Friday, July 7, 2017
Would Anyone Like to Join Me?
What would it mean to be a spiritual church?
“Spirituality,” is a term that is often bandied about, but seldom defined. We all intuitively know it has something to do with supernatural or ultimate meaning, but the term is sufficiently vague to encompass almost any referent.
“Religion,” on the other hand, is discomfortingly concrete. “Religion,” conjures up images of puritans and law codes, scripture, clergy, shame, dogma, buildings, and the occasional inquisition. “Religion,” is all too often cast as spirituality’s unreformed, illiberal opposite. Describing oneself as spiritual but not religious has grown into the clichéd label of our cultural
The problem is that no one seems to have a clue what they mean by either of these terms and not knowing what we are talking about we end up spewing nonsense whenever we talk about spirituality or religion.
“Spirituality,” refers to Spirit, the present-tense, ephemeral yet always available presence of the divine, numinous, and transcendent in our lives. Specifically, “spirituality,” refers to collective set of knowledge and practices that assist human beings in accessing that divine, transcendent reality. “Spirituality,” is therefore always practical and applied, lived out in our mundane or mountaintop experiences. It is always about method and practices of encountering God in the direct immediacy of our lives. But method without content of any sort can lead us to circle back into ourselves. The danger of method without content is the ultimate worship of self that is the essence of every idolatry.
“Religion,” on the other hand is all the accumulated content expressed in scripture and theologies, history and institutions, communal practices, rituals, and liturgies, through which the current and every past human generation shares what it knows, or thinks it knows, about this divine reality most people call God. Religio literally means bond or obligation and religion is precisely that accumulated knowledge of this ultimate reality and to every other human being, both living and dead, who has sought to learn both from it and about it. But religion by itself says nothing about how we access that reality, or how such an encounter changes us.
As with every other human endeavor, method without content leads to unproductive navel-gazing and content without method leads only to fossilized memory and nostalgia for antiquities long past. The key to growth, the necessary and sufficient condition for transformation, is to combine the two.
For too long mainline churches have relied on religion to the exclusion of spirituality. We teach information about God. We praise God’s attributes. We seek to implement God’s preferred ethics in our politics and habits. But in all of this we are dealing with consequences not cause. In all our self-important busyness of church we have neglected the first and most important thing: to seek encounter with the living God. We content ourselves with accounts of others’ past encounters recorded in scripture. We commit ourselves to the modern purtianisms of justice and social righteousness. But we never seek after God in him, her, or itself as the chief end and ambition of all our seeking.
So, here’s my question. What would church look like if we sought after encountering God with all the exertion we apply to buildings and budget, worship, and organization? What difference, if any, would seeking after God (however you understand that term) make in our lives as individuals or as a community.
This is a question to which I want to discover the answer and the only way I know how is experimentally by actually pursuing this most elusive and sacred of desires. Would anyone like to join me?