Monday, July 13, 2015

Organized Religion, and why people hate it

In recent weeks, the term “Organized Religion” has been thrown around. It’s been spoken with anger and bile by Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s been spit out by those who were on the winning side of the Gay marriage ruling. Now that some court clerks and officials have been forced to take a stand on their Faith, and defy the ruling and not perform marriages, those who wanted the gay marriage ruling have turned their anger from the lack of ability to get married, to those who disagree and won’t perform the service.
They blame “Organized Religion” a boogeyman, a farcical specter that provides a convenient point of focus for the hate they feel. They don’t want to have any resistance at all on this point so they turn their hatred toward anyone who disagrees with them. Simply winning the right to marry wasn’t enough…they insist that everyone else like the idea.  
Okay, I understand that to an extent. They feel they’ve been repressed for years and they need to gloat and make someone pay for having had to live in the shadows. I suppose I get that too. It’s human nature to want to gloat when you’ve been hiding for so long.
But they point their blame at “Organized Religion.”
The other trend these days is the growing cacophony of Believers who also attack the phantom of “Organized Religion.” They have grown bored with their church. Or they got their feelings hurt by someone in the Sunday School class. Or their kid didn’t get picked to sing in the kid’s choir.
Most likely, they heard something from the pulpit and it made them feel uncomfortable. Convicted. Challenged. They instantly rebelled against the Spirit of God and decided that this was all because the church holds to outdated teachings or old-school standards. The Bible demands real change in our hearts, and sometimes we hear a sermon that forces us to examine something about our lives and the next thing you know, we’re comparing it to the Inquisition, and demanding a new version of the Bible be written to eliminate the offending rule.
But to me, there is something very special about “Organized Religion.”
I grew up a fundamentalist Baptist. Not a Southern Baptist, but a fundamentalist. There were rules on top of rules and it choked my image of God. It caused damage. It did harm.
But that is not the fault of Baptist doctrine
That can’t be laid at the feet of Hubmaier. Or Billy Graham, or Jerry Falwell.
I have friends who were molested by Catholic priests. I have friends who were raised Catholic and after half a lifetime, were ground to a nub by the rules and regulations and the meatless Fridays. 
But that is not a blanket accusation of the Catholic Church.
“Organized Religion” is what my grandparents brought with them from Italy and from the Ukraine. It was, quite literally, all they had to their names. It gave them courage when they were at sea for weeks, heading to a country they had only heard of, and a life they could only dream about.
It gave them hope. It gave them a foundation. It was their compass. Their prayers and liturgy were the only things that made them feel as though God was along on this journey with them.
When they arrived here, the first thing they sought out was a church, where they knew they would find others who had the same ethnic background and similar heritage. On that boat, in the middle of the Atlantic, they were nameless, faceless, human cargo. But when they walked into the local Cathedral for the first time, they found a home. There were people who spoke the language, and they recognized the liturgy and there was a calming, peaceful, foundation to their world again. The came from halfway across the globe, and everything else was different, but inside the walls of the local church, the priest carried out the Mass in the same fashion as the priest did back in Italy.
My paternal grandfather was Ukrainian, raised Baptist. His family were Baptists in an overwhelmingly Orthodox country. They settled in the Rose Hill area of Chester among other Ukraine and Russian Baptists and it was their Organized Religion that tied the loose ends of the ropes back together. Monday through Saturday might have been frightening and desperate, but Sunday was familiar…because of that Organized Religion.
Germans found the strength to resist Hitler and the Nazis –albeit in small numbers- because of their Organized Religion. Bonhoeffer was one such man and his Faith drove him to protest the Nazi madness and eventually give his life.
Martin Luther King was an ordained Baptist Minister, and accomplished everything he accomplished because of the strength of his Organized Religion.
Last month, when a crazy, hate-fueled young man gunned down nine worshipers, their families response left the world scratching its collective head. They forgave. They could only do that, because of that Organized Religion they so deeply believe in.
There are those, even among believers, who say we need to do away with church. That meeting at home is what God intended and coming together is unnecessary. They cite the early church or the persecuted church. In both cases, meeting in homes was necessitated by persecution. Ideally, they would have done both, met in homes and come together on the Sabbath to celebrate as one.
But we have people who know better than the church fathers did. People without any formal training, who claim to have an insight that Paul, or Peter, or Jerome, or Justin Martyr never did. They had decided that they don’t like church anymore and rather than just own their rebellion, they claim a new revelation.
