Spiritual, but Not Religious?

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This “Religion in Daily Life” appeared in the August 2010 issue of Texoma Living!

Reverend Ally Perry
Saint John’s Episcopal Church
760 FM west 120
Pottsboro, Tx. 75076

Not into organized religion: What exactly does that mean?

We all know people who say: “I’m spiritual, but I do not believe in organized religion.” Most of them are women. This usually means they read a little Buddhism, delve into some of the latest books about spirituality, and might even do yoga. They are determined to pilot their own boats over the spiritual waters.

They pick and choose from the modern buffet of spiritual merchandise. When you inquire about religious background, you often find that in the past they have felt abused by the church, were hurt by a person in the church, are very angry at God, or are generally distrusting of authority. Very seldom are these people atheists or agnostic. Often they profess to be Christians, believing Jesus to be the only Son of God.

This is a modern phenomenon rooted in our culture of individualism and the belief that spirituality is private and personal. Private religion is not Biblical. Neither the Old nor New Testaments acknowledge a private spiritual journey. It is not part of our Judeo-Christian tradition.

Attending a church or synagogue presents challenges. What are they? First is the challenge of dealing with the other people there. People unfamiliar with church life will say that churches are full of hypocrites, people who say one thing on Sunday and behave in a different way during the week. We often use that perception as a means of rationalizing almost any behavior. This is an immature argument common to the teenage years, “everybody is doing it, even those who go to church.”

When are Americans going to grow up spiritually? Every world religion calls for us to love each other and respect other human beings. It is easier to do this generally when alone in front of the television than in a gathering of people who are all different from us. It means to love the crazy old lady who has lipstick on her teeth and too much rouge, to love the undisciplined six-year-old who runs up the aisle during church, to love ones parents, to love the person who controls all the meetings and the one who has zillions of suggestions but never volunteers for anything. It is a small wonder that people say they feel closest to God in nature. Birds are a lot less challenging to love.

The next challenge of church life is attendance. You have to get up and go. Once you go for a while, people grow to like you and will expect to see you there. They notice when you are gone. They miss you. This means relationships begin to develop, a frightening concept for some.

Our modern life encourages cocooning when we are not at work or with family, and we pride ourselves on not needing anyone else. Jesus preaches that if we love Him we need to be the servant of all. He washed his disciples’ feet and taught them to do likewise. We are called to be of service selflessly. This is the Judeo-Christian path to spiritual growth—love others in the name of Christ and serve them.

Some people have said that they can worship God just as well on the golf course with their friends on Sunday morning as they can in church. Ask them what prayers they say while golfing. Do they pray for others? Praise God’s beautiful creation? Sing hymns? God gives us all week, for our lives, our children, and our work. The scriptures say that He will be our God if we will be His people. We show we are His people by worship. God only asks for an hour or so. When we sit and listen to scripture we hear things that God the Holy Spirit wishes us to hear in our lives. The Word of God edifies our lives and speaks to our hearts in surprising ways.

All churches are not alike. We who are called to ministry work to get our churches to be healthy bodies of Christ in witness to the world, but this work can take years and be impossible in some churches. If you find a church to be unwelcoming or dry and boring, keep looking. If it is not welcoming to your children, keep looking. If the theology is too permissive or too judgmental for you, keep looking. Spirituality can be found in churches and your life will be infinitely richer if you find companions on the spirituality journey.

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