Proudly Spiritual, Never (again) Religious

Lillian Daniel wrote a daily devotional on the United Church of Christ (UCC, aka the Pilgrims) website that caused a bit of back and forth on my Facebook page.  I found her shortsighted and snarky in (to say the least).  I can give or take most comments/devotionals but one section grabbed me as probably one of the more broad brush strokes I’ve read in a while: “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.”  Can somebody show me where this appears in a religious text that conversations like this can only appear in a house of worship? Maybe I’m just fortunate,  I have a wide circle of friends, including a former-Marine dyed in the wool Libertarian.  We disagree on a ton, we agree on a ton: and we met by me yelling “Bullshit!” to her in the middle of a class our freshman year of college.  It was hardly a house of worship.  Using the Christian tradition of community, it is comprised as more than one: so my conversations with my friends are community, they are hair-splitting, they are wide-ranging and they are difficult conversations.  They are hardly religious but honestly? How many people actually attend a house of worship that has distinct political views/ethical views that they hold?  How many dyed in the wool liberals would attend, let alone join, a church that forbids card playing, dancing, alcohol?  How many dyed in the wool conservatives would attend a church that not only allows LGBT individuals to openly worship but openly ordains them?

I graduated from seminary. I (somewhere) have the diploma to prove it: I certainly have the debt.  Among my myriad of frustrations was the lack of engagement IN the difficulty of faith.  Start with the Revised Common Lectionary: it doesn’t even COVER the entire Bible.  What? In the 3 year calendar you can go to church every Sunday and not hear every verse of scripture read. Yup.  And the ones missing: the hard ones.  The ones that deal with rape, the ones that deal with social codes that are illegal in most parts of the country.  The part where a baby’s head is bashed against the rocks? Missing.  In my preaching class, I was dinged for not ending on a happy clappy note.  The text was the prodigal son: and I mistakenly challenged the congregation class to think about how they would react in two weeks (it would be Easter Sunday then): would we welcome those who attend once a year with open arms? (like the father) or would we react like the son full of disgust for not doing the work through the year.  It was an open challenge to think, think about faith, journey, how people might come back and the only comment from the professor was “Peter Gnomes wouldn’t like that ending.”  (note: I really don’t care.  Yes, Peter Gnomes was an amazing preacher but really? Who cares?).  I’m not interested in a sermon that is “we are wonderful because we are religious and not just spiritual!”

The more I stewed on Daniel’s piece, the more I realized one of the reasons I found her missing the point.  I heard a post-op transgendered individual say she didn’t attend church anymore.  She didn’t feel welcome.  Before her surgery, he had been active in his denomination.  After surgery, she asked that her Baptismal certificate be re-issued with her new name.  The Bishop refused (not a Catholic bishop, an Episcopal Bishop).  More interesting? The refusing bishop is gay.  For me, one of the most painful moments was when she said on Christmas Eve, she made herself communion and read the Christmas story at home.  She didn’t feel welcome: I’d say she was both spiritual and religious but Daniel’s would disagree.

A longer article appeared in the Christian Century.  I found her comments about the person who walked away from religion a bit disconcerting.  I vaguely remember something about not knowing how Christ will appear.  Her response? “Of course, this well-meaning Sunday jogger fits right in  to mainstream American culture. He is perhaps by now a part of the  majority—the people who have stepped away from the church in favor of  running, newspaper reading, yoga or whatever they use to construct a  more convenient religion of their own.”  I’m not suggesting the person sitting next to her is/was Christ: but the call to those in the Christian tradition to minister in the midst.  I find her comments regarding an individual’s commentary on his child more perplexing “But when you witness pain and declare yourself lucky, you have fallen way short of Jesus’ vision and short of what God would have you do.” So, according to Daniel’s God would have us do certain things: based on the tenants of her faith (and her denomination), she falls short.  I’ve watched love ones battle cancer: and I’ve felt lucky.  Does that make me shallow? Or does it make me human?  If I offer to help that person in any manner I can (asking friends of faith to pray, sending cards, bringing a meal) does that automatically make me a Christian? Jewish? Muslim? Buddhist? Or just a human who was raised with sound ethics and morals?

I’m not in the mood to hash out why I’m not a Daniel’s definition of religious.  Suffice to say there were 3 churches involved all of the UCC variety in different parts of the country. Do I read random theology books (including Barth?)? Yup. Why? It interests me.  Would I call myself Christian? No.  I’m not interested in what I see in action by that religious tradition.  I’m not interested in a religion that can’t even agree ON a creation story!

What upsets me the most about Daniel’s is that every once in a great while I float the idea of going to church in my head for a bit.  I was at that point: her piece reminded me why I left.  The Amish have a walk about year where youth leave the community for a year (or so) before joining the church to see the wider world.  It is part of their tradition.  Maybe sometimes you have to leave to see what you miss: and maybe sometimes you have to leave to see what you saw was a mirage.  And really? Sometimes people who write articles and blogs that are widely read need to remember that words do have meanings, and maybe all really aren’t welcome in her church or denomination.  And maybe, just maybe, some people struggle with the Christian tradition because of the judgement.  Even from the liberal side of the aisle.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: