The Dirty “R” Words


When I was a Protestant there were two dirty “R” words.

Religion and Ritual.

I can’t move forward with talking about the Mass without at least addressing the ritual word. And while I’m at it I might as well address the religion word.

Let’s start with RELIGION.

As an Evangelical Protestant (of sorts) I can’t tell  you how often I heard people say that it’s not about religion it’s about a relationship with Jesus. I heard it so much that I started saying it myself. I admit that I used it most often when talking to Catholics.

Now let me say this, “it” is always about a relationship with Jesus. BUT, somehow, this little saying has turned religion into a bad word.

There is a negative connotation associated with this word among non-denominational Protestants. We defined religion as being separate from a relationship with Jesus as if those who were religious didn’t really love Jesus. It’s almost like we took pride in the fact that we weren’t “religious” but instead we were in a right relationship with Jesus.

Now, here’s what is interesting to me. Have you looked up the word religion? Do you know what it means?

Religion = Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. A particular integrated system of this expression.

Hmmm, it sounds to me like our shared faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is indeed a religious belief. And, I bet if I examined your life and the way you express this faith I’d find an integrated system of your faith.  Which appropriately leads me to the next dirty “R” word:


As a non-denominational Protestant I was proud of the fact that I didn’t practice religious rituals, especially archaic, man-made rituals. And, I was more than willing to point out to Catholics that they were caught up in a few of their own.

But, all I had to do was look up the word to realize once again I was being hypocritical.

Ritual = A detailed method or procedure faithfully or regularly followed.

By that definition, my life was full of rituals.

Physical rituals: Like the way I get ready in the morning (I put my contacts in first, then brush my teeth, then put on my makeup, then do my hair) or the way I clean house (first the kitchen, then the bathrooms, next the floors, and finally the dusting).

Psychological rituals: Like the way I make lists and go over lists in my head or prepare for a teaching lecture.

Religious rituals:  Like the way I read my Bible, pray, worship with music and of course the order of worship at my church.

And even relationship rituals: Think about your close intimate relationships and you’ll see rituals in your communication and behavior.

The reality is, rituals are a huge part of life.  But what’s the point or value of these rituals? 

Rituals bring order to life. They bring routine which creates efficiency. More importantly, regularly followed procedures help us to know what to expect. When we know what to expect we’re free to fully engage in what we’re doing in the present without anticipating what comes next. This is especially true when it comes to corporate worship.

Now please don’t tell me that at your church you do not practice rituals (unless of course every Sunday is a free-for-all and there is absolutely no order to what happens in your church service). 

If there is any order in your church then there is ritual. If there is a “method or procedure regularly followed” then there is a ritual.  And, I hate to tell some of you this, but those procedures are man-made. The order of your worship service was created by your pastor or some group of people associated with your church. It is no different from those “religious and ritualistic” Catholics I once criticized and perhaps you still criticize.

Some people snub their noses at repetition and ritual in worship, claiming it’s boring or irrelevant. But I can’t help but wonder if their boredom has more to do with their desire to be entertained than a desire to offer up worship to their creator and the one who should be the love of their life.

If you entertain me, if you keep my mind interested with new distractions then I really don’t have  to do anything. I don’t have to enter into worship and listen closely to the words of the prayers. I don’t have to center myself in Christ, go deeper in my prayer life and listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. I can “feel good, have fun, and enjoy myself” without offering all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and the members of my body as a living sacrifice to God.

Instead of thinking of ritual in corporate worship as boring consider that it is like dancing a waltz with a partner. If you don’t know the steps, if the steps are changed in the middle of the dance then you’re likely to be worried about what comes next. You may look down and focus on your feet and yourself instead of focusing on your partner and the beauty and movement of the dance. But, when you know the dance steps you don’t have to focus on what’s next. Instead you can move freely to the music and focus on your partner as you put your heart into the dance.

I think it’s time we reclaim these two “R” words and take them out of the gutter.

Folks, Christianity is a religion and if Christ is an integral part of your life then you are religious. 

And rituals are a part of who we are as humans. Our God is a God of order and we are created in His image. Don’t snub your nose at rituals in worship. Embrace them because they offer the freedom to fully worship in the present without anticipation, self-consciousness or the need to be entertained.

One Response to The Dirty “R” Words

  1. This is a beautiful post A. I was so touched by it… and I don’t even understand why I was. I think my heart just needed to read something beautiful this evening. Thank you.

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