Comedian Daniel Tosh during a stand-up routine: “You ever hear a girl say that? ‘I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.’ I like to reply with, ‘I’m not honest, but you’re interesting!’” I laughed when I heard that. But let’s analyze for fun. Why? Because I was reading about “The Woman at the Well” this morning and it gave me pause to ponder. (It’s in The Gospel of John, chapter 4.)
I suppose that I am in the same category as Daniel Tosh’s girl. But I have to step back and ask why. Perhaps religion has gotten the rap it deserves. The Old Testament (what I grew up calling it; Torah if you’re Jewish) is loaded with religious stuff that causes me to squirm in discomfort. You only have to take a quick gander at the sons of Israel to realize that things are definitely bumpy. Fast-forward to the acts of the Christian church during the middle ages. Death and mayhem have ruled on occasion. Islam is certainly not bathed in complete purity for sure. How many millions have suffered under its banner over the centuries? I’d rather not do a count. Peace in the Middle East? That’s an oxymoron of gargantuan proportions. It’s no wonder that people like Christopher Hitchens have had a field day with religion. It’s no wonder that many have said, “Forget it! There can’t be a god with all this crap religion flings about!”
This woman at the well. Can you imagine what it was like for a Samaritan woman living at that time? Any woman living at that time. A woman had no rights. Men held complete dominance over women all throughout that region. If you were a woman you needed a man as a husband to support you in every way. If your husband died you HAD to remarry or dip into prostitution or begging or just simply die. Who knows the story of this woman? The day and age implies that she had five husbands who either died or divorced her. What were her options? Whatever the case, there she was…
…at noon getting some water. Jesus talks to her. Uh oh. At that time a Jewish dude is not supposed to talk with a woman without her husband present. In fact, the whole Jew/Samaritan thing was problematic. I’m sure this was a shock to her. She responds with, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” I can almost hear her say it. (Though, I’ve got the English version running through my head.) I hear both the inquisitive version of her statement, as well as the shocked version of it.
The conversation goes back and forth with some interesting points that commentators and others have discussed over the centuries. I’ll let that go. Let’s move forward to this part:
Jesus: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
Samaritan: “I have no husband.”
Jesus: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’: for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
I’m not sure why Jesus took this route, but clearly it made this woman feel uncomfortable. The moment that insight was shared, she changed the subject to religion: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Well, that’s what I would do. When confronted with something uncomfortable I try to deflect. It was clearly awkward for her so she deflected towards religion and used the details of worship to make her point. (We never do this in these modern times…said me never.) Fortunately, Jesus seemed to have had a plan. He talked about the time to come when location will not matter, a time when the boundaries of society won’t matter, a time when we will worship God in spirit and in truth. There it is! I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual!
I recently spent a day at our new campus in Pasadena. I was basically there alone with a few people coming and going from time to time. I believe that solitude is good on occasion for meditation and reflection. But during that day I was simply craving interaction. I kept texting my wife. I drove eight miles so that I could have lunch with other colleagues. I wandered outside so that I could see people. I craved relationship. We are all built that way. Even the introverts among us eventually need relationship.
Worship. Spirit. Truth. These three words hold a mystery for many of us. I’ve been in the worship racket for over twenty-three years and I clearly believe in it. But not for its own sake. It is a means to a further end. (“Bite your tongue, Perry!”) The further end is simply relationship. I’ve seen people and churches that are simply caught up in worship for the sake of worship and I believe they miss the point of it. Why? We worship in spirit and in truth. God is spirit and in worship, if we are honest, God reveals truth in us. Many times it is a truth in our lives that needs to be cleansed in difficult ways. But then we leave that hour during the week when we worship. What is in front of us? People. Sometimes, many times, they are difficult, or hurting, or angry, or delusional, or confused…
There it is for me: relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with others. There is so much in the Bible about how we are supposed to be in relationship with each other. Six out of the Ten Commandments talk about that. There are so many passages about caring for the sick, the poor, the widows, the orphans. The Golden Rule has made its way into pop culture. You know what that is? It is Jesus talking when he plopped himself down onto a hillside and rattled off a sermon. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” (You might know it as ‘do unto others…etc.”) You realize whom that means? Dare I be crazy here? People who do not think and believe like me!
I am certainly no theologian. These are simply the ramblings of a person racked with attention deficit issues pondering that whole Woman at the Well story, possibly making a huge leap. The story ends by her saying, “Come and see…” That’s what I want. I want to see religion as an instrument toward spirituality so that God can, in relationship with God, move me to be a better person to others. Especially those who are in need. And, scene.