A circle that takes others in 

Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious
Author: David Dark
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpress.com)
Pages: 199 

The story, as told by F. W. Boreham, illustrates an underlying theme in David Dark’s Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious

Jeff Kilbourne was a young citizen of the United States who happened to be studying art in Paris when the War broke out. He felt the thrill of the stirring movements by which he was encircled, and longed to have some part in them. Yet how could he? He could not return to America to enlist, and, anyhow, the United States had not, at that stage, entered the field of hostilities. So he joined a French battalion and soon became the most popular member of it. Everybody loved Jeff. His comrades would have laid down their lives for him; the people of the village in which the regiment was quartered became wonderfully fond of him; the old priest felt strangely drawn to Jeff, and was always the happier after catching his smile.  But one day the company was sent into action and most of its members fell—including Jeff. Next day the old priest was called upon to bury the dead in the graveyard beside the church and then a serious complication arose. For what aboutvJeff? Jeff was a Protestant; how could he be buried with his comrades in Catholic ground? The good old priest was full of grief; but he saw no way out of the difficulty. He did the best he could by arranging that the men should be buried in rows across the graveyard—rows that stretched from wall to wall—and that Jeff should be buried in one of those rows but just outside the wall. He would thus be in the company of his comrades; the wall alone intervening.

The burial took place, and the old priest, weary with his labors, returned to his well-earned rest. But that night the villagers arose in the moonlight and, joined by Jeff’s surviving comrades, they pulled down part of the wall and rebuilt it in such a way that it took Jeff in!

Religion can draw lines that exclude. In what might be the best book on religion that I will ever read, Dark defines religion to take others in. 

Just the word carries baggage and makes others ill at ease. But Dark’s perspective makes it winsome, which is what it ought to be. Just like when I read Boreham, religion becomes a beautiful thing. It can be healing. 

Dark helps to make sense of it all, to find meaning in everything, even pop culture. Isn’t that part of our shared longing? Give me knowledge, understanding and wisdom that can be applied to every situation. 

It requires openness. Oswald Chambers observed that when we are rightly related to God even a flower can carry God’s message. With Dark, it might be a Radiohead song, or a scene from a movie. 

Mindfulness is essential, becoming aware of what we truly believe as shown through our actions. We all worship, and our propensities and controlling thought processes are some of the indicators of the altars at which we serve. 

Reality is defined in relation to others. One of the most telling illustrations, which highlights our interrelatedness and need for each other, comes from Dark’s then four-year-old son. “Giving voice to his specific love for the antics and escapades of Scooby-Doo and the community with whom he makes his way through a harried world, he once told me that he especially likes the moments in which Scooby and Shaggy get scared to the point of paralysis. In what I suspect is a touchstone in every episode … there comes a time when Scooby and Shaggy respond to duress (a man in a monster costume, for instance) by leaping into one another’s arms and quivering together for a couple of seconds, a precious moment in which it’s hard to say where the dog stops and the man begins. They hold each other, we might say, but in his effort to articulate what delighted him so, the child put it much, much better: ‘They hold their ’chother’” (138-139). 

Further on in the same chapter he aptly summarizes one aspect of the concept, “Our life is one long process of mutual aid, and what a relief it is when people act on this knowledge. I want to keep within me and hold to the wit and the sensitivity of spirit to see, feel, appreciate, fear and revere the inescapable fact of my own caught-uppedness in the web of other people’s kindness” (150). 

I need this book. Too often I withdraw and want to hold others at a distance. I need more of the religion that teaches me to include, as much as possible, rather than exclude. It’s not about compromising convictions, those remain intact. It’s more about getting closer to the heart of God, who values mercy over sacrifice, and welcomes the prodigal home. That’s me, not some other person! 

As Boreham puts it, “True spirituality is magnificently inclusive. What is it that Edward Markham sings?” 

He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But Love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took Him in. 

Michael Dalton