Part 2 of a two part series on “What I Love about Religion. Find Part 1 here!
6. Hymns. I love singing songs that have been sung for decades (if not centuries) by followers of Jesus. I love the sound of all of us singing together—altos and off-tones, tenors and tend-not-to’s, soloists and the so-so-ists. I love it.
7. Tradition. These days, a lot of folks see tradition as the bad guy. I love tradition. I love that since at least the early 1960’s, my family has had country ham biscuits for breakfast on Christmas morning. I love this silly game that I played with my cousins and now my children play with theirs (it’s called “Last Tag” and it was essentially designed to delay our inevitable separation). And I love church traditions. I love that we stand when the Gospel is read or the Hallelujah chorus is sung. I love hearing the choir sing and the handbells play. I love the organ, the piano, the orchestra. I love liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer, and saying “Amen.” Maybe it seems empty to others, but to me, tradition is full of the faith of those who have gone before me. It humbles me. It blesses me. I love it.
8. Sacraments. I’m Baptist and we consider Eucharist (which we call the Lord’s Supper or Communion) and Baptism (which we usually do by immersion unless there are health restrictions) to be holy and sacred. These two practices are seriously religious. That is to say, if you are completely unfamiliar with Christianity and you observe these customs, you may think we are cannibalistic and not a little bit murderous. Let’s face it. To people who know nothing of our faith, Eucharist and Baptism are just weird. They are. And I love them. I love these representations of the life of Christ, the life of a follower of Christ. I take the bread and the cup, reminded that God became man and lived among us even until death. I watch a baptism and feel the water wash over my own seven-year-old face, hearing again for the first time, “Aileen, you are a child of God and God takes great delight in you.” I rise, again, from those baptismal waters knowing that in Christ there is always renewal, there is always resurrection. And I feel loved.
9. Vacation Bible School. It’s true. I absolutely love Vacation Bible School (VBS). You can’t talk me out of it either, so don’t even try. When I was coming along, we had VBS for two full weeks—my very favorite two weeks of the entire summer. Now, in most Baptist churches that offer it, VBS is held for about a week, either for several hours in the morning or in the evening. Usually, programming is planned for children ages preschool through elementary school. Church members—from youth to senior adults—help plan and carry out the week’s events. I loved VBS as a child; I loved working in VBS when I was in the youth group; I have loved leading VBS as an adult; and I love directing it too. It’s hard for me to say why I love this so much. I guess it’s because all these different people come together for a common goal: to share the love of Jesus with children. We’ve got 70 year olds serving snacks to kindergartners and youth piggy-backing preschoolers. We’ve got adults singing songs, telling stories and playing games as if they themselves were kids too. During Vacation Bible School, the church turns its eyes to the children and says loud and clear, in lots of different ways, over and over again, “Jesus loves you!” I just absolutely love that.
10. Ministry. I don’t know of any other organization that does ministry as well as the church. Hear me: I worked in college administration for years and felt very much like my job was my ministry. But really, I would not have gone to that job every day, 40 hours a week, if I had not gotten a paycheck, no matter how much ministry I got to do. The church—Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal—ministers in a zillion different ways. Sure, we minister to ourselves, that’s true. We do take care of our own. But that’s not all we do. We visit the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned. We feed the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless. We build wheelchair ramps, repair roofs, install flooring. And yes, we cry with each other, hug each other and celebrate with each other. You just gotta love that.
My church, my religion, is far from perfect. We miss the mark far more times than we hit the target. Sometimes Christians get out of hand at meetings and even at covered-dish dinners (bless their hearts). There are certainly times when people wander through traditions and sacraments mindlessly, missing the sacred altogether. Way too often, we get so bogged down in minutia we completely forget about ministry. And you won’t believe this, but not everyone loves Vacation Bible School.
We’re imperfect. We’re broken. We are the Body of Christ. We are church. And I really love that.