spiritual but not religious

In Praise of Holding One's Religion Lightly

Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

There will be, I assume, a thousand different ways to dismantle what it is that I am about to say. I get that. I respect it. I invite it. This is a conversation that we need to have and, thankfully, are having at a national level. That said, sometimes I wish we still lived in a time when talking about one's faith in public was considered inappropriate or rude. Sometimes, that is. Only sometimes.

Lillian Daniel has a new book coming out. I'll refrain from sharing my opinion about the book until after I have read it. You can read Robert Cornwall's review here. The book is entitled WHEN "SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS" IS NOT ENOUGH: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. There are some handy quick reviews on the amazon.com page. My favorite is from Shane Claiborne. 

Lillian is as fed up with bad religion as anyone else, but she's also careful to celebrate good religion and good spirituality that brings people to life and makes the world a better place. May her book invite us to stop complaining about the Church we've experienced and work on becoming the Church we dream of.

A Gen-X Spiritual-But-Not-Religious Creed?

Photo: Man looking for something, © Lord_Ghost / Shutterstock.coml

Photo: Man looking for something, © Lord_Ghost / Shutterstock.com

There are a lot of emergent folk who shun creeds. They have let go of much of their free-range evangelicalism, but the anti-creedal posture still holds a principal place. Still, I am thinking about music and liturgy, spiritual formation (that troublesome word again, formation), and the creeds we keep in our hearts though no agency has "approved them for community use." Instead these creeds are "sanctified by use," if you will. Here's mine. 

Accompanied by Nones

Brian E. Konkol. Photo courtesy of the author.

Brian E. Konkol. Photo courtesy of the author.

It was December of 2000, but I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday.

It was a few days after Christmas during my senior year of college. I was quite nervous, and I wondered how my friends and family would react. 

How would my basketball teammates respond? Would my roommates treat me differently? And of course, what about my girlfriend? She had no idea our relationship would take such a dramatic turn.

I could hide no longer. I had to be honest with who I was. And so, after a great deal of delay and long nights of nervous planning, I finally decided to share what I had been keeping secret. 

Beginning with my girlfriend, then my parents, brother, sister, and eventually friends, roommates, and teammates, I shared the news: After a significant amount of prayer and discernment, I was no longer planning to attend law school following college graduation, but instead, I wanted to attend seminary in order to become an ordained Lutheran pastor.

As to be expected, I received mixed reactions.

My parents were confused and surprised, as they – like most people – had not perceived me as “religious”," especially not to the point of pursuing ordination. Nevertheless, they accepted the news with delight and affirmation. 

In addition, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was wonderfully supportive. So was my brother, sister, and closest friends. 

On the other hand, some others were not sure how to react. My friends – mostly uninterested in religion – wondered about future plans. Basketball teammates were a bit uneasy. And even the campus priest and a few professors had an assortment of reactions. While a number of people were anxious and apprehensive, those within my closest circle of friends accepted the announcement with open arms. 

I continue to thank God for such a wonderful web of support.

The Nones: Saving Perfection

Photo: Leap of faith, Matthew Williams-Ellis / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Leap of faith, Matthew Williams-Ellis / Shutterstock.com

[The "nones"] recite history and Christian leadership's collusion with the agents of empire-building and warfare. Then they say something like, “I'd rather live like Jesus than be a Christian.”

They see the Church as the rich young man and they wonder if anyone actually follows Jesus anymore.

Of course, this is not the only demographic shift at work in the religious life of the world.

There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than there are in England.
More Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. ..
More Baptists in Southeast Asia than in the Southeastern United States.
More Christians go to church in China than in Europe.
In 1900, 71 percent of the world's Christians were in Western Europe. By 2000 that percentage dropped below twenty percent in some European nations.

Here's the real kicker: these are not problems to fix. They are simply realities to be faced.

Church No More: Part 6 — Back to Church Again

"Going Home" by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners, 2012. All rights reserved.

