Skip to main content

The Work of Religion

As a graduate of a couple schools, I get my share of alumni magazines.  Additionally, I get the magazines from some of my two girls’ various universities.  Rather than toss these, I am actually intrigued by what the different universities are offering for my reading.  Clearly in the case of my two girls, I was not the intended audience.  But I am interested in what some of the nation’s best schools want their alums to read.
           
In my own case I clearly am the targeted audience.  Certainly the Divinity School I attended is assuming people like me are reading this material.  I am old enough now and far enough away from the intellectual epicenters, I am not on the cutting edge of religious scholarship.  I am ok with that.  I appreciate scholarship, but also find times when the scholarship is too far out there---too arcane---for the kind of ministry I am doing.  I also am reminded I always felt called to be involved in ministry broadly defined.  My joy is to serve.
           
But I am still intellectually intrigued by a wide-range of thought.  So when a magazine comes, I quickly thumb through the whole issue.  I guess I am either bored or curious!  Then over the next few days, I will begin to read the various articles.  I do not read in order to take an examination and prove how smart I am.  Fortunately, those days are long past!  I read out of an inherent interest in learning something---learning how to think differently or more deeply.
           
Such was my perspective when I saw the title of an article: “The Work of Art and the Art of Life.”  The author was Michael Jackson, a name I did not recognize.  That’s ok with me; I do not need to know the author for him or her to be valuable to me.  I know I have been valuable to some people and they did not know my name!  So I plunged into the article.
           
The article really was about art, but it also had a sub-theme that recognized what can be said about art can also be claimed, for the most part, about religion.  Let me quote one sentence, for example, and make you aware of what the author, Jackson, says in effect, “The same can be said about religion.”
           
Jackson confesses that he is “focusing not on art as an expression of individual genius or an as aesthetic, but on the work of art, where ‘work’ is to be read as a verb rather than a noun and understood as a technê for making life more meaningful, enjoyable, and manageable…Crucial to this point of view is the pragmatist assumption that art (ars) and technê are intimately linked, and that the work of art is a matter of making, acting, and doing before it is a form of knowledge, an object of contemplation, or a thing of beauty.”  I was captivated by these two sentences and want to unpack them and think about them more fully.
           
The first thing that caught my attention was the focus on the “work of art.”  If the same thing can be said, then we appropriately can talk about the “work of religion.”  I find this idea appealing.  I do think religion is often and regularly a work—it takes effort and discipline.  That makes sense to me.
           
I also like the focus on the word, “work,” as a verb rather than a noun.  The verb is the action-word.  Verbs are creative, dynamic and energetic.  Nouns are states of being.  If we apply this to religion, then religion is creative, dynamic and energetic.  Religion does have beliefs, doctrines and rituals.  But these are more like nouns.  They exist and we simply link to them.  But the life of faith is more verb-like: it takes work---today and again tomorrow.
           
Although some folks might not like to think about religion as a technê---a technique---I find that appealing.  The technique is our way of making religion---the making, acting and doing that Jackson mentions.  These are active verbs---religion is the result of active work---of work as an activity.  This makes perfect sense to me, especially if we see religion as an active way of living.  If we simply see religion as accepting a few doctrines, then it makes less sense.
           
Finally, I liked what Jackson said about art and about which we can also say about religion.  He talks about art and religion as a technique---as a means---of making life more meaningful, enjoyable and manageable.  These sound like good things for me!  I want a more meaningful life.  I would love to enjoy life as much as possible.  And who does not want a life that is manageable?  I concur that religion helps me on all three counts.           

I do feel life is meaningful, enjoyable and manageable.  It is why I am a person of faith---why being spiritual is more like a verb than a noun. It is something I do…today and again tomorrow.

Popular posts from this blog

Inward Journey and Outward Pilgrimage

There are so many different ways to think about the spiritual life.And of course, in our country there are so many different variations of religious experiences.There are liberals and conservatives.There are fundamentalists and Pentecostals.Besides the dizzying variety of Christian traditions, there are many different non-Christian traditions.There are the major traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on.There are the slightly more obscure traditions, such as Sikhism, Jainism, etc.And then there are more fringe groups and, even, pseudo-religions. There are defining doctrines and religious practices.Some of these are specific to a particular tradition or a few traditions, such as the koan, which is used in Zen Buddhism for example.Other defining doctrines or practices are common across the religious board.Something like meditation would be a good example.Christians meditate; Buddhists meditate.And other groups practice this spiritual discipline. A favorite way I like to …

A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.  Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.  So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.  Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”  I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.  Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.  And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!  So let me explain it by some development.

For sure, every adult knows what pain means.  It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.  There is physical pain; we all know this.  There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.  There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.  Not …

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”
The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.A committed person was someone to be admired.He was loyal and steady.Now a commitment is something you avoid.You don’t want to tie yourself down.”I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.
For example, growing up was full of sports for me.Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team. If you were going to pl…