I’ve been thinking a bit about the whole Spiritual-But-Not-Religious (SBNR) classification. Folks tell us it’s growing; anecdotally, I’ve got a number of Facebook friends who identify this way. As the Church writ broadly looks at mission/evangelism/formation, this is the group that looms largest. Have we done a decent job of asking who they are, what they want, and what will be necessary to communicate the gospel to them?

Since some exchanges at the Cafe a few days ago, I’ve been pondering exactly what the relevant subcategories are of this rather amorphous mass, because I think that we’ll make some serious mistakes if we try to treat “them” as uniform. I’ve come up with a few, but I’m sure there are quite a number to be identified. Here are some that I can think of personally (and these are cartoony caricatures, not nuanced psychologically informed portraits):

Spiritual-But-Not-Disciplined (SBND)

In my experience, this is the most common sort. The SBND are those who are attracted to spiritual things but hate the idea of someone telling them what to do. These are the folks who like to make it up as they go along—then change it all (or drop it all together) on a monthly basis. Thus, the “spiritual” part affirms that they think spiritual things are good; the “not religious” part affirms that neither a community or tradition can have authority over what they want to do and when they want to do it.

Spiritual-But-Not-Integrated (SBNI)

These are folks who may be highly spiritual but tend to experience spiritual practice as a “collect-’em-all” kind of enterprise. Yoga on Mondays, Kabbalah on Tuesdays, Centering Prayer on Wednesdays, Drum Circle on Thursdays…you get the picture. Related—maybe even overlapping—with the SBNDs, the differentiation here is not necessarily on a level of discipline or follow-through, but a lack of a big-picture framework that makes sense of the individual pieces. Thus, the “spiritual” part affirms that they think spiritual things are good; the “not religious” part affirms that they don’t see a single religious tradition that enables them to hold all the things together that they want to embrace.

Spiritual-But-Not-Bigoted (SBNB)

These are folks who tend to have a high regard for ideological purity. They may or may not be inclined towards spiritual practices, but they’re certainly not going to affiliate with a religious institution with nasty baggage. These are the people who like to remind everyone about the Crusades, the Phelpses, and abortion clinic bombings whenever the topic of religion comes up. They couldn’t possibly be part of something that promotes so much hatred. Their default stance tends to be that all religion is unreasoning fundamentalist religion and that therefore only unreasoning fundamentalists would be interested in religion. (Interestingly, I’ve seen this stance preached in some sci-fi books that my SBNR brother-in-law has loaned me recently…; a new missionary method for the New Atheism?) Thus, the “spiritual” part affirms that they may accept that there’s more to life than the flatly material; the “not religious” part affirms that they won’t have anything to do with a religious tradition that doesn’t pass their purity requirements.

Spiritual-But-Not-Committed (SBNC)

These are the folks who tend to affiliate with particular lines of thought and may even self-identify with a religious group but for whatever reason just don’t get there. It may be a plea of busyness on account of the kids and their activities or it may be that they prefer bagels & the Times on a Sunday morning than dragging themselves to church. Thus, the “spiritual” part affirms that they think spiritual things are good and they may even connect with a tradition; the “not religious” part affirms that they don’t or can’t commit to the actual obligations of a religious community.

Spiritual-But-Not-Satisfied (SBNS)

These are folks who also self-identify with a religion, maybe even a specific denomination, but are not satisfied with any of the local communities. They’re too high or too low or too stiff or too loose or whatever… In some cases, a lack of “fit” is a genuine reason, in others it may be an excuse–to others or even to themselves–that hides a more genuine reason. Thus, the “spiritual” part affirms that they think spiritual things are good and they may even connect with a tradition; the “not religious” part affirms that the religious communities on offer don’t meet their needs on the points they want meeting.

I see here that I’ve floated into the “‘Religious’ But Not Attending” realm as well, but I think that there’s sufficient relation between them that it makes sense to include them as well.

Looking across these groups (and imagining that there are more that I haven’t identified here) I can’t imagine that one strategy fits all. My hunch is that the SBNI are the ones who are most willing to have contact with a religious community or who would be most open to having a friend invite them to a religious “thing.” But trying to appeal to the SBNB the same way as the SBNI doesn’t strike me as likely to be effective…

I don’t know—what are your thoughts?

