Faith Forum: How would you finish the sentence ‘Religion isn’t ...’ ?

The Rev. Mitch Todd, associate pastor, First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt.:

Religion isn’t for everybody. There are folks out there (my best friend is one) for whom religion just doesn’t seem to “fit.” I could argue with him, screaming “Join or die!,” or I could respect his own carefully considered opinion. I choose the latter.

Maybe religion isn’t for you. (Why are you reading the religion page?) If religion really isn’t your thing, I’ll do my best to leave you alone. But first, ask yourself what’s bothering you.

Is it hypocrisy? If you don’t like hypocrisy, I won’t blame you one bit. And you can find hypocrites in all sorts of religions. Or is it guilt? I mean, who wants to be weighed down by guilt? Lots of religions thrive on guilt. Maybe you’re tired of bureaucracy and politics. Maybe you’re fed up with sex scandals or money grubbers. Maybe you tried religion, but it was boring and tedious. These are all excellent reasons to be turned off by … other human beings.

These are not qualities of religions. They’re qualities of people! The same crazy, sinful, troubled people that you pass on the street each day. The same kinds of problems you see on the nightly news. People carry them into their religions, too. You’d think that being part of a religion would make people instantly into better people, but it rarely works that way, and very seldom do all the people involved “evolve” at the same rate.

So why is religion for anybody? Because when it works, when you keep at it, the results are spectacular. In a healthy faith community people learn to sin less and love more. They work to change unjust systems, including their own. People struggle towards a God-given goal, together.

Religion isn’t for everybody. For me, it’s the challenge of a lifetime.

— Send e-mail to Mitch Todd at mitch@fumclawrence.org.

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The Rev. Joanna Harader, pastor, Peace Mennonite Church, 615 Lincoln St.:

Religion isn’t just in your head. True, religion is based on a set of beliefs, but for truly religious people, those beliefs deeply influence actions. Your most deeply held beliefs will impact who you are and what you do.

Religion isn’t certainty of belief. Many — probably most — deeply religious people live with doubts.

Religion isn’t about you. Religion is actually an acknowledgment that the world does not revolve around you.

Religion isn’t meant to be convenient. Orthodox Jews might want to drive their car on Shabbat, but they don’t. Muslims might be in the middle of something when it is time for Salah, but they stop and pray anyway. The people at Peace Mennonite on any given Sunday could have slept in, but they got up and came to church. The commitments and practices of a religious life are engaged in for reasons other than immediate gratification.

Religion isn’t beyond critique. We should examine and question religious teachings. The fact that your pastor or imam or rabbi says something is right doesn’t necessarily make it right.

Religion isn’t a ticket to heaven. I do not claim to know much about heaven, but I feel confident in saying that St. Peter will not hand you a religious checklist before you get into the pearly gates. “Oh, gee, too bad. You worshipped on Friday nights — the correct day is Sunday. If you would please step through that door marked exit and just take those stairs down.”

Religion isn’t an excuse to act hateful. If you hate gay people, by all means carry a sign that says “I Hate Gay People.” Don’t blame your ignorant prejudices on God.

Religion isn’t something to kill for. Something to die for? In certain historical moments, yes. But never something to kill for.

— Send e-mail to Joanna Harader at peacemennonite@gmail.com.

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