Several years ago, I was talking with Chris about the "personal relationship with God" routine. I don't buy the "personal relationship with God" routine, especially not one that argues from there that Christianity isn't a religion...Chris was the one who went down that line, and I was going to expand that passing comment into a rant against began saying when I communicated myself again a few weeks ago.
It was going to be a rant; the original version of this post began "Relationship is the freebase of the masses," and it went from there gloriously. I bounced it off a friend or two and it was met with some approval.
But then I read dynamic (r)evolution, who linked to RELEVANT on the matter, and I lost the heart to rant for a little bit. Oh, I will, because that way I can add the "regular writing" tag to this whole thing; but today I'm going to reflect, first.
There is harm that I can write about that comes from relationship-with-Jesus talk, harm to the believer; but that's not my issue for this post. My issue for this post is that saying "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship" feels privileged.
These last few Sundays, I've dragged my ass to a churchy kind of church. One with pews, one with stained glass, one with an organ and a choir, one with a procession and recession. One with stoles and furnishings that change with the cycle of sacred time. One with creeds and sacraments and such.
This kind of church? This is "religion" in the ordinary-language sense. This kind of worship is ceremony. This is ritual. This is stuff done just so because it's how it was passed down and interpreted across nations and oceans and centuries. This is a thing that the Puritans overwhelmingly rejected to because the Bible didn't specifically give permission to do a lot of it (and also because they weren't in charge of it, which is why the Brownites left for the Netherlands and then for Massachusetts.)
But ever since I came back, I've discovered that I can find God in that "religion." That I was moved to share the Eucharist, Elevation and Fraction and queueing up and all. That those creeds and sacraments (and the two recognized of the Church I've seen both in two weeks) move me. That they are sacraments; in them everything is brought together and I... relate.
And claiming "relationship, not religion" invalidates me.
Until last Christmas Eve, I wasn't faithful at all; just wanting to be and wishing to be. I'm comfortable identifying as such now (credit where credit is due), but my relationship with God, while no longer hypothetical, remains very much like my relationship with the woman I love: long-distance.
Not by choice. I'd like both of them to be closer. (A fair bit of my childhood hostility to "fundamentalists" was because I envied the fact that the local NIV hands-in-the-air megachurchgoers prayed so easily. Also that I simply didn't know any of them to like; again, credit where credit is due.) But that's going to take time and work, and in the meantime I have to consciously work to be present.
And when people talk about "relationship, not religion," it discounts that the religion is real to me - and a long-distance relationship isn't what they have in mind, you know?