Homily/Theme: What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual and Religious?
Chances are that you have heard these words from your friends who have been seeking their own answers, and chances are that you have said these words yourself: “I am spiritual, but I am not religious!”
Generally, we all know what that means, right? That we identify ourselves as a person who explores, who bravely seeks answers, and who often can not find what they are seeking in the traditional ways of church, worship, with all of the limiting behavioral expectations and the exclusionary beliefs.
IF we have recently returned to our childhood faith, or when as an adult, we have reexamined the beliefs and values that are still being espoused, we can encounter limited understanding, traditional patriarchal meanings, or a series of disheartening attitudes that are, at their worst, harsh and depersonalizing, and even at their best, they can be stale and limiting.
In today’s culture, yes, even here in the “Holy City” area – One of the most resistant, most traditional, and most conservative of places, there are a growing number of people who find themselves dissatisfied with what passes for religious beliefs, and who can no longer feel comfortable, much less inspired, by traditional worship.
In particular, they can object to the repressive uses of theology and Scripture as agents of control that try to limit the scope of your questions, or cramp your desire to seek out your own answers.
Just as many people say that they have out grown the image of God as the old man in heaven, sitting on a golden throne, as judge and jury over our souls, so too have many people outgrown the belief that we are sinners and need judgmental or parental authority figures to tell us what to do, and what to believe about God, life, love…
I expect that most of you sitting here have encountered this and resisted it, and it is possible that you have found yourselves a little lost, or at least disheartened over the lack of choice, or the lack of open, and progressive alternatives to church in our area. It can appear as if many churches here are living in a isolated time warp or a cocoon that shuts out the need for greater acceptance or tolerance.
For example, by my quick count, there are over 100 churches in Charleston county, yet there are only five communities of faith that welcome gay and lesbians, only three of these five church groups would be consider themselves to centrally Christian, only one to be inclusive and metaphysical, and only one maybe two to be welcoming of all faiths or accepting of having no faith at all! No wonder there are so many spiritual Meetup Groups! There are a lot of people who are looking around, and most cannot find what they seek!
During my personal lifelong study and my ministry experiences, there has been a lot of resistance to the word spiritual, just as there has been in more recent years, there is the reluctance to call oneself a religious person. …
I feel that the time is “ready and ripe” to define both terms in new inclusive and welcoming ways. (which by the way, are the words Jesus used in Aramaic to describe what he called being Blessed…
As in the Beatitudes… Ready are you…)
Let’s chose the easier word first… being religious…
I bet you thought I would choose spiritual, didn’t you?
Without belaboring it, most conventional churches are only superficially or sentimentally religious. They prefer to operate as pious social groups, for business networking, for parenting support, for reinforcing the status quo with a little sentimental story, or a passive ritual… That’s is what conventionally passes for being religious. However, there is a deeper, more troubling dimension to be religious in our culture today…
That is when being religious means that you are blindly arrogant. When Scripture is used as a political weapon for exclusion or inclusion- Either you believe what we say or we will threaten you in two things: You will be threatened with being ostracized from family, friends, jobs, or you will be threatened with damnation and Hell because, according to the way they have chosen to read the words, they can pronounce that you are not accepted, that you are a sinner!
The pressure to conform to ideas and concepts you no longer trust or believe in is a heavy one; This coercion we can feel, especially from family and friends, can be very disheartening.
I have heard this experience often from my clients in spiritual direction. They would often agree around these experiences:
That they had to leave home religiously in order to find themselves- They had to be a bold, rebellious, and then become an adult seeker…
However, it is also true that this path can be very difficult… being responsible for your own answers, being a mystic seeking wholeness or becoming a prophet after truth is not an easy road! That is why so few people choose it!
As I see it, arrogant or judgmental theology has created more atheists, and more disillusioned people that any question based on science or social doubt could have ever done! However, it has also created many sincere seekers who wish to find spiritual ideals and a community that now fit their expanded understanding…
In the 12 Principles of Creation Spirituality, you will see that this community will consciously aim to rectify and restore your sense of dignity, value, talent, and purpose. It will not ask you to sacrifice your ability to reason, nor will it expect you to believe in anything or act in any way that is not compassionate and wise.
You see, religion, as it pertains to its original word meaning, religiare, is an expression of human belonging or spiritual bonding that keeps, respects, and holds people together in service to a larger ideal or a greater truth than one can have or hold just by themselves.
