“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
“Jesus isn’t my religion, He’s my savior.”
“Why I hate religion and love Jesus.”
I’ve heard all of these and more. And I understand the idea behind the slogans. A lot of rotten things have been done and said in the name of religion. I get that. But still, I love church, religious traditions included. Here are just a few reasons why.
10. Weddings. When I was little, I often went with my daddy, a Baptist preacher, to the weddings he officiated. I loved everything about weddings then and now—the signature attire, the music, the sweet (or not so sweet) kiss at the end. But the parts of the wedding I have always loved the most include scripture: the miracle at the wedding in Canaan, First Corinthians 13, and “What therefore God has put together, let not man tear asunder.” These texts are read religiously at Christian weddings. And I just love that.
9. Covered-Dish Dinners. I’ve had covered-dish meals outside of church, but really, they just aren’t the same. Think about it. Office pot-lucks consist mostly of to-go foods or quick fixes. Rarely will you find a deviled egg at such an event and if you do it’s made with light mayonnaise which defeats the whole purpose anyway. At a church covered-dish meal, there’ll be seven different macaroni and cheese casseroles, all homemade. You’ll find Ole’ Jack’s fresh cured barbeque, Aunt Mary’s 12-layer chocolate cake, and Mrs. Smith’s homemade biscuits right next to Mrs. Jones’. (If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take one of each.) Covered-dish dinners aren’t considered a sacrament. But they should be.
8. Saying Grace. I love pausing in the midst of the rush of life and holding hands around the dinner table to say a blessing over our meal. We stop. We reach out. We look up. I love that.
7. Meetings. Understand, I don’t actually love the meetings themselves. What I love is that we have them. We try to make decisions as a unit. We disagree, sometimes loudly. We compromise, usually not nearly enough. Still, we work at it; we try to get along. Of course we seldom accomplish as much as we hoped we would. But when it’s over, we hold hands, say Grace, and head out to the covered-dish supper. That’s church.
6. Sunday Morning Bible Study (AKA Sunday School). Actually, I love Sunday School now. Not so much when I was a teenager. Here’s why. As I recall, my sister and I were often in the same class. The two of us against one teacher? It wasn’t pretty. See, my parents raised their children as thinking Baptists; as a result, we believed questions were a part of the journey of faith. Eventually, as a response to our pleas (or the teachers’), our mother took over teaching our class. Ever since then, I’ve loved Sunday School.
5. Hymns. I love singing songs that have been sung for decades (if not centuries) by followers of Jesus. I love the sound of all of us singing together—altos and off-tones, tenors and tend-not-to’s, soloists and the so-so-ists. Harmony and unity all wrapped up in history. What’s not to love?
4. Tradition. These days, a lot of folks see tradition as the bad guy. I love tradition. I love that since at least the early 1960’s, my family has had country ham biscuits for breakfast on Christmas morning. I love this silly game that I played with my cousins and now my children play with theirs (it’s called “Last Tag” and it was essentially designed to delay our inevitable separation). And I love church traditions. I love that we stand when the Gospel is read or the Hallelujah chorus is sung. I love hearing the choir sing and the handbells play. I love the organ, the piano, the orchestra. I love liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer, and saying “Amen.” Maybe it seems empty to others, but to me, tradition is full of the faith of those who have gone before me. It humbles me. It blesses me. I love it.
3. Sacraments. I’m Baptist and we consider Eucharist (which we call the Lord’s Supper or Communion) and Baptism (which we usually do by immersion) to be holy and sacred. These two practices are seriously religious. I mean, if you are unfamiliar with the faith and you observe these customs, you might think we are cannibalistic and even a little bit murderous. Let’s face it. To people who know nothing of Christianity, Eucharist and Baptism are just weird. They are. And I love them. I love these representations of the life of Christ, the life of a follower of Christ. I take the bread and the cup, reminded that God became man and lived among us even until death. I watch a baptism and feel the water wash over my own seven-year-old face, hearing again for the first time, “Aileen, you are a child of God and God takes great delight in you.” I rise, again, from those baptismal waters knowing that in Christ there is always renewal, there is always resurrection. And I feel loved.
2. Vacation Bible School. It’s true. I absolutely love Vacation Bible School (VBS). You can’t talk me out of it either, so don’t even try. When I was coming along, we had VBS for two full weeks—my very favorite two weeks of the entire summer. Now, in most Baptist churches that offer it, VBS is held for about a week, either for several hours in the morning or in the evening. Usually, programming is planned for children ages preschool through elementary school. Church members—from youth to senior adults—help plan and carry out the week’s events. I loved VBS as a child; I loved working in VBS when I was in the youth group; I have loved leading VBS as an adult; and I love directing it too. It’s hard for me to say why I love this so much. I guess it’s because all these different people come together for a common goal: to share the love of Jesus with children. We’ve got 70 year olds serving snacks to kindergartners and youth piggy-backing preschoolers. We’ve got adults singing songs, telling stories and playing games as if they themselves were kids. During Vacation Bible School, the church turns its eyes to the children and says loud and clear, in lots of different ways, over and over again, “Jesus loves you!” I just absolutely love that.
And the number one thing I love about being a Christian . . .
Ministry. I don’t know of any other organization that does ministry as well as the church. Hear me: I worked in college administration for years and felt very much like my job was my ministry. But really, I would not have gone to that job every day, 40 hours a week, if I had not gotten a paycheck, no matter how much ministry I got to do. The church—Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal—ministers in a zillion different ways. Sure, we minister to ourselves, that’s true. We do take care of our own. But that’s not all we do. We visit the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned. We feed the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless. We build wheelchair ramps, repair roofs, install flooring. And yes, we cry with each other, hug each other and celebrate with each other. Now who doesn’t love that?
My church, my religion, is far from perfect. We miss the mark far more times than we hit the target. Sometimes Christians get out of hand at meetings and even at covered-dish dinners (bless their hearts). There are certainly times when people wander through traditions and sacraments mindlessly, missing the sacred altogether. Frequently, we get so bogged down in minutia we completely forget about ministry. And you won’t believe this, but not everyone loves Vacation Bible School.
We’re imperfect. We’re broken. We are the Body of Christ. We are church. And I really love that.