Are you living your religion? The answer is not as obvious as you would think. If you were to ask your children, your friends and neighbors, or even yourself, to write on a piece paper the five things you must do to live your religion, what would those five things be? Are we confusing the means with the ends? Where is our focus?
There once was a man who thought he was a golfer. He studied and read from the USGA rules of golf every day. He knew every rule of golf, inside and out. He religiously went to the golf course on a regular basis. He bought the best equipment. He dressed like a PGA professional. When he played, he meticulously followed all of the rules. He never cheated. Yet, he was a terrible golfer. He couldn’t drive. He couldn’t putt. He kept all of the USGA rules. He went to all of the country club and men’s association meetings. He looked the part. He dressed the part. He played the part. But, in the end, he was a horrible golfer. There was another man with an incomplete set of clubs, no golf shoes, no golf glove, used golf balls and no fancy golf clothes. Yet he could golf; and he always scored better than the man with all the equipment and all the rules.
There once was a woman who thought she was a cook. She acquired all of the best recipes—the “true” recipes. She bought all of the very best equipment. When she cooked, she used all of the freshest and best ingredients—the “true” ingredients. She followed each recipe meticulously. She looked like a chef. She sounded like a chef. But her soufflés wouldn’t puff. Her bread wouldn’t rise. Her cakes sagged in the middle. Her eggs were tough and chewy. In the end, although, she followed the formula, she was a horrible cook. Even though she had the “true” recipes, the “true” ingredients and the “true” equipment, she failed to produce anything appetizing or appealing. There was another woman with a small kitchen, dollar-store equipment, missing measuring cups and spoons and only moderate quality ingredients. Yet her kitchen produced wonderful cakes, rolls and soufflés that fed and delighted her entire neighborhood.
What does it mean to “live” your religion? Is it possible that, like the golfer or the cook, you are focusing on the rules, rather than the art, of living? Is it possible that you could attend your meetings, be active in your religious associations, dress the part of a religious person, read and study the scriptures, “do” all of your observances, go to the right meetings, go to the right places, believe the right things, say the rights things and, all the while, entirely miss the point?
Learning and scrupulously observing all of the USGA rules of golf does not make you Arnold Palmer. Having all of the right recipes, all of the right equipment and ingredients, and meticulously following the recipes does not make you Wolfgang Puck. There is more to it. There is an art to being.
There is an art to living and loving well. And, unfortunately, for many that I talk to, religion seems to be only giving people the rule books and the recipes.
Religion has done a fine job of giving us the ingredients and teaching us what’s in bounds and out of bounds. But has it done a good job of showing us how to become better, how to thrive at the game, and how to be excellent in the kitchen of life, so to speak? How far do creeds and dogmas, rote traditions get us? To excel and thrive; to truly enjoy the art and mystery of living do we need more? If so, where do you get it? How do you find it?
Getting back to one of my earlier questions, if you were to ask your children, your friends and neighbors, or even yourself, to write on a piece paper the five things you must do to live your religion, what five things would show up on the list?
I would hope these things would be among the first on the list:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction ….” (James 1:27.) “Jesus of Nazareth … went about doing good ….” (Acts 10:38.) He ate with publicans and sinners. (Matthew 9:10.) For Jesus, healing and helping trumped observance; relationships mattered more than rules. (See Mark 3:1-6.)
I fear, however, that our lists might reflect a different set of priorities. What do you think?