Maybe that is why the word "interspiritual" makes more sense to them than "interfaith." They want to be between and among, and even within, the spirits of those around them, people from all manner of religious backgrounds, or no religion at all. They don't see their spirits as existing in isolation. They feel affiliated with people of many faiths or no particular faith, so they don't feel compelled to officially affiliate with any one religion. They aren't lonely in their lack of formal religious belonging. They have found ways to connect deeply with others beyond the bounds of sectarian identity.
My students have helped me understand myself as an "interspiritual Christian." I identify strongly with Christianity, and at the same time I see myself as fully "among and between" faithful people who follow religions different than my own. Not only does my Christianity not get in the way of interfaith relationships, it actually enhances them. Because I am steeped so deeply in my faith, I can introduce it to others who are curious about it. And every time I learn something new about other faiths, I learn more about my own. Comparing and contrasting with elements of other religions, I get a more detailed three-dimensional (maybe even four-dimensional) view of aspects of my religion that I never noticed before.
"Interspiritual" students have something in common with "generic Christian" students I meet on our campus. The trend among evangelical Christian young people is to avoid any extra denominational or other religious label except "Christian." When I worked at Stanford, we watched the statistics over the years as freshmen indicated their religious preference at the start of their college careers. Every year, the number of Methodists, UCCs, Presbyterians, etc., went down, while the overall number of Christians stayed about the same. Denominational identity is clearly the wave of the past. Part of the students' preference for being "just Christian" is a reflection of their unawareness of distinctly different, but equally valid, ways of being Christian. They have no idea that, in fact, their beliefs and practices are sectarian within the Christian faith. There is no such a thing as truly "generic" Christianity.
But their impulse to keep the label simple also may be related to the motivations of "interspiritual" students. A lot of Christians are trying to be spiritual but not religious, too. They really want to avoid anything that could divide Christians from other Christians, and to get at the heart and essence of the faith without getting bogged down in details. They know the "devil" is in those details.
There's no getting around the devil in the details -- we all have our particularities and peculiarities, both in religions and as individuals, no matter how we try to deny or avoid them. But hopefully our desire to be "interspiritual" -- to connect deeply with each other at the level of the soul -- will carry us past those devilish details, and into the heart of the Great Spirit we all share.
This article is reprinted with permission from The Center For Progressive Christianity (www.tcpc.org).
Jim Burklo is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor who serves as the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Birdlike and Barnless: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians (2008) and Open Christianity: Home By Another Road (2000). He served as pastor of Sausalito (CA) Presbyterian Church, and of College Heights UCC Church in San Mateo, CA, served as ecumenical Protestant campus minister at Stanford University, and was the founder and executive director of the interfaith Urban Ministry of Palo Alto. His Masters of Divinity degree is from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Jim regularly blogs at The Center for Progressive Christianity (www.tcpc.org).