"Poetry doesn't need self expression. The self has been expressed. You're standing in it." That's a quote from Mary Karr. David Dark, in a new book, Life's Too Short To Pretend You Are Not Religious, says it sums up his book. Dark has other phrases that sum up his book too. Like: Be Specific. And, the world is never generic; it is one's own world. And here is one borrowed from Wendell Berry: "the context of love is the world". The world you live in. All love is local. Love is not abstract. If it does not take on flesh and blood it is "delusional".
If you substitute faith for poetry in the Karr quote you get what Dark is saying. Our faith shows, all the time; our religion, or our values, are often "glaringly, sometimes crushingly obvious." It shows in who you are in life and love. It matters where you are and how you live there. Your religion is how you choose to live in the sacred place you find yourself.
All people are religious. Christians are religious. But, somewhere we got off track so it seems like we think that what we believe/what we say/what we profess is what makes us a Christian. How did that happen? (Thus, we have self confessed Christians supporting torture, carpet bombing, keeping the strangers and aliens, i.e, Mexicans, Muslims, etc, out of our country). We have drawn up a list of what Christians do and don't do (don't do is a much longer list). So, we can tell the difference between the nons and born agains. Dark, in his books, wants Christians to be very clear about what is a Christian. What do you and I mean when we define ourselves that way.
Whatever it means, it means, at least, that we can't do it on our own. We have this myth of the self -made man or woman. Work hard and hard work pays off (and if it doesn't you aren't working hard enough). Dark says, it's like our national motto is, "Hurry up, and matter." We say we believe in grace but live by anti-grace. He quotes George Monbiot in the Guardian, "if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire"
What is your litmus test for faithfulness? We all have one? Is it what we say we believe about God, or eternal life, or Jesus, or the gifts of the Spirit, or alcohol, or who should be allowed the legal right to marry or, on and on, we could go. So many ways to divide ourselves. Which is why Vincent Harding (and David Dark) say, "love trumps doctrine every time." It's about the way we live. How we treat our neighbors, especially the vulnerable. That is true religion not trying to convince people of hard to prove things.
True religion is not hard to find. If you look for it, it can be seen in many mundane tasks people do for each other all day long. When most people see it they know it by heart.
Try this on for size: "If my religion is my relationship with the world, good religion would be the work of growing, developing, deepening consciousness, not closed, not shut, settled, rigid, or done for, but one of ever unfolding receptivity and, if you like, continual repentance, a continual turning away from all of my not quite worthy of life commitments, a way of taking responsibility for what I do."Bad religion begins with a denial of relationship, any practice that divides us from others. James, the brother of Jesus said something about that.
They will know us by our love, John said in one of his letters, and he did not say by our doctrinal statement (our doctrine is Jesus is Lord, he did say). People take time. Love has a face. Reach out and touch someone. Get out of your comfort zone, live your religion, don't just talk about it and hang out in a church building with others you think believe like you do (they may not you never know).