DIY Spirituality

DIY Spirituality February 21, 2013

Joel J. Miller writes good posts, and this clip from a recent one one tweaks some noses:

Believers in largely ritual-less forms of Christianity, for instance, have trouble establishing a healthy sense of self, according to Danish philosopher Matias Møl Dalsgaard of Aarhus University. Rather than getting direction from tradition (including the church calendar, regular periods of fasting and feasting, the discipline of hourly prayer, the counsel of a spiritual father, etc.), the lone Christian is left to work out the faith on their own. It’s liberating on the one hand — no rules! — but it’s also an unmanageable burden, and many buckle under the weight.

Maybe more suggestive of the risks, a recent study found that people who identify as spiritual but not religious — read: untethered from regular, ritualized expressions of faith — are more likely to suffer mental illness. Trying to hack your own path through the tangle of the heart is liable to drive you crazy.

But there’s no point trying to do it on your own. DIY spirituality promises freedom but delivers futility. Others have walked the way before. Others can see into your life from different vantages. Others can give perspective, counsel, encouragement, even rebukes. But a spiritual life that denies access to others gains no such benefits.

Spiritually speaking, we’re often like the stereotypical man driving around lost, refusing to ask for directions, unable to see that our pride only evidences the desperate need we really have. Or in the more frightening picture offered by journalist Mark Vernon, we’re like participants in an extreme sport who take neither safety precautions nor seek coaching.

This is not a blanket defense of religion or all traditions. Not all institutional expressions of the faith are equal. It’s to some people’s credit that they leave some churches. But that only underscores the importance of finding a spiritual home where flourishing is possible.

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  • Mike

    What is DIY Spirituality?

  • DIY stands for Do It Yourself

    Although, in this context, it may also stand for Dumb Idiot Youth

  • Marcus C

    I think this is why legalism or religions like Islam that offer strict rules and boundaries can be so seductive. Its basic human nature to crave structure.

  • cw

    I hope there might be more comments forthcoming on this. I have thought a lot about this topic? issue? and would love to see how others work through their dilemma. I grew up in a Restoration church and have since attended various churches all falling under an pretty generic Evangelical umbrella which translates to no church calendar, no liturgy, no sacraments, no communal disciplines (fasting, times of prayer, etc.), no one who would be seen as a spiritual authority (since at any time we can pop out of and into whatever church fellowship we want with no seeming consequence to our spiritual life). Eastern Orthodoxy was brought onto our “spiritual radar” some four years ago through our daughter and it’s been enlightening to see how much depth and roots those things (calendar, liturgy, etc.) can bring to one’s spiritual walk. But when one is so thoroughly Western, it is such a radical culture change to turn East. And then, one may ask, does our choice of worship venue and spiritual “activities” matter to God? Or, is He fine with personal preferences.

    The first century church had to face the question of how Jewish did a Gentile have to be in order to be a follower of Christ. The answer was “not very”. So, how Eastern or Roman, or Evangelical, Anglican, or… does one need to be to be a follower of Christ? And maybe we don’t HAVE to do any of the “activities” but they are wonderful tools to aid us in our walk.
    (Yes, I’m a poster child for The Myth of Certainty!)

    Is any other Evangelical out there in a ritual-less, very-little-traditions type of fellowship wondering if they might be missing something?

  • MattR

    But Marcus, isn’t there a difference between structure and ‘legalism?’ I think what the article describes is how often rootless, unstructured evangelical spirituality has led people down a dead end road!

    I see this in the people in their twenties and thirties I minister too… ‘spiritual but not religious’ is actually leaving many people empty, and asking if there aren’t some structures and practices that might ground their faith.

  • DMH

    cw #4 I’m right there with you. Just starting the search, afraid I can’t be of mush help just yet.

  • Peter

    cw #4

    I can relate having grown up in a Restoration Movement church as well. I started to explore outside our “non-denominational denomination” in high school. I have since come to enjoy and embrace the structures of the church calendar, liturgy, and the like. I would like to think it is because I am growing in my faith (I am sure I am), yet some of those who grew up in high church practices tend to migrate the opposite direction, finding freedom in a less structured setting. I guess it comes down to having a balance.

    On a related note, I remember Scot coming to Rochester, MN to speak and he talked about using the Book of Common Prayer and how that can be just as freeing (and probably more formative) as praying whatever is on your heart. I appreciated that talk, Dr. McKnight (bible college student then, seminary student now). It was an indelible moment in my life.

  • Jeff,

    Can you explain a bit more why you defined DIY as “Dumb Idiot Youth”? It feels a bit perjorative/put down and I’m wondering if I missed something in the nature of internet communication or if you have evidence that would connect the two?


  • Simon

    Not sure i agree with this, as someone who suffers with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and GAD (general anxiety disorder), I’m not sure the author has any experience of mental health issues. I, in some ways have resorted to a DIY faith because in part of my experiences in church ( I was part of a charismatic church for twenty years, was in leadership and was ‘advancing’ in my faith). Mental health, broadly speaking is not well understood from a faith perspective and can be viewed as a product of ‘hidden sins’ or ‘demonic possession’ to downright denial of its existence. The author says….”Others can see into your life from different vantages. Others can give perspective, counsel, encouragement, even rebukes. But a spiritual life that denies access to others gains no such benefits”. What are you supposed to do when there are those whose counsel is thoroughly unhelpful coming from a perspective of NO understanding. “Read your Bible more, pray more, pray in tongues more, get more ministry”, I’ve heard them all and whilst often a genuine cry of support are of little benefit because they are simplistic and are lacking understanding of the problem in hand and offer little insight. This stems from, in my opinion, to much of a literalist or non ‘blue parakeet’ view of scripture. To be honest I found more wise counsel from a cognitive behavioural therapist. Whilst I would hope to part of a local church at some point, for now I’ll try and work out my faith in a DIY fashion.

