In the autumn of 2010, we took our three teenaged boys to Washington D.C. for a week. There, in the last stretch of summertime’s heat and beauty, we explored national monuments and museums and history and culture.
While we were visiting the capitol, the Smithsonian American Art Museum was featuring an impressive exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings in the private collections of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. You can watch a short video about their friendly competition to collect the pieces here.
Amongst the more than 4,000 works Mr. Rockwell produced in his lifetime, several stick out in my mind and memory, and of those, one in particular has left an indelible impression. It’s titled “Sunday Morning”, but because of copyright restrictions, I cannot post it. If you want to see the picture itself from an Amazon link, click here .
In one masterfully detailed snapshot of real life, Rockwell sums up the stench of our religious piety and behaviorism in a single vibrant shot, doesn’t he? There’s a woman who rather missed the essential command of the faith that drives her religion: Love your neighbor as yourself. Husband sits at home, obviously judged for his lack of righteousness, while she marches the children off to Sunday School. I just can’t imagine why he wouldn’t be compelled to follow.
“But religion isn’t a bad thing!” we are tempted to think.
And I know what you mean. Religion, we think, is part and parcel of faith. The problem is with our verbiage. What the word religion has come to mean is not what it could have meant. It could have meant a relationship with God that informs our allegiances and transforms our lives.
But the definition most commonly assigned to the word religion has nothing to do with a relationship with the living God, and it relies almost entirely on the doing rather than the being. On the works and the effort and the repeating of certain behaviors and not at all on the spending time in the presence of, being changed by, or profoundly understanding our worth because of God.
RELIGION ruins Christmas.
Christmas, in all its simplicity and juxtapositional extravagance, is meant to be experienced, not adhered to. It is meant to show us the Son of God. Our humanity. His deity. His lovingkindness. His great, spectacular, over-the-top light show of love for his people.
We are meant to gape, open-mouthed, like the children we are, and desire to follow him wherever he goes because we want to be just like that guy. The promise of the relationship of humans to God is that he will, in fact, make us just like him as we follow behind as children of the living God.
Can you imagine that Normal Rockwell painting? There would be no one left complacently on a chair because the whole neighborhood of humanity would be running to catch up with the One at the head of the line. Religion doesn’t do that. The love of God does.