In the following, what I present is an interpretation from a finite, limited perspective (obviously). Like all of us, I’m presenting a narrative—not a mathematical equation. What any reader wants to make of it is up to them. This post is for people who believe there is more to existence, ontologically speaking, than just the physical/material. If you believe the physical/material is all that exists, great, but look elsewhere to opine or argue. This post is for Christians or those who believe in some sort of transcendence/spirituality. I am speaking from a Christian perspective.
A natural response to my last post may have been, “So how do we then live?” Does my post mean we don’t need to go to church, pray, read our Bibles, etc.? Does it mean letting go the name, “Christian,” and simply calling one’s self a child of God? What?
Well, no. I don’t think it means any of those things. The paradox of Christ being the end of religion is that we live out that truth…religiously. I’m using the word “religion” in its more original meaning however, not in the historical, cultural, or social sense that is as varied and wide as the commentators discussing it.
The word’s origins carry the meaning to “bind fast,” or “go through again.” Since then, of course, it has continued to mean much more and many different things to different people. When I say we paradoxically live out the truth of Christ being the end of religion, “religiously,” I mean it in the sense carried by the word’s original use and derivation.
To live in the Real, to try and live in alignment or harmony with the way things truly are, at their core, ontologically, takes discipline because we still live East of Eden. It is hard to see the Real or experience it because our brokenness and the brokenness of the world create barriers to it. Our false selves and the masks we wear blind us to its presence.
So, we “bind fast.” And we “go through again,” so that we, together, can begin to live in the Real. We cannot do this by ourselves. We are too weak. We must bind ourselves together and go through this together again, and again. None of us can shed our masks and false selves, by ourselves. The whole problem is we can’t truly see ourselves. It is in our interaction with others where we begin, or are able, to hear the false notes.
Think of a musical band. If I’m only playing by myself, it can often sound fine. However, put me in a group of other musicians and I can begin to hear my wrong notes or the fact I am out of tune or harmony. Together, we tune to a common tuning. We begin to follow the lead of those we realize have more skill and knowledge—who know how the tune is to be played. We get together. We bind fast. We practice, over and over, we go through it again. From the top folks, let’s try it again. That’s what we do each week.
When we gather to worship, pray, fast, follow the church calendar, inhabit the liturgy, practice the disciplines, and perform acts of mercy and charity, we are putting ourselves in a place to shed our masks and false selves. We are learning to play in the band. We are practicing the songs of love, peace, joy, redemption, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. The name of our band is hospitality. All are welcome. Every person plays an instrument or sings a song; they just don’t always know in what manner or form they do it yet. They may be an accountant or homeless person; it doesn’t matter.
Look, everyone is religious. Everyone. The atheist is religious. In the sense I am speaking, to be human is to be religious. Whether we call it brokenness or sin, every person has a sense of something they want to avoid being or doing. More importantly, to put it positively, they have a picture of what they want to become, be, and do.
And they gather (in coffee shops, bars, parks, wilderness, lakes, concerts, sports arenas, social media, etc.) with like-minded people to help them do that. They have books, songs, and other artistic works (icons) they share to encourage and educate each other. They have their own practices and liturgy, even if no god or divinity is mentioned.
There is no escape from this, even if one’s liturgy is a bottle of Jack or syringe of heroin. Even if one’s liturgy is the political platform, an ideology, sports, shopping, movies, gaming, fishing, or hunting. They too gather with the like-minded on a regular basis and perform their rituals and sacred performances. This is what we do. All of us. What do you mean, there is no God? There are thousands it would appear, a myriad.
Many have pointed out how for us Americans, consuming is our identity, money is our god, and our shopping malls or Amazons are our sacred temples of worship. Thus, don’t differentiate one’s self from the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim as “religious.” Look in the mirror. The secular humanist, the atheist, the agnostic is as religious as the rest of us. We all have a liturgy, we all bind together and go through together, we all have a philosophy, sacred spaces, writings, cultural loves, icons, and practices. We all have our heroes or…saints. We all live by faith.
As noted in my prior post, Christ is the end of religion—meaning, religion as a false self and mask. However, we take leave of those selves and masks by “religiously,” binding together and going through together. We practice. We play our instruments together until we get the song right. What I’m speaking of isn’t religion, at least not as far as its common understanding.
No, it’s life East of Eden and it’s where we all live now as we journey in this life. It’s the boulevard of broken dreams; the abode of nighthawks. We are all just trying to move on, to leave the falseness, the constant hiding. Life, the Real, patiently awaits us.
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