HOUSES OF WORSHIP
The Role of Religion
The root meaning of the word religion comes from a word that means to “bind.” So healthy religion should help those who follow its tenets bring life together. Unfortunately, some forms of religion seem to pull both ideas and people apart.
If some beings from another planet showed up in the Lake Norman area and asked to be taken to the place where our God is worshiped, where would you take them? We have everything from Jewish synagogues, to Hindu worship spaces, to Muslim mosques, and a variety of Christian churches who espouse everything from snake handling to Gregorian chants.
All of this variety could pull us apart rather than bind us, or such a situation could help us celebrate the variety of religious expression in our midst. It all depends on how our particular religion expression states how “right” we must be. If my religion states that I have to be right about my belief system and your religious views are different from mine, then that means your particular view of God ends up being wrong.
A poem by Yehuda Amichai may help us see this challenge when it comes to religious views that are closely held by many:
The Place Where We Are Right
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
Richard Rhor, in one of his writings about religion states, “The insistence on the perfect is often the enemy of the practical and helpful good. Perfectionism becomes angry righteousness, or what we call zealotry in individuals, destroying both the zealot and the cause. In society, it creates isms or ideologies that brook no compromise or ability to negotiate, as we see in our present United States government.”
If we want to get back to religion’s role to bind and perhaps help the common good, we need to remember that this zealous need to be right means that others must be wrong. So where are we to take our before-mentioned visitors from afar in order to discover “our God”?
I was a working pastor for forty-six years. In that time, many people came to me hurting emotionally and spiritually because God seemed to have either let them down or had disappeared. I would listen to their pain and then often use an image to help them better understand what may have happened.
Imagine a rose window with, say, nine separate windows in a circle. Each window is different with a variety of colors and images. I then would say, “A rock has been thrown through your God-Window and now, as you share your pain with me, the pieces are broken and scattered on the floor. That is the bad news. The other news is that the window is not God; it is your image of God. It has both served you and, perhaps, not served you, thus far. Life’s unfairness and mysteries have now crashed in upon you. The other news is that God is the light behind the windows. There are other windows and the very big God wants light to shine in your darkness. God is not as much interested in the window as God is interested in you.”
So, to our visitors from afar, I could take them to the many windows in our midst, but as to our God, I would simply point to the light that shines on us all. The true role of religion is to do the same.
Dr. Jody Seymour
Jody Seymour retired after serving Davidson United Methodist Church as Senior Pastor for 13 years and being a pastor for forty-six years in the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of six books and resides just outside of Davidson with his wife, Betsy.