31 thoughts on “Spiritual-But-Not…

  1. mcdoc

    I think there might a SBWWMFT
    Spiritual, But What Would My Friends Think?
    I think that for some people their social networks include a certain number of people and of certain qualities of relationship with people who, themselves fit into some of the above categories, and who then exert directly or indirectly a net vector quantity of influence away from submitting to, integrating into, committing to a religious community that may have historical roots or connections with any number, and likely multiple, sins past and present.

  2. bls

    Here’s another category: “SBNCh.” “Spiritual but not Christian,” that is. Some people just don’t hold to the faith itself, or what they know of it – but do feel themselves drawn toward (for lack of a better word) “The Sacred.” And this, if you believe Augustine, is part and parcel of the mere fact of being human: “Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee,” after all.

    I have a different issue, myself – not quite sure of the acronym yet; it’s something I’m trying to work out now, in fact, and that always affects me. As an A.A. member, I know it’s perfectly possible to derive great benefits from a “Spiritual but not Religious” approach; it saves peoples’ lives, in fact, and our sanity. It’s not Christian, even if it came out of a Christian worldview. And it specifically gives people room to be less than precisely theological about the form of the Power Greater Than Ourselves. (Really, it allows almost anything; for me, at first, the Power was found in the natural world. Whatever it was that made that maple tree, it was surely “a Power Greater Than Myself” – or than that of any human being.)

    So, empirically: I know this to be possible. But then: A.A. also takes its 12 Steps from Christian practices and ideas, via the Oxford Group (not the Oxford Movement!): submission to God, repentance, confession, amends, prayer and meditation, its own particular form of evangelism, etc. (A.A. also notes that most of these practices are “ancient,” and can be found in many or most religious traditions.)

    And in fact, the Power Greater Than Ourselves is only an entree to the life of faith; it’s a way to allow for the sick minds of crazy alcoholics to latch hold of something outside of themselves. Anyway, in A.A.: the Steps are where the real business happens. The practices I mentioned above, that is – and that’s what the SBNR thing misses out entirely on.

    But then, it’s what we’re missing out entirely on these days, too. And this is why CWOB can get a foothold; the Catechism states that when we “we come to the Eucharist, It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people.” But the exhortation – which, BTW, from what I’ve read, still exists in the the Methodist rite and does get said in their “Open Table” communion, or should – is gone from Rite II.

    A.A. does encourage its members to return (or start going) to regular worship – and this really IS necessary, because A.A. itself is mostly geared to newcomers, as it definitely should be. So I’m following A.A.’s own recommendations here – but I myself have this conflict running around in my head sometimes, between SBNR and RBNS! So I can imagine what it’s like for people completely outside the church and outside any sort of faith life at all. I think you’re right – if I’m reading you correctly – that the church will need to deal with the SBNR on their own terms, and figure out a way to offer them something more.

    But we need practices! Or at least, some means of speaking to the weaknesses people feel in themselves, and then of offering Grace as a means of redeeming them. We need to speak outside of religious terminology, that is, to what religion is meant to address. It just ain’t gonna happen otherwise, that I can see…..

  3. BillyDinPVD

    I think there’s a considerable number who use SBNR because being “I’m spiritual” has a certain cachet to it. That is, they really aren’t even that spiritual, but use the label to mark themselves as being one of the cool kids.

    Full disclosure: I hate the word spiritual, and come the Revolution it’s going to be one of the first things to go…

  4. mcdoc

    Dear BLS,
    Your post moves me to ask, “What are the goals?”

    Do we want to get ’em in the door? Do we want ’em to keep coming back? Do we want warm bodies? Do we want warm stewardshipping bodies? Do we want to save souls (by counting bodies)? Do we want mission? Do we want a fellowship of discipleship, with a public relations policy based on attraction rather than promotion?

    It seems to me that it is difficult to have it all. In fact, some of these may be mutually exclusive, if done with integrity. Who is the target audience? What, in fact and in deed, do we have to offer the public? Are we clear?

