The loud speaker rang out in the town waking me up a little before 7:00am. It was in Spanish so I had no idea what the lady was saying, but it annoyed me none-the-less because it interrupted the few hours of sleep that I actually got that night! I asked one of the Spanish speakers in the group what the announcement was all about and why it was so important to make so early on a Sunday morning. She told me the lady over the loud speaker said, “There are only 2 people in mass this morning. If you are a really ‘christian’ you need to come to church.” I thought to myself, wow, that’s religion for you!
One of the reasons that there were so few people at mass was because the town had one of the most lively parties I’ve seen in a long time the night before. It went into the early morning hours. There were people drinking in the streets, passing out free food to anyone who wanted it (and just passing out in the streets), and celebrating. What were they celebrating you ask? They were celebrating the patron saint of their town who was moving houses. Every 6 months the saint moves houses and when he does the town vies to see who will have the honor to have the saint live with them for the next 6 months. Whoever wins this honor also has the responsibility to throw the whole village a party.
So, as part of this celebration they marched a statue of their saint through the streets. He was a Spaniard, dressed in a white fur coat and wearing big white cowboy hat with a huge white feather sticking out of it. Following the saint through the town was a big statue of Jesus unlike any other that I had seen. He was on the cross, but he had about 8 arrows (like arrows from a bow and arrow) sticking out of him. Not sure as to the significance there. It was so interesting to be in a place the knew the name of Jesus, but had absolutely no clue who he was. When Mexico was conquered by Spain they ‘adopted’ the Catholic religion. But it’s very unlike Catholicism here in the states or even in Europe. It’s Catholicism mixed with animism, paganism, and whatever other ism you want to throw in there – it was a pretty gross example of syncretism.
Our time in Mexico was for me a great reminder of what religion is without Jesus. The people were oppressed and found little to no exhibited joy in their religion. They hated and persecuted people who were followers of Jesus Christ. They went to church because they had always gone and they were culturally expected to do so… but they had no idea who Jesus was. They had no relationship with him whatsoever.
My time in Mexico got me thinking. Has Christianity become more about religion than it has about Jesus? Am I going through the motions? Am I experiencing the joy and the life that He wants to give me? It’s probably funny to hear me say this (because I am a pastor), but I am just not a big fan of religion. But… being in Mexico and spending time in that village made me want Jesus all the more. It made me want to seek after him with everything I have and not come up short; settling for religion.
Part of this journey for me was reading Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God while I was in Mexico. It was the perfect storm for me. I highly recommend the book! This week I start a series at theWELL call Losing My Religion… and Finding Jesus – it’s inspired by Mexico and the book… and the longing deep within my soul to know Jesus and ditch religion.