Wednesday, August 31, 2011

LOVE this from the UCC blog re: "Spiritual But Not Religious"

This one is making the rounds on Facebook and well it should. Great food for thought as we "spiritual AND religious" church-types gear up for a new program year.

Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.
Reflection by Lillian Daniel
Matthew 16:18 -- "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . . did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.


Dear God, thank you for creating us in your image and not the other way around. Amen.


susankay said...

Although I think the 12 Step programs are amazing and in almost ways God given, I think that the opportunity to define the Higher Power is both amazingly wonderful and dangerous. Amazing in that it doesn't leave anyone outside of the power of AA. Dangerous in that it lets us define God in OUR image. The good thig about religion is that it makes you cope with other people in a faith community


One Facebook commenter took exception with the piece saying "I find her post very snarky and superior." Prompted me to re-read it and respond:

"I'll give you the snarky but I just have to say she hit a nerve with me. Maybe I've just had my own fill of snarky and superior "spiritual but not religious" folks who I run into ALL. THE. TIME. just itching to tear down with great relish the w...ork those of us who labor within the church as somehow less than -- setting up spiritual vs. religious as if they're mutually exclusive. I probably wouldn't go as far as she does. I actually do believe there are folks who live lives of spiritual fullfillment outside communities of faith. AND I connected with what she had to say -- which I experienced as less "superior" than exasperated. And I related."

MarkBrunson said...

It was extremely snarky, and not a terribly good witness as she identifies as a minister.

It reminds me, actually, of the nasty little piece a British priest wrote about the funerals he'd presided over.

I'm not impressed, either, by claiming that we in community are somehow stronger and more "challenged" by being in community. Only a person who's never really grappled with the questions on their own could come up with such a dismissive article.

Very disappointed.

Textjunkie said...

It was snarky, but i agree with you it hits a nerve. The writer's not complaining about people who have grappled with deep questions outside of any organized religious, she's complaining about the folks who take the easy way out, making a positive emotional twinge the depth and breadth of their response to God.

Matthew said...

I guess I agree with Mark Brunson a little. I am an active member of an Episcopal Church and have been for years. But, glory to God, I get so @#$%&* sick and tired of the politics, the pettyness and there are times when even I want a sabbatical from church. From the institution. Community is often not all its cracked up to be. It makes you grow, which is good, but I can sympathize with those who want to opt out.

IT said...

@textjunkie, She has no way of knowing whether they have grappled withthe deep questions or not. She is shutting the door, as this is written, "my way or the highway". If I were a spirituaal seeker, or someone seeking healing, that tone of dismissive superiority would ensure that I would cross her church off the list.

Yeah, I get that clergy run into shallow people with glib views of religion. But the tone of this piece is so smug, it reflects ill on the writer. It's no different than me saying, "if I meet another self-professed Christian on a plane--they are all self righteous homophobes.". Or "if I meet another humorless atheist--they are all superficial literalists with no grasp of real religion." But if that stereotype is wrong, that leaping-to-conclusion not warranted, so is this.

In any event, a great example of why I don't talk to people on planes.

Good discussion on this over at the Lead,too.

LGMarshall said...

I think that those that are 'Spiritual but not Religious', are a teensy on the close minded side... test this, you could just casually mention to your seat mate...Jesus says, 'No one comes to the Father except through Me'. ... and, 'Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord?' (trust me, this guarantees immediate halt to any conversations about butterfly wings & sunsets.)

But, think of it as a win, win. Because if you happen to be sitting next to a Christian, you can go on enjoyably conversing about the Lord.

Its my opinion, that those that are 'Spritual' have goo goo eyes , for the Creation. (Whereas, Christians, praise the Creator.)

for example...When the gourmet chef makes a terrific meal, the 'spiritual' person marvels at the food, and says..."the cook is in the pasta! the cook is in spinach ... the cook is in the cheescake!"

But the Christian, would say, "yes, it's delicious!-- but we look up to the Cook, who is in the Kitchen! after all, he made it, just for us. And, now that we're done with the meal, throw me an apron, I'll wash, you dry..."

IT said...

This is funny, coming from LGM:

I think that those that are 'Spiritual but not Religious', are a teensy on the close minded side...

I could say that about some religious people I know....

Prairiefire said...

Dear Reverend:
You're right that, “What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.”

I’ll bet you will dread your flights less if you accept the other passengers, for an hour or two, as your community. I can imagine quite a few non-boring conversations you could have with people who are spiritual but not religious.

Gently ask your seatmate to articulate why he told you, a minister, that he is not religious. Cosmeticians probably rarely hear “I like attractiveness, but people look just fine without makeup and styled hair.” Soldiers aren't often told “Diplomacy can keep our nation safe; we do not need military force.” Ask what religion means to your seatmate. After listening, share what religion means to you. A genuine, respectful conversation could be rewarding for you both.

Find out how his thrill at a sunset is the same or different than yours. Does he really find all ancient traditions dull? Are you sure he believes his is a “daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo?” If so, you could help him understand how many others share his views and help him realize that he could in fact access a long spiritual-but-not-religious tradition if he wishes. If it turns out your assumptions about him were wrong, a loving conversation could help you better understand at least one other fellow human.

Ask. Listen. Share. Life with fellow humans gets rich and provocative when you dig deeply into ideas that you do not yourself share.

We are continuously surrounded by a mighty cloud of witnesses, each with his or her own gift for us if we listen well. And please, when the flight gets choppy, simply put up with the person next to you, as you hope he will do for you, and share what Spirit you can.



Charlie Sutton said...

As one who has been a committed Christian since at least high school (and who, not being an Episcopalian at the time, did not take the "obligatory break" during young adulthood), I have had many conversations over the years (40+) with those who are "spiritual but not religious." These conversations have taken place in airplanes, trains, buses, hospital waiting rooms, restaurants, and other venues. Sometimes we were in a setting where we were together for several hours, sometimes in a setting where either of us could have walked away in a moment.

I have had some very open and serious conversations with people. I have enjoyed great fellowship with other Christians and I have had good, honest talks with non-believers and seekers. I always try to listen with care and openness, without making assumptions. However, in nearly all cases where the person described himself or herself as "very spiritual, but I don't go to church," the unspoken but real message is, "Don't you dare talk to me about Jesus. I like things vague and fuzzy, and what I want is warm feelings, not any degree of responsibility for who I am or what I do." Sometimes the person is taking the position (apparently without any reference to the laws of logic) that all faiths really believe the same thing and we do not have to get too specific, but the desire to avoid any mention of Jesus is the most frequent thing behind, "I am spiritual but not religious," at least as I have experienced it.