May 26, 2013
It’s the modern mantra. People chant it all the time: “I’m spiritual, but not religious. I’m spiritual, but not religious.”
“Religion” has become a dirty word. Maybe it’s the nun who rapped your knuckles with a ruler when you were 8 years old. Maybe it is arcane morality, rules that do not suit the 21st century. More likely, it is because of crusades and war and some really ugly things done in the name of religion. Religion has become its own worst enemy.
So we can understand why religion has become a dirty word. Yet the so-called “spiritual but not religious” have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
After all, it was religious people who built thousands of hospitals around this country. It’s hard to think any hospital built by the spiritual but not religious.
It was religious people, not the irreligious, who started the national hospice movement, and who started Habitat for Humanity, which has built hundreds of thousands of homes for the working poor.
Religion frees people from drug abuse and spousal abuse. Religion infuses meaning into the despondent and hope into the bereft.
So even though we might be able to understand why people are abandoning religion, that’s not saying abandoning religion is a good thing. And there is no need to denigrate religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism.
Not to sound cruel, but honestly, anybody can go watch the sun set over the ocean and feel God.
The real question is, does your amorphous spirituality have legs when your husband walks out the door, or when you find out your kid has cancer?
Spirituality is important – and frankly, we should applaud anyone who finds a way to deepen her spirituality. But spirituality is only half the equation.
Religion provides spirituality definition. It gives it form, an outline, legs to walk on.
If spirituality is heaven, then religion is earth. It is where you live your spirituality. It is how you practice your spirituality, and as we tell our kids, practice makes perfect. Reading scripture, praying together, singing songs, kneeling, crossing yourself, sharing faith.
What practice is there in watching sunsets?
That is why we might consider introducing a new mantra: “I’m spiritual and religious.”
In fact, the ideal bumper sticker might say something like, “I’m spiritual and religious; follow me to church!”
The earth is full of God’s glory. Meaning, a spirituality is wrongly bifurcated when separated from the physical. You need both together.
Which is what Jesus means when he says: You must be born again, of both water and the spirit, you must be born of earth and heaven.
In many ways, this is what Jesus seems to mean by promising the Spirit, in this morning’s reading from John, the Spirit who will actually help you become more grounded on earth.
You remember the old quip “Some people are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good”?
The reverse is also true: Some people are so earthly minded they’re no heavenly good. What good is clay and dirt without soul? What good are you if you don’t connect with something greater than yourself?
Heaven and earth; “I’m spiritual and religious.”
You must be born again, of both water and spirit. When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into all truth.
Remember the hoopla when Facebook went public and people were purchasing Facebook stock not so much as an investment, but because of hype? The stock initially sold for $40 a share, then dropped like a lead balloon to under $20 a share.
But think about these kids, Mark Zuckerburg and his cohorts: They won the lottery. Instant millionaires, billionaires. One article I read told about the fun they’re having spending their gold.
One Porsche dealer sold out, and the fine dining industry in Palo Alto was hopping. Houses at Lake Tahoe were being snapped up at 25 percent to 35 percent over the asking price.
Gold was cheap that year in Palo Alto, but as you have heard, all that glitters is not gold.
You can buy all the houses and cars and retirement you want, but to paraphrase Jesus, life is far more than houses. Life is more than nice cars and fine dining.
Possessing all of earth, when you have no spirit, is vanity.
What good are you if you are all earth and no heaven? Or all heaven and no earth?
Although the modern mantra “I’m spiritual but not religious” panders to a shallow disdain of religion, sometimes we need others to remind us that all we see is not all there is.
We need each other, in this practice of religion and in this practice of life.
This is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is not some arcane static description of God. You can’t draw a picture of God. God is not a triangle, nor an egg, nor a three-leaf clover.
Rather, the mystery we call “trinity” is dynamic. It is an eddy, a current, swirling about your body and your soul, and then about the body and the soul of the person next to you, and then back to you.
Pure and absolute Love. The trinity is action, an action verb, and that action is love.
God says, Receive Love: Peace I give to you. Be Love: Live within that peace. Give Love: Be that peace in the world.
So you see, you are spiritual because you have encountered God, but you are also religious because you have encountered God in other people.
We are spiritual and religious when we have learned to give ourselves away.
So let our mantra be “I’m spiritual and religious. Follow me to church.”
— The Rev. Rob Gieselmann is the rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Belvedere, Calif. Before entering the ministry, Rob practiced law for ten years, he is the author of The Episcopal Call to Love (Apocryphile Press, 2008), and is the father of two wonderful children.