They forget that the history of this Faith of ours is written in the blood of those who met in public as a body, with one purpose and goal. They forget that Paul commands it. They disregard –or don’t know in the first place- the roots of the Church go directly to public, large group gathering. The early church was born in the synagogue and the Temple. Not in someone's living room.
(I am not against small groups, by the way. I am against them replacing the church body)
I have watched as Organized Religion has become the catch phrase for anyone who bears witness of their faith and who disagrees with anything anyone else might do, because of that Faith.
Gently, lovingly refuse to bake a wedding cake and it’s because of hateful Organized Religion. Speak out about adultery or drunkenness, and you adhere to Organized Religion and its antiquated ways.
I suppose I am guilty as charged. I hold tightly to Organized Religion. I trust it. Someone had to do the Organizing, and if you know history, it was the very men who walked with Jesus. They were the ones who set about codifying what we believe. They repeated to us, very carefully, what Jesus Himself had told them. They had an insight we could not. I trust them.
I hold tightly because I know what my faith has meant in my life. Even now, as I am struggling terribly with internal battles and doubts and problems for which there seems to be no solutions. But I have walked this road for over forty years now and I “know Whom I have believed.”
I find myself in another dark desert, calling out as I grope along, like a man feeling his way along the wall of a dark cave. “God…are you there?” I know He is. I know He is because He always has been. My not “sensing” him means not a whit. He is there nonetheless. I know this because I have experienced Him…and because I have experienced Organized Religion. I have experienced what lies underneath it. I know it’s Power. When my steps are slow and heavy and my prayers stick to the roof of my mouth, it is the foundation of Organized Religion that keeps me going. The base that makes up the liturgy and the sacraments. The written prayers and creeds and hymns connect me with the very first Christians. I take the same communion that Paul took. I speak the same Lord’s Prayer that Peter recited. And Jerome. And Francis. And my grandmother.
I read the same Bible that Wyckliffe died to reproduce. I am connected all the way back to the Cross of Jesus, because of Organized Religion.
More personally, it saved my life, long after it saved my soul. When I was living in the home of my grandparents, the son of an unmarried 20 year old woman and a 21 year old Army grunt in Vietnam, it was the Faith of my grandmother that I recall being the first love I ever felt.
It was Faith that walked me through difficult times year after year. Faith that brought me through the devastation of divorce, and the collapse of my career, and homelessness, and the painfully slow rebuilding process since then. It was the echo of the prayers of the saints who have gone on ahead, that whispered in my ear every time I fell and didn’t think I could get up again. It was the power of the words…the unchanging, timeless, hope-filled words of the Bible...that worked in my soul and re-created who I was time and again. A timeless book, thousands of years old, without contradiction or error. As old as history and as new and fresh as my next breath. This book is so living, so moving and so wonderful and maybe the best thing about it is that you are not obligated to believe it, or live by it. But please, don’t attempt to discount it, simply because you disagree with it. It has meant far too much to far too many people for far too many years. Hate it if you must. But recognize its legitimacy. 
At least be that honest.
This faith…this Organized Religion gave me a home when I was a boy trying to fit in. It gave me a home again, when it worked in the hearts of a family who recognized my loneliness and made me one of them. It gave me Faith –sometimes abundant, overwhelming faith, and sometimes just enough to survive one more long wearisome day- when I had crashed and burned after my divorce, and again when I was homeless.
This Faith saved my life. It’s saved countless lives. I’m sorry that sometimes there are people who do things and say things in the name of this Faith, which actually contradict that Faith. God is patient and He permits fools. We won’t see the score until the match is over. I’m sorry that this Faith stands in opposition to your life. It stood in opposition to mine as well, and so I fell on the Cornerstone of that Faith…Jesus. I fell on Him because He gave me that option. Because eventually, He will fall on those who have not fallen on Him. Falling on Him breaks you. It broke me. But when that stone falls on you…you are crushed. 
One is definitely better than the other.
This faith saved my life, and it saves it daily. It’s literally all I have. When my prayers return unanswered, it is the promise of that Faith that gives me enough hope to pray yet again. Because time has beaten on this Organized Religion, but has never beaten it. Centuries have come and gone and still this Faith remains. Powerful men have tried to destroy it, or silence it with ridicule. And still it brings new life.
Organized Religion -the saving Faith of Jesus Christ- is woven through the tapestry of the last 2000 years. Christmas is Organized Religion. Easter is Organized Religion. The faithful prayers of old ladies praying for their children and grandchildren is Organized Religion.
The Cross is Organized Religion at its headwaters, and it has made all the difference in my life.
It still does. I would die for it. I may have to if society continues on its spiral.
I will go out, with the prayers of the early fathers on my lips. Unashamedly holding on for life

…to my Organized Religion.

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