Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are You Haunted by Memories of Religion?

As I flew out of the UK yesterday, the head of the Church of England was saying this-

“I believe we are living in a country that is uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion and doesn’t quite know what to do with it....in a society which is religiously plural and confused and therefore not necessarily hostile.”

Haunted! Confused! Uncomfortable! Not necessarily hostile! These aren’t exactly words that inspire confidence. I’m pleased he is paying attention, but I’m not sure he has accurately captured the mood of England.

My experience in England was of small but passionate, progressive churches. Each one of these churches felt somewhat suppressed and restricted by their respective traditions that are becoming increasingly outmoded and irrelevant. They are frustrated that more people don’t attend, but don’t feel they are encouraged or resourced by their denominations to make the necessary changes to attract people.

On my way to these churches, I drove past scores of people cheering their kids on soccer fields and riding horses, shopping and reveling. None of these people looked haunted or confused at all. I suspect they remember religion like they remember school assemblies; a faint memory of disinterest, but not haunting memories.

The majority of English society has given up on religion. Many have also bypassed progressive religion in preference for a self styled spirituality that includes yoga, meditation, personal transformation, ethical values, a strong ecological commitment and joyful relationships. They are spiritual but not religious. They pile flowers on the site of road accidents because they feel connected to people, living and dead, and the religious differences are irrelevant in the scheme of life.

I arrive back from England, inspired and excited. I am more committed than ever to offering a space for spiritual but not religious people to be accepted for who they are, to reflect on their beliefs, to name their experiences and to connect with other spirit seekers who want to make the world a more peaceful place.

As I transited through Chicago, I realized that it was the five year anniversary of my arrival in America. I reflected on that milestone, recalled the tinge of sadness at leaving the most progressive Anglican Church in the world, and remembered the excitement at arriving to join c3. The vision of SBNR.org is the same vision I sat around the table in 2003 and discussed with the c3 selection committee. The DOW was up 400 points at this stage. The sun was shining in Grand Haven. I was overcome with a sense of excitement and optimism.

I boarded the plane for Grand Rapids, and whose distinctive belly laugh did I hear? Don Hoekstra. He and Patti were arriving back from family in Denver. Don had been instrumental in creating the connection between me and West Michigan back in 2003. He and I spent many hours in 2003 and 2004 talking about the reality of SBNR and the inability of churches to speak meaningfully to this group. In America, as in England (and I suspect many other countries), people have bypassed progressive religion and moved straight into the spiritual but not religious category.

I celebrate this group, and feel the strongest resonance with them. I suspect most of them are satisfied and comfortable with where they are, and not at all haunted by the memory of religion. They are profoundly passionate and committed to a better world. I stand alongside spiritual but not religious people everywhere ready to love the world to pieces, one peace at a time.


Beth said...

While I agree with you that many have bypassed prog religion for SBNR, I know many people who might be characterized as 'haunted' by religion. I grew up SBC... I am certainly haunted by that experience, and I often feel that it limits my ability to embrace my spirituality. Mainly though, I know many people who are missing the community that religion provided for them as children. Central Florida is devoid of progressive churches (large or small), and sometimes it feels very lonely to be SBNR... even with WWW resources to rely on, the 'family' is missing.

Pither said...

I continue to be haunted by the CRC, as I'm sure many others in West Michigan are, too. I feel sad for my children who, since they are required by my spouse's employment to attend GR Christian Schools, may very well end up with a false dichotomy - embrace the traditional orthodox dogmas or abandon spiritual communities altogether. Keep up the good work at C3. It gives me hope that there are more choices for my children than just those two.

Ian Lawton said...

Hi Beth and Pither- i agree with you. Many people are haunted by bad experiences in the church. Im not sure that this is what the Archbishop meant by being haunted by religion. I think he meant it as a positive, but it was quite ambiguous.
thanks for writing and being honest about your stories