"Going Home" by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners, 2012. All rights reserved.

Editor's Note: This is the sixth and final installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going.

They say you can never go home again.

The thinking is that, having left and experienced new things, you have changed and the people back home have continued in their lives just as you left them. Your experience of going back home again necessarily will be very different from your experience of home as you remember it, even though it may have changed very little.

In many ways, Church is one of my homes and I left it. I walked away for three months and experienced a bit of life outside of it. The three months are up and I'm going back home. This coming Sunday (Sept. 2) will be my first Sunday back.

The saying “you can't go home again,” probably originated from Tom Wolfe's novel, You Can't Go Home Again. It's the story of an author who leaves his home, writes about it from a distance and then tries to go home again. It doesn't exactly go well. The folks in the town are none-too-happy about him airing their dirty laundry so publicly.

So, you can't go home again? Well, I'm going to try.

Church No More: Part 5 — Far Too Little Sabbath in the Sabbath

R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat / Shutterstock.com

R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going. Follow the links below to read his previous installments, beginning in June.

A little over two months ago, I decided I'd spend my three-month sabbatical not going to church. Which might seem like a perfectly normal thing to do – except that I'm a minister. I've had some strange and wonderful experiences which I've written about, but possibly more strange and more wonderful than the experiences are the responses I've received.

From the very beginning the most frustrating response I get is not folks telling me I'll lose my faith if I leave church (and they have), or the ones telling me I can't begin to understand what it's like to be Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) in three short months (lots of those were also disturbingly aggressively worded), but rather the ones that say, “Oh, 'sabbatical!' Thanks. Now I have a word to call what I do! I stopped going to church years ago.” 

“No!” I'd think while unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to reach through my laptop screen and shake some sense into them, “You are not on sabbatical! The sabbatical I'm taking about has to do with taking a rest, not leaving. It's rest and recuperation communion with God in a way that is restorative. It's not about leaving! Sheesh.”

More than two months into my sabbatical, I now have to say, “Boy was I wrong.” They are on sabbatical, more so than I am. 

Church No More: Part 4 — I Don't Want to Go Back

I love the Church. I have literally been going to church my whole life — that is, until two months ago.

Then I stopped cold turkey. You can read about it in my post "Walking Away From Church."

Masses of people responded. It astounded me. Most ministers expressed concern saying things like, “My Brother, I am worried that you may be on a dangerous journey,” or, “I fear you may lose your faith.”

Frankly, what I heard them saying was, “Faith is so fragile it needs the Church to enforce it,” which only made me more certain I was making a remarkably healthy spiritual choice.

Former church-going folk frequently told me things like, “There is a large disconnect between the 'Church' of today and the teachings of Jesus,” and “I have found God in a dynamic, deep way and I love God so much more and for real now than when I was unwittingly trying to fit in with my church culture.”

I've been away from church for two months now and I have to say, I am more at peace than I ever have been. My faith is stronger than it ever has been. My family life is healthier than it ever has been. My desire to seek out God and follow the teachings of Jesus is stronger than it ever has been. 

I do not want to go back to Church because life outside of Church is better. It just is. There's no dogma complicating the path to God. It is more than refreshing to escape the games church-folk play with the intent of establishing control and “rightness” on their part; it is life-giving to escape it.

Life in Translation

The author (center middle sans corduroy Sunday suit) circa 1980. Photo courtesy

The author (center front, sans corduroy Sunday suit) with Hudgins family members circa 1976. Photo courtesy of Tripp Hudgins.

I have been thinking about the church of my youth. I have been remembering, if you will, as a guy who has read too much Updike (I'll never forgive him for the Rabbit books) might remember his youth.

There is a melding of nostalgia for what was as well as what might have been. It's a mess, to be honest, a kind of lie that draws me in no matter how often I tell myself it is a lie. Sometimes these lies of memory are the heart's truth.
 

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