Tag Archives: Religion
For the first time in over a decade I started work this past week in a non-ministry position. I am currently enrolled in the ADC (Arkansas Department of Corrections) Training Academy and will start work in the Tucker prison unit the end of November (after graduating the six week academy). I will tell you up front that it’s pretty stinking crazy! There is no question that I am a part of what us ministry folks would refer to as a “secular” or “pagan” environment. What that means is that its not a “religious” or “Christian” (as if environments could be Christians, they can’t, environments don’t have souls) environment. Profanity isn’t followed by gasps or cringes; subject matter does not include outright Biblical theology; not one person thus far has struck up a conversation with me about how to better make disciples. But you know what has come up? Generic religious jargon. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not being used in a mocking or even demeaning manner. It is for the most part being used in the exact same way that you would hear it on Sunday.
I’m not joking, one young lady when asked about her three kids responded, “Sh*t, He don’t put no more on me than I can handle.” Another time, at a point in the classroom when a profound humorous point was made, a gentleman in the back hollered out a hearty, “Amen!” I’ve tried hard to grasp why, in a seemingly very unreligious setting, these pockets of religious language pop up, and even more interestingly they aren’t scoffed at. My conclusion (which is only my opinion and I am in no way judging my fellow cadets) is that the religious dialog is culturally normal.
To give an example, there is a distinct culture to the prison world. We’re currently spending a great deal of time learning how to stay alive and how to not end up residing inside via drugs or sexual misconduct. The longer I am at the academy, the more the things I come home to tell Jules are normal parts of my day. Like for instance, when our instructor walks into our room, our former cheer leader class leader calls out “Officer Present” and the whole room stands up to attention until given permission to sit down. This is funny to Jules because the thought of her clean shaven, uniform wearing husband leaping to his feet at the command of a cheerleader is a foreign thought to her. It is however, normal to me because I am entrenched in the culture of the academy. Likewise, the pockets of religious talk are not mocked, nor laughed at because they are part of the culture of the Bible Belt. The “Amen”, and other church cliches are simply normal cultural expressions.
There are several ways to analyze this information but for me, the results seem to indicate that the Bible Belt has failed. It hasn’t failed in the way we would think, it has made Jesus, church and mostly religion household knowledge but where its an utter and complete failure is the picture of these things. What living in the Bible Belt has done is, it’s given us heavy doses of bad theology. It’s convinced us that salvation and more importantly Heaven can be had for as little as a walk down an aisle and dip in a pool. We repeat the preachers prayer, which is nothing more than a type of incantation, stand in the back where the entire congregation comes and shakes your hand, take a dunk in a baptistry a couple weeks later and we’re good. From time to time we’ll appease the God who “we invited into our hearts” by attempting to stay conscious through a Sunday service and dropping a twenty in the offering plate. The Jesus I know doesn’t work like that, and His life, that dwelling in me, isn’t obtained by simply doing that.
I want to give you one more example that I believe will help drive this home for us. Scientists are now finding that the fascination we have with rushing to antibiotics for every sniffle is effectively killing us. What they have discovered is that due to the high amounts of antibiotics we are taking that our bodies are building up an immunity to them. This is happening so much that they are convinced that when some people find themselves in a dire, life threatening situation antibiotics will be of no help due to the previous amount they had taken in the years proceeding, thereby giving their system time to become immune to their healing powers. What our Bible Belt culture has done to us is precisely the same thing it has inoculated us. We have been around religious talk, and moral “church” behavior so long that it’s effectively immunized some people to the power of the Gospel. The potent truth of Jesus has been replaced with a watered down, inaccurate, powerless religion that we’re convinced can help us.
Have any thoughts on this? Were there times that you’ve experienced the effects of our Bible Belt Culture? Please feel free to share them in the comments.
My oldest girl is in the if you can sing it instead of say it, you should phase (which my wife and I are still in and hope our daughter never grows out of), so it’s not uncommon for her to break into song at the middle of the dinner table. It’s like living in a happier version of Annie, you know without the orphans and evil foster parents. I have come to find out that singing is actually quite helpful for learning scripture or the big theme of a particular narrative of the Bible. One of the songs that she was singing awhile back was the one about the wee little man, and a wee little man was he. It’s actually a well done song, I mean it’s not going to win a Grammy but its actually pretty close to the scripture passage. Check it out in Luke 19:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 ESV)
Number Two: Religion is not from God
Now obviously there’s a lot that we can pull out of here but what I want to focus on is right there in the middle of the story.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when theysaw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” (italics mine)
The “they” that are grumbling against Jesus’s decision to head over to Zac’s house are the religious Jews who believed that Jesus ought to not associate with sinners. Especially the kind lie Zac who made a living stealing from his fellow Israelites. It’s these people that we see Jesus struggle with throughout His earthly ministry, and it’s inevitably these people who eventually nail Him to a cross. The religious leaders especially seemed to cross ways with Jesus at every pass, Pharisees and Sadducees always scheming to discredit the Messiah they claimed to be waiting for. I Iove this insight from Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola:
If you examine Jesus’ exchanges with the Pharisees, you’ll discover a common thread. The Pharisees would ask a question on one level, and Jesus would answer it on a completely different level. The contrast was sometimes so stark that it would appear that Jesus was answering a different question. Why is this? It’s because the Pharisees’ questions were coming from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And Jesus’ response was coming from the tree of life—the life of God. -Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (source)
Christian teenagers today have more information at their disposal then the rest of history of mankind put together did and in this world information overload they are being propositioned by a host of world views. That means you had better have the words of life and not ones grounded in traditional religious moralism if you expect them to stand out. This past week I asked my students what the biggest criticism of Christianity is at their school. Taking the gold medal is, of course, “hypocrites in the church”, and placing, I’m guessing, a close second was “it’s just a big list rules.” Unfortunately this is what our society has taught them. A.W. Tozer says it this way:
“Religion today is not transforming the people – it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society – it is descending to society’s own level and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smiling accepting its surrender.” -A.W. Tozer
The Christian religion has merged with post modern society and relegated many teens perceptions of following Jesus to simply trying to behave correctly. Sure their Facebook may say “it’s a relationship not a religion” but their lives scream “I can’t do this good enough!” or worse “I can do this better than you.” Either way they wind up empty and despairing. We have to teach students that “life” is found in Jesus not in religion. See going back to Zac’s story both Zacchaeus and the religious critics were lost. Both of them needed the life of Jesus to bring them to a place of life more abundant.
What about you, do you have a Zaccaeus type story? Have a different slant on religion? Leave a comment below and tell me what you got.
This is part two of the series Five things your students need to know before graduation. You can find part one The Gospel here