The following first appeared in "Reflections" in the St. Andrew's Lutheran-Bellevue WA newsletter, "The Voice."
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23a, NRSV
I know. I’m taking a big risk by titling an article for a Lutheran church’s newsletter in such a manner but please hear me out. In the wake of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook (and the many that came before and have followed) I was browsing through the notes app on my smart phone where I jot down ideas for, among other things, this column and came across this one from last March: “Seen on a bumper sticker: ‘Clinging to my gun and my religion.’” It troubled me greatly when first I saw it and it continues to make me ill. Now lest you think that this article is now going to expound on gun control, rest assured, it’s not. But the more I think about it, even though I was fairly confident that the owner of that vehicle and that bumper sticker was one of a garden variety of conservative Christians he might just as well been sporting that same slogan in other parts of the world. Every major religion seems to have—and use—its guns. Much evil has been perpetrated using guns in the name of religion. Since doing away with guns worldwide seems like a dream reserved for Coke commercials I started wondering if the answer might be to do away with religion. If the two are dependent on each other as in any symbiotic relationship then stamping out one might result in the demise of the other.
Heresy you say? Not so! Nowhere in the Bible (and I can’t be sure but I’m pretty confident the same holds true for the Koran and the Torah) is there any mention of the word or the concept of “religion.” Religion is a man-made principle and like all things man-made it has flaws—sometimes serious ones. And religion does not prescribe a path to God. Mind you, I’m not talking about the end of faith or the end of belief. What I’m talking about is putting spirituality back in its rightful place as the way to be in relationship with God—the God that every religion claims as its own. Religion and guns. A way to God? I think not!
On the other hand, can you imagine anyone spewing venom such as, “Clinging to my gun and the spirit”? Doubtful! First of all, notice that religion seems to be something we have possession of, whereas, spirituality possesses us. Religion gives us rules, responsibilities and a strange sense of superiority. Spirituality gives us gifts. How freeing! And we don’t need violent means to defend those gifts. We don’t need laws to control them. They are just there, for the taking: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The gifts of the spirit need no defense; no one will or can take them away. We need only to embrace them, to “cling” to them. Praise be to God!