Chapter 7, Pages 236-238
Read on 6.4.17, Called Out and Called In
One of the oldest meanings of the word “religion” is “to bind together” that which connects God with us and us with each other. By definition religion is inherently communal, rituals and relationships that weave a spiritual web of meaning and purpose into the world.
That meaning is largely lost to us. During the last few decades, the word “religion” has fallen on hard times. Contemporary Western people tend to define religion as a structure, organization, or institution. Those who want to speak of lively faith, holy connection, and of finding God in the world or in their lives, often call themselves “spiritual” instead.
Sometimes critics decry spirituality as individualism, but they miss the point. Spirituality is personal, yes. To experience God's spirit, to be lost in wonder, is something profound that we can all know directly and inwardly. That is not a problem. The real problem is that, in the last two centuries, religion has actually allowed itself to become privatized. In the same way that our political and economic concerns contracted from “we” to “me,” so has our sense of God and faith. In many quarters, religion abandoned a prophetic and creative vision for humanity’s common life in favor of an individual quest to get one’s sorry ass to heaven. And, in the process, community became isolated behind the walls of buildings where worship experiences corresponded to members’ tastes and preferences and confirmed their political views.
It has been slow but sure, getting to where we are now. But religion has been reduced to “me,” a process often aided and abetted by religious institutions themselves. That was a sad mistake, however, for at the very center of every religion, there stands some great communal vision of God, the world, and humanity.
In the Bible, that vision is of a people who know God has an intimate companion, live well with one another, and fulfill God's dream for creation. It is a vision of mutuality, friendship, creativity, conviviality, and generosity. People are to make peace, plant vines and fig trees, treat one another fairly and with compassion, and invite strangers into God's tent. We are other cursed or blessed on the basis of our relationships with others and how we care for the land. People prosper when justice rains. What is broken is restored, what is amiss is made right. It is a vision of a universal feast, a cosmic table around which all humankind is gathered to eat and drink and dance with God.