Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's Right About Religion?

"Are there flaws in the church?  Absolutely.  But is there great beauty in the church?  Absolutely." -- Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert is a charter member of the  Calltrepreneurship Hall of Fame (grand opening date and sight to be announced.)  Last weekend the New York Times reported on a conversation with Colbert and Cardinal Timothy Dolan about humor and the church.  The event was hosted by Father James Martin, a Jesuit Priest and author who received an MBA from Wharton before entering the priesthood.  Father Martin is a "friend of the blog", so to speak. He wrote an excellent article highlighting the similarities between Steve Jobs and the saints, and a book My Life With the Saints which was my companion throughout Italy last July.  His latest book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, was the reason for the conversation and is on my to-read list. 

The article reminded me it was time to write about what is right about religion.  One of my main curiosities and goals with this blog is to look at the intersection of the best in business/entrepreneurship and the best in religion/spirituality.  My experience in the business world and in the religious world is that most of the time people look for the worst in each.  There are a lot of bad things about religion and business.  In the last week the riots and killings in the middle east provide an example of what can happen when one religious group offends another and believes their view of God and faith is truest. Corruption, dishonesty and criminal behavior have too often been the qualities of people leading religious institutions and communities.  Narrow interpretations of scripture have been the catalyst and rationale throughout human history for human rights violations, war, discrimination and hatred.

Whenever religious fanaticism rears its ugly head I am reminded of the sermon I preached the Sunday after September 11, 2001 titled Clinging to...Religion?  Like all preachers that weekend I was struggling with what to say that might offer a little comfort, some hope and reassurance during a hopeless and scary time.   I'm not sure how successful I was but if nothing else I reminded myself of what religion is truly about.   In the words of the Rev. Ray Baughn, religion is "our hunger for life, the need for meaning in our lives, for ultimacy, for intimacy and for community." Religion is not about God as much as it is about coming together with others to "re-bind"ourselves to that which makes us whole - a sense of the sacred, our deepest values, including love.

If someone wants to debate the value of religion I'm happy to do so.  For every atrocity that has been performed in its name I can mention an act of compassion, justice or love.  Our challenge as calltrepreneurs is to learn and practice the best age-old secrets religion offers us, i.e. creating and taking part in a community, looking inward for guidance in prayer, meditation and looking outward to help our brothers and sisters.  Gratitude and generosity, perhaps being the two most important lessons of all.  Why?  So that we can create businesses, ministries, lives that bring out the best - and not the worst - in ourselves and others.

On Sunday night Rosh Hashanah was celebrated and the 5773 year of the Jewish calendar began.   The Jewish High Holy Days are a time of reflection, recommitment and hope. Practices that are essential for people and businesses whether or not they consider themselves religious.   One of my favorite writers and teachers is Rabbi Harold Kushner.  He writes, "What religion offers me is not fellowship with God, but fellowship with other human beings who are looking for the same things I am. Loneliness is today's greatest spiritual problem.  Religion should offer us that sense of community, that sense of "Here are people who share something important with you. You don't come to church or temple to find God - you can find God on a mountaintop or in your bedroom. You come to church or temple to find a congregation, to find others who need the same things from life that you need. By coming together, you create the moment where God is present. This is the one indispensable thing that organized religion offers us, which our vague individual sense of spirituality cannot."

The role of the calltrepreneur, whether it be St. Francis, St. Clare, Steve Jobs, Stephen Colbert, Rabbi Kushner, you or me, is to bring people together, to look for possibilities that nobody sees and find ways to make them become a reality.  At its best religion does this and so much more.   At their best calltrepreneurs do the same.  Are their flaws in the church?  In the temple?  In the mosque?  In human beings?  Absolutely.  But is there great beauty?  Absolutely!

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