In order to communicate with people, we must speak their language. Think for a moment about a speaker in a foreign land who does not speak the language of the people in the audience. The first consideration would always be, “How can I get my message translated?” The message is always more important than the medium. Good teachers instinctively know this. Bad teachers prattle on with whether people can understand them or not.
Good religious leaders, likewise, are always ready to try to change the wording or the approach in order to make people understand. Bad religious teachers are married to words and formulations and dogmas, even if no one has a clue what is being said.
People have been led to fall in love with the packaging, the container. This is called idolatry. Religion is the container, the chalice, the path, the road map to spiritual growth. As such, it can be valuable to people’s spiritual growth. But when we make religion God, we have got things backward. Religion cannot define or fully explain God. Only God is God. To think otherwise is to commit idolatry.
People fall into this trap all the time. They will literally die, sometimes, in order to defend a particular form. In the Middle East, for example, we have had Christians, Jews and Muslims at war with one another for centuries. All of these three religions claim to be monotheistic. They all say that there is only one God. And, on the mystical level, there is a sense by the deepest spiritual beings among them that their experience of God is very similar. But, those who are still stuck on words and externals are literally killing one another.
A number of years ago, there was a movement within Roman Catholicism to foster a dialogue with Episcopalians and Lutherans with the hope of eventually overcoming their differences. If any three religions ought to find common ground, it is these three Christian religions. For example, all three believe in some form of Divine Presence in the Eucharist.
What began with great hopes, however, eventually fizzled out. These well intentioned theologians simply could not get beyond some version of “My formula is better than yours.”
At times like these, when religion is struggling to make sense to, especially a younger generation, people need to be aware that no religion is God. To God be the glory! All religions need to be clear that they are there to help lead people to God. And all individuals need to be willing to stretch and to grow in ways that are not always a part of the official packaging, even if, for the good of their souls, they need to move in a different direction that speaks more authentically to them.
Let us respect and honor and be grateful to these various human constructs these great religious traditions. They have done a lot of good for a long time. But religious leaders and followers alike need to keep in mind that the chalice is not the same thing as the holy contents that it carries. Only God is God!
Next posting: Broken but Blessed
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