Friday, April 22, 2011

An Easter Religion

Bob recently said something like, “I think Easter is about Jesus kicking death out of life" (or, "...kicking life out of death!”). That’s not his real name or actual PG-13 rated comments but his thoughts remain powerful. Let me back up. Some of the work I do involves leading groups of addicts, prisoners, generally broken people, those who freely admit they need fixin’. Over the past few weeks I have been asking them about the meaning of Easter, the primary holy day in Christianity. The Easter story is about a very good man who died a terrible death because he would not compromise his message. Jesus stayed true to what he perceived to be his duty, his calling, only to end up a victim of the dominant power-of-that-day's cruelty. Of course, according to the Bible, he did not remain dead for long but actually returned from the land of death more alive than ever, as “Bob” expressed so memorably.  

A follow up question might then be how to live a fuller life now that death has been permanently “adjusted”? Thankfully, the New Testament gives us a definition. It tells us what an authentic, meaningful religious experience looks like. We read that true religion is entirely action-oriented, with specific behaviors expected from us rather than any requirement of, or adherence to, a faith statement which typically specifies what is to be believed without exception. The Letter of James says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:26-27 New Living Translation).

James is challenging us to limit our speech to words that build up, restore, encourage and punctuate them as needed with compassionate acts done on behalf of the truly vulnerable among us.  He further enjoins us to pursue a posture of subversive resistance to whatever power structures currently prevail in our age. This description of good religion is also a prescription for deepening the religious and spiritual life.

You see, my friend Bob sort of non-came to my Monday night spirituality group for several weeks before he actually committed to coming. We meet Monday nights in the kitchen area and he’d have an excuse to come by, each week staying a bit longer, maybe more coffee, or ice cream or something he forgot. One night, he finally decided to stay for an entire meeting and in the last three months no one has brought more visitors to our group than he has! The other night he said in front of a dozen men that he decided back then to stay because he kept hearing me say that the journey to God is paved below and covered above with mercy, that the love of God knows no outsiders and that, though we are often lonely, we are never alone. He said my message each week was like a broken record! “No matter how much we’ve been through, there is always hope, hope, hope but we can’t do this without God’s help or without each other.”  Those are his words, exactly. That's the stuff Easter is made of. Good news, indeed!

                                         #1 in need of fixin'!