The (Karaoke) Gospel According to R.E.M.: Losing My "Should" of Religion

On my smart phone is a running “bucket list” that began in 2011. Though I'm not a huge fan of that term, I do love the idea of having a list of random things that I want to do—not because I have to do them, but because I want to accomplish them. I don’t like to talk about what’s still on the list, but I do enjoy talking about what I’ve checked off the list in the past two years.

Now that I’ve checked off # 11, it’s safe to report …

I recently sang R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” at a karaoke party.

“What?” you might ask. “I thought you were a preacher/minister/pastor/clergyperson/insert your choice of theological term here. I thought it was your job to be religious.”

My job is to be real—an authentic human being who often fails only by her own misdoings and sometimes succeeds only by the grace of God. If “religion” means the marvelous story of salvation through Jesus Christ that loves us, saves us, and unites us in all of our “real-ness,” then I want to be a part of the story. If “religion” refers to imitating the life-giving, life-loving Carpenter as laid out in Scripture, then I want to be religious.

Unfortunately, religion is rarely defined in those terms. Instead, it has become a system of superficial “shoulds” and “should nots.” In the gospels, we encounter temple leaders telling Jesus what he should and shouldn’t do based on their self-made meanings of “holiness.” Jesus spends a great part of the gospels teaching them to lose their religion and to take up His cloak of humility.

A consistent theme in the Old and New Testaments is that of obedience. God outlines his expectations for us through diverse genres: the law of the Torah, the poetry of the psalms, the narratives of the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, and the letters of Paul. Scripture abounds with guidelines of what God expects of us as disciples. When our expectations of each other are humbly aligned with Scripture, we are obeying the greatest commands of loving God and neighbor. When we impose our expectations on each other based on promoting our own agenda or self interest, and not God's, then we have trespassed into a religion we must lose.

So many of us spend our lives making decisions based on what other people think we should do instead of asking God what he wants us to do. Sometimes religion becomes all about us and leaves out the author of faith, who is God. Such a religion of our own “shoulds” is the religion that we must lose.

At the karaoke party, I learned a valuable lesson: “Losing My Religion” is a difficult song to sing. I always thought that karaoke would be so easy until I was behind the microphone. The meter was faster than I thought it would be, and the accompaniment did not give me any hints of which notes I should be hitting. The harder I tried to sing it the way I thought I “should,” the more painful the noise was coming from my lips. Only when I forgot about "I" and focused on the community around me --my enthusiastic, karaoke-loving brothers and sisters--did I fully embrace the life-giving joy of that moment.

May we lose the religion of “me” and take up the Life of “Him.” After all, if there had been a karaoke machine in Jesus’ day, I fully believe that he would’ve been asking for the microphone.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

* Unfortunately, there is no recording of the candid clergywoman losing her religion. But if you click here, R.E.M. will sing it live for you!