Jesus Loves You & Pure Religion Too: A Response to Jeff Bethke

Around this time year ago I was one of many people who grew interested in a thoughtful and poignant video poem posted by Jeff Bethke, and responded to the discussion in like fashion with a video poem.

Here is Bethke’s poem, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus”

Here is the video poem I posted in response, “Jesus Loves You (and Pure Religion Too)”

Hey J-Beth, I saw you speak a poem on religion
And though I praise your conviction I’m unsure about your mission
I’m not here to argue, or to be contrary
Just want to clear the air, provide a little commentary

You’re right about the greed and on target with the wars
Let’s sell all those cathedrals, and use the money to feed the poor
But instead of Jesus and religion suffering through a divorce
What if we religion turned back to Jesus?  Would it open any doors?

We could talk on this all day, but for the sake of brevity
Did Jesus abolish religion or did he abolish the enmity?
He exposed the dead bones in the Pharisees’ closets
But did he come to kill the Law, to denounce the prophets?

See the problem, I don’t think, is that religion is bad,
Only when it’s false is the Lord and Savior mad,
This includes approaching faith as a long list of chores,
And shutting the doors on the poor and the whores

Now I ain’t judging, I’m just saying examine your rhetoric
I think your talent is God-given and your video is slick
I mean, the motto these days is  “spiritual, not religious”
While all these evangelicals are bombastic and litigious

You see, this was once me too, and I got a pat on the back
Blind to my own sins, eager to another sinner attack
And after some time in meditation I began to grow a little jaded
But it’s man’s religion I spurn and not the one God created

See, Jesus couldn’t hate the way we come to know his Holy Father
James spoke of pure religion, he didn’t say, “why even bother?”
To help the orphan and the widow, to keep your soul from sin
That is true religion; why wouldn’t you want in?

A church without grace is a church without religion
And if the cupboard is bare you don’t really have a kitchen
So if we’re all really broken, it’s religion that we need
A covenant with rules that calls for us to bleed

Now let me clarify:  I believe in Grace and Love (and I can’t stand the GOP)
But if you want to serve in Christ then I hope you’ll reason with me
Christ was brought to trial by the most religious of men
But their religion was self made, only rotten within

So once again I’ll say that my only suggestion
Is that pure and selfish religion are what lie at opposite spectrums
It may be only a matter of wordplay and semantics
But you could mislead a lot and drive others really frantic

See because Jesus says “done”, but he also says “do”
As in “do unto others, as I have done to you”
Sin is the bondage, though Christ sets you free
Religion is the response, “take up your cross, follow me”

Consider that religion is a part of God’s plan
Pure when it calls out to God, dead when it justifies man
Jesus died for our sins and for us the resurrection
But if I’m thankful for his grace then I will follow his directions

Religion is about the thorns, the nails and the lashes
But its also the king that raises from the ashes
Religious leaders may have taken the Lamb to the cross
But it was their hearts, not their beliefs, that were covered in dross

So let’s be careful how we word things (and that goes for me as well)
And I do not mean to judge you or to mark you for Hell
Jesus showed us pure religion, and the scribes said to kill it
So let us love pure religion, for Jesus came to fulfill it

Looking back, my goal was certainly to offer critical insight into his message, but without being arrogant or hateful.  I wanted to respond to spoken word with spoken word, not to mock his message but to respond to it in kind fashion and call to question what he meant and what the possible implications are of the interpretations of his message.  I was unsure about his mission, and wanted to search for common ground.  No, he hasn’t responded to me or anything, but I hope others can see the conversation and dwell on it.

Looking back, it really is about how you define religion and spirituality.  These days it’s trendy to put them against one another, and while they can mean different things, I still believe they can mean the same thing.  Are you using “I’m spiritual, not religious” to mean that you don’t “do church” any more and just “go with the flow” of whatever spiritual mood you’re in?  Or are you using “spiritual, not religious” to mean that you don’t let the structures of tradition become shackles of false religion?  I believe that is a big difference, and one that should be clarified any time we have such a discussion.  Jesus wants worship, teaching, fellowship, holiness.  But he doesn’t want empty ceremony, “baggaged” teaching, hypocrisy, false piety, religion for religion’s sake.

So maybe the disagreement I had with Bethke was a semantic one.  Perhaps.  But the clarifications need to be made nonetheless.  Otherwise we are merely using a catch phrase as an excuse to drift away from God, or never bother searching for him in the first place.  As I expressed in the poem, I will not pass judgement on Bethke’s motives.  But I also don’t know much of what they are from encountering the poem.

I recall James 1:27: “What our Father accepts as pure and undefiled religion is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

So let’s say you’re dropping the term “religion” and substituting “spirituality” because of the stigma growing on the former word.  Then I say the more important question is, are you dropping the fulfillment of undefiled spirituality/religion along with it?  No matter what you call the terms, God’s will for true spirituality (or religion) are the same nonetheless.

This becomes especially important when you claim that Jesus said “done”.  It means our salvation isn’t based on works, but it also means that if we accept his salvation and truly love him we will produce good works in his name.  If we don’t, are we even spiritual?

And I still can’t stand the GOP.

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