for their compatriots and enemies/oppressors alike. They never questioned the cruelty of ableism, but Jesus enabled people with disabilities and healed their bodies and minds. The disciples’ religion taught them to be moralistic, but Jesus told “sinners” that he didn’t condemn them and defended them against their accusers.

 

When You’re Drowning in Religion…

With all this change, the disciples’ minds were reeling, just like yours. Your brain can only take so much before it starts to feel like you’re tossed back and forth on the waves. Deconstructing your faith to see what you really believe is challenging work. That’s why the book of James suggests it’s better (easier) not to doubt–but for those who do doubt, growth will come. The water will get choppy, but when you’re drowning in religion, Truth walks out to meet you. John 6:16-19 (NIV) says:

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 

When the waters of religion grow rough, here comes Jesus! When you’re dismantling old worldviews and building new ones, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the choppy waters and the One who made them. Religion becomes scary, and your faith gets rocked, threatening to sink. But remember—religion is not God. God is God. And God comes to you, walking on water.

 

Truth Walks Out to Meet You

Jesus walks above religion. He doesn’t get bogged down by it. He doesn’t sink into it, and won’t be owned by it. And for those raised fundamentalist, Jesus’s supremacy over religion itself can be frightening. Because he breaks all the laws you were trained to believe. The disciples had cut their teeth on the law of Moses, but earth-shattering freedom and truth came from Jesus. This wave-walking, grace-talking Jesus was messing with their mindsets. And even though they needed this kind of deconstruction, it terrified them.

 

Resting in The-God-Who-Is-Now

Verse 20 says, “But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Jesus changed everything by speaking God’s name to their doubts. “It is I” in the Greek New Testament is “Ego eimi,” or “I am.”  With these words, the disciples could not help but recall the Divine Name, as God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. I Am is the God who comes to us on the waters of discord, disruption, and deconstruction, and tells us not to be afraid. Not “I was” or “I will be,” but I Am is the ever-present One who calls us to practice present mindfulness. Resting in the God-Who-Is-Now gives us the space to breathe, even when as we dismantle our worldview and rethink religion as we know it.

 

Taking Jesus into Your Boat

Next, the Gospel writer says, “Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading (v. 21).” Practicing mindfulness creates a willingness to take Jesus into your boat. It helps you take your eyes off the rough waters of religion and focus only on the One who can walk on top of all that. It’s okay to reject the fear-based teachings you received, the manipulations of moralism, and attachment to empire-building. You must let go of these things to bring Jesus into your boat. And only when you do that can you reach the shore where you’re heading.

 

Practicing Mindfulness

So, how do you practice mindfulness in this context? When your tables are overturned and you find yourself overwhelmed by religion and questioning doctrines, take a step back from it all. Acknowledge that these things are religious human-made formulas and that Jesus walks above them. Don’t fight them, but see them for what they are. Close your eyes and listen to the voice of the One who powerfully says, “I Am.”  Then, echo those words back to the wave-walker. When you repeat, “I Am,” you are speaking the name of God, and simultaneously reminding yourself to rest, and simply be present in this moment. Let those words transform you until you’re done with religion and focused only on Jesus. Because, contrary to what you’ve heard, religion doesn’t save.

 

Unlearning and Relearning

It isn’t easy to deconstruct and reconstruct your faith. It took years for the disciples to unlearn what they’d been taught and learn the way of Jesus. Unfortunately, a large part of the Church has gotten so far from the Way of Jesus that it must now go through the same sort of rethinking. The good news is that you’re not alone. Others have done it before and are doing so now. Don’t be afraid when you peer through the storm and see a Jesus that looks different than the religious one you’re used to. Because when you’re drowning in religion, Truth walks out to meet you.

 

For related reading, check out my other articles:

 

About Gregory T. Smith
I live in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia and work in northern Washington State as a behavioral health specialist with people experiencing homelessness and those who are overly involved in the criminal justice system. Before that, I spent over a quarter-century as lead pastor of several Virginia churches. My newspaper column, “Spirit and Truth” ran in Virginia newspapers for fifteen years. I am one of fourteen contributing authors of the Patheos/Quoir Publishing book “Sitting in the Shade of another Tree: What We Learn by Listening to Other Faiths.” I hold a degree in Religious Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, and also studied at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. My wife Christina and I have seven children between us, and we are still collecting grandchildren. You can read more about the author here.
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