I RECENTLY had the dubious pleasure of attending the retiral “celebration” of a highly valued colleague. They had worked in a key social service for nearly 40 years and had routinely connected with people in need of help guidance and support. This work demanded of them utter selflessness within and beyond their working day.
The sad atmosphere of the occasion was perfumed by genuine and generous accolades affirming this colleague as someone rooted in their vocation and fully concerned for the less fortunate “other”. This workmate practices an “organised” religion and clearly has a “sense” of God.
This said I have other close friends who are Buddhist, atheist and agnostic, but who exhibit the traits of my newly retired friend i.e. love, compassion, care and a determination to dispense these at every opportunity in their day-to-day encounters with clients and colleagues. It seems to me, therefore, that such devotion to service of “the other” cannot only be attributed to any organised church calling. My atheistic friend mirrors the behaviour of the retired colleague as do my other friends. In this frame of mind I was reminded of the term “religionless Christianity” attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the wartime martyr.
Put simply, it may not only be the ritualistic attendance at church which is the evidence of a respect for God’s mission for us. More significant might be the portfolio of good we can compile humbly, day-by-day, in our human encounters.
Scripture points us via The Beatitudes (Matthew, 5:3-10) to the essence of blessedness while the Old Testament (Ecclesiastes, 11:1-2) tells us to “cast our bread upon the waters” because those who are kind to the poor lend to the Lord and will be repaid generously in time. This being the case, all of my kind friends have the promise of blessings in recognition of their service to others.
But there are many such, I imagine who exhibit Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” day and daily but may easily go unrecognised or at worst criticised for not engaging with “formal” religion.