It all began with a Facebook post from Chad Holtz (the guy who got in trouble for liking Rob Bell's book). I enjoy the way Chad thinks about things and tend to pay attention to the things he post that are of interest to him.
He posted a link to an article on the United Church of Christ site from The Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel, "Spiritual but not Religious? Stop Boring Me." in her post Rev. Lillian shares that she dreads conversations on airplanes with people who identify as SBNR. She dreads it because she seems to find their version of spirituality boring, uninspired and lacking of the real substance that is required for growth (that being the element of community). She further claims that SBNR folks are little more than typical self-centered Americans. Self-Indulgent consumers of their own brand of spirituality, she claims. An interesting judgement for sure. For those of you who are friends with Chad, we had a wonderful exchange on his comments section of the post. Chad later posted his own blog entry about the conversation, which is getting some great feedback as well.
Now to Dr. Lillian's credit this article was a mini version of a much longer article posted on the Christian Century site, "You can't make this up: The limits of self-made religion" and as she expressed to me in a personal email, you can say a lot more in 3,000 words than you can in 250. In the longer article her tone is not as snarky, and her points are better delivered and overall provides some wonderful thoughts for consideration.
Even so, there is still an overall theme that seems to look down upon the classification SBNR as inferior to "religious people." A judgement that I think naively overlooks the rich history of the SBNR movement. It makes me wonder if those who criticize the term actually understand what it means? Do they understand that SBNR is not some mer post-modern cultural fad - but is in fact a deep and enriching part of American culture for over 150 years and has positively impacted nearly every major religious institution for the better? It makes me wonder if their criticism is balanced with scholarship. Have they read "Spiritual but not Religious" by Robert Fuller and others like it (which you can find along with other great info on SBNR movement at www.newthoughthistory.org)?
If the answers to these questions were yes, I imagine we'd find a slightly more understanding and tolerant tone. Perhaps we would discover that those who identify as SBNR often do so as a result of the religious abuse and oppression that they have suffered in the name of God and religious authority. That more often than not, the SBNR among us do not "reject" religion as much as they reject Dogma. Dogma that has too often been defended and promoted by organized religion. Dogma that has oppressed the weakest among us, dogma that has suppressed the Holy and Divine Feminine making it shameful and wrong. Dogma that has made a mockery of scripture by using it to defend racism, homophobia, sexism and classism. Dogma that has the audacity to put conditions on Grace, Love, Mercy and Salvation which Jesus so freely gave to all. Dogma that helped produce a religious institution so unlike the name and nature of Jesus that the Son of Man himself would be hard pressed to recognize, much less defend it.
So please forgive us, for I too am SBNR. Forgive us for looking outside of the institution that has far too often failed exemplify the simplest element of it's own creed, to Love thy neighbor. Forgive us for looking into nature to find God's true Nature. Forgive us that while on this seemingly self-indulgent path of personal discovery, we in fact discovered Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and The Christ Principle. And please forgive us if we discovered that this encounter was far more real, authentic and transformative than anything we previously experienced in "church."
And forgive us if we happen to notice that this seems to be the path that Jesus took as well. Remember, he disappears from the narrative from age 12-30 and when he reappears he is not touting the virtues of religious and spiritual community. In fact, quite the opposite. He railed against the institutions of his day, their dogma, rules and authoritative judgements over society. He sought his own personal relationship with God, so personal he called him Abba, Father. So personal that this connection was not made through a creed, book or Temple, but in fact was closer than his breath and dwelled right within him.
Forgive us for thinking he was not self-indulgent for doing so. Forgive us for noticing that Jesus was "Spiritual but not Religious"
And while you consider forgiving us for these transgressions, take note of the following;
SBNR people do not deny nor reject the power of being, growing and learning in community. In fact a more loving, inclusive and charitable community that is working toward a world that works for everyone is something that we care deeply about.
Take note that often the loudest voices against Religious Institutions have been voices from the inside. Voices that have been the source of positive and evolutionary change. Religious voices that have called upon us to be more Spiritual and less Religious.
Rev. Henry Emerson Fosdick
Bishop John Shelby Spong
"So it needs to be said clear that the God presence of this Jesus will lead us ultimately beyond every religious definition. Indeed, it will lead us beyond Jesus himself. That becomes essential to human development whenever our idolatrous convictions identify the messenger of God with God. So the Ground of Being will finally be worshiped apart from any system of religious thought. It is a startling but real insight into the future of worship." - Why Christianity Must Change or Die, p. 224
Paul Tillich, Protestant Theologian
"The importance of being a Christian is that we can stand in the insight that it is of no importance. It is the spiritual power of religion that he who is religious can fearlessly look at the vanity of religion. It is the maturest fruit Christian understanding to understand that Christianity, as such, is of no avail." - The New Being, p 19
In other words Christianity is not about Christianity. It is about a new way of Being. When Jesus said "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" he was not speaking of a religious way of Being, but a spiritual way of Being.
Scripture reminds us that it is the letter of the Law (religion, creeds and dogma) that kills, while the Spirit of the Law gives Life. An to enter the Spirit of the Law, one only need be spiritual, not religious.
And finally Dr. Lillian, do not make haste in your criticism of "self-made religion"
All religion is self made. Paul Tillich reminds us that "Revelation is God's attempt to reach man. Religion is man's attempt to reach God." All religion stem from the personal Revelation of one individual, who then shares that revelation with others who in turn seek to touch the wisdom of the revelation by way of rituals, customs, rules and traditions that ultimately become...a religion.
In the end Dr. Lillian's point on the importance of community is well taken. We need community. In community we grow, we are challenged and we change. But the world will not be served by more communities of "us and them." In fact the world of divisive separation that humanity has created can only be served by the spiritual insight and revelation that there is only One Community. One global community of humanity in which, as Dr. Lillian stated, "[in community] we are stuck with each other"
And, like it or not that this is the way it is... This transformative insight can only come one personal revelation at a time.
"The Church of God"
The Church of God is not built with hands, it is eternal in the heavens; it is not lighted with candles; its dome is heaven and it is lighted by the stars of God's illumined thought, and each member in his separate star "shall draw the thing as he sees it, for the God of things as they are." Here all people recognize the God within their own souls and ask for and see no other God. When you can look upon all creation as the perfect work of a perfect God, you will become a member of this church. I doubt very much if the church universal admits members from the church individual. When you can see in the saint and the sinner one and the same person, when you can realize that the one who kneels before the altar and the one who lies drunk in the street is the same one, when you can love the one as much as you do the other, no doubt you will be able to qualify. As it now is we have too many preachers who do not understand, that have no purpose; too many prayers, too many creeds, too many teachers, that have no message; too many churches, too many "learned" people, and too few thinkers. "The Kingdom of Heaven cometh not by observation." It is the "Still, small voice" within the soul that speaks. The expanded thought will never wish to join or be joined to. Nothing human can contain it. It feels the limitation of form and ceremony and longs for the freedom of the Spirit, the great out of doors, the Great God of the everywhere. Alone in the desert, the forest or by the restless ocean, looking up at the stars, man breathes forth these words, "With only my Maker and me."