I don't expect anyone but God to understand the crazy goings on that take place in my head. I'm anything but logical in my thinking; sometimes my inner dialogue doesn't even make sense to me. But one thing we are clear on, my inner dialogue and I, is that we hate religion.
Sometimes, conversations with my non-believing friends may go like this,
NBF: "So you're a Christian?"
NBF: "And you go to church like, regularly?"
Me: "Well I try to."
NBF: "So you're quite religious then?"
(Confused) NBF: "But you're a practising Christian?"
NBF: "So that means you're religious!"
Me: "No, I hate religion."
I grew up in a Christian household. We had a plaque on the wall that said:
"But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15"
I remember it off by heart because I spent many contrite hours staring up at it while I was kneeling down with my hands in the air as punishment for one thing or another (this is a Nigerian form of punishment
) but also because my siblings and I were taught an incredibly catchy song based on that very scripture.
We all went to church, Sunday school, Christian camps and were heavily involved in the various youth groups or bands in our church. I was baptised when I was 16 along with a group of my peers and it was a fun day; a day of singing and laughter. It was a rare day when my mum was pleased with me and for that I felt as though I had done good. And I had, in her estimation at least.
It wasn't until much later, in my 20s, that I recognised that what I had been doing was being religious. I was ticking all the boxes and fulfilling the Christianity criteria without being wholly present and genuine about what it was I claimed to believe. Christianity, for me, was a list of Dos and Don'ts. DO go to church every week, DON'T miss any church conferences/Bible study groups/away days, DO get married to a Christian, DON'T have sex before marriage... there was always something to do.
To do better, to improve on, to be
I'm reading a book by an inspirational speaker and Christian called Joyce Meyer who experienced horrific sexual abuse from her father for many years as a child. It's called God is not mad at you
and I'm reading it because I grew up on Religion. I grew up trying to make myself acceptable to what I thought were God's standards. I grew up struggling to be good
and dealing with feelings of rejection, insecurity and isolation because I repeatedly fell short of my mum's requirements for a perfect daughter and therefore could not identify with the love of a higher spiritual being that required absolutely nothing from me.
In her book, Joyce says:
Religion gives us rules to follow, and it promises that if we follow those rules, God will be pleased with us. The problem is that we cannot follow them all, and if we are guilty of breaking one, God views us as guilty of breaking all. (James 2:10). If we choose to live by religious legalism and a rule-keeping system, then weaknness is simply not an option, so we struggle to be strong in every area, yet we always fail. If we fail to keep all the rules, then we feel we have sinned and we experience all the misery and guilt of sin. We also have a feeling of being separated from God. God never leaves us, but our guilt places a wedge between us and Him. When we have a false view of what God expects from us, it opens the door for a lifetime of seeking something we can never attain and it produces tremendous frustration and disappointment.
With the strict upbringing I had, failing was never an option and so I earnestly sought perfection in all I did. It didn't make me happy, it didn't make me glad; but it made me sigh with relief to know that I was doing "the right thing" and to me that's religion and I hate it.
When you read through the Bible you can see, in the books of the Old Testament,
that people requested
rules. They weren't happy living a day to day reliance on a God they couldn't see. They wanted rules
that were black and white; rules that they could live by and judge each other on. They rejected the daily manna God provided and requested what we now know as the Ten Commandments. Doesn't sound like much fun does it? The way I see it, Jesus coming to earth was a necessity to bring back relationship and to cast out religion. When Jesus breathed his last breath, strung up on the cross, hated by those who claimed to follow religion, reports say that the curtain in the temple which separated those who came to worship God from the inner, "holy place", was completely torn top to bottom as represenation of what Jesus came to do.
Reading about the life of Jesus, I can see how everything He did was out of love. Not like, the wishy washy Hollywood crap we see on TV that would label Him weak and emotional. The love Jesus showed was strong, unwavering, unconditional love. He loved and forgave his traitors, He loved and forgave those who tried to get him killed and because of the love He had for all
people, he spent more time with those in need than anyone else as an example of how we ourselves should be.
There aren't any records of Jesus barking out the commandments to make someone feel guilty about doing wrong. He even healed someone on the Sabbath day which, at the time was a cardinal sin. Talk about rebel! My kinda guy!
It's recorded, in the book of Matthew, that when asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22:36-40)
That, for me, is the essence of Christianity. That is, the daily practice and participation of LOVE, the kind of love God has for us.The day I realised that God loves me unconditionally, was literally a life-changer. No more feeling unloved or unworthy if I make a mistake; no one should be made to feel like that.
And again, I just want to reiterate the strength there is in this tiny four-letter word. Love is anything but weak and emotional. Love is the umbrella encompassing trust, joy, hope, forgiveness, strength, responsibility, commitment, discipline...all those good things that enable us to live full and engaging lives.
So, yes, I put my hands up to being a Christian, I'm not ashamed of my affinity with Jesus Christ. But at risk of sounding like a hippy, I'm all about the love, and religion plays no part in that.
PS - This will probably sound like an excuse but I personally hate reading text cluttered with Bible references so if you want to know where to reference some of the stuff I've said above, get in touch!