    Are we about doing justice? Are we about caring for the widow, the orphan, the alien, etc.? Do we agree on what the Good News is, exactly? Are we about Sacraments? Are we about The Word? Are we about a life of prayer? Are we about belief or about faith? Are we about Creeds? Are we to take the Creeds to the mat, and say to the public that we offer them Creeds?

    For my own part, I keep coming back, ’cause it works, if you work it…

    I come for sacraments, tolerance for Mystery, acknowledgement of the Holy and of the sacred, worship, prayer, liturgy, praying the Word on an on-going, cyclic basis, hymns, doing justice, doing charity, having fellowship as την ἐκκλησία, i.e., a gathering of the called-out.

    As a “for instance,” If you told me I would have to come on board with saying the Creeds as literal, or assent as to the crux, if you will, of the Gospel(s), or to articulate a coherent theology of the Death and/or Resurrection and/or Ascension of Jesus as soteriology, and claim an eschatology, any of these, in some Procrustean way, if not gone like a shot, I would eventually have to bow out. I am to my core αἱρετικός, self-willed, doubting, disagreeing, if not disagreeable. So, perhaps I amount to a stewardshipping, warm body, who does a little service, and who might flatter himself with solipsistic notions of discipleship, but who isn’t really a True Believer.

    The questions are, Does the Church want us (meaning all the spiritual/religious fence-sitters of every stripe, flavor, involvement- and attendance-pattern)? Does the Church need us? Can we be tolerated if we don’t come ’round? Is there something to come ’round to? Is folk coming ’round to something a/the goal? Should we be spat out as tepid?

  5. Derek Olsen

    Good set of questions! I can’t answer it the way it deserves at the moment but my knee-jerk reaction is to say this: the job of the church is to offer the full-shebang—a whole system of living revolving around Risen Christ that includes a comprehensive, interlocking set of spiritual practices (both public and private) that flower into corporate works of mercy. Then people can affiliate or not to the degree of their comfort with the idea that we hold discipleship as the ideal even if we recognize that not all people will embody that to the degree that I mean or think ideal.

    Does that make sense?

  6. mcdoc

    Would that one could fix typos in comments here, to wit:
    “For my own part, I keep coming back, ’cause it works, if you work it…” should be a statement, not question.

    [Duly edited :-)]

  7. rick allen

    This is a very useful break-down.

    I myself would see a lot of “spiritual-but-exhausted”‘s in there.

    I remember the first time my kids watched “Chariots of Fire” with me. There’s that scene where, after the service in a wee kirk in the hills, a soccer ball rolls in front of Eric Liddle, and he turns to the boys with a semi-stern, “The Sabbath’s not for football, is it?” “What’s he talking about, dad?”

    I never lived at a time when games were frowned on on Sunday, but I am old enough to remember when, in my little town, practically the only people who worked that day were clergy, police, telephone operators, and 7-11 clerks.

    For most of us laity, I think, the difference between “spiritual” and “religious” is whether one regularly worships at church. Sunday was, within living memory, a day socially (and largely legally) revolving around such activity. That has long been gone, even with the “weekend” persisting as a time when one normally doesn’t work. When I was a kid, Sunday was church plus family time. Now Sunday is shopping and errands and school projects and work overtime, and it’s more often than not an effort to squeeze in a mass.

    I doubt that the old Sunday can come back. If the Blue Laws that were repealed over the sixties and seventies were re-enacted, I imagine they would now be struck down as “establishments of religion.”

  8. bls

    Well, I’d think we would want to offer others the great benefits of the life we have learned about ourselves. That’s exactly what happens in A.A.; people who are rescued from death and insanity help others who seek the same rescue – at first because we hear that “you can only keep it if you give it away.”

    But it’s more than that, really; it’s out of gratitude. The dead who come back to life tend to feel like that. So, A.A. members offer to others what they’ve experienced and learned: “What we used to be like, what happened, what we are like now,” as the saying goes. (It’s also because alcoholics really, really like to talk.)

    I think where Christianity often goes wrong – because Christians who feel “saved” also feel that way and act out that scenario – is that instead of “sharing our experience, strength, and hope” it turns into “preaching at people.” And I guess that’s because there’s a Big Book of Rules; stuff in writing always seems very authoritative, and there’s just so, so much to choose from in the Bible.

