Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Religious Fanatics?


Dear Friends,

Those of you who are a better Christian than I am may be horrified to hear that there have been times in my life when I've said or thought unkind things about another person’s faith and made fun of them. Let me embarrass myself by giving some examples.

Several decades ago, I used to make fun of an older woman in my family who was Catholic. She had married into my extended Protestant family and she went to mass every day. Every single day. Her priority was not her family but her faith and we all had lots of unkind things to say about how she cared more for church than she did for her husband. She prayed her Rosary three times a day. What a crazy old religious fanatic she was! She loved her Lord with all her heart. She adored Jesus. She was absolutely devoted to God. What a nut, we all thought.

And there was that time we went to the San Fernando Mission. In the back, there's a small private cemetery in a walled-off garden area where the rich and famous, like Bob Hope, are interred. We had noticed a private security guard in the little garden when we first walked in and as the mission bells began to ring at noon, he took out a prayer carpet. He gave us a glance then carefully unrolled it on the ground facing East and got down on his knees to pray his Muslim prayers toward Mecca. 

What a zealot! To be obsessively controlled by your religion to the extent that you publicly embarrass yourself like that was just bizarre. Can you imagine if we Christians were at the food court when the mall clock chimed noon and we had to stop what we were doing to say our prayers? Like that would happen! I was critical and made fun of that Muslim security guard for the rest of the day.

When I was young, I also used to make fun of monks and nuns. I used to believe that the only reason a woman or a man chose monastic life was that they were so unattractive or had such an unacceptable personality that no one would want to marry them. Now I certainly wasn’t the most attractive guy in town, but I did want to live a normal life. Because a normal guy could have a job and earn lots of money to buy really cool stuff. He could go wherever he wanted and pretty well do whatever he wanted. He could marry a beautiful woman, buy a fast car and live the good life that the good Lord intended for him to have! 

Or a guy could trade it all to live the rest of his life in a small room with just a bed and a Bible in a monastery. He'd have to wear a heavy brown wool dress with a hood and live with a bunch of old guys and spend all his days for the rest of his life in church praying. When I was young, the idea of becoming a monk would have been like volunteering for a life-sentence in prison.

I made fun of the Catholic woman, the Muslim and the monks, but now I want to be like them. I don't want the Catholic woman's religious traditions added by her church but I do want her devotion to God. I want her deep committed faith. I want my adoration of Jesus to be as strong as hers was. I don't want the Muslim's skewed doctrine in the Qu'ran but I want his commitment to prayer. I want to have such a strong commitment to God that whenever and wherever I am, I would interrupt my day to pray. I don't want the monk’s physical lifestyle but I do want their spiritual lifestyle. Like the monk, I want to spend the rest of my life living daily in the presence of God.

At some point the Catholic woman, the Muslim and the monk crossed a spiritual line in their lives. From a normal faith to an abnormal faith. From a cursory and casual relationship with God to one deeply meaningful. They crossed that line where they moved from the secular into a sold-out, God-centered lifestyle. And, when they crossed that line, they made God so important to them that they began to structure their life in a way where they would set aside times in the day to intentionally come into His presence. I used to make fun of the super-spiritual. Now I'm trying to learn from them.

Who have you admired for their faith? What is it about their spiritual walk that seems to be different from others? If you could sit down with them and ask them to tell you the one thing you could do that would make the greatest difference in your spiritual journey today, what do you think they’d say to you?

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