Religious? …..not for me, thanks!
I’m not religious. I just want to be “a regular human being.”
For some people that remark will appear more than a little odd. “After all,” they may say, “you’re a clergyman, so you are bound to be ‘religious’.” That’s understandable, but it arises because we live with a modern fallacy that supposes that there is an area of human life called “religious” or “religion.” The Bible does not embrace that mistake and the word only appears 5 or 6 times in the New Testament and not at all in the Old Testament .
For the Jew all human life was seen as being lived in the presence of God, whether it was buying a piece of land or property, loving one’s partner, having a party, travelling, or going to the synagogue or making the annual journey to the Temple. All life was sacred; for God was involved in every part of life. Modern Western society thinks that certain things are “secular” and others are “sacred” or “religious.”
So, what does it mean therefore to be “a regular human being?”
I believe that the best answer to that question is given to us by God himself when he became a human being. He accepted a human name, “Jesus,” and lived a human life. It was a life shared with his disciples that was - among other things- loving, stimulating, challenging, risky, politically dangerous and sacrificial. Jesus was in fact killed because he was seen as a threat to the status quo of society.
Towards the end of his life, Jesus told his disciples that he was like a vine and they were like branches of the vine. (John’s Gospel Chapter 15). He was simply using the vine picture because it was something with which they were all very familiar. They knew only too well that if the branches are to bear grapes they must remain in the vine. If they get cut off there will be no fruit. Likewise Jesus tells his disciples quite plainly that separated from him they will achieve precisely nothing (Jn. 15.v.5). That truth is still relevant today and modern disciples need the support, challenge and discipline of the Christian fellowship to live and develop our human lives.
Jesus never spelled out precisely what the fruit would be that would result from his spirit living in them, but Paul wrote to the church in Galatia (Modern Turkey) and he spoke of the quality of the fruit that comes from being indwelt by the life of Jesus. (Gal.5:22-23) “The fruit of the spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self Control. And whenever we are tempted to think that “religion” is a bit remote and specialized or something rather exotic and exciting in the corner of our lives, we ought to say to ourselves in a mantra type way: love, joy, peace, patience….bog standard human goodness.
It seems that all this is about the sort of humanity we are living out. How do you stay human? What connects you with other people? What gives you basic joy? What are the things that help you unwind? What are things that remind you that you are profoundly special and not special at all in another sense? What reminds you that you are a regular human being at the end of the day? Because the two great temptations are:- a) to buy into other people’s projections about you so that you never really know who you are and then b) to get preoccupied with trying to fulfill what you think are expectations of efficiency and effectiveness that you leave no room for God’s agenda to intervene. These are the greatest enemies to being human.
So then we all need to know what truly helps us to keep human in our living. This is where the Christian Fellowship or the Church is meant to help. It is not a refuge for the self-righteous, but a community of seekers who are trying to discover how to “abide in the Vine” and produce that nine-fold fruit that St Paul shared with the Galatian Christians.
Article by Gerald Hughes
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