Shaving The Ends

Posted: October 18, 2013

Rural Pen

A friend of mine tells this story. Whenever his wife made ham, she sliced off each end before setting it in the baking pan. This, she said, is the way her mother and grandmother always did it.

One day, he asked his wife’s grandmother, “Granny, why did you always cut off the ends of the ham before you put it in the pan?”

She answered, “Because the pan was too small.”

How true is this of many things we do, especially in our life with God. What about our religion is not relevant to our faith? And the big question, is religion even necessary to our faith in Jesus Christ?

These are questions I’ve been thinking about.

In his book, “Insurrection,” Peter Rollins writes that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while imprisoned by the Nazis in Germany, asked these same questions. He began to articulate a Christianity without religion. It seems like an oxymoron, but think about it.

Rollins’ source is Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison.” Here are some quotes from one of Bonhoeffer’s letters.

“If religion is only a garment of Christianity — and even this garment has looked very different at times — then what is a religionless Christianity?”

“What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world?”

Bonhoeffer posits that religion is a garment. While offering an attractive covering, these coverings are often a smoke screen that prevent us from truly knowing God.

“As I read through the Old and New Testaments, I am struck by the awareness of our lives being connected with cosmic powers …  , ” writes Madeleine L’Engle in “The Irrational Season. “It’s too radical, too uncontrolled for many of us, so we build churches which are the safest possible places to escape God. We pin Him down, far more painfully than He was nailed to the cross, so that He is rational and comprehensible and like us, and even more unreal.”

How would the church look stripped of its garments? I wonder if it would seem more honest. Naked, we could not pretend to have all the answers.

The world tells us it’s not interested in religion. We so often hear, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” What of the growth of atheism? Is it a reaction to Christian mumbo jumbo?

Bonhoeffers’ admissions are pretty radical for one so esteemed by many Christians. But then, maybe we’ve not been shown this side of him. He even admits, in the opening of this letter, “You would be surprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts …  ”

So, too, am I sometimes alarmed at my own thoughts. Christian jargon turns me off. I no longer make distinctions between Christian and secular, or even Christian and non-Christian, but feel a sense of camaraderie with much of humankind. The idea of “witnessing” repulses me.

“Until we know God, we seek to obey Him by doing things He neither commands nor cares about, while the things for which He sent His son, we regard of little or no importance,” wrote the 19th-century author, George MacDonald. I jotted down this and L’Engle’s quotes 25 years ago, which tells me my doubts about religion are nothing new. I am just now unafraid to look at them.

When my questions were repressed, when I eagerly participated in religion, when I tried so hard to do what I was told a Christian should, I was always conflicted.

But now that I have taken this fork in the road, there is no turning back.

Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at, on Facebook or care of the DN-R.

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