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Kennington Avenue

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Leaving my Religion on a shelf

You may be acquainted with the phrase, “Putting ones religion on a shelf,” it is the one time that you are allowed by human reasoning to put someone in their place if they have stepped out of bounds or crossed a line that they should not have crossed. The saying reminds of a Sunday after church when I stopped at a fast food place to get something cold to drink. I was still wearing my clerical collar and I was certain that everyone who saw me identified me as a pastor or someone who was religious. As I pulled off the lot and got in the turn lane to make a left turn, the car that had been sitting next to me sped ahead and turned in front of me. Had I not been paying close attention to what was going on I’m pretty certain that there would have been an accident. But I immediately reacted internally. I  could feel my blood pressure rise as well as my anger but as I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror-there was that collar to remind me of who I was and what I represented so whatever it was I thought of saying that day quickly left me. Yet even without the collar there is this sign that is not visible with the naked eye and so people who looked at you would not know who you were in terms of your religious or spiritual orientation. I have to tell you that there are people who really do get under my skin and none more than the Sarah Palin’s and the Rush Limbaugh’s  of the world. To the point where it is just difficult to even look at them. And there are times when I feel like suspending my faith and just chewing them up and spitting them out. But here is the deal at least in my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus under no circumstances is it ever possible or permissible to put your religion on a shelf until you have let off some steam, or put somebody in their place, or put somebody down because it makes you feel good. For anyone who thinks that they can do this and do it at the drop of a hat I would wonder about the depth of their faith. When I read some of the words of Jesus I am not always comfortable with them because they call into question the sometimes questionable behavior that we fall back on if we could. There would be some people that we would exclude from our circle of relationships and the first people would be those that are hard to deal with, hard to take because of their racial stances, or because of party affiliation.  When my sin-colored instincts kick in and I am ready to throw people like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh under the bus I am always challenged by the Words of Jesus in Matthew 5 where he talks about loving one’s enemies. I may always have difficulty with the words that come out of  Palin’s and Limbaugh’s mouths but to live with the light of Jesus in your heart and to let that light shine even brighter and hotter when ugliness is at its height says that I must never forget that these folks are also children of God and so our goal must be never to deface them to the degree that they cease to be human to us.  I don’t want to take Jesus and put him on a shelf for the sake of my convenience and where I have done it I pray God’s forgiveness. I don’t want to pull Jesus off even for a little bit. I want to be more and more like him. I want to love like him because it is in that love where I am the most human and it is that love that allows me to see the humanity of others even those who would speak ill of us.

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About the author

Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee, where he is now the director of the Bread of Healing Empowerment Ministry. For 18 years he was as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.