SBNR . . . RBNS
My friend Lillian Daniel is a United Church of Christ pastor outside of Chicago. She's good with an acerbic quip, and she excels at giving words to a disposition. She's been writing for the Huffington Post lately. Last September she wrote a short piece, bursting out with her private frustration with what's now acronymed SBNR ("Spiritual but not religious") talk. Her post, "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me," went "viral." It got comments and criticisms from all over the place. She struck the proverbial nerve. Here's the first and last paragraph of her short post:
On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.
... Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
You can't make this stuff up. There are limits to self-made religion.
Yup, there are limits indeed. I'm not sure I have the guts to be so dismissive as she, but I still think Lillian's got a point.
We don't make this stuff up. We sit with, work with, pray with, argue with, get bored with, love with, serve with, pay the bills with, and find faith with a whole bunch of others who share at least one idea publically: that faith is not just about how we feel when we're inspired, or about some elusive balance between doing and being, or about self-expression and self-fulfillment. As good as each of those things might be they're not, in either the beginning or in the end, why we "make church."
We "make church" because we've heard something that deserves response, and we've discovered, in some small way, that we need others to respond with us. We need others from scripture, from the tradition, from among our neighbors, from among people all around the world who are hearing too. We need others with us, so we can hear more and sort the message through. And we need others so we can respond well (or at least better)—doing more together than we can do alone. We need others to make mistakes with, too.
And it ain't easy. Finding something spiritual on a hike, or on the beach, or in the touch of love . . . that ain't hard. Finding something real, and worth obeying, in community, in listening, in wrestling with texts that seem so foreign, in reaching beyond what's comfortable or familiar or safe by loving people who can seem unlovable, in examining your decisions, in claiming allegiance to a "people of God" you've never met, in giving away your money, and your time, and your pain, and your passion, and your life ... now that's hard.
And, boy, that's good. And, geez, that's faith.
So ... try RBNS: religious, but not spiritual.
Note: You can find Lillian Daniel's full piece at www.huffingtonpost.com/lillian-daniel/spiritual-but-not-religio_b_959216.html