Log-eyes vs Rainbow Seekers: My response to Lillian Daniel’s Articles

Why you hatin’ on the spiritual not religious???

That’s what I’d like to ask Lillian Daniels after reading both her short reflection in the UCC Still Speaking Devotional and her longer article in Christian Century. And what did that man do to you beyond tell you his story? Did he hit you? Did he have a bad aura? Did one of those God-is-a-rainbow children call you a name? It just feels extreme to me.

After the 40trillionth 2030 clergy friend posted the short reflection on Facebook, I thought I should probably read it. And I posted the link on my page and said the following:

Well… I hear and feel her. There are some spiritual/not religious folk are products of a “self-centered American norm.” BUT the last person who told me “I am spiritual, not religious,” has a story of being rejected by his church. He could not find that divine community in the church where he first found God. And I suspect that many of the spiritual/not religious among us have similar stories. So I think I’d turn the question away from the individual and turn it back on to the church: what are we doing to make sure that people no longer feel the need to run to the mountains to find the spirit of the living God? What do we do about the fact that it seems as if there are less roadblocks to God in nature? What do we do about the fact that nature will never ask you too “qualify” for access to the divine but humanity will?(And I am not just posing these questions to so-call conservative churches…)

Then one of my brothers in ministry asked me to read the longer “more nuanced” piece and see if my opinion would change. And it did change my opinion… but not for the better. I shifted from thinking about my friend who recently left the ministry and the church because of poor treatment, to thinking about Jesus in Matthew 7:4. I want to ask Lillian Daniels, “how can you say to your brother,’let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” And I’m not just asking Lillian Daniels. I am posing this question to ALL church pastors who feel for whatever reason that those who chose to find spiritual alternatives to organized religion are somehow missing out on the authentic God.

On some level, I understand what she is saying specifically. I at least partially understand the idea that communal engagement is more likely to produce true foundation. I understand the theory that religion and the religious can create a sustaining foundation. But what I don’t agree with is the idea that we as the church have the right or good answers. I don’t agree that God can always be experienced better in a structured (Christian)community.

And I go back to Matthew 7 because I don’t think we need to be point a judgmental finger at the Spiritual/Not Religious until we as a church get some saline solution and wash that plank out of our eye.

Her thesis seems to be the closer you get to a community filled with people the closer you get to the “real” God, who is not “invented”. This takes away the possibility that an authentic God can be found in the sky, mountains, rainbows and birthdays that GOD created. It says that humans are the only things God created or the only God created thing that God dwells in. It takes away the possibility that the Spiritual/Not Religious could interact in a community and find the same things you find in a church. It says that we in the church or houses of worship have a truth that no one on the outside can access. And it says that what we have now, this religion that has been passed through thousands of years of imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy, misogyny and false divinity, is THE truth.

And maybe it was the truth. I believe that Jesus is the Truth. And I believe the church as Jesus intended it could heal all and save all. But what I am not as confident about is the state any church is in today, even churches that are filled to the brim with people, even churches who are preaching “good theology”. Way too often the church today has nothing to do with the truth that God spoke through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

I think we all “invent” God. Some do it collectively. Others do it individually. And I think there is truth in all our our inventions. I believe God speaks through our mythology. The certified canonized mythology and the rainbow in the sky mythology.

Truth be told, the church community is often much more interested in maintaining (worshiping) tradition. We are often distracted by holding on to “how it we always did it” that we miss God who is standing in the middle of our sanctuaries waving his/her hands like an air traffic controller trying to get our attention. How is that better than someone who experiences the authentic movement of the Holy in nature?

As one who feels called to ministry in a parish I understand Rev. Daniel’s need to defend the validity of organized religion. But as someone who has often felt unwelcomed in a diverse rainbow of organized religious spaces, I also feel the need to take a closer look at what we have. The key is not to point finger in one direction or another. The key is to find where God is in both and try to move toward something more authentic. The rainbow people need to visit church sometimes and the church folk need to find God in a rainbow every once in a while.

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2 Comments

  1. love it!

  2. OK (newly-acquired) sister: I appreciate your articulation &, as a guy who left the church (for a season) b/c I came to Christ, I get it & I absolutely affirm our need to critique the church/our own institutions before we go anywhere near attacking those looking for/experiencing G*D elsewhere.
    That said, what I dug about Lilian’s original article was (as you point out) the call to community & the leavening/refining power & purose it has…
    …in your response, you talk about how the church, as Jesus intended it, could heal every wound: AMEN &, I thinkin that healing emenates from as strong ecclesia.
    Go on now, keep rockin’ your thoughts.


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