They, We and I — September 13, 2011


They, We and I (1,268)


As I was packing up to leave on Sunday morning, an aged but sprightly couple—I assumed to be somewhere in their mid-eighties—came up to my table and posed a question. “What can we do to be less religious and more like Jesus?”

At the same time, a young man, maybe about fifteen, also strolled up, overheard the question and said, “Me, too. That was gonna be my question.”

I just smiled—exactly what God wants. The older generation and younger generation finding the same mind in the spiritual realm, to do great things together. And fortunately for me, the answer for both of them was the same. Isn’t it grand when truth applies to all races, genders and ages? Here’s what I told them:

Believing in something falls into three categories—they, we and I. If you want to escape being overly religious, you’ve got to stay away from “we” because spirituality is a world that revolves around “I.” In other words, you’re not trying to force other people to agree with you. You’re not even attempting to put together a fellowship of believers who coagulate around the bloodstream of a great idea. It is simply your own person conviction—what’s right for you. Here’s an example.

Number 1: I believe in God. See how simple that is? It’s just who I am. I’m not drawing any judgments on those who don’t. I’m not even requiring that you participate in the adventure. I’m just asking you for two things—to allow me the grace and space to do so, and secondly, you might want to note if it’s a fruitful experience for me.

Number 2: We believe in God. I know agreement is a good thing, but when faith requires linking up with other people, getting them to agree with me, the beauty of the experience becomes a bit tainted with possible self-righteousness. Is believing in God really more powerful because ten people do it instead of just one? After all, the first confession of faith was made by one simple fisherman from Capernaum, Galilee, who spoke his own heart without fear of the world around him or the need to have reinforcements. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Religion is created when we feel the need to have others agree with us to give credence to what we do instead of having the simple faith to work out our own salvation with a bit of fear and trembling. The problem with adding “we” to any belief is that very quickly it can transform into…

Number 3: They. Religion often becomes weary with its own tenets and begins to attack others. It expresses insecurity about its own precepts by trying to extinguish the energy of contrary beliefs surrounding it. So “we believe in God” can easily turn into “they don’t believe in our God. And because they don’t believe in God, we must …” Well, there’s the problem. The completion of that phrase could be—and has been—anything from evangelizing “them” to flying planes into their buildings.

The perfect expression of “God in me” is found in the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd (you don’t have to agree)

I shall not want (you can feel free to want at will)

He makes me to lie down in green pastures (if you enjoy the desert, it’s your choice)

He leads me beside the still waters (you like the rapids? Go for it!)

He restores my soul (you don’t need restoring? I’m so glad for you!)

He leads me in the path of righteousness for His name’s sake (maybe you’ve found righteousness without being led. Not so for me.)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil (yes, that’s the question, isn’t it? Who are we when it comes to an end?)

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (I’m not leaving you out. I hope you find your house.)

If you want to escape religion, you need to cease and desist requiring a confirmation of your own testimony by having everyone affirm everything you believe. The danger of “we” is that it becomes religion—speckled with self-righteousness—and then can quickly descend into evil, which is making enemies of our brothers and sisters instead of finding ways to build bridges and repair the breech.

Of course, I didn’t go into this much detail with the couple and the young man, but I think they understood. I think they comprehended that if a way of thinking is really fulfilling, we don’t need to line up an army behind us and we certainly don’t need to use that army to destroy others.

Pure religion and undefiled, says James in his epistle, is to visit the fatherless and widows and keep yourself unspotted from the world. It isn’t demanding that other people do it or criticizing them because you found spots on them that looked like the world. If righteousness is really a great human gift, then it doesn’t require reinforcements or applause—just enactment.

So wherever you are, if your faith demands a “we,” it has moved into the realm of religion and in these tenuous times can too easily be turned into a “they”—looking for enemies instead of making friends.

For me? I believe in God and find great comfort in the teachings of Jesus. How about you?

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