I was raised in New York but lived in part of the South (of the US) so I can appreciate this story from a friend. He recounted a situation in the South where he’d have received a discount on a purchase if he had put his body into the pew of a church. I theorize that when being religious is societally acceptable (or central), people become inured to it. But if your society rejects religion, some people begin to feel the lack of it—and get an itch. Christ contrasts with religions: Christ is from above, religions from our human efforts. In contrasting religion and Christ, He appears to me to be more distinctive, more unique, and incomparable with the contrast.
Right now I am living in Indonesia where the law requires everyone to declare a religion for their government ID. Religion in Indonesia is like your skin and hair: you were born with it—it’s part of your family inheritance. In Indonesia, religion is like bathing—you do it all the time, whether or not you have time or feel like it. I’ve been tutored in Indonesian for the past 9 months. Hour 1 is conversation – we meet two hours, once a week. My tutor Jati is an average Javanese, middle-aged, intelligent and has taught Indonesian for many years. Jati’s is not Muslim (the dominant religion here) not Buddhist nor a follower of Confucius, but a Roman Catholic. This week we chatted about the newly-elected pope. Jati knows I was raised Catholic and now go to an Anglican church. He gave me a history lesson on the “imported” religions in Indonesia (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity). He added a short section on practices of Hinduism and Buddhism, and Islam in Indonesia (whose mosques and appointments: washing up areas, jilbab in Indonesian–elsewhere called a hijab, can be seen all over the place).
We also talked about the differences between Protestants and Catholics, I quoted a friend/pastor who told me, “No one will get 100% on their theology exam in heaven.” We talked about what is common to both: Christ, His centrality.
Then I posited, “In terms of human history and globally, true Christianity is wonderfully elastic.”
Jati said, “Jelaskan!” (Explain, clarify).
I said, “The beauty, as I see it, of Christianity is that it is Christ-defined and Christ-determined. For example, God who would receive “everyone” if they “come to Him” must have made accommodations for all kinds of people. Including people who couldn’t carry out typical religious duties. Don’t you see? — it must be possible that a mentally-challenged, disabled beggar–the sort we see all over the city–could be a Christian who is wholly devoted to Christ. We might not be aware of it, but he might be a better Christian than either of us: he may be more wholly true to Christ and less full of himself. Of course, for you and I, having been given much, naturally have the greater responsibility.”
Jati turned into a punctuation mark: Thunderstruck, his eyes widened, he sat up and slapped himself on the forehead. “You are right! I had never thought about that!”
Christianity was born of Christ’s work, and is carried out through His work. In my fragile and feeble manner, I limp along the way being carried by Him.
If Christ is in my heart and in my mind, then I will carry out my responsibilities of compassion as the Spirit of Christ directs.
If not, then I am deluded.