Friday, September 02, 2011

Religion Should Be Delicious

First, I read the short version of Lillian Daniel's essay about "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me," that is making the rounds.

Part of me, I must confess, had that triumphant, "Yeah, what SHE said!" feeling. And then, rather quickly, I felt ... quite uncomfortable. Was sneering at someone else's sneering the way to go?

And it kept sitting with me.

Then, I read the longer version. And felt heart-achingly sad.

A man sits next to her. He tells her his story. Of going to a church where he's not supposed to ask questions. Then going to a church that defines God in such a rigid way, he can't make it fit with his reasoning about the divine.

Then, he finds a church that is like a big warm hug. He fits. But when he goes through the pain of divorce, backs turn. It is his wife's church, he discovers.

Disillusioned, hurt, he begins sleeping in, reading the NY Times, taking long walks. He finds God in the trees and the cicadas. He describes himself as deeply spiritual, but not religious.

Me, I would call that healing. Daniels does not.

After having his intellect, his sense of God's love, and trust in human relationships all abused, we should say, Sorry, Bucko, you should have gone to another church? Tried harder?

Are you kidding?

Yes, I know there are plenty of folks out there, shallowly tralalaing about being spiritual but not religious. They fit with "self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating."

Don't you understand that these are the people who most need us?

I can't judge them because I recognize my own demon in it. The demon that tells me that if I buy these storage bins or watch this documentary or read this book, my life will be better. I struggle with this demon, over and over, but I sure do like my toys... 

We are needed. But here's the deal: we haven't shown that our way -- the religious life -- is better. In fact, as in the case of the man on the airplane, we've often shown the opposite.

I don't spank my kids, for many reasons. But I'm also pragmatic. I've watched the families where the parents do spank their kids, and if their children were better behaved, heck, I would have considered it. But they weren't.

By your fruits you will know them.

I have a minister friend who is a runner. He talks about the difference it makes in his life. And his life backs him up -- he is physically healthy, and it obviously helps him, spiritually and mentally. Because of this, I'm trying out running as a spiritual practice.

In A Treatise on Atonement, Hosea Ballou writes about loving God:
I am asked if I love an orange; I answer I never tasted of one; but then I am told I must love the orange for what it is! Now I ask, is it possible for me either to like or dislike the orange, in reality, until I taste it? Well, I taste of it and I like it. Do you like it? says my friend. Yes I reply, its flavor is exquisitely agreeable. But that will not do, says my friend; you must not like it because its taste is agreeable, but you must like it because it is an orange. If there be any propriety in what my friend says, it is out of my sight.

We have not made our case. First, we have to let people know: If you come to this church, your life and the world you affect, will be better.

And if we can't say that ... then close up shop. Take a walk in the woods.

Going to church should transform you. Going to church should make your life better, and because of your transformation, should make the world you impact better.

I understand the complaints about a consumer-driven culture that affects our attitude about church. But goshdarnitall, we have to give people a reason to go to church. 

I have a friend, a local missional pastor here in my town. His little church is Christian, so they have communion. Every so often, they do it with cake. Why? Because they believe religion should be delicious.

Religion should be delicious. No, not like "deep-fried appetizers," but deeply, soul-satisfyingly delicious. Which means struggling with hard questions, fighting and panting, but knowing the next day, for our struggles, we will be renamed Israel. Delicious, like the pride a parent feels for their child who ventures out, making their first theological pronouncement. Delicious, like sunsets and beaches and walks through the woods. 

Is your church delicious? Does it provide opportunities for spiritual transformation? Does it encourage you to transform the world? If it does all that, you should be out there, letting everyone know. You should light the way so that others, caught in the grip of the demon culture that says we can buy meaning, purchase fulfillment, may find their salvation. And if your church is not delicious, you should damn well either make it delicious or find another one. Because we are needed. Desperately needed.

You say you're spiritual but not religious? 

Come sit by me. I want to hear your story.


ms. kitty said...

Ambrosial, dear LE!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this! Yes, Yes Yes and Amen, Blessed Be!

Amy said...

