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Religion for Dummies

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.

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