by Rev. Garrett Andrew
It is fascinating to me how many people these days identify as spiritual but not religious. I have mostly taken it negatively, probably because of who I am. Most of the time I hear that I assume that someone really is not anything. That person does not go to church, and probably does not pray, or may say that they believe in the teachings of Buddha as a way to some enlightenment. At least that is how I am judging them in that moment.
I admit I am making a judgment there. I have heard the argument that it is the motto of an inherently narcissistic society. People use it to go experience something “spiritual” somewhere, but do not actually participate in the discipline of any one religion. I spoke to a Buddhist monk years ago who found it odd that Westerners would visit the monasteries in the Far East and after staying for a small period of time talk about how spiritual it was. “Do they not know that it is a way of life for us?” And I have used that argument against those who claim to be spiritual but not religious.
But recently I have been changing my tune. I am of the belief that God keeps surprising me. Perhaps I am alone, maybe you think that you have God all figured out, but count me out that number. I do not get God. Do not get me wrong, I have a relationship with God, I love God, but I also love that God surprises me too. It means that God is God and I am Garrett, and only one of us in control.
Let me explain why I have been changing my tune. Religious talk has become increasing more judgmental and legal. Preachers, myself included sometimes, talk about what we must do to receive God’s favor, and that if we do something bad God will be upset. While this may be true it really is not how I experience Jesus, or for that matter the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul wrote a lot about the difference between the life in the law and the life in the Spirit. The way of law is death, but the way of the Spirit is life. Religious people get pretty legalistic on a lot of issues. Grace seems absolutely absent in a lot of the discussion, and yet it is by grace that we are all here. Many religious institutions go on and on about what they are against, but then what are they for? I have a God that is for me! And as that apostle once penned, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Why then are we so interested in talking about what we are against, in defining and us versus them mentality? Could it be because we are too attached to the way of the law? “For freedom we have been set free,” but freedom is hard, is scary, and to be perfectly honest I want some laws to direct my attention. I preferred the shackled life of slavery in the law that tells me exactly how to act and what to do, and of course what not to do. The problem is, still, I do not do it all. I cannot do it all. I am failure and I hate myself for it. When I hate myself it is easy to hate others.
But then I read, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Then I read, “God is love.” Then I am told over and over in Scripture and in prayer that God loves me. How can I hate myself if God loves me? I cannot! I must not! For who am I to hate that which God loves!
God loves us so much we have been given the Holy Spirit! It is the Spirit that provides us the power to produce fruit that is good and sweet in a world that is bad and bitter. Why? Because God loves the world! In his letter to the Galatians Paul provides 9 elements that he calls the fruit of the Spirit. Note that the Greek word for fruit is singular, these are the many fruits of the Spirit, it is one fruit and it brings a lot with it. The list is not meant to be exhaustive but speaks as to how the Spirit does things in our lives. Those who live in the Spirit have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (which means trust in this context), gentleness and self-control amid much more that the fruit of Spirit brings.
What I quickly notice is that this way of living is quite different than the way of much religious rhetoric. This is a way of living that speaks not of what it is opposed of but what it is for! This is, in effect, not a religious way of living, but a spiritual way of living.
Where are the churches that define themselves by what they are for instead of what they are against? Where are the churches that deal with all people with a patience and gentleness that we have experienced in the ways Jesus deals with us? Where are the churches that are ready to stop being so darned religious and instead follow the Spirit into the realm of the spiritual and watch lives changed, and indeed the world changed through the gospel of Jesus the Christ? I suppose there are actually many out there, or at least places that are letting the Spirit guide them to such a place. If you have not been going to church recently because you are spiritual but not religious, do not forget that. Do not forget that there are churches that need you there because they know that no matter who you are, you are loved by God, and therefore that church is better with you there. I hope you make it to one, because there are people that will benefit by your presence and you can probably benefit from theirs.