    So perhaps we need to simplify, in some way. 12 Steps are a lot easier to deal with than 1252 pages of incohate stuff that you have to work to figure out. Maybe we need to distill a bit, always leaving the whole mass of stuff available to people who want more.

    The other good thing about the 12 Steps is that they are left rather open as to how you work out your life and your salvation. Step 12 says: “As the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” There’s no particular path you need take to do that; it’s really up to you, and it will depend on what happens in your own life.

    I think one important aspect, in fact, is the serendipity involved. I mean, nobody ever expected that when you got sober, you’d have stumbled upon this great way of life, too. You just wanted to stop drinking – but then it turns out that your disaster has opened the way to something valuable beyond measure. It’s all a big surprise – and that’s part of the experience, too.

    Anyway, we’re all “self-willed, doubting, disagreeing, if not disagreeable,” and all kinds of other things. The real question is: which things help us, and which things get in our way?

    BTW, I guess that exhortation before Communion – “YE that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort….” was never in our Prayer Book at all, now that i look it up. It was in the 1662, and I guess it made its way over to the Methodist Book of Worship, but got dropped out of TEC’s Eucharist.

  9. bls

    Sorry, I left something pretty important out of Step 12 up there! It should be: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

    Pretty important omission! (And that’s “the result of these Steps,” BTW, not “a result of these Steps.”)

  10. Derek Olsen

    That exhortation’s still in Rite I…

    Actually, this one goes all the way back to the 1549 Book, it’s just at a different point in that one.

    The full-on Exhortation does also appear in the current BCP but it’s hid away on pp. 316-7 so that no-one can find it…

  11. bls

    Anyway, my big problem now is that I don’t want to be part of the church anymore; I’m really tired of being preached at, and it seems pointless to be part of an organization that doesn’t seem to be offering anything in the way of a spiritual life. That’s the only reason I’m here in the first place! (This goes for all parts of the church, BTW; I can tell you for sure that I’ve never been called worse names than those I’ve heard since I joined the church.)

    That stuff never happens in A.A., because A.A. takes its “primary purpose” very, very seriously: “to stay sober and to help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.” Literally everything else is subordinate to that.

    But the Church seems not to have a primary purpose at all – or else it has 300 different purposes, and if you’re not toeing the correct line, you’re a “Gnostic” or a “dualist” or part of the “Church of Holy Sodomy.” I’m really sick of it, and it’s frankly no longer a benefit to me.

    Yet, A.A. tells me to go back to church. It’s all a conundrum these days.

  12. bls

    I mean, not long ago I read an article by a Bishop who put forward the thought that “Churches need afflicted people around in order to be involved in charity rather than justice.” Also that “needful populations” with “emotional problems” are “small questions,” to be referred elsewhere, and then we can at last “move on” to the really important stuff. Namely: how to fix everything that’s wrong with the world because of My Political Enemies.

    On the other side, the Pope argues that same-sex marriage is “evil” and a “threat to humanity’s future.”

    The Church just seems to me to very confused at present, if not totally bonkers. Some people are forever fixated on gay sex and on the “homosexualist agenda” – while others seem to be fixated on their own very, very important callings to fix everything in the entire world (except the people standing next to them).

    It’s no fun anymore….

  13. BillyDinPVD

    Good Heavens, who wants a Church full of True Believers? We’re supposed to be Catholic…

    [NB: Only partially tongue-in-cheek]

  14. BillyDinPVD

    Caveat: An edited form of the Exhortation is in Rite I. We’re no longer told to “take this holy Sacrament to” our comfort. I always thought that this was because moderns, being denser than our spiritual forebears, would mistake the General Confession for a Sacrament, but I have my doubts. The Exhortation and General Confession are now found at the end of the “Liturgy of the Word,” separated from the “Liturgy of the Table” by the Peace and the Offertory, instead of one of the first actions done after the Offertory. There are some unfortunate consequences, I think: (1) The General Confession and Holy Communion are sort of textually divorced – before, we were told why we were confessing our sins, but now it’s just something we do, probably because we’re so nice. (2) The idea that the reception of Holy Communion involves any sort of advanced thought or preparation is downplayed – it’s not communicants that have to be in charity with their neighbors, etc, but people who are in the mood to repent. (3) As a result of #2, the impression is that anyone who happens to be present at a given Eucharist is supposed to come up at the Communion – baptized, non-baptized, prepared, unprepared: it’s all good. (4) The Sacrament as a channel of forgiveness for sin is downplayed, too. YMMV

