“Christianity is a lifestyle – a way of being in the world that is sim­ple, non-vio­lent, shared and lov­ing. However, we made it into an ‘estab­lished’ religion…and avoid­ed the lifestyle change itself.”  — Richard Rohr

Rohr, a Roman Catholic monk and priest, is found­ing direc­tor of the Center for Action and Contemplation. I was hon­ored to meet him while in sem­i­nary, and am always intrigued by his writ­ings. I post­ed this quote on my Facebook Page a few weeks ago and it tru­ly stuck with me. It’s the “lifestyle change” that haunts me and calls me to task.

Most reli­gions — or faith tra­di­tions — at their core are designed to be prac­ticed by indi­vid­u­als to sup­port a change in heart, mind, and soul — to do good in the world and to direct our actions toward peace and jus­tice. Buddhism, for exam­ple, is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a reli­gion as we know it, but a prac­tice and, as Rohr says, a way of being in the world.

My par­tic­u­lar Christian faith tra­di­tion is The Episcopal Church, of Anglican ori­gin, and one way of fol­low­ing the teach­ings and walk­ing along­side Jesus of Nazareth, who we con­sid­er God’s Son. This way of liv­ing boils down to “lov­ing God and lov­ing your neigh­bor.” All the sto­ries from the Bible, the preach­ing from my faith­ful ances­tors, and the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines of prayer and piety should be direct­ing me to act in that way: to love God and neighbor. 

That’s it. That’s as sim­ple as we can get it, and it should be the bedrock, for Christians, that holds up all else.

“However, we have made it into an estab­lished reli­gion.” That’s the thin veil, the lim­i­nal place, at which I find myself. I have spent the last 20 years on a whole dif­fer­ent jour­ney of that way of being — I am a pro­fes­sion­al Christian. I get paid for help­ing oth­er folks walk that path of “lov­ing God and lov­ing neighbor.” 

I serve a con­gre­ga­tion of faith­ful fol­low­ers of the Jesus Movement on a cam­pus cov­er­ing many acres with four sep­a­rate build­ings, includ­ing a beau­ti­ful sanc­tu­ary, with paved park­ing lots and lush gar­dens, high util­i­ty bills, and pret­ty good wire­less inter­net. I am thank­ful for a good salary with health ben­e­fits and a remark­able retire­ment plan (Rockefeller mod­eled his on the Episcopal Church Pension Group), a nice study with plen­ty of read­ing mate­r­i­al, and qual­i­ty vest­ments that serve as my litur­gi­cal uni­forms. I also pay tax­es. The church doesn’t, but I do.

All that sounds pret­ty “estab­lished” to me. When our founder, a brown-skinned Middle Eastern itin­er­ant rab­bi, wan­dered around the area of Palestine many cen­turies ago, he was try­ing to get folks to embrace a new lifestyle change and, at the same time, to call out the Jewish faith and tra­di­tions as being too estab­lished and for­get­ting the pri­ma­ry goal — to love God and love neigh­bor. Part of his work was to delin­eate per­son­al reli­gion from the gov­ern­ing state. It’s amaz­ing that we’re still deal­ing with that issue today here in the United States.

This jour­ney as an Episcopal priest is one of bal­ance. While I acknowl­edge that my faith prac­tice is part of an estab­lished reli­gion with a hier­ar­chy of offi­cers and mem­bers (bish­ops, priests, dea­cons, laity), cam­pus­es all over the coun­try, an offi­cial seal, and the afore­men­tioned pen­sion plan, I must strive always to turn my heart and live my life to reflect the sim­ple shared, non-vio­lent, and lov­ing exam­ple of Jesus and the great cloud of wit­ness­es who followed.

  • Jim Trimble

    Jim Trimble is a priest serv­ing Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Winchester. He grew up in Louisville, grad­u­at­ed from Murray State University, and worked in a vari­ety of roles at pub­lic radio sta­tions for 12 years. After sem­i­nary and ordi­na­tion, he served church­es in Kentucky and South Carolina. Married to Nancy Gift, a Berea College pro­fes­sor, he has a son and two step-daugh­ters, along with a num­ber of dogs, cats, and chick­ens near College Park.