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.