We’re starting a sermon series this weekend called “Spiritual not religious.” I’ve been a little bit sheepish to share this on my blog, since it’s about as cool in Christian circles as being a Vanilla Ice fan in 1994. Hating on “spiritual but not religious” people is obligatory in the Christian blogosphere. I’ve done it; everyone has. But I thought about trying a different approach. I googled the phrase “I am spiritual but not religious” and a site came up with testimonies of people who identify that way. So I figured I would start a series engaging some of these testimonies on somewhat neutral metaphysical ground instead of just making fun of the label in order to prove my legitimacy to other Christians.
This is an interesting poem that sounds like it’s written to be read aloud at a poetry slam. Its essential claim is a sort of pantheism:
When I say god, really do mean
Our mission control; godhead divinity
The creator of which we all comprise
Created out of love; shouldn’t surprise
So according to this author, there’s a creator who represents a sort of collective consciousness that we’re all part of. This is basically a popularized version of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel’s concept of geist, the God who discovers Himself over time through the history of humanity.
The author goes on to critique religious practice, saying:
People think they need a sacred space
To connect with all of the divines grace
Which has always been inside of you
To guide, inspire and lift your blues
So “godness” is something we have to discover within ourselves. The author doesn’t want “divine grace” to be something that you can only access by going to a “sacred space.” It appears that the biggest problem he has is with the concept of an intermediary, which comes out plainly in the final stanza:
Please don’t think you need
To connect with god, someone in-between
Your connected anyway all of the time
Church is inside you not with bread and wine
The author doesn’t like there being a “someone in-between.” The reference to “bread and wine” sounds like he is reacting against a high church liturgical background, which would presumably include a hierarchical bureaucracy that serves as the “someone in-between.”
II. My response:
I can appreciate the sentiments that are expressed by this author. They are somewhat analogous to the concept of the “priesthood of the believer” that is an important doctrine in the Protestant tradition as a rebellion against the need for clerical intermediaries between us and God. I hear in this poem a longing to “connect” with God; the word “connect” is repeated three times just in the excerpts I quoted. I do think the poet is reacting against a legitimate misconception that God is a distant outsider in our world rather than being immediately omnipresent everywhere.
However, I would feel very lonely and anxious if this poem were the only spiritual resource I had available. While I can agree that God exists “inside of” me (“The kingdom of God is within you,” Luke 17:21), if God is not also beyond me, then that’s a lot of pressure on me to be my own god and make a universe all by myself. It’s tremendously intimidating to read the poem say: “Go today and use the power you have, the power of god in your very own hands.”
I don’t think I could ever feel powerful on my own. I’m way too anxious and easily distracted and emotionally fragile. One of the most comforting verses in the Bible for me is what God tells Paul when he is frustrated with his inadequacies, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Because I feel secure in the divine power from beyond me, I can stand up in front of a group of people and preach for 20 minutes without notes on a subject which I have thought about plenty but haven’t hammered out into a verbatim manuscript in advance.
Another challenge I would raise has to do with “connecting to divine grace.” Does every individual person really have to figure out how to do this on their own? If I were completely on my own, I wouldn’t know what to do, so I probably wouldn’t do anything. What if one person figures out a way of connecting to divine grace that gives that person tremendous peace and confidence and then others hear about it and become disciples of that person? Then whatever set of techniques that person proposes is a religion in which there is “sacred space” or at least a distinction between things you do to connect to divine grace and things you do for other reasons.
My final concern has to do with the energy it would take to convince myself that I have “the power of god in my very own hands.” It would seem to me that interpreting my world in this way would force me to hide from my mistakes and manifestations of weakness in order to preserve a perpetual state of optimism and elevated level of self-esteem. That just feels like it would take a lot of energy and make me defensive and insecure.
When I was clinically depressed, the fact that I didn’t have a legitimate reason for my unhappiness was the primary source of the infinite loop by which I remained depressed. I had a lot of people try to cheer me up by saying the equivalent of “You have the power of god in your hands.” It only discouraged me more because what it said to me was that if I weren’t such a loser, I would immediately see their point and smile and be done with depression.
I need a church that isn’t just “inside me” because I need to be touched and loved by God through other people. The time when I feel the deepest connection with God every week is when I stand in the front of my church and tear off pieces of communion bread and look into the eyes of several dozen different people. That moment is an amazing intimacy that I could not live without. So this is where I am, anyway. If you happen to be a “spiritual but not religious” person, I would be honored to receive your feedback, push-back, criticism, or whatever. I hope that the way I have written is respectful and accessible. Blessings.