Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why is Good Religion so important?

"Like art, religion is an attempt to construct meaning in the face of 
relentless pain and injustice of life." 
Karen Armstrong
While in charge of the spiritual care department at a large hospice, a meeting was called by one of the nurses to discuss the agitation of one of her patients. This patient, an avowed Atheist, had refused the presence of the chaplain earlier in the care cycle. However, his Catholic family had requested the presence of a chaplain. This was not an unusual occurrence  There was often conflict between the family and the patient, especially concerning religious services.

However, this had gotten complicated because the patient was no longer verbally responding and in an agitated state. The proper drugs had been administered but no one could figure out the reason for the agitation. In a serendipitous moment, we decided to ask the patient, who could respond to simple commands, if he now wanted a chaplain. He "said" yes. We then asked if he wanted the chaplain to give the Sacrament of the Sick (similar to Last Rites).  The patient responded positively, was administered the sacrament and died within the hour.

Now, any hospice worker can give many examples just like this. It is common at the end of life for a person to want/need to reengage with a disavowed religious system, one they had left behind years or even decades before. I saw this with Wiccans needing to discuss forgiveness of a higher power, Buddhists needing to discuss heaven and hell or those with no religion becoming vulnerable and discussing a religious upbringing not thought of for 50 years. There are a number of reasons, but as Quiz Kid Donnie Smith says in the film Magnolia, "we may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us." 

As one looks at their own religious or spiritual understanding, that person can mentally assent to a better form of religion, or no religion at all. However, the past is not done with that person. Knowing this gives me pause. Why? Because I have left behind many damaging theological conceptions of my childhood behind. Or have I?

It is my desire, as a "pastor to the irreligious, the non-adherents and the post (or never) believers" to help others navigate their own bad religion, whether recent or long past and embrace a Good Religion, one that gives meaning to life, is life affirming, sustainable, healthy and good for the world around them, whether that religion is the one I embrace or another (this is classic CPE or chaplain speak, in case you were wondering).

It can take years, but dealing with our religious pasts, so we can look forward to the future, and prepare ourselves for eventual crises, is worth the hard work of creating new practices and a new way of life.

As those that journey with me to look at ways we can create a Good Religion in a world in which Bad Religion resides, I leave with another movie quote... well, one that I have slightly changed for my own selfish desires.

In the book/ film Perks of Being a Wallflower, it is said, "we accept the love we think we deserve." To which I would change it, "we accept the God (or religion) we think we deserve."

*while some of my theological friends may find there posts pedestrian, my intended audience is real people that are walking through life with bad religion, not those predisposed towards big theological arguments. 

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