Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spiritual But Not Religious.

Social media, such as Facebook is fascinating. Recently, I asked a question.

The largest 'religious' growth group in the United States right now is a group that calls themselves 'spiritual but not religious.' It strikes me that there is a belief in the divine, leaving the divine undefined. Recognizing there are more groups than Christians, but as a Christian my question is this. Has the failure of Christianity to reach or retain people been a result of a rejection of the Gospel or of Christianity's presentation of the Gospel?

There were many compelling comments that were made. Here are some of them:

As someone who has recently become a member of this growing group, it's not that I do not consider myself a Christian, but I have a serious disconnect with organized religion. I have a very strong relationship with God and I have tried very... hard to live my life based on the teachings of Christ, but during some of the lowest points in my life I have felt rejected by the church rather than lifted up.

I am a long time believer who has been on both sides of the issue--I have embraced Christianity and I have rejected it, on both cases because of how I felt treated in whatever church I was involved with at the time. I am again feeling out of touch with God because of how I feel I am being treated in my church. What really makes this sad is that I just graduated from seminary. It bothers me that I was once so on fire to be in the ministry, but now I hate the thought of setting foot in my church.

When I began identifying myself as "spiritual... but not religious," I did so because I vehemently opposed the actions of the church and the folks that perpetuated anger, judgement, and hate. I also respected the beliefs of practitioners of all religions and didn't want to make a "truth claim." A decade later, I realized that I could participate in a faith practice that felt comfortable to me without judging the faith practice of others. It turns out that spiritual community makes all the difference, for me anyway.

Those that do hateful things in the name of Christ leave a bitter taste in many mouths. As many have evoked, if Jesus came today, he would most likely be in a homeless shelter or jail. Whether one believes him the son of God or a great prophet, he preached what so many of us need to work on your neighbor, do unto others, etc.

I don't think it's a matter of rejection at all but rather an opening up to other points of view. Im no expert, but maybe it's enlightenment itself breaking down the lines drawn between different faiths. I myself believe God (or whate...ver one chooses to call Him) is love. Love is the goal and maybe many are choosing to just pursue the goal without the restrictions imposed by ideology. Concentrations of ideology seem to be a product of isolation. Isolation is becoming more impossible to use as a way to concentrate faith in a path to the real goal.

Simple: biblical literalism and fundamentalism make Christians do and say crazy things. The church is more interested in conversion and doctrinal purity than in helping people ponder the wonder and mystery of the God and the universe (and the teachings of Jesus). Thus, the church often fails to meet spiritual needs.

It is a PR problem. Requiring people to believe things that they know can't be factual a la The Creation Museum. The truth in the Gospels is profound, but insisting that the narrative is "factual" is a deal-breaker for most. The selling ...of the Gospels and Old Testament as fact by the "Church" has so damaged it, that I fear the church as a social institution is in real trouble. Following Jesus instead of rule-making, condemnation, is the only hope to reverse the PR nightmare. Jesus commands us to DO. He doesn't give us a list of things to BELIEVE. GET UP and go, your faith has healed you.

I think it goes beyond liberal and conservative. I have felt ostracized by both ends of the continuum for questioning the way a "good liberal" or a "good conservative" might view things. When Christianity is not being actively persecuted, it seems that more and more cultural baggage gets layered on top.I think the recent anti-intellectualism in Christianity has led to a poor presentation of the Gospel and a degrading understanding of it. Now we have a fundamentalism unable to interact productively with other groups on one end, and the rejectors of fundamentalism who have no standard for developing a coherent worldview on the other end--they know what they don't want to be, but what model do they have remaining?

The opinions are, of course, not exhaustive; they are merely illustrative. Whether we agree or disagree with people’s comments, no one is really wrong. They are responding from their own personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

I have been reading and listening to a good bit of people about this and I’ve come to some conclusions.

First is this. The failure is never God’s and can never really be the fault of the Gospel. If the Gospel is truly a reflection of God, it stands as what it is. People may choose to believe it or not believe it, but the Gospel is the Gospel. But if we believe God is perfect, this is not God’s fault.

But, Christianity has some huge faults.

First off, the Gospel may not be the problem, but how the Gospel is represented often is. In another recent poll I asked people if they thought the language of Christianity had gotten more mean spirited. The answer was overwhelmingly ‘yes.’ And it truly has, I believe.

Often when the news media chooses to interview people of faith they choose the most controversial people who often use harsh language on people with whom they disagree or choose to not associate with. There is an old Christian adage that says, “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” I have come to believe it is an adage we can no longer use as it has slipped deeper into the ‘hate’ portion. In the New Testament the Greek word for hate is actually a word used in comparison to something else and not used the way we use it in English. Sadly, Christianity is often seen as a religion of hate rather than love.

Secondly, I was distressed by the number of people who have felt rejected by churches. Somewhere, collectively, Christianity seems to have forgotten that Jesus came to embrace everyone. We begin each Worship service with the words “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,’ and we do mean those words. It doesn’t mean, however, we are always successful. There are people who have not felt welcome for a variety of reasons.

The last thing is really a question for people within Christianity. How do we respond? Dallas Willard’s great line, “The system we have now is perfectly designed to produce the results we are now getting,” is totally appropriate. If the results of Christianity right now are producing more people who are ‘spiritual but not religious,’ what do we do now?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What Would I Cut?

What would I cut?

If they named me King and told me to cut the Federal Budget, here is what I would cut:

• I would cut, by half, Congressional and Senate salaries. In an effort to reduce the terms of these people without having a Constitutional Amendment for term limits, I’d cut their salaries in half to make this more and more about service rather than benefit.

• I would eliminate Congressional pensions. Same reasons as above.

• Cut Congressional staffs by half.

• Cut the White House staff by half.

• Cut the Supreme Court staff by half.

• I would limit Congressional Postage for free except in responses to constituents’ mail.

• Half of all money donated to political campaigns would be allocated to repair and replace infrastructure within the United States which would allow necessary repairs to take place without raising taxes or increasing the debt.

• I would remove all armed forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and using Intelligence agencies and the military, I’d fight terrorism more in specific instances rather than invading nations. We have to stop pretending these wars have not contributed significantly to our current budget crisis.

• I would raise the retirement age to 70. The only way to address the money issues facing Social Security and Medicare is to actually face the issues. The age of 65 was chosen when the vast majority of people did not live to age 65. People can retire earlier if they have pensions, etc., but they cannot collect Federal benefits until age 70 except for in cases of disability.

WWJC? I’m not sure, but I don’t think he’d object to these.