  15. bls

    (The other thing about A.A., of course, is that the alcoholic is drawn into a community – into an interdependent web of relationships. You first learn to trust, and then to depend on and attach to, a person or people in your meetings. A “sponsor” is kind of a mentor for a newcomer; it’s not required to get one, but it’s a good idea, just so that you can start building relationships.

    The newcomer is often give the job of making coffee; sounds stupid, but it’s not. It’s really pretty crucial to give somebody new some way to contribute and – more importantly – to give them a reason to be there every week. You get to know people, too, and they get to know you. It’s an apprenticeship and an introduction to the life, really – or maybe we could say, a postulancy. And since everybody there has been through the same apprenticeship, they all understand what the new person’s going through, and are all willing to talk or give their phone numbers.

    It’s a nice, slow intro to a long-term project and a new way of living, surrounded by people who’ve been there themselves. And you learn to trust them, and confide in them ultimately. It’s community of the best kind, really…..)

  16. mcdoc

    I believe that some of the tension we have been talking about here lately with respect to restrictiveness versus inclusiveness, CWOB, confirmation, and now evangelism of the unchurched are related to the hermeneutics of catholic praxis and BLS’s observation about the process-focus and core-goal-focus of A.A.

    What I think is interesting is that A.A. is based ultimately on mystical experience. All the talk, and the trying, the medical therapy and the psychotherapy, and the pieces from the Oxford Movement did not work per se. It took Bill W. having a mystical experience to come to sobriety and to have the final synthetic organization of A.A. into the 12 steps and the 12 traditions. While not as clean and tidy as all that, to me the catholic tradition, particularly including the Divine Office and the readings of the Church Fathers, are akin to a system of principles over personalities, that weaves into the fabric of lives and returns again and again to a deep, organic, implicate order that springs forth by the doing.

    I think TEC was on the right track to refocus on the Eucharist, there are issues of sketchy theology that are creeping in that I think need to be addressed. Interestingly enough one Sunday morning when it looked like a supply-priest covering for our rector might not be showing up, we were very much struggling to throw together a Morning Prayer service because we had not done it. So, there are some riches that we are at-risk of losing track of and that should be looked to.

    I think that throwing open the churches to all is not the same thing as, and does not require, throwing open the Sacraments to all.

    I even wonder if we are to be or even can be all things to all people. As a limb or organ-system of the Body of Christ are we a ministry to the various species of SBNR, or could we lose our way and our function by chasing after those who would not be caught in any event?

  17. bls

    The ironic thing about Bill W.’s “mystical experience” is that it was pretty much unique to him! A.A. does not require or expect that anybody else have such an experience, and in fact almost nobody does. The experience kick-started Bill W., all right – and in this way, I don’t think he’s much different from anybody else who’s ever started a “spiritual” movement. He was one of those people, IOW, who are basically “hard-wired” for mystical experience – but most people aren’t, as far as I can see.

    In fact, he was very evangelical at the beginning, about that experience – and even for awhile believed the experience was a necessary part of getting sober, and thought he needed to try to induce it in other people! Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. In truth, most “varieties of religious experience” (as William James noted) are of the “educational” kind; that is, they’re not instantaneous but happen over time. (And even though I think I’m one of those people who are hard-wired, my own experience in A.A. was of the “educational variety”; I never had a blinding white-light experience, or anything like it; I learned day by day – and have found great satisfaction in it. It’s still stunningly worth it, IOW. And perhaps this way is better for me, since the “white-light” variety is sort of a drug-like experience – something that addicts are forever trying to reproduce during the course of their careers. I’m glad it didn’t happen for me like that, actually; I know myself too well on that score.)

