Retired Calvin English professor Steve J. Van Der Weele feels that the spiritual-but-not-religious movement merits attention. That is an understatement. The church will ignore the mass exodus of people out of religion at its peril. The fact that so many people are claiming spirituality outside of religion is to be celebrated — and is far preferable to people leaving religion with nothing to put in its place.
The spiritual-but-not-religious movement is not in competition with religion. It is a clear alternative for those who are seeking new ways of relating to God and the world outside of mainstream religion. Steve Van Der Weele uses an interesting metaphor to suggest a pitfall of being spiritual but not religious. He says that water needs a container.
We can agree on this one thing
I resonate strongly with his metaphor, but for a different reason than the one he intends. Water does not need a container. Water is invisible in the atmosphere but essential as a life force. Water may be held in a container, but only for a brief time, and for a very limited purpose. The container can never define water, nor does it ultimately contain it.
Human beings often seek containers. We want our lives to be framed by something more significant than our daily routine. We want to make a lasting difference in the world. We desire a connection with something greater than ourselves. We belong to groups and movements that expand our circle of care and compassion. Once the container is limiting our growth and reach, it is a mark of human maturity to move beyond that container. Some will move beyond the religious container of their upbringing and explore other world religions. Others will explore the universal human connections that are beyond any one container.
After all, look at Jesus
Water is a wonderful metaphor for spirituality without religion. John, chapter 4, tells the story of Jesus breaking all the social traditions of his day and mixing with a Samaritan woman at a well. In the first century, many Jews would opt for a nine-day journey along the Jordan River to avoid the type of meeting that Jesus and the Samaritan woman enjoyed. For a Jewish man to drink from the cup of a Samaritan woman was unthinkable. Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did. He drank from a new container. He was more concerned with drawing people together than with upholding religious purity laws that divide people.
Jesus was spiritual but not religious in the sense that he was more interested in connecting with people beyond his own tribe than he was with maintaining religious purity. He worked against the separation and division of people. The poison of separation based on religious or ethnic exclusiveness is just as toxic as water pollution.
Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan which flows into the Sea of Galilee, a water world teeming with all manner of sea and plant life. The River Jordan also flows into the Dead Sea, where displaced fish die within minutes. An increasing number of people are finding religion to be a Dead Sea, lifeless and stagnant. This is the religious challenge: Evolve into something relevant and meaningful or else fade into oblivion.
Meanwhile, those who are spiritual but not religious are getting on with life that is lived fully and with depth. We are seeking an experience of love and acceptance that is oceanic. We look to water to be reminded that all are connected, that all things change and that we need to adapt to new circumstances. The ocean refuses no river, asks no questions of the river, and organically the ocean and the river merge into one.
Water that is boundless and free is a wonderful metaphor for the sort of spirituality that Jesus encouraged. To seek the depths of life is far more empowering than materialism. The good news is that materialism is not the only alternative to religion. Thank God for spirituality without religion. People who feel no connection to religion can live with depth and love the world with abandon, in an ever widening circle of kindness, until the day when love conquers all hatred and no one and no thing is excluded from love’s inclusive embrace.
Above you are the stars. Beneath you is the earth. Within and around you are the waters of life. Like the stars, may your love be constant. Like the earth, may your life be grounded. Like the waters of life, may you know that you are never alone and are flowing in a beautiful stream of divine becoming. Peace to all.
Membership at C3
Groucho Marx once sent a telegram to the exclusive Friar’s Club in Hollywood: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” How do you feel about membership in institutions like the church? My sermon on Sunday addressed this question.
This past Sunday was one of my all time favorite Sunday gatherings at C3. If you were present, you know what I’m talking about. Thank you for helping to make it so extraordinary. If you were not present, I want to give you a chance to catch the same energy.
Believe it or not, we had an altar call of sorts. We collectively agreed to reinstitute a clearer membership focus. Over 100 people on Sunday declared membership at C3 for the very first time, with many more reaffirming their membership. After the gathering, people were bursting at the seams with optimism and sharing stories of how they had been at C3 for many years but never taken this step or else they were more recent participants but had just been waiting for an opportunity like this.
So this is your opportunity to join the incredible C3 momentum. You can declare your membership right here and right now! Please fill out this form and hit 'Submit' now.
Membership at C3 is not about assenting to particular beliefs or creeds or gaining some exclusive sense of entitlement. You don’t have to be baptized or background checked or prove your worth in any way. Membership at C3 is a way to say “yes” to life alongside others who share your core values for a more peaceful, loving world.
It is a mark of mature freedom to pledge your commitment to this world changing community as you strive to be all you can in your life and help C3 to be all it can be in the world.
Here is what I am asking you to do right now. If you are a local person, please fill out this form and hit 'Submit' now. Mark on the form whether you are declaring your membership for the first time or reaffirming a previous commitment to C3.
If you are not local to C3, then we love being connected with you as well. Please continue to hold C3 with your best thoughts, love and support and we will continue to partner with you in pioneering an alternative to church as usual.
My sermon on Sunday touched on issues related to “Don’t ask Don’t tell”, both in the military, in the church and in your own private life. I invite you to read the sermon here and please feel free to leave your comments. The intention of this sermon is to empower you to fully manifest your highest self in the interests of a better world.