  • Chris White

    From what I have seen, “spiritual but not religious’ goes beyond the believer not connected to a local body of believers. One of my home church leaders (in which the home church is connected to a larger organization of home churches) and my sister, who attends a mega- Nazarene church both tout the “spiritual but not religious” slogan. They see religion as dry but spirituality as the way to go. They both are involved in religious organizations and follow the ways of those organizations–hence, they are quite religious. They both stick quite closely to their respective organizations religious beliefs and practices–so in what way are they not religious? Maybe they should say “spiritual and religious”. Is there use of the saying a way to attract the non-religious (unconnected believer or frustrated used-to-be-believer)? I am not sure. I guess i will ask them. Religion gets a bad rap in some quarters of the Christian religion (?!).

  • Chris White

    comment 10–“Is there use” should read “Is their use”

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any church that is completely without rituals. Even in the free-wheeling AoG that I grew up in we still had pretty set ceremonies for certain events. We did the same thing whenever we took communion, had a baptism, did a baby dedication, etc. We didn’t observe Lent or follow the Church calendar, of course. But we still had plenty of things we did that served as ways for people to part of the group. Even in the most independent churches I’ve seen, there’s still some rituals that are important to the group.

    But I will say, I did know and still know plenty of Christians who see the more traditional expressions of faith as nothing more than “dead religion”. Honestly, I think this type of thinking is so ingrained in my DNA that it’s one thing that prevents me from looking to join an Eastern Orthodox congregation (among other things). It is just hard for me to participate in a liturgical service and not have the idea that others and I are “faking it”.

  • Mike M

    I agree with Phil M that even churches that seem free-wheeling are still bound to rituals. And that includes an order of service that reflects ancient practices (praise, word, collection of tithes, priestly blessings, etc).
    And I can go without shallow definitions of DIY and mental health. Is the “mental health issue” into which the spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) prone to fall victim anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, OCD, or what? And who’s to say they wouldn’t have suffered from these illnesses anyway?

  • John I.

    “Trying to hack your own path through the tangle of the heart is liable to drive you crazy.”

    Unsupported assertion & logical fallacy.

    It could be that those who are crazy are more likely to hack their own path. Or other factors contribute to both phenomena.

  • MikeW

    I resonate with the thrust of this post. When I began to take seriously my desire to learn to pray, I found that those people who had dedicated their lives to praying and contemplation where usually steeped in a tradition, and most said that unless you are, you will not make it very far in a life of prayer. Some vague memories of Thomas Merton’s writing come to mind, something like, without being formed by the Christian Liturgy, you probably will not be able to find God in silence. Or, again, that he would never trust someone in the dark night of mysticism that he couldn’t trust them in the clear light of Christian doctrine.

    So I often pray with the Catholic Book of Prayer in front of me (although I’m not Catholic). Being directed to pray in light of the Trinity, or the Ascension, or Pentecost, or what have you, because of the liturgical calendar has been really good for immersing my prayer in the narrative of Scripture. On the other hand, I often take extended times of silence to still my heart and speak to God extemporaneously and to listen. Both are becoming habits of prayer for me and I think I am understanding how each needs the other: silence and speech, my words and the Church’s words. I have found this to be a very good thing for me.

  • MikeW

    Sorry: … in the dark night of mysticism IF he couldn’t trust them…

  • pete zimmerman

    correlation is not causation. here is the thing. there are people whose lives are easy, that make sense. there are people that are sheep, people that think the 9 to 5 is dandy, people that don’t question, people that are not very creative. then there are the wierd ones, the unlucky ones, the ones that life screwed. they need better answers than traditional church can give. they ask harder questions. And the don’t fit like cogs in the church machine. they see reality more as it is. part of it is mere brain chemistry, they did not chose to be sensitive or creative, they just are. And they tend to suffer more from depression, anxiety, etc. than the average person. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops and with the SBnr, and then I went and spent some time with church people. wow, the difference in thought was staggering. the depressive and anxious SBnR people thought about global warming, whether god was real, how to change the world. and the church people thought about golf, grandkids, jobs, basketball. Remember when I visited a church and the first three questions I was asked were “where do you work, where did you buy a house, how many kids do you have.” I was 28. the answer was “I am a americorps volunteer making shit, I rent, and I have no kids.” they did not know what to do with me. Do you what predicts if people are traditionally religious or not? 3 questions: 1) do you own a home 2) do you have kids under 18? 3) are you married? notice how all 3 of those questions lend themselves towards the status quo and stability. Of course church people are not depressed. They are not even awake.

  • pete zimmerman

    now in my response, I say church people are boring and the SBnR are awesome. A couple of caveats. 1) that does not include my current church, ya’lls are awesome. 2) I have met boring people in coffee shops and interesting people in churches, but overall there was a trend. 3) I am talking about the many many churches I have visited, not the few I chose to spend time at long term as an adult. 4) yes people were interesting at the charismatic church I used to goto, but sometimes interesting is not a good thing.