How extraordinary that I should have some of my more profound thoughts come to mind while I ride my Old Dutch bicycle along cobbled streets of the flat lands of our new home and, in this instance, even more profound that in this wonderful country that I currently call home, The Netherlands, being one of the more agnostic in Europe. Yet, the up-coming public holiday is a religions one called Hemelvaart or in English, Ascension Day, the reason for which no one seems to know….
RELIGION is a topic of MUCH discussion and deliberation from both sides of the divide. Healthy debate is something that the Dutch are exceptionally well versed in, along with the ideal of freedom of thought, speech & action. Their “anti-religious” stance may well stem from the fact that the Dutch are one of the smartest nations, boasting exceptionally high standards of education and qualification, which has led them, in my opinion, to a point of “not needing God”, or perhaps having “out-smarted God” and those antiquated ways…..?
I enjoy the odd Sunday in my small local Protestant church listening to the minister expound on various themes and Biblical verses; joining in with hymn and chorus singing in my best Nederlands; praying silently during the peaceful moments and laughing along with the puppet shows for the children at the beginning of the service. I am humbled by the generous response to the plight of the immigrant and marginalised in our society and to the plight of the destitute spread around the globe shown in the collection bags that are passed around the congregation and it is this very offering that disturbs me, for want of a better word: as a native to the poverty in the country of my birth, South Africa, in that there is no end to poverty and Jesus himself said that the poor would always be with us. This is not a reason, nor an excuse, for apathy in trying our own way to help the poor when and where we are able to, rather it is an awakening to how to enable the poor to help themselves in order that they need not to stretch their hands out forever asking for help from others and being served up a temporary solution, along with a healthy dose of religion.
So this is where the two topics converge, those being: RELIGION and RELATIONSHIP.
The religion that so many of the world loves to hate is the set of rules, requirements and regulations carved out of a desire for man/men to control others by. The fact that, within a Christian context, these rules, requirements and regulations have been in existence since the Bible was compiled has led groups of believers to cling to and have, literally cast in stone such practices, claiming Divine creed of such. The danger in this comes from interpretation and context of the Biblical writings and it is in the sects that the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” truly come to light: many such groups of “new found believers” have taken Biblical text in part only and out of context in order to control the hungry, lost, searching, free-thinkers in the world. Thus it becomes a “religion” to follow blindly in faith that the leader is all-knowing, all-learned, all-holy….
Personally, I choose to believe otherwise and this comes from my background, firmly rooted in the Christian Protestant faith, that I have grown to find lacking in the humility of my Saviour, Jesus Christ. Of course the basic Christian principles are what the churches are based on, be it Catholic or Protestant but these well intended principles are so vastly overshadowed by the dogma and direction of man-made rules that it is increasingly difficult for the world to see the true intention of God and God’s image in the world.
Allow me to expand a little…. How fortunate I am to live in this wonderful first world country, in a beautiful town that has no real knowledge of poverty, hunger or need. Privileged, I count myself as our home/apartment is located on a beautiful traffic circle overwhich is a modest Catholic church who’s bells ring out for all to hear, every half hour out of every 24: such a beautiful sound that not only alerts one to the hour of the day or night, but also serves as a reminder to be thankful and perhaps a gentle nudge to pray…. It is in the prayerful moments that we are closer to our Creator, communicating in the silence of our minds and THAT is relationship and not religion. It is this quietness of mind that allows one to appreciate the fact that we draw breath and are alive!
Relationship is a two way street: our prayerful gratitude and the response from God in the astounding people who cross our paths, shining the light of our Creator into our hearts with their kindness, thoughtfulness, empathy, generosity – THE IMAGE OF GOD.