I’m not religious, I’m a vicar!
Recently, while out and about shopping, I got into conversation with a barista in a local coffee shop and we chatted about what we did at weekends. I mentioned that I’m often quite busy with church, to which the young guy, seemingly interested, asked if I’d always been religious? My answer clearly puzzled him, “No I’m not religious, in fact I’m a vicar!”
I’ve always been fascinated by words and their derivations or etymologies. “All words are pegs to hang ideas on,” said Henry Ward Beecher, a famous American clergyman and evangelist of the 1850’s. We so often take words for granted without really pausing to think about what we or others mean, or think we mean, by their use.
In our society today, the words ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ sadly, at best, often create an unhelpful image of legalistic rule-keeping and dull adherence to a spiritual code. At worst, they increasingly conjure up thoughts of fanatical, perhaps violent, subversion bound to a theology or creed.
For me, my faith has obviously never been about this, but rather a source of joy – a glorious connection to my Creator, which gives a life of such freedom and fullness – that’s what I always want to communicate when I’m speaking to others about my faith… but it got me thinking about how others outside the church see God in these days.
Although established church and ‘organised religion’ appears to be on the wane in large parts of the West, in truth large portions of society, particularly at times of stress, financial uncertainty or unrest, often look to something beyond themselves, acknowledging perhaps even a yearning to explore and reunite with the divine.
And this is where etymology comes into it. You see, interestingly, the very word ‘religion’ actually comes from the Latin ‘re-ligere’ which means to bind back, re-link or reconnect to. So perhaps this guy in the coffee shop unwittingly really knew what he was talking about. You can only re-connect with something when the connection has been lost. And that is what religion with its healthiest correct meaning is supposed to be all about. It was never supposed to be about keeping rules, or earning brownie points to ensure a ticket to the afterlife, or making us appear pious and holy or even guaranteeing a good, full and pain-free life here on earth. What it is all about however, is the remarkable truth that for us, just like in the story of the Prodigal Son, we can all experience the permanent binding embrace of the Father, as we discover what it means to reconnect with our maker, to be restored in friendship with God, put simply, to come home.