There are two ways to be religious as a Christian.

The first way seeks to build walls and create boundaries using rigid doctrinal dogmas, rituals, and rules so that it can be clarified who is IN and who is OUT. Who is accepted, and who is rejected. Who is in the right, and who is in the wrong.

That way, we can associate with people who are right, like us, and exclude and push away people we perceive as wrong. Somehow this makes us feel safer.

In John 9, when Jesus healed the man born blind, the Pharisees turned it into an argument.

So this guy (Jesus) spat in the mud on the Sabbath? He broke our rules! He’s out!

And you guys believe he’s justified in performing this miraculous act of compassion? You’re out, too!

The story reminds me of the Jack Links’ “Messin’ with Sasquatch” commercials, except Jesus was always messin’ with religious people, and their reactions were fear-fueled, angry, and condemning.

People who are religious in this sense in our culture today still get easily agitated and pick up stones to throw when someone asks too many questions or challenges the status quo.

And then there is being religious in proactively showing love and sharing good news with people. The focus is on acting in love toward God, self, and neighbor more than agreement on doctrinal finer points.

James, the presumed brother of Jesus, put it like this, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27 NRSV) And this is why I stopped saying things like, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a personal relationship.” 

Good religion is caring for, defending, and acting in love on behalf of those who are disenfranchised. And good religion is also refusing to go with the flow of culture when it would pull us away from the way of Jesus and toward the way of empire (considering the context in which James’ audience was scattered).

Our primary religious question for people seems to be, “So what do you believe?” Perhaps a better question would be, “How do you show and reflect God’s love to others?”

I’m still trying to get over the parts of me that gravitate toward the first kind of religion, but I’m hopeful that with the help of Jesus and others who follow him, I can grow in the second kind – the demonstration of love toward all people.

Photo by Chelsea shapouri on Unsplash.