Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Accessible Religion

I asked a friend who is a priest to review one of my blog entries before I published it. I told her that I didn't want to offend people by what I said, and I also didn't want to sound like a fool. She wrote me back a wonderfully detailed, insightful, and instructive response which was worded so gently that I wasn't sure if she was telling me that I did indeed sound like a fool, but she left me convinced that I needed to do some re-writing.

Religion needs to be accessible to people, but it doesn't need to be easy. I am sure that clergy struggle to write sermons that will carry meaning and inspiration to a broad range of people, and now, having been edited by a priest who every week meets that challenge, I see how difficult a task it is.

We are bombarded by television and radio preachers who openly tell us that they are delivering a simple message. They tell us that all we have to do is open our hearts, or read our bibles. Maybe that's all some people need. But to me, the world we live in is so complicated that it requires us to put a bit more effort into understanding how the religious and moral messages that we have inherited apply to our lives.

The priest who critiqued my blog entry (and she hasn't looked at this one yet, so don't blame her if you don't like it) told me about a conference she attended recently. She gave me just the slightest taste of the intricacy of the historical and theological debate among the presenters and her colleagues. She gave me just an inkling of the deep thinking that has gone into some of the questions to which I am only able to devote a few paragraphs in my blog. She affirmed some of what I had written, challenged some of it, and led me to think about things that had not occurred to me.

But most importantly, she reminded me of the limitations of the easy answer. All faith traditions come to us with rich bodies of scholarship. They also leave us with unanswered questions and with questions that have been answered in the past, but for which new answers may be needed.

The surveys tell us that attendance at church services is declining. Attendance at Sunday School and religious studies doesn't seem to be doing so well, either. So a lot of people, busy as we all are, are left with only the slimmest slice of religion. It was good to be reminded, by someone who has made religious ministry her life and her career, of the abundance of thoughtful guidance that is available to anyone who wants it. And I can imagine my Rabbi saying, “What, you thought all we do is light candles?”

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