I love the “for Dummies” series. With over 1,600 titles and 200 million books in print, you can find everything from Acupressure for Dummies to Yorkshire Terriers for Dummies. Their tag line is “Making Everything Easier” and it’s definitely a concept I can get behind.
I have begun to question many of the religious traditions I grew up with, but I have no desire to spend my life as a professional skeptic. Cynicism may provide some witty punch lines, but it is those things we embrace and deeply believe that actually matter. Since I have both devout Christians and wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-in-a-church folks reading this blog, I wasn’t sure how to approach this topic. But I’m starting to think it’s easier than we’ve made it.
I’d be hard pressed to find a more powerfully divisive subject than religion. It has gotten a bad rap over the years, even (and at times especially) among those of us who are religious. We wade through layers of doctrine, theology, dogma, hermeneutics, exegesis… and most of us regular schmucks are left feeling like, well, dummies a lot of the time. So instead, some of us leave the thinking to others and focus on familiar tradition as a way to measure our religious worth.
Although it has been used and abused since time began, religion itself is not something to fear. It is simply the outward expression of an inner belief. In practice this ranges from the beautiful to the utterly bizarre. Even those of us who share similar beliefs may have drastically different expressions of our faith. For instance, I have never felt a particular need to handle poisonous snakes in our worship service, nor has the Spirit moved me to whip myself into a bloody frenzy, but I am a big fan of group singing, even the 7-11 choruses my husband hates (7 words, sung 11 times to a catchy beat).
But the one thing that all religion has in common is this: compassion. Good works are a crucial component of all the world’s major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and pretty much every one I can think of (except for hedonism, which is more of an excuse to be a selfish jerk than a true belief system). We may not agree on much, but on this we are on the same page. There is no better way to honour God than to show compassion.
According to the Jewish prophet Micah, it is all that God requires of any of us. (Micah 6:8)
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Religion at its best is not about whether we sprinkle, dunk or dip in baptism, but whether we show selfless love for those in our path. Lately my “religious heroes” are not great thinkers, but the great DOers. Ordinary people who have bills to pay and chores to do just like me. People who never seem to have enough money or time, but choose to give it away anyway.
Ordinary people like my friend who chose to adopt not one, but four children from foster care. Although she already had three biological children, their family had room for more: more chaos, more noise, more learning issues, more Dr. appointments, more complications… more love. She doesn’t feel like a martyr, although I know she is often overwhelmed. She is just living what she believes.
Ordinary people like my cousin who chooses ethics over convenience in her shopping habits. Avoiding big box stores is not a decision I’m ready to make, but I respect her commitment to doing what she feels is right. Not just for workers here and overseas, but to counter a culture of mindless consumption that is deeply corrupt. She buys organic, grows her own food, and even makes her own toothpaste (for real). Five small children would be plenty of excuse for me to do what is quick and easy, but not her.
Ordinary people like our good friends who took the time to get to know new neighbours from Zimbabwe. They were moved by the stories and fell in love with the people of that country, before they had even seen it themselves. What started as a few piles of donated clothing in their garage has become Hear Africa, an organization committed to partnering with Zimbabweans to overcome poverty and rebuild a thriving economy.
It doesn’t matter if it is orphan care, ethical consumerism or foreign aid, THIS is the religion that best expresses my faith. I’m still finding my way. I’m not sure what this ordinary girl can do, but I’m on the lookout.
So here’s me, making religion easier: love God, love others.
After writing this post I found they actually do have a “Religion for Dummies” book (of course they do). I haven’t read it (yet), and this is my disclaimer that I have nothing to do with the official “for Dummies” brand.
October 22nd, 2011 at 1:09 pm
I think you’ll find that He demands more of us than that, the commandments are one example, the teachings of Jesus another, we need faith too, we need to believe in Him and in the one He sent, Jesus, we need to repent and much more. The passage in Micah is but one small part don’t you think?
Shirley Anne xxx
October 22nd, 2011 at 1:30 pm
Thanks for your reply Shirley! It’s great to have a chance to discuss these thoughts, rather than just put it out into webspace without a chance to clarify or explain. This post was intended to be about faith in practice (as opposed to the specifics of what I believe and why). It intrigues me that we have this in common with other faiths. Since we are all made in God’s image I shouldn’t be surprised that the attraction of good works is almost universal. After all, compassion is at the core of who God is.
I think the passage in Micah simply reinforces what Jesus had to say about what is the GREATEST commandment (Mark 12:28-31). This is not to say that the others do not matter, that Jesus’ teachings on faith, repentance, relationships, even church are not important, but they all hang on these most crucial points. In fact, if we focus on all the other things, but forget this basic principal of Love God/Love Others, we become legalists and miss the whole point (i.e. Pharisees).
Perhaps it works better if I say: this is religion made simple, not easy. 🙂
October 22nd, 2011 at 8:43 pm
Are you saying you have a problem with cynics? You could have mentioned that earlier.
October 22nd, 2011 at 8:57 pm
You are my absolutely favourite cynic! Love C
October 26th, 2011 at 11:17 am
Thought I’d make a guest appearance since I’m avoiding paying bills
Ha ha…I only make my own toothpaste when I’m feeling poor…excuse me while I whip up a batch! But now that I think of it, this cheap & easy recipe works way better than the store-bought brands and feels extremely refreshing, here’s the recipe:
Homemade Tooth Powder:
3 parts baking soda
1 part salt
couple of drops of wintergreen oil or pepperment oil
If you want to make it into a paste, add glycerin until it’s a good pasty consistency. You can also flavour with cinnamon.
You can also use unsweetened cranberry juice as a mouthwash. Great for kids since they can swallow it.
I’ve found in my looking-to-avoid-consumerism that sometimes what you can make at home for 10 cents can be better than store-bought …seriously, Christie, throw out your aluminum deodorant and use a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with water in a paste-I’m challenging you to put away your skepticism-it kills bacteria and seriously works!
October 26th, 2011 at 1:19 pm
It is never a dull moment with you cuz! 🙂