    No, the usual experience in A.A. is “over the course of time” – and this is a good thing. The fantastic thing, actually, is that people actually talk about things. When I first came to A.A., it felt like everybody I spoke to was kind of a Zen master or something – they said what seemed to me to be deep, almost cryptic, things about life and living. (In fact, A.A. does have a bit of a Zen flavor; the experience is evidently like a journey along a path laid out before you, with no particular end or goal in sight. You have a personal teacher and mentor in your sponsor; you learn to live “in the moment” (i.e., “A day at a time”); there are all sorts of little puzzling sayings and aphorisms – AKA, “koans” – that get repeated in meetings (i.e. “It’s the first drink that gets you drunk” and the advice, when you’re freaked out or depressed, to “Have something to eat” – something that makes absolutely no sense at the time); etc. The parallels are kind of striking, actually.

    The Steps (and the Traditions, which are like “Steps for the Groups”) are actually the thing – and they have sort of a Zen-like feel, too, don’t they? – and they take time.

    But Christianity has its own deep puzzlers, meant to shut us all up and open up new windows to “enlightenment”: the whole story of the Incarnation – and the Crucifixion and (to a lesser extent, IMO) the Resurrection – is the main one. (Think of the thing from Isaiah 52:

    “See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
    14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
    15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

    The parables are like this, too, speaking in sketchy outlines about very deep and sometimes shocking and surprising things.

    I do think it might help to imitate some of the best features of A.A. That would mean: an emphasis on talking about life and about living it – and about what we’ve learned about this as individuals, through our faith; perhaps developing some sort of rudimentary sponsor/mentor ethos; and especially the emphasis on the life of faith as a journey (upward?) without end – and according to the events a person experiences. The idea of living “a day at a time” can’t hurt, either – and fortunately it’s right there in the Gospels:

    Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

    The thing that struck me in that Wikipedia article about the Oxford Group was the first of the Four Absolutes: Absolute Honesty: “Truth in an Age of Lies.” That seems apropos, doesn’t it….?

  18. bls

    (Speaking of Sacraments: if there’s a Sacrament in A.A., it’s “talking.” One of the little tract/pamphlets A.A. puts out offers this opinion from an A.A. member:

    There is [another] factor in A.A. which I feel can be found nowhere else, and that is the recovered alcoholic’s omnipresent, bottomless, enthusiastic willingness to talk about alcoholism – its ins and outs, its whys and its wherefores, its becauses and begats. Without the newcomer’s ever becoming fully aware of it, his fascination with alcohol, his thirst, his desire, yea, even his need for a drink is literally talked to death. It has always seemed exquisitely fitting to me that people who once used their mouths to get sick now use them to get well.

    And this is true; newcomers are very much encouraged to find somebody to talk with, as soon as possible. You don’t push newcomers, though, to “tell all”; they are not ready to do that yet, so you wait for them to become ready. They’ll talk about the things they need to talk about, when it comes time. And nobody would ever ask a newcomer to participate in the Sacrament of the Qualification – i.e., telling your story at a meeting in front of dozens or hundreds of people – on the first day – or even the 50th day – they walked through the door. It’s just way too much; it’s not good for the new person, who might, out of nerves or simple lack of self-control, spill something publicly that s/he might really regret saying later.

    To everything – I’ve heard this someplace, I know – there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Everything can’t happen at once; it’s literally impossible, and wouldn’t be beneficial either. You have to consider the worst-case scenario – i.e., the weakest members of the group – and not base your actions on the best-case scenario. Especially when it comes to people and the spiritual life. That’s how I see it, anyway….)

  19. Derek Olsen

    Would you consider the “hitting rock-bottom” experience a spiritual one–just not the kind that we tend to think of?

    I’m minded of the kind of crisis experiences that will sometimes motivate people to wander into churches whether they end up staying there or not…

  20. bls

    Well, there are people who come to A.A. who haven’t hit rock bottom yet – especially today, when companies have alcohol-abuse programs and send people to rehab. Actually most people these days come in on that basis, I think; the hard, rock-bottom cases used to be the main thing, but that’s not true any longer. And people who don’t hit rock bottom also talk about that, and say the program works just as well for them; they’re glad they didn’t have to hit rock bottom and yet can have all the benefits that the Steps offer. (I think sometimes it might be easier to accept the rigors of the program – self-examination, confession, making amends – if you’ve hit rock bottom; I probably couldn’t, myself, have stuck it out if I’d had any other real choice. But people are different.)

