Spirituality is a good thing.
Religion is too.
Religion comes to us from the Latin religare which means “to bind together.” Biologists, anthropologists, and sociologists contend that humans are social creatures and we’re at our best when we associate and interact with others. Granted, some of us are more introverted and need more space away from others — but even my introverted friends would all say they enjoy others and thrive because of them.
There is strength in numbers. Rosa Parks (or Claudette Colvin before her) couldn’t have ended racial segregation in the South by herself. It required the combined, organized, efforts of many kindred spirits – meeting frequently in prayer, worship, workshops, trainings, town forums, and more. That Civil Rights movement was an example of organized religion (and in particular, Christianity) at its best.
As the wise existential writer of Ecclesiastes put it,
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (4:9-12)
However, Proverbs reminds us that it’s not just about the merits of associating with others, we need others to help us be at our best as individuals.
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another. (27:17)
It’s difficult for most people to follow Jesus’ teachings, Way, and example very well if attempted as a solo endeavor. Most of us grow and develop far more as Christian disciples if we pursue the journey with others. Doing it with others, religion, allows us to become better informed, more inspired, more equipped and trained to go against the flow, speak truth to power, and to otherwise march to the beat of a different drummer (Jesus) than we could on our own. Granted, it’s not always comfortable for us to experience the mentoring, refinement, or accountability of other individuals, but most of us will admit that it is often good for us – especially if provided in a loving way and if those doing the mentoring are willing to have you hold mirrors for them to gaze in as well.
True, not all religions are the same, and not all of them are always at their best. Bad religion is not a good thing. Progressive Christianity is a reformation movement within the mainline denominations that is seeking to help Christianity be at its best.
For purposes of this piece, Spirituality is a personal journey that individuals have as they grow toward/in God and/or the Divine. Religion is experiencing shared spirituality with others. I’m spiritual and religious (progressive Christians tend to be that way, rejecting “Either/Ors” and favoring “Both/Ands”).
Here’s an analogy. I’m a trumpeter and I enjoy playing under “my bridge” by myself downtown. I also enjoy playing with others in bands and orchestras. Similarly, I enjoy my own private spiritual practices and I also enjoy singing my heart out in our church’s Gospel choir, sitting in on group Bible studies, and participating in their projects to help the homeless, etc.
If people are seeking a progressive Christian congregation, here are some Helpful Tips:
1. Google/web-search: “progressive church nameofyourtown”
2. Google/web-search: “gay welcoming church nameofyourtown”
3. Visit http://www.gaychurch.org — it provides listings of GLBTQI-friendly congregations across the U.S.
*note: these are not necessarily churches only for gay people, rather, they’re often regular congregations that have committed themselves to being fully welcoming, affirming, and inclusive of the LGBTQI community. Such congregations tend to embrace progressive Christianity (the theological approach)
4. Visit the websites of churches to see what they say about themselves and their beliefs and moral commitments. Seeing a pink triangle or a rainbow flag symbol might be a good sign.
5. Try visiting a UCC (United Church of Christ), or a “Reconciling/Open & Affirming/More Light”- identified UMC (United Methodist), PCUSA (Presbyterian); DOC (Disciples of Christ); ELCA (Lutheran); ABC (Baptist); Quaker, or Episcopal church – as they often embrace progressive Christianity.
There are also progressive Christian Catholic churches. Try googling “progressive catholic church nameofyourtown” or see if there’s a Catholic Worker group or a Pax Christi group near you.
6. Try visiting a given congregation more than once. As with dating, it’s helpful to give folks a second chance to seek more information and to better discern compatibility and fit. And as with finding a spouse/partner, remember that there’s no such thing as “the perfect church.” They’re each comprised of fallible humans who are seeking to help each other do the best they can in life. You expect grace from them, offer some to them too. Finally, those churches need you as much as you may need them. All churches need infusions of “new blood,” new ideas, new personalities to help them grow toward being the best that they can be. A common complaint of persons seeking progressive congregations is that they like the theology, sermons, and the sense of welcome and community, but they don’t care for the overly traditional worship style or for the old-fashioned music that they frequently encounter – and “old-fashioned” often means older than 25 years to many of today’s young adults. That really is something that more progressive churches would do well to work on (hint, hint).
7. You may not be able to find a progressive church near you. If not, you’ve got some options. One is to help to try to transform the most liberal one you can find toward being a progressive congregation. Another option is to start a home church or meet up group for progressive Christians. Progressivechristianity.org provides this listing of progressive Christians to help you locate kindred spirits near you! Finally, a last resort might be to find fellowship and a “para church” community in one of the many progressive Christian Facebook pages. Some good ones to explore include: Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity; The God Article; Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented; and Unfundamentalist Christians. You can’t receive or offer actual hugs, nor participate in actual communion, nor easily put your faith in action in community service through those “ministries,” but they are better than nothing and many find them to be inspirational and informative supplements to their involvement in conventional churches.
Equal blessings to those who are seeking new church homes, to those who are seeking to help improve and transform their current churches, and to those who aren’t seeking a church at all.
xx - Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity