Preacher: The Rev Doyt Conn
There is a bit of controversy going on over the Girl Scouts. It seems the Roman Catholic Church is concerned that they are undermining the morality and decency of America. Now I’ve known a few Girl Scouts and still,but even so, I was stunned when I heard the Roman Churchchose the Girl Scouts as a target of investigation. Really? Who thought that was a good idea?They might as well be investigating nuns…
As I watch this ridiculous folly unfold I wonder what all of our non-religious friends are saying about this event. Probably something like, “this is why I consider myself spiritual, but not religious.” In the shadow of the Roman Church’s misguided display,I can understand why someone would want to duck behind this culturally popular moniker:I’m spiritual not religious.
The Roman Church’s investigation into the Girl Scouts gives us one small, albeit fresh, example of how people can be religious without being spiritual.
Which is what I want to talk about today…being religious without being spiritual;being spiritual without being religious;and the possibility of being both at the same time.spiritual and religious at the same time.After all, this is the point of our common life at Epiphany, to be spiritual in a religious context.
To start we need a common understanding of what it means to be spiritual.Spiritual is not a thing we do, it is a thing we are.Everyone is spiritual. It’s like breathing or having a head.
The spirit sits at the center of our personhood. Its walls are woven with our greatest gifts and talents like a reed baskets and this basket acts as the vessel in which our character is held.The shape of the spirit is different for each of us;though in all of us it is malleable enough to stretch and form to meet the changing, evolving nature of our character. Scripture uses different words to identify the home of our character.Spirit, heart and will are all used interchangeably in the bible to mean the same thing.
And so, we all have a spirit, each one of us. Religion is the institution that came into being to care for and help form the spirit. This is why there have always been religions,and there will always be religion,in every culture throughout all time.
As a Christian I am connected to this Girl Scout debacle because I am connected to my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ;and like many, many, many of them, I am sure, I want to say in response to this silly, sad persecution, I am sorry.I am sorry on behalf of Christ and his church.
Now the Roman Church doesn’t have a corner on being religious without being spiritual. And this silly flare up certainly shouldn’t paint all Roman Catholics with the same brush.Besides, a quick Google search will reveal any number of religious institutions that draw a thick line in the sand with their definition of morality and decency.
What is believed and how it is articulated becomes the litmus test for who is in and who is out, who is good and who is bad, who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. They are institutions that claim it is better to be right than to be kind. How else could someone stand outside a family planning center and yell at young lady considering the most difficult decision of her life?
Religious Institutions can be bullies and active obstructionists that sever relationship and dishonor the individual.And this has impact on the shape of ones characterboth the persecuted and the persecutor.
The Anglican Church has not been immune from acting this way along the way,and for that I apologize as well.When we, the church, are not fully grounded in the positive shaping of character we act contrary to what Christ intended for his church.
Remember our God is a God of relationship, a God of compassion, a God of radical inclusion, and most importantly a God that loves us like crazy.
And so, the question we confront is, if this God is so loving, and inclusive, and universally compassionate,then why not just be spiritual without being religious?
I have a friend, who is a Zen Buddhist monk, who received his dharma transmission in 2008. He is a spiritual man and he is a religious man.
The concept of dharma transmission can be thought of as a spiritual bloodline where the character of the teacher is passed down to the worthy student. The student qualifies for this inheritance through years of stretching and contorting his spirit to perfectly match the shape of his teachers spirit. This happens through rigorous study and prayer.Buddhism is the institution that holds this tradition in trust,honed by the experience of many people over a long period of time.
To be spiritual and not religious is to claim this same depth of character without ascribing to any time tested discipline of spiritual formation.
To be spiritual and not religiousis to claim to have a way of life that forms the spirit towards its greatest potential, without having to be obedient to the rigors of any institutionally vetted spiritual practice.
Is this possible? Maybe. Maybe it is.Often it is idiosyncratic and unstructured and inconsistent,though without easy portals through which to connect to other peoples spiritual journey… but maybe its possible.But if it is possible, it is at besta spiritual journey walked alone.
As Christians we look to Jesus as the progenitor of our spiritual bloodline.We look to Jesus as the one we twist and form our spirit to match.Now the way this happens for Christians is different than for Buddhists. Jesus is too big for any one person to fully form their spirit into the fullness of his character. And so, we join together to do it.The Apostle Paul calls this the body of Christ,and this body resides in the church.The church is where we come together to train to be the person God intended us to be.This happens in community, through worship, study and practice.This is the formula for being spiritual and religious.
This is the point of Epiphany,To be a place where we come to consider our relationship with God, in community, through worship, study and practice.
Our core foundation is the acknowledgement of God, however you would like to define God.The understanding of the divine is different for each one of us. But it is Jesus who gives us our common voice; Jesus’ life serves as the dictionary for our common lexicon.
Epiphany is a place where we can come for a lifetime.Which makes it unique in our culture. This is a place that pays attention to the spirit of all people, irrespective of age or gender, or capacity.The church is the last institution that requires no qualification for entry at all.
It is also a place to belong to for a lifetime.
There is only one way to graduate from a church;and when this happens we celebrate. A funeral service in this church is not a dirge, it is a celebration,and the better known the graduate is to the church family the bigger the party—the bigger the party, because we know the person, and we know where they are going,and we know who they are,and we know the shape of their characterbecause we have walked together, side by side, on a common spiritual journey.There is no great blessing.
And above all we know we’ll see them again,and that we will recognize them not by the shape of their body,or the sound of their voice,or the fame of their name,but by the shape of their character, and the form of their spirit.
A spirit is known and finds its greatest joy and depth when formed in the life of a community. It happens through our Sunday worship.It happens as we serve beyond the parish walls.It happens when we take pilgrimages.It happens as we study together, and share in common spiritual disciplines.It happens when we feed one another, and share in births, baptism and graduations.
But it also happens when we stand up to one another and challenge each other in those moments when we get too religious and forget that it is better to be kind than right, that it is better to include than exclude, that in the kingdom of God there are no insiders or outsiders and that when we draw lines in the sandwe diminish the spirit of those we judge, as we diminish our own spirit as well.
Religion that attends to the spirit is a very good thing indeed;and it is what we seek to do in our common life at Epiphany;and it is what we seek to hand down to those who come after us.
And so we gather, and gather again, consistently, regularly, religiously;spiritual being with spiritual beings as one body gathered into the body of Christ.