Religion blogs should be delicious. This one is. Yum. Thank you!

Kenneth said...

"You say you're spiritual but not religious?

Come sit by me. I want to hear your story."

This. Thank you.

Liz Hill said...

What she said. Thank you.

SpecK said...

What a wonderful response to the original text, to the flutter it is causing, for me personally. Thank you. Karen

Lee Wyatt said...

I think you all may be missing the point at least of the original post on the UCC blog site. You might look at my "Spiritual but not Religious? Second, Actually Third, THoughts" and a piece I posted a couple of days before Daniel's post "A Case for Christians being Neither Spiritual Nor Religious".

LewisLips said...

Thank you for this. I felt the same way when I read her article and was so sad to see how many of my minister/seminary friends were praising it on Facebook. You wrote about the gospel...Lillian was a bit off the mark on this one.

Roy said...

Thank you for this.

Much appreciated.

Holding palms together - bowing.

Chalicechick said...

I kinda feel for a lady who just wants to take a plane trip in peace without hearing some random dude's story of spiritual growth, though. I'd think the usual "spiritual but not religious" narrative would get especially old even if this one guy is something of an exception.

When I was doing employment discrimination law, I used to claim in social situations that I did "employment law" in an attempt to avoid people's discrimination/reverse discrimination/harassment/unjust accusal of harassment/affirmative action stories.


Anna Banana said...

Well said. My church is delicious to me sometimes. I hope it's delicious for others when it's not so much for me. I keep coming to services knowing deliciousness is there, especially when I show up with an open heart.

PeaceBang said...

Wow, Jo, I feel like you really missed the point of the article. And this is the first thing I've read of yours that didn't impress me or feel coherent. I've been thinking about this for a few days and I think our UU defensiveness against Daniels piece (which I love) is closely related to my constant harping about our penchant for terminal uniqueness. Not sure how, exactly, but thanks for urging me not to let this go until I have wrestled some resolution from it for myself.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with PeaceBang a bit here. I think there are two major types of "spiritual but not religious" - Daniels was addressing one and you are addressing the other. One type is craving (whether they know it or not) meaningful religious community, and our churches are failing to provide it. This is what your post does a beautiful job of speaking to. I believe this is the majority of "spiritual but not religious" today. But the other smaller, but by no means small, group (and this is the kind that I believe Daniels was addressing) have no interest or desire to be a part of transformative religious community. They reject it off hand. They believe their own thoughts to be far superior to anything that anyone else may think now or throughout history. These consumers definitely exist and in my experience do tend to act superior to those doing the work (and reaping the benefits!) of living within the body of Christ. These are people who do need to be called out on the shallowness of their spiritual methodology - and I think Daniels did a good job of doing that. That said, I don't think the way to "turn" these spiritual consumer types is by raking them over the coals. But I identify with where Daniels is coming from - and will give her some grace.

Jim Magaw said...

I'm with you, LE. The guy in the airplane was burned three times, and we're supposed to chastise him for being too shallow and/or self-indulgent to know what he needs? If God really is "still speaking," it seems extremely unlikely that the *only* place in the world where you can hear her or his voice is in church. SBNRs are not the enemy! And heaping vitriol on them is not going to make them change their minds about organized religion. We need to start lighting fires in people's souls, not moaning about how they don't understand what religion really is.

Sara said...

I still haven't found time to read the original post, but I love what you say here!

Rev. Kathy Schmitz said...

A lovely and creative addition to the larger discussion. Thank you! Having the humility to look at ourselves and seeking the wisdom to truly grow and mature ourselves and our movements will be a blessing to our congregations, those who have not yet engaged them, and ultimately that which matters most.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Through the deliciousness of my church, I am led to seminary and through the will of my spirit and my calling, I am being led to travel around the United States in an RV with my kids - that is my calling. But unlike other ministers, I am not going to travel so that I may speak or lead others. I am going to go where I am needed so that I may listen. Because there are so many like the man on the plane who feels that faith passes them by because organization is more important than spiritualism. No one should be passed by and through listening and occasionally speaking - I would love to spread that knowledge.