“Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over into Beersheba…”  Amos 5.5

If we knew that Bethel and Gilgal were important sanctuaries to seek God, the verse this week from Amos is a head-scratcher. God wants us to seek God, but not go to the big-box congregations that are famous in Bethel and Gilgal. So where are we to seek God? If God wants us to seek our the Divine, but not go to the famous worship centers of our time, where do we go to seek God?

Now, when Amos answers that question, his response is “the gate.” His gate would be akin to our coffee shops, our grocery stores, our post offices, our law-courts, anywhere where public discourse happens.

Have you heard the phrase “Spiritual, but not religious?” That is, people are seeking spiritual experiences, but not necessarily having those experiences of the Divine, the spiritual, etc., within the confines of religious parameters. In other words, people want to seek God, but not in the sanctuaries of our current religious institutions. (check out this video for more information on this term)

In other words, we want God, but not necessarily this: . (That’s the Vatican, the supreme symbol of religious institutionalism.)

I feel that way a lot. I have been on leave from religious institutions for a couple of years now. It has been great! My spiritual journey has taken me to new and innovative ways to experience God like Darkwood Brew , deepening spiritual reading of the Bible through Dwelling in the Word , and just taking time to plant an organic garden. My spirit has gained some great depth, but I have not been too tied to religious institutions.

But where is the love? Where is the love of God, the love of the neighbor, even the love of myself? (go ahead, sing the song with the Black Eyed Peas.) At their best, religious institutions try to get at this love, usually by doing something like this.

Notice in that event, started by God, a person set aside to serve is offering the love of God in a cup of wine to anyone who comes. How is that love? The only answer to that is because God promised to be there in that event, wherever, whenever it happens. (“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them.” Jesus of Nazareth) Institutions are ONLY important in ways that they offer time and space for people to participate in, with, under, and against the love of God

Amos knew that it seems. Jesus did too. Jesus knew that the most precious  thing about you, gentle reader, is your soul, your spirit. If religiosity gets in the way of your spirit, get rid of your religion. If God is hindered by your religious institution, don’t let the institution stand. We might still need institutions (Hegel might be right!), but we definitely need the love. It’s God’s love that motivates our spirits, I hope that love also motivates our institutions too.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Scott Frederickson, Ph.D., is a Lutheran theologian and educator. He regularly blogs at Thoughts from the Prairie Table.


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