I find God in music and conversation.
I’ve never found anything divine in doctrine.
But once in awhile I find conversations about doctrine can be holy.
A big part of ministry today is spiritual rehab. For those suffering from Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome and those fleeing a toxic world of discipline and sin management. Or the abuse of congregations gripped by fear and anxiety.
Many of my friends rejected Christianity years ago and I find myself saying over and over that I reject that faith too. The one embraced by bullies and offered in cold analysis and troubled defenses. A faith that so little resembles the Christ that Jesus’s question of whether the Son of Man will find any faith at all seems to be negatively certain.
And ever since we’ve put a name to this move of a faith-seeking plurality of people who are pushing themselves away from toxicity and toward a healthier spirituality, our confusion has only grown. Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) is not only a critique of toxicity: it’s a critique of our whole culture.
Civic Religion in an age of Spirituality
In Constantine, Christianity turned from the religion of the oppressed to the religion of empire. It’s DNA was altered as a peasant religion walked into the throne room and adorned itself with crowns and scepters.
But in the post-Reformational period, democracy threw out the kings and elected its presidents. It threw out a peasant serf system and built out a merchant class. Enamored with a world without birth order, but ordered by merit, it ordained the old caste-system with a patina of grace-filled justification.
Justification for burning witches and brandishing switches.
And we maintained this sense of order, not through organized religion, but civic religion. Under the auspices that the religion itself wouldn’t call the shots, but we could all wink and nudge, knowing the principal actors were men of wisdom and good character.
We traded in the justification of manifest destiny bestowed upon a king for a manifest destiny of a people, a place, and an ordered society. And its actions become justified with a rubber stamp. Because we’re good people.
And these good people living into this manifest democratic destiny, justified in its empire expansion and dominionist tendency, look less and less like Jesus.
Capitalism, modern banking, holes in the social safety net are not Christ-like values. But they’re the stock and trade of our civic religion, fashioned after and distorted from our values.
But the thing that’s missing from civic religion is spirituality.
Spirituality and confessing faith are different things.
I married Rose because I love her. But more than that, I wanted to spend my life with her and give myself to her. I wanted everything that is me to be an offering to her. And I didn’t want true autonomy because I want to share my life with her.
So I bound my life to hers. And she bound hers to mine. And now we are bound to the lives of our children.
The church has doctrine around marriage, rules which organize and define it. And the theology of the Episcopal Church is totally compatible with my view of my life-binding to Rose.
The critique of many of my friends is that they see churches talking a lot about rules and scripture and theology which doesn’t bear out in a healthy and life-giving spirituality. They see fighting over marriage equality and spouting scripture as if these deal with the Spirit. As if our believing matches our beliefs.
No wonder many have walked out. That every week, hundreds of people all over the country are choosing that this past Sunday was their last one. That they’d rather sleep in or go camping. They’ll find God out in the woods, hiking with them, in the bugs and birds, the changing leaves.
Because the two things which should be unified in our churches, our belief and our believing, are absent. Our confessing beliefs don’t match our daily adversities and our political proclivities.
Or worse; we’re just assholes.
When people come looking for help, we offer them moralism. When they offer their questions, we give them critiques. Each time they see us, not as Christ, but one of the millions of moralists. An identity which takes no faith or spirituality at all. Just the certainty of conviction and a mind for judgment.
The woods are good.
God is there. In the woods. And in the lakes and oceans. God can be found in all creation. In the whisper of the wind and the howl of a coyote.
God is not just into loving you. Just you, in your moment and experience; in that isolated sense of personal experience.
God loves when you live. You won’t just find God in nature, but in your work and in the coffee shop and the morning commute. God is in soccer games and in the stands struggling to figure out whether to root for Chicago or Cleveland. I love them both!
But God wants us to get together. Not just once a week or with our families, but to work on this love thing with intention.
Church is where we are when we love and our believing comes alive. That doesn’t have to be the building or a membership group. It can be friends, camping. Or a living room over pizza. Some can find it online, in communities bonding virtually.
The point isn’t just to find God or live the way God wants. We’re called to embody Christ with others. And we can do that every second of our lives together.
* * *
This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!