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Religion as “Playing Kingdom”

A large part of my thesis work involves exploring the historical impact of religion. Does it really “poison everything” or might its influence upon history be a little more nuanced than that? Religion has, obviously, had a massive impact on the development of western culture, some of it—imagine!—even positive in nature, but it’s also proven to be a gift that is easily abused and distorted. For a whole host of reasons, “religion” is a world that seems more likely to invoke negative reactions than positive ones today.

In today’s entry from Listening to Your Life, Buechner has a bit of a different take on the “what’s so good about religion?” question. Here’s his response to the query, posed by one of his students:

I found myself speechless. I felt surely that there must be something good about it. Why else was I there? But for the moment I couldn’t for the life of me think of what it was. Maybe the truth of it is that religion the way he meant it—a system of belief, a technique of worship, an institution—doesn’t really have all that much about it that is good when you come right down to it, and perhaps my speechlessness in a way acknowledged as much.

Unless you become like a child, Jesus said, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and maybe part of what that means is that in the long run what is good about religion is playing the way a child plays at being grown up until he finds that being grown up is just another way of playing and thereby starts to grow up himself. Maybe what is good about religion is playing that the Kingdom will come, until—in the joy of your playing, the hope and rhythm and comradeship and poignance and mystery of it—you start to see that the playing is itself the first-fruits of the Kingdom’s coming and of God’s presence within us and among us.

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