10 marks of good religion

Scot McKnight lists 10 Marks of Good religion taken from reading a book by Mark Thielen. The author’s contention that the answer to bad religion is not no religion, but good religion. Here’s the list:

1. Good religion impacts the way we live. It’s got to do more than re-arrange our Sunday schedule. I have to admit that I have tired of the theologians who contend that Christianity is not about what we do but about what we believe, or the one in whom we believe, and that preaching the imperatives of the Bible is sinful — as if God didn’t know how to talk to us well or as if Jesus didn’t know how to preach or as if the apostles should have cut their letters in half. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy mocks Jesus.

2. Good religion prioritizes love. What’s the point? The Jesus Creed!

3. Good religion engages in service.

4. Good religion provides a prophetic voice. Mandela, Tutu, consumerism, environmental irresponsibility — and Thielen provides a brief sketch of a theology of the environment (pp. 90-93).

5. Good religion builds community.

6. Good religion is hope filled.

7. Good religion keeps an open mind.

8. Good religion practices forgiveness: it’s hard work, takes time, does not condone bad behavior, does not always lead to reconciliation, and is for our benefit.

9. Good religion promotes gratitude.

10. Good religion practices evangelism: lifestyle, relational, invitational.

Giving up God for Ralph Lauren

The Faith & Leadership portal has a fascinating Q&A with a marketing professor who has been studying the interaction of brand-name consumer products and religion.

It turns out that when you get people thinking about religion, they become less likely to choose brand-name products.

It also turns out that if you get people thinking about their favorite brands, their religious impulses and even beliefs are negatively impacted. Perhaps putting a Starbucks in the lobby is a bad idea.

For eons, organized religion has provided a sense of community, has provided a way to say who we are to others, has provided a source of meaning in the world.

Brands, as they have evolved, have just moved into that exact same space with those exact same functions. So if that need is getting fulfilled through brands, it means that we don’t need religion nearly as much to do so.

As a function of that, people don’t think it’s as important to go to services, and it even reduces their belief that there is a higher power looking over us.

As I read it, I think of the ancient Christian caution about being too attached to this world.

Lectionary blogging: Luke 2:41-52

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. When he was 12 years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom. After the festival was over, they were returning home, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. (Luke 2:41-46. CEB)

While working on my sermon this week, I had an encounter that reminded me how differently people might hear the text. I have always read this text from the point-of-view of young parents finding out their child was missing. My mind turns to thoughts of panic when a child goes missing in a crowd or something similar to that.

But a conversation with an older Christian this week got me thinking. Lots of people who hear the story of the child who has gone missing might hear it with different ears, especially sitting in church. They hear the story and feel the empty spaces in the pews around them. They see their own children and grandchildren who are no longer in church and no longer Christians. They feel the pain of worry and concern as well as, perhaps, a pang of personal abandonment and even betrayal (how could they reject something so important to me?).

I know that a responsible exegesis would not land on this cluster of issues, but I do wonder how many ears will hear the story read in church this week and wonder these things.

These thoughts were on my mind as I read this story in the Los Angeles Times by a “none” who wonders why some people feel called to religion. She writes that institutional religion (the only kind of “religion” that exists), is too political for her taste. She does not understand a God, she writes, that is more interested in our private parts than our hearts.

The piece closes with her questions about whether she has been missing something.

But are we the ones who are missing out? For centuries, religion has been a tool to make people happier, kinder, more inclined to see the big picture. It’s been credited with keeping believers grounded, reducing anxiety and the compulsions that often lead to self-destructive behavior. In times of great difficulty, it may be the only thing that keeps a person afloat until things get better. Religion is touted as a doorway to the eternal, helping us understand our role in the cosmos.

As I read the paragraph above, I found myself drawn back to the gospel text. Mary and Joseph were frantically searching Jerusalem not for a tool to make people happier or method to reduce anxiety. They were searching for Jesus, who they found in his father’s house.

My hunch is that what plagues the church today is that too many people cannot find Jesus there — for a whole host of reasons. They may come in like the woman in the story looking for community or meaning or comfort in times of turmoil, but the only thing that keeps them coming back is finding Jesus there. And through him, these others are added unto them.

The spiritual significance of the nones

USA Today published a story on Christmas about people who take a “who cares?” or “so what?” attitude toward all religion. The article quotes a spate of folks who say they just can’t be bothered to get curious about God. In polls they are sometimes called “nones.” They are not religious, but neither are they atheists of a militant stripe. They just say spiritual questions do not matter.

A typical example:

For them, the Almighty is off the radar, like some tiny foreign country they know exists but never think about.

“God? Purpose? You don’t need an opinion on those things to function,” says Suhas Sreedhar, 26, a engineer working in a computer company in Manhattan.

Raised in New Jersey by his devoutly Hindu mother and staunchly atheist father, “I was saturated with both views and after a while, I realized I don’t need either perspective.

“There may be unanswerable questions that could be cool or fascinating. Speculating on them is a fun parlor game, but they don’t shed any meaning on my life,” Sreedhar says.

The question I had as I read this story was how I should interpret the experience of the spiritually apathetic.

John Wesley would say they are spiritually asleep. They are in a state of nature. It is no surprise that they have no awareness of God or the life of the spirit. That is the very definition of the “natural man” as Wesley would put it.

For his soul is in a deep sleep: His spiritual senses are not awake; They discern neither spiritual good nor evil. The eyes of his understanding are closed; They are sealed together, and see not. Clouds and darkness continually rest upon them; for he lies in the valley of the shadow of death. Hence having no inlets for the knowledge of spiritual things, all the avenues of his soul being shut up, he is in gross, stupid ignorance of whatever he is most concerned to know.

To Wesley, the blissfully apathetic about religion are not at all shocking. They are not a threat to religion or faith. They are the lost, the blind, the happy captives of the devil.

What do we in the United Methodist Church say? How do we understand the spiritual significance of this widespread attitude?

Is Oprah a religion?

A column at the Patheos Evangelical Portal reviews a book that asks that question.

Here’s a snippet:

Does Winfrey promote a religion? Or does Oprah embody religion herself? A whiff of the religious is everywhere about her, says Lofton (who teaches religious studies at Yale): “she preaches the prosperity gospel, she advocates books as scripture, she offers exegesis, she conducts exculpatory rites, she supplies a bazaar of faithful practices, she propagates missions, both home and foreign.” Oprah is a religion because in America, consumption—of clothes, food, and books—is a religion. The right experiences and products, we believe, will fill the void inside. The core of Oprah’s message is the “spiritual injunction to consume,” and in consuming, to become like Oprah.

In the course of the review, the post’s author raises some questions about the state of American Christianity as well.

Most and Least Religous States

See where your state stacks up in the latest Gallup survey.