August 8, 2018

Recently I’ve had a couple of conversations wherein someone said the line, “Well, I consider myself spiritual but not religious.” I wonder why that is… Many of us readily identify with God as sovereign, His Son as Jesus Christ, and His Spirit as the life-changing healing wind of God’s breath. So why is it so hard for others to see this?

Here’s what I think. I think the “Church” has been responsible for more hurt and disappointment than it is willing to own. Many of the voices speaking the words of spirituality over religiosity are simply doing so out of a desire to be untethered to their previous experiences of pain or exclusion. The younger generations (and not so younger, including mine) were made to attend church and to do so without the opportunity to question that which they heard. Many of these people were told to show up, be silent, agree with whatever was said, stay away from x, y, and z, and then they’d be ‘saved’. But it isn’t that simple, is it?

We know from experience how delightful and simultaneously frightening the Word of God can be. Delightful in the sense of receiving abundant grace without merit, and frightening in the sense that we know that which we ought to do yet erringly practice otherwise, periodically, and then become subject to the fallout of our shortcomings. ‘Those other people’ have the same doubts and hesitations with very little of the delight. They’re out there, right now, without a community to which they belong and in which they invest themselves for fear of being shouted down or utterly ignored.

So, in the conversations I’ve had lately, I’ve started replying in a different way. Instead of scoffing or nodding and internalizing my disagreement with their statements, I keep the conversation going. “Why do you feel like that?” “What drove you away from church?” “Have you ever tried going to church, in the first place?” “What would your ideal community look like?”

People want to belong; they’re just terrified that it has to be completely on someone else’s terms or that they’ll be sucked into a vacuum or echo-chamber of homogenous thought. I wonder how they’d react if we all started asking them to speak so that we could hear their stories. I wonder if they’d think to themselves, “Hm. Maybe this ‘church’ thing isn’t so bad, after all.” I’ll bet they’d find themselves—with a little encouragement from us—being willing to give the Church a second chance, or a third one. Instead of being part of the church that pulls back and disagrees openly with these people, maybe we should try and listen to them and pull them into us. Because the other way isn’t working, and this ministry thing takes all of us.

Fr. Sean+