Being religious is having or holding on a sustaining belief in the grace that can be found in being together- in sharing, in working together to support and to encourage one another through our commonly held ways of worship, study, and service.
(group energy/synergy and dynamism)
Now I fully acknowledge that stating or even declaring that you are “spiritual but not religious” is an important necessary step in many people’s spiritual journey- There is truth in saying that you first have to know what you do not believe in before they can find what ideas and ideals that can become your new sources for truth. When one goes through rejection, what you are expressing is what you no longer accept, or that you no longer wish to practice a level of belief or consciousness that you feel that you have either outgrown, or that is dysfunctional or even disrespectful for you.
Instead, many sincere seekers have chosen to remain outside of any church community until you can find a place that would support and inspire your new more mature and more inclusive awareness.
So I celebrate the virtue of necessary rejection! Without the courage to walk away, to explore, and to discover new truths, you cannot realize or be responsible for having an adult or mature understanding of faith, God, spirit, truth… As Walt Whitman put it, we are to “dismiss anything that insults our souls, and then our very flesh will become a poem!”
We need a religious dimension to our lives so that we can experience a sense of belonging, and feel as if there are sisters and brothers around that we can trust, and that we can be honest with, and who will genuinely care about us: Mind/Body/Heart/and Soul.
When religion and spirituality intersect, and when they become clearly practiced, we can arrive at a complementary synthesis, or a complete belief system. As Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality puts it, “There can be no mysticism without ethics, and no spirituality without justice.” I would add that there can be no complete sense of religious understanding without an active spirituality to accompany it. Without having sufficient regard for Myth, mystery, and meaning, there cannot be a complete sense of the Holy that can be found in that community.
Most of the new nationwide research on what people are looking for in a spiritual community centers around becoming more pneumocentric- more Spirit centered and bravely open to many ideas. which is contrary to the historical and conventional ways of church… This more Spirit centered approach will be more inclusive of various paths towards truth, it will be more participatory, and will seek to provide various ways of learning as a part of each service. It has become clear from all the feedback they have received that long time seekers, and those of the new wave of searchers will not be content with being “sacred observers.” This is the term I have found to best describe that conventional congregation:
just passively sitting in their pews, and feeling parented by some authority figure or satisfied by simply be given pious pabulum that has little value or no direct application once they leave the service!
In short, the new generation of spiritual pioneers and visionaries will not settle for religion being done “for them or done to them”… They wish to learn how to live their ideas more fully, not just talk about them! They want to wholeheartedly participate in developing an adult, responsible, and a knowledgeable faith that informs the whole person, and that tributes positively to the critical, necessary social changes we see around us…
Now for the word, spiritual… what a minefield that is! It is so inexact, so obtuse, with so many amorphous definitions that while we can easily come to a general consensus, those facile words still lack depth or any sense of a complete understanding! It took me ten pages to define it in my book on Spirit, Time and The Future!
Generally speaking, the word spiritual is most commonly equated with a kind of universal energy, or with some force that it both within us and beyond us. Other times, the word spiritual takes on the more pious or sentimental ideas of grace, but still not knowing how or in what ways that blessing can arrive or occur. …
I do not believe that spirituality is neither reducible to secular physics, nor is it a abstract, sentimental notion of God’s reality…
While Spirit’s basic effect is vitality, She can also be known as our source for wisdom, evolutionary relationships, soul centered healing, and justice making… It flows from the center of the Cosmos, and is evident in every breathe we take… The qualities most associated with Spirit are alchemical: They are the abilities of Transformation; Transcendence, and Transmutation… Change!
As I see it, the source for all this is the inclusive and expansive understanding of The Holy Spirit in Christianity is the same gracious and powerful Spirit or divine feminine that is found in all the timeless mystical aspects of the world faiths. She manifests and releases creativity and compassion, and She guides any community that is founded on interdependent, evolutionary impulses that direct us beyond ego and culture, and towards a sustaining sense of being whole and free…
I welcome you today to this opportunity to worship, and to work together, to share in creating a community of soulful exploration and compassionate understanding- a community that teaches how to live a pneumatic or a Spirit centered life- a life that is filled with discovery, affirmation, and blessings! Amen; So be It! Blessed Be!