Losing Religion

How Religion Ruins Christmas

How Religion Ruins Christmas

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.

Religion doesn't compel us to follow. The love of God does.

We're All Messed Up, and I'm Not Just Saying That

Pontoon - Sandy Cove

Christendom is full of messed up, broken, needy people.

That guy you think for sure has all of his ducks in a tidy little row and singing out of the hymnal every Sunday morning and in church on time? He's messed up, too. I confidently know this and my expertise is backed up by decades of experience in a variety of churches, but then last week my husband Fletch and I spoke at a family camp all the way across the country and let me say this again in case you doubt: Christendom is full of messed up, broken, needy people.

The 600 people we hung out with at Sandy Cove's homeschool family camp were not more messed up and broken than any others, but like us, they are really good at the "shiny, happy people" masquerade. And then we got up on that stage on Monday morning and just put all our own messed up, broken, neediness out there, and it began what was at first a slow trickle of the broken, messed up, and needy moms, dads, brothers, and sisters that grew day by day into a deluge of the most sinful junk and yuck hidden beneath years of shiny, happy Christianity and laid bare at our feet. And we wept.

How have we missed the truth of the gospel in this? The truth that Jesus paid it all, just for us? The truth that He weeps over us, not because we are messed up, broken, and needy, but because He is the answer, the way, the truth, and the life, and we sit in our musty little corner polishing our shiny, happy people idols and missing all the fullness of everything He is. 

And aren't you tired of it all?

Laughing - Sandy Cove

Laughing - Sandy Cove

After we spoke about shifting our hope off of Jesus Christ and onto, oh, everything and anything else, we followed up with a session on what it looks like when we live remembering how loved we are by God, and then a session on living confessionally, with all our stuff out there, living lives of authenticity, and then a big, loud, beautiful reminder of how very much loved by God we are.

Many of the people there were tired of it all.

They came wounded, bleeding, hemorrhaging. They waited by our door in the morning and grabbed us on the way to breakfast. They scooted their chairs next to us as the salad was just about to hit our lips. They even pounded on our door late one night in a last attempt to confess and break through the chains of addiction that had bound them for years and years and years. 

Cargo Net - Sandy Cove

Cargo Net - Sandy Cove

And lest you be tempted to think it must just have been this wacky group of people out there in Maryland, let me reiterate: We're all messed up. And I'm not just saying that.

Isn't it grand? It is, because >>> Jesus <<<. Because the gospel. Because the truth that there is not one of us who does good except for our loving and generous and perfect savior, Jesus Christ, and we get to lean in, hide under his wings, and be seen by the God of the universe as complete and whole and not messed up.

How does that change the way we think about Jesus? About the good news of his death and resurrection? Does it make it truly good news? It makes it great news. Excellent news. Perfect love and grace for messed up, broken, needy people. Like me.

Sunset across the bay - Sandy Cove

Sunset across the bay - Sandy Cove

After Lost & Found

It has been a month since Lost & Found: Losing Religion, Finding Grace was released, and I am so thankful for the response. It seems to be resonating with so many of you. How do we get ourselves so tangled up in ourselves?

One of the things I'm hearing from readers is, "I want to know more! What happened after Lost & Found?" I wrote the book to be a quickish read, so that we could sit with the basic truths of the gospel and our identity in Christ, and how both change everything. But I suppose that left room for a sequel.

There won't be a sequel, at least not yet. There will, however, be a series right here on the site that will tell the rest of the story and what has transpired since we found Mighty Joe in a coma, I ran over Annesley, and Caroline's very sick appendix ruptured. Some stories can't be told yet because they are the domain of our now-older children, but I think I can give you a glimpse into what God has done, what He is doing, and how He has restored and redeemed and reworked and rewritten.

Would you tell your friends? If you know someone who has found a path to freedom through the story of Lost & Found, would you lead them here, too? They can sign up to hear the rest of the story, which I'll be telling in a series over the next month or so.