The Common Good

I Am Christian Because I Am #SBNR

The only reason that I am Christian is because I am spiritual-but-not-religious.

Photo: Man holiding a Bible, © Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Man holiding a Bible, © Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

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Right. That's it. 

Let me first say that in my own thinking, I don't separate these two things, religion and spirituality. I get that many do and I can see the rhetorical advantages to doing so. I just don't do so for any other reason than popular conversation has done so.

Here's why, and please forgive the autobiographical nature of this post. It's a testimony of sorts and dreadfully difficult to summarize. I'm pretty well convinced that I'm not all that unique in what I'm about to share. Also, if you have been paying attention (assuming you've known me for some time or been reading my blog) none of this should come as a surprise. 

The only reason that I am Christian is because I am spiritual-but-not-religious.

A while ago I posted this musing about how I'm longing for the "religion" of my childhood. I wrote that it is a sacrifice to go to church on Sundays for many people who did not grow up with the spiritual practice. By attending Sunday liturgies, we are spending time away from our families and friends. 

I mentioned in the same post that as a teenager I thought of myself as spiritual-but-not-religious. I even used the turn of phrase. I learned it from someone ... likely a parent. I studied religions, mythology, spirituality. I wore crystals (No judging!). I learned what I could by reading ritual theory. I was a nerd ... a spiritual nerd, but a nerd. I was seeking. I dabbled deeply. I sought passionately. I tried things on. I wore some things out. 

I thought that religion and spirituality were very important aspects to being human. I still do. I'm still passionate about the practices, disciplines, and histories of religions. Somewhere along the way, however, I chose Christianity as my spiritual home. I stopped seeking and chose — chose to seek in one place, if that makes sense. Why? Because I was spiritual-but-not-religious and Christianity seemed so well suited for someone like me.

Well, the Christianity I was given as a young person in college and shortly following was such. It took me a long time to get it through my skull that not everyone was given the same kind of Christian tradition. 

Intellectually rigorous, ethically demanding, generous, forgiving, and rich with tools for spiritual growth ... that's what was offered to me by my Christian mentors. My parents had me baptized as an infant. I grew up in the Bible Belt. And though never really raised in the church, becoming Christian made sense. On the other hand, however, in terms of spiritual fulfillment, and forgive me for having to say it this way, but it's what happened ...

... God asked me to become Christian. I had an epiphany. I had that mountain-top experience.

After that, God, again and again through my own contemplation and study, through conversation with my friends, and in the music I was constantly performing in churches in Richmond, Va., kept saying, "Follow me here. Come this way." So, I did. I simply said, "Yes." 

God did not say, "I shall rescue you from your spiritual laziness" or "I can show you a better way." God did not say "I am THE way." God simply said (forgive me), "Walk this way" (Sorry ... Aerosmith reference). 

So, I did. I felt safe in Christianity, too. Again and again I was told to look for the forgiveness and grace in the tradition. I was told to look for the fruit of the Spirit and to rejoice for there God is. There the Spirit is. And when you look for those, you find God is everywhere. 

Now, it took me an awful long time to come to terms with Christ and the various Christologies espoused through the centuries, but I did. And I did so by praying the hours, by living in an intentional community that prayed, lived a life of hospitality, and justice. I did so through spiritual practice. In the process of prayer and serving the church, of studying its theology and history most importantly in singing in worship, I encountered Christ. I fell in love with Christianity. I've been in love with Christianity ever since. 

I was a "professed religious." I was a church musician. Spiritual practices were my bread and butter and eventually, I found Jesus there. He welcomed me in his obtuse I-dunno-what-do-you-wanna-do kind of way and that was that. I was in love. 

The fruit of the spirit. I was asked to look for them, and I saw them everywhere. And I saw that Christianity was simply one of myriad ways to live a life that could produce such fruit. I was asked by the God whom I encountered in my spiritual seeking to follow the Christian path. Not everyone is so called. It is for this reason that I've never privileged religion over spirituality or spirituality over religion. They are of the same Divine Stuff. 

Religions are simply scaffolding for revelation, which is the principal goal of any spiritual practice. Religions are collections of spiritual practices. That's all they are. Mine is Christianity. I'm Christian because I am spiritual-but-not-religious. I am Christian because Jesus said, "The sabbath is for humanity and not humanity for the sabbath." 

Jesus honored the so-called spiritual-but-not-religious. He lauded the seeker. 

The others had him killed. 

Then he came back and said, "Come. Follow me."

How could I not?

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Photo: Man holiding a Bible, © Prixel Creative | View Portfolio / Shutterstock.com

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