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Spiritual but not religious? Path may still lead to Church

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Are you an SBNR -- Spiritual But Not Religious?

Maybe you are disenchanted with religion. Church is too judgmental and religious people are such hypocrites. Besides, you don't need anyone telling you what to believe. You can connect with God just fine by yourself, by the lake at sunset. Who needs a faith community?

If that describes you, there's a new book you might want to read.

Titled When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, it challenges the idea people don't need a faith community to live a full religious life.

"I wanted to make a case for why belonging to a religious community is important," says author Lillian Daniel, senior minister of First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

"That's where the rubber hits the road, where we live out the stuff we believe."

Many SBNRs, she says, think the opposite -- that they are taking the hard, rebellious path of working out their faith for themselves.

"For me, the SBNR path is too easy," she says. "It's self-indulgent. There's nothing unique in it, it merely reflects our culture of narcissism and individualism."

When someone tells her they are spiritual but not religious, what she wants to tell them is this: "Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centred American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating."

But what's wrong about looking for God in, say, nature, instead of church?

"Anyone can find God alone in the sunset," says Daniel. "It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who has different political views, or when a baby who is crying while you're trying to listen to the sermon."

For her, going to a worship service is "a lot more interesting" and counter-cultural these days than being one of growing numbers of people who have decided they don't need a faith community -- that they can find God by themselves.

There is something unique about "worshipping something other than ourselves for an hour each week," she states.

But the blame isn't all on SBNRs, she says. The church needs to change, too, if it wants them back.

"We need to offer a faith that is real, reasonable and rigorous," she says. "We need to offer a faith that deals with real issues, a faith where you don't have to leave your brain at the door and where it does matter if you put effort into it -- something that will give you more depth and meaning in life than by sitting at home watching the History Channel."

She's quick to point out her book isn't addressed to everyone who has left the church to find their own path to God -- some people really have been hurt by organized religion.

"They get a pass," she says, adding "it breaks her heart" to hear how they have been wounded by the very place that was supposed to provide healing.

So, what if you are an SBNR who thinks it might be time to give organized religion another chance -- should you do it?

Daniel says to go for it.

"Don't be afraid to dip your toe back in the water," she says. But, she adds, do your homework.

"Search for a community of faith with the same seriousness you'd put into looking for a college or a new job or a house. You won't find it in one visit or by surfing the web. You have to show up and worship with these people."

And, she adds, don't only ask what you can get out of it when you go looking for a new church or any other place of worship.

"When seeking a community of faith, you should also be asking what you have to offer... maybe you're not being called into community for what you will get, but for what you will bring. And that, by the way, is a very religious take on things."

jdl562000@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2013 D15

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