Merriam-Webster defines religion as, “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” The same source defines relationship as, “the way in which two or more people or things are connected.” I highlighted the key words and will discuss them further later.
I’m reminded of a recent partnership that was formed initially as a business venture. I met these partners through a mutual friend; and although my time was consumed with launching my own venture, these partners introduced a method that would financially help me in my endeavor. These business partners spent countless hours grooming me into this new business venture that would sure turn my current business into a reality. I needed the money to cover startup costs and they convinced me this could be it. And the bait used to lure me was religion. On surface, we all shared the same beliefs and principles, the heart to help others, the willingness to give up selfish desires for the needs of others, etc. Every conversation was positive, and uplifting, and perky, and overly encouraging. And once I paid the hefty fee to commit to this business venture (even though I really could not afford it), I met others who were just the same as the new business partners. It only took a few meetings to learn the expectations and drive needed in order to produce a financial income that I realized this was not the partnership I wanted. I didn’t see any ROI (return on investments), but when I noted that, I was quickly shut down to say, “Well you didn’t follow the formula.” These are the same business partners that called me a rock star, a great spirited person, a wonderful inspiration. But the moment I decided to pour my energy into what I’m most passionate about, the calls stopped. The everyday inspirational texts stopped. The social media comments stopped. The encouragement stopped. Then I learned that my business partners and this entire organization used “religion” as what Merriam-Webster described earlier (an institutionalized system) to lure people in but the unspoken fact is, if you do not follow their defined system, you will surely fail. They put a lot of rich people in your face and tell you that you can have this too if you do as I say. And if you fail, you fail to make them money and grow their business, and you then become useless to their line of business. An outcast – no longer part of the clique. That’s how I felt and that’s how I feel.
No love lost here. I’ve been through this so many times (especially by churches I was once a member of) that I’m barely fazed by it. My past has taught me a valuable lesson: my relationship with God is far more important than some religious institution. My relationship goes against every organized religious teaching. It is not based on what church I attend; or what group I’m a part of; or how many Get to Know Jesus pamphlets I pass out on a Saturday morning; or how many prayer meetings in the middle of the week I attend; or how many love offerings I give to the Pastor, despite the fact that my lights are turned off for nonpayment. God never treats me as an outcast because I do not do everything perfect or just as He says. He’s patient and kind and gracious. He’s loving and nurturing and PATIENT (yes, I’m saying it again). He doesn’t toss me to the side like useless dish rags until I decide I want to obey His Word. And most of all, He doesn’t defame my character to the congregation and get as many followers to ban me from their special gatherings. All of which have been done to me by faithful church goers.
So if you ask me today, what is my religion? My response is, “I no longer believe in organized religion. Instead, I focus my efforts on my relationship with God. One that is not controlled by man.” That’s just me.