RELIGION IS DEAD. IT JUST IS. BUT THAT’S OK. IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.
Eugene Peterson points out that religion is like a tree’s bark — it’s the dead part of the tree. But the bark is essential to a tree because it protects the tender living part just beneath it.
The life of a tree is in its cambium layer. It’s the thin layer between the bark and the wood — sometimes, it’s only one cell in thickness. The problem with the cambium is that it’s tender, susceptible to damage, disease, and pests. If it dies, the tree dies. The bark shields this essential layer by this thick deadness.
IT’S EASY TO POINT AT THE DEADNESS OF RELIGION, BUT THAT DEADNESS IS ESSENTIAL TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, JUST AS BARK IS ESSENTIAL TO A TREE’S LIFE.
Religion is the whole system of outward observances that shape and protect the soul. It’s the walls of the house, not the people living in it.
Religion gives us buildings to worship in. It gives us liturgies to shape our worship. It gives us an ancient book to hear God’s voice through. It gives us pastors to shepherd us. It gives us programs to gather us. These are all vessels.
WITHOUT A MUG, MY COFFEE WOULD BE ALL OVER THE COUNTER. WITHOUT RELIGION, MY SPIRITUALITY WOULD BE AN ALL-OVER-THE-PLACE MESS.
I don’t blame my mug for not being coffee. And I don’t blame my mug for being empty of coffee. It’s just a vessel to contain and deliver what I put in it. It’s essential while not being the thing itself.
So, let’s be grateful for the deadness of religion. Without it, there would be no shape or substance to our faith and the life of our souls would be vulnerable to far more damage than without it.