Are you spiritual but not religious?

I’m a representative of organized religion, or institutionalized Christianity.  That means people relate with me in different ways depending on where they’re coming from in their past.

If, for example, you grew up in the church and you have positive associations with church, I’m someone you probably respect.  If, as another example, you did not grow up in the church, or if your memories of church are negative, or if most of what you think of the church has to do with abusive priests or aboriginal peoples’ cultures being stomped on, then I may be one to be wary of or even despised.

When I introduce myself as a pastor, I’ve heard people say about their faith life (if they admit to having one) “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” I suspect this means different things for different people.  For some people, I’m guessing it means, “don’t bother inviting me to church because I won’t come,” for others it may mean, “I only go to church once or twice a year,” for others yet it probably means, “I don’t want to be associated with the baggage of Christian fundamentalists, but I’m okay with believing in God.”

I have no problem with saying that the hey-day for church is over and that the church – as an institution – needs to change in big ways.  Basically, it’s irrelevant for a majority of 21st-Century Canadians.

At the same time, it seems that there’s a desire to engage in other traditions, be they Buddhist practices or hearing the stories of aboriginal elders, or other forms of finding deeper meaning to life.  So something is resonating with people, even though it may not be Christianity these days.

I consider myself part of the “progressive Christian” or “emerging church” movement which seeks to engage faith and belief in a more holistic way.  That is, what was once a religion where all you had to do was subscribe to a set of beliefs is now being talked about in terms of a way of life.

It seems to me that everyone has a spiritual side.  Everyone has certain things that drive them – things that make them happy, sad, give them pleasure, and things they live for.  In short, those things which give a person life are what constitutes a person’s spiritual side.

It also seems to me that we’re all religious in one way or another.  Religion can be understood as the rites and rituals, the traditions, that we embrace to live out pivotal moments in life and to connect with others.  …so we all have them – be it a weekly movie night with friends, or a family drive on the weekend, or dressing-up for events like high-school graduation and such.  And, of course, for many it’s been the weekly routine of going to church.

I think the fear that many have of religious community is that it may involve checking their brain at the door, or adopting a set of beliefs and/or rules that probably wouldn’t jive with the way they do things in other parts of their lives.  I can’t speak for all religious communities, but I know that in mine we’re making an effort to meet people where they are in life, and to live graciously.  In our case, we see faith community and religious ritual as being a way we can journey together corporately – we follow some patterns together (eg. liturgy, weekly gathering), but we also socialize and work together (eg. movie-nights, Spring clean-up work-bees).  And we’re together as a community when one of us experiences a loss, or a joy – so we join in celebrating a life, while mourning death, when a family loses a loved one to cancer; we also join in celebrating life when a new baby is born.

It’s important to be aware of what is joyous in life, and to give thanks for it; it is important to be aware of loss when we experience it, and to lament it.  That’s where the spiritual and religious intersect, as I see it.

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Posted on April 13, 2010, in Tyler's occasional web log. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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