    And yes: people do come to the church when they are in grief or pain of some sort; I’m sure everybody’s seen this. For these folks, it might really be good to have a simpler kind of off-Sunday-morning worship/talk kind of meeting, I think. Maybe just a prayer meeting – and maybe this is where we’ve really lost out by dropping Morning and Evening Prayer.

    This guy says, in his article “Apostates for Evensong,” that:

    Daily in Anglican Cathedrals around the world, observant Anglicans sing and chant their way out of the working day in a short but outstandingly beautiful ceremony known as Evensong. It is a quotidian calming. It is an opportunity for rest and reflection at the end of a day’s travails. It would move the iciest atheistic soul as it indeed moves mine. In fact, I am a bit of an Evensong junkie having gravitated these Evensong ceremonies in the great choral centres of Anglicanism.


    One can sit there at the end of the day and drain your brain of all earthly distractions and let it recover in this precious anachronism. The cavernous acoustics carry the peerless multilayered choral offerings to you and through you.

    The irony is that when I speak to some Christians about Evensong they sort of pooh pooh it, arguing that such ceremony is about form not substance. They are Bible-centric believers for whom the archaic liturgy is a distraction from the text. I demur. Part of the power of faith is the excellent methods they have of helping the congregation transcend the daily grind. Music and architecture can be a legitimate method for reaching an emotional rather than logical state.

    One of my most touching Evensong experiences was in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. It was packed and I was stuck in the back. In front of me were two women — a mother and daughter. The daughter cried throughout. Clearly some trauma had assailed her and she and her mum had repaired to Evensong for sustenance. Parental love twinned with Evensong was the chosen balm. I hope it worked – her heaving sobs trouble me to this day.

    You can easily imagine offering this as a “balm for the troubled soul” – and then in addition, perhaps, offering some place to relax and have something to eat and talk afterwards, if needed.

    And if atheists (NSNR!) find it beneficial, well then….

  21. bls

    (But, perhaps having your company send you to 28-day rehab for alcoholism is a sort of “spiritual experience” by itself, now that I think of it. It surely would mortify a lot of people – and alcoholic denial would no doubt kick up into indignation and a sort of helpless rage, too. And yes: that’s a spiritual experience we don’t tend to think of, you are right!

    ;-) )

  22. DavidWebster

    My views on SBNR are in book on just that topic: http://dispirited.org/about-the-book/

    When someone tells me that they are “Not religious, but very spiritual”, I want to punch them in the face.


    Dispirited argues that contemporary accounts of spirituality are a dead end for human potential, a threat to intellectual rigour, and opposed to social and political engagement. Rather than accept the “Spiritual, But Not Religious” response as the only alternative to either formal religion or egotistical, shallow consumerism, Dispirited argues for a post-spiritual response to the existential realities of life.

  23. mcdoc

    So, ditto on revisiting the post and comments on Rising Spiritual Honesty

    I was going post an edited comment that I’d posted somewhere. The where turned out to be here, a couple if posts upstream. So, to those of linear minds this is simply to repeat ourselves. Perhaps, to the more liturgically minded, it is to revisit the same ground after having traveled other territory with new eyes and, hopefully, new hearts and minds.

  24. bls

    I should add here another interesting parallel between A.A. and Christianity.

    Take a look at the Collect for Purity, said at the start of every service: “Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Lovely words – but much, much more, too – and a direct parallel to what’s said in the story of Jesus and the woman at the well: “He told me everything I’ve ever done!” This, too, is more than just an interesting vignette, IMO. And you find this idea in Psalm 139, too: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

    The same little pamphlet quoted above also has this: “The intuitive understanding the alcoholic receives [in A.A.], while compassionate, is not indulgent. The “therapists” in A.A. already have their doctorates in the four fields where the alcoholic reigns supreme: phoniness, self-deception, evasion, and self-pity. He is not asked what he is thinking; He is told what he is thinking. No one waits to trap him in a lie. He is told what lies he is getting ready to tell. In the end, he begins to achieve honesty by default. There’s not much point in trying to fool people who may have invented the game you’re playing.

