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I’m Fr. Matt, the Rector, and I’m going to kick this blog off with some theology! I hope to contribute information about theology and faith and our religion. I also hope to use this space to answer the questions you may have about all of these topics. So, if you have questions you would like me to address, please ask them in the comments or send it as a comment on the “Contact Us” page - http://www.austinstjohns.org/contact-us.html
The first question I’ll tackle was provided by a parishioner. It is: What is the most defining characteristic of Christianity that may be missing from simply 'being spiritual'?
I have to admit, that when people tell me that they are “spiritual but not religious” I never quite know how to interpret that statement. For me, I can’t imagine being spiritual outside of my religion. My religion gives me my understanding of the spirit, it structures how I think about metaphysics (things outside the material world), and it gives me the language and practices that I consider spiritual. I can’t figure out what people who are “spiritual but not religious” do from day to day to practice their spirituality.
I suspect that “spiritual” means different things to different people. I’m guessing that what they have in common is either a sense of or practices designed to make a person aware that there is something greater in the universe than our own, narrow, material, lives. Perhaps it also includes practices of thanksgiving and gratitude. I would hope it involves a deep respect for life and a sense of awe at creation.
I suspect that people who are “spiritual but not religious” also practice their spirituality individually. “Religious” carries the implication of association with other people. People who are “spiritual but not religious” are not church-goers, and I’m unaware of any organized groups of “spiritual but not religious” people. Though there may be some out there, there certainly are not many.
All of this makes for a rather individual experience of spirituality. Unless I’m really off base here, a person who is “spiritual but not religious” experiences spirituality as something that is unique to each individual, and is a personal practice/belief system. If I’m wrong, let me know in the comments!
Christianity, on the other hand, is a communal belief system associated with communal practices. Christianity - though having a lot of diversity within itself - is about shared beliefs and shared practices. And Jesus, who is the model for all Christians spent his life focused on other people - the sick, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the outcast, the rejected, the shamed, the sinners, and the unclean. His hope and purpose was to bring the Reign of God into reality; to remake the world as God originally intended it - a place of harmony, abundance, peace, and joy for everyone.
Christianity is not just about one’s self. Jesus constantly directs us to look to the margins, to be healers, to be peacemakers, to bring justice to all and to care for the poor, the stranger, the prisoner, and the outcast. While there are many, ancient, individual spiritual practices from within Christianity, ultimately they are all designed to strengthen us to be God’s hands and heart in a broken world.
While a person who is “spiritual but not religious” might engage in these practices, the Christian is reminded every single Sunday, in so many Bible readings, in our prayers, and in our faith that this is our purpose and call - to bring forth the Reign of God.
Christianity is often misunderstood as some kind of set of beliefs or rules that will “get us into heaven.” The great joy of being a Christian is to know that our failings are already forgiven through the self-offering and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing else we can or need to do to earn God’s forgiveness and love. From there we then ask God to send us forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring that Good News to others - sometimes in the form of a nourishing spiritual message, sometimes in the form of food. Christianity makes us look outside ourselves and commits us in joyful service to others. While people who are “spiritual but not religious” may or may not do these things, for the Christian they are not optional.