A More Radical Way

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I attended a forum a few nights ago on the topic of being “spiritual but not religious.” – Nothing drives a pastor crazier than when people say they are “spiritual but not religious.” It’s like saying, “You are pretty in the dark.”

The audience was made up of good, faithful, church going folks, who were trying to answer the question, “Why do people in their 20’s and their 30’s seem disenfranchised with the institutional the mainline church? And what’s this spiritual but not religious language all about?” As the group was talking through the process of defining spirituality and religion, it was quickly discovered that spirituality brought about positive connotations and religion, negative.

There was a sense of grieving and even fear in the room of what would come of the Presbyterians, Mennonites, Lutherans, and Episcopalians who made up the audience. It seemed to me that in many ways we were trying to justify our existence.

One gentleman said, “well, one thing the church does, that has meaning is mission. Mission is what matters.” I was struck by this comment. I think there are plenty of non church going folk who do community service or practice good deeds. Is that mission? I often hear people in the church say that “mission really matters to them,” and “their church does great mission.” But what does that mean? What is mission and how does it truly justify the church’s existence?

For too long the church has been becalmed in the backwaters of a dying age, frightened by the swift waters of the new age coming into being. The church has for too long structured its life for survival rather than mission. The church must set its sail and move into the mainstream of life in the revolutionary world where every structure and form is called into question. The church must pattern its life in ways designed to make possible obedience to Christ regardless of institutional survival. author unknown.

Obedience to Christ. Obedience to Christ. True mission begins when we are obedient to Christ. The Church needs to stop asking the question “What would Jesus do?” but rather ask the question “How do we obey Christ?” Who knows what Jesus would do in 2013? It’s an impossible question and frankly unfair to his teaching and to his original audience. The more faithful question to ask in 2013 is, “how do we obey him?”

True mission, and thus obedience to Christ begins by radical inclusivity. It begins when an opportunity presents itself. Like aiding a man left for dead on the side of the road. When it’s easier, more convenient, or politically smart to ignore and walk away, but you stop and nurse his wounds and go out of your way to make sure he will live. Like talking to a woman at a well, who takes the shift of collecting water in the heat of the day, because she is “that kind of woman” and not allowed to co-mingle with “decent people,” but you sit next her and take water from her and talk to her and understand her and accept her. Like a man who is judged for his profession, but you notice him, up a tree, and you visit him at his house and sit at his table and eat his food. The more inclusive you are to loving your neighbor, the more obedient you are to Christ. This is what religion teaches.

True mission, and thus obedience to Christ, begins by radical hospitality. Not low-key, “we close at 10:00” kind of hospitality, but radical hospitality. Like sitting with people who the religious leaders find repulsive. The more radical you are in your hospitality, the more obedient you are to Christ. This is what religion teaches.

True mission begins by loving God, this is what spirituality teaches. Tonight I took a walk in the woods. New fallen snow came deep to my knees, and the silent woods surrounded me. I was talking to God. I was having a “spiritual moment.” I am one of those spiritual people who finds God in the forest. My obedience to Christ begins with my spirituality. It begins with my spiritual self acknowledging that I am tethered to a God who loves me and calls me by name. It begins with me expressing my love for God and saying “thank you for the day, the air, the laughter and the challenges. Thank you for seeing me through it all.” My obedience to Christ begins with acknowledgement of God’s love. This is what spirituality teaches.

We need spirituality – spiritual practices like walking in the woods and meditation and contemplation in order to find a connect with the Divine and remember who we are. We need religion – to guide us in the discipline and the discipleship of obeying Christ. We cannot justify religion by disclaiming spirituality. We justify religion by being obedient to a teaching that challenges us to a more radical way of loving and living.

Love God. Love your Neighbor. Peace.

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