    (Or, as people in the rooms put it: You can’t B.S. a B.S-er.)

    I’m not trying to say that recovering alcoholics are like God, BTW! Clearly, that’s not the case. I’m calling attention to the idea of a sort of transparency to one’s “inmost being.” And that it’s really very central to the spiritual life for this transparency to occur; it’s beneficial. It cuts out all the B.S. and gets to the heart of things. It allows spiritual development to occur; in fact, spiritual development is impossible without this sort of transparency to the truth.

    And this is where “practices” come in; without them, there’s literally nothing going on. There is no movement; we’re becalmed and motionless. Catholics have had Confession for this purpose; Luther got it, too, and spoke to “sin” and “salvation” – and that’s where Evangelicals are coming from. Both, at least, are speaking to weaknesses – although now that they’ve gotten involved in politics, both – at least at the level of public witness – seem to be losing the benefits of these ideas and practices.

    It could be that, because that we live in a “confessional culture” – and in one in which therapy is no longer stigmatized, and something that many people do access – people actually do have access to the beneficial practice of self-examination. But, frankly: I don’t see it, in lots of cases. I don’t see it in the general anger in our political process, for instance; I see lots of self-justification – and blaming of other people – and not much in the way of self-examination. And the church seems to be operating mostly at the “self-justification” level generally, too.

    A.A.’s Step Five notes that “[the] practice of admitting one’s defects to another person is, of course, very ancient. It has been validated in every century, and it characterizes the lives of all spiritually centered and truly religious people.” But we’re not asked, anymore, to do any self-examination at all. So….

  25. bls

    So, to answer your question above, Brian, about “Creeds”: No. We should not wrestle people to the mat over Creeds (unless the people in question are clergypeople).

    Creeds do describe the boundaries of the faith – and they save us from those who would try to sell us something else; all to the good. But of course, the Nicene Creed didn’t exist until the 4th Century, and the Church did very well, it seems to me, on the shorter, more direct Roman Symbol (which was, from what I understand, an early statement of the faith and what became the Apostles’ Creed). At Baptism a person has to answer for these points:

    Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
    Answer I renounce them.

    Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
    Answer I renounce them.

    Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
    Answer I renounce them.

    Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
    Answer I do.

    Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
    Answer I do.

    Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
    Answer I do.

    This is a really ancient formula, I believe. Anybody can say these words whether they believe in a literal Satan or not; it’s a formula of renunciation and then affirmation. It’s good. (Unfortunately, now I can’t hear this without thinking about Michael Corleone; I do hope that goes away at some point….)

    Creeds are not the point; they’re a safeguard. I’m actually kind of glad they get said in the service (I think the Apostles’ Creed would do just as well, but I’m not opposed to the Nicene) – but to me, they are not the actual point (or anything close to the point).

    The renouncing of what kills, and the affirming what heals and gives life – that’s the point, IMO.

  26. Turnip Ghost

    Church is boring. I have better things to do with my time, money and effort. I don’t want to hang around with a group of old ladies of both sexes or be preached to poltically. If religions continue to shrink, the government will be able to collect more in taxes.

  27. mcdoc

    Troll House Cookies
    Similar tasting to the traditional toll house cookie only gluten-free. Flours used in this recipe are brown rice and potato.

    Recipe Ingredients
    1 cup butter
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 cup granulated sugar
    2 eggs
    1/4 teaspoon Gluten-Free Vanilla Powder
    1-1/2 cup brown rice flour
    1/2 cup potato flour (not potato starch flour)
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 package chocolate chips (milk or semisweet)

    Recipe Directions
    Cream butter (can use dairy-free margarine or Crisco if necessary), sugars, eggs and Gluten-Free Vanilla Powder.

    Mix in dry ingredients, then chocolate chips.

    Drop by rounded teaspoons onto un-greased cookie sheet. Flatten very slightly with fork.

    Bake between 350-375-degrees for 12 minutes or so (temperature and time vary by individual oven — if yours bakes hot, use the lower temperature).

    Remove from oven when cookies are lightly browned (they over-brown very quickly).

    Remove cookies to cooling rack after a few minutes.

    Note:  These cookies are also good with chopped nuts and/or shredded coconut.

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