Lent: Giving Up Religion
Originally published 3/18/20
“Religion is like staring at a rock and exerting all of your energy into making it into a rock: totally unnecessary.”
I’ve never observed Lent. In fact, I’ve never really even been told what lent is. I think growing up, I thought maybe it was something only Catholics did…like some random week where they all changed their diets for some reason.
These days, Lent seems to be en vogue. As I have been exposed to Lent more, I feel like I’ve gained a clearer understanding of its whole purpose, at least in popular society. I know there are many aspects to it, but one of the main things that is talked about is all around what a person will “give up” during the Lent season, willfully removing something from your life and filling that now open space with a focus on the Divine. In other words, fasting.
What are you giving up? What will you fast from? How are you using this time to draw closer to God? That’s where all the buzz seems to be.
And like I said before, I’ve never observed Lent, even though I have spent most of my life, in some way or another, being a believer in Jesus. But even though I’m late to the party, I’m ready to jump in.
This year for Lent -my first Lent ever- I am giving up Religion, and I don’t plan on going back.
I grew up in and out of churches and faith-groups. I was active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes in high school. I was heavily involved in a college ministry while at The University of Tulsa. I moved overseas after college because I knew it would be a good opportunity to share the message of Jesus with people I met there. When I returned to the states, I came on staff with a local church. I know the Bible very well, and I am a really good teacher. I have read hundreds of Christian books and listened to thousands of Christian podcasts. But before you think you have the full picture, let me add a little color.
In high school, my best friends were drug dealers. When I had nowhere to sleep, my drunk, drug dealer friends had a bed for me in their home. When I went to college, I was heavily involved in my fraternity, which was the largest fraternity on the only wet-campus in the whole state (seriously, you could use your university dining dollars to buy alcohol at the sports bar on campus). I lived in the fraternity house for three-and-a-half out of my four years in college. When I moved overseas, I barely spent any time at all with Christians. Instead, I went to temples with my Hindu friends and had many late-night conversations trying to convince them to not be baptized and to not join a local church. Not because I didn’t want them to know about Jesus, but because I didn’t want their religious rituals to smother out the message of Jesus to their families. While I was on staff with the local church back in the States, I spent at least every Wednesday from 4–5 pm at my local bar (happy hour!) building friendships with the bartenders and staff.
While I have long had one foot in the church world, I’ve always had more of a desire to connect with those far from faith. Honestly, I believe that is how God has wired me. When I have found rules and oppression inside church-organizations, I’ve found friendships outside. When I have found judgment and condemnation from churchgoers, I find love and acceptance from locals bellied up to the bar. One of those sounds a lot like Jesus, and one does not.
Religion has a meaning that few people realize. The root, ligion, is the same root where we get the word ligament. The ligament is a linking of two things. Re-Ligion is, therefore, a re-linking of two things that separated, namely God and humanity. And while this definition has some use, especially when you consider the biblical origin story of humanity’s collective brokenness and fall from God in the Garden (Adam, Even, and a Talking Snake), this definition runs its course, ending with the work of Jesus. When Jesus is dying, he utters an important phrase, “It is finished.” While it directly applies to his personal mission, it also indirectly applies to the story of Religion. Jesus’ message of grace and reconciliation is just that: God has been reconciled to humanity. He is no longer counting humanity’s faults against them. It is finished. The two are no longer separated.
As Robert Capon said, “In Jesus, God has put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it — to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed — no nothing. . . . The entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ — even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it’s crazy. And yes, it’s wild, and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans. But it is good news — the only permanently good news there is — and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.”
So, this year for Lent, I’m giving up Religion, and I’m not going back. Because there is no need for it. The Re-Linking has been done. Religion is like staring at a rock and exerting all of your energy into making it into a rock: totally unnecessary. Jesus has done his work and he doesn’t need me to work his will into existence.
I’m sure this will not sit right with many of you. But if you’ve read this far, I’ll at least give you props for thoroughness. My apologies for offending your sensibilities. But I shall end this in a way that I could not have come by except through the house of Religion: an invitation.
“This year for Lent, I’m giving up Religion, and I’m not going back.”
With every eye closed and every head bowed (just kidding), anyone want to leave Religion with me?