I know what they mean by it, and I'm totally sympathetic. What they mean is that they hate the institutional, political, power-centered character of most faith organizations. They hate the carping, cutting, I'm-right-and-you're-wrongness of so much of faith discourse.
Here, perhaps I'm more innately nine-ish than some pastors who've been worn down by that statement. I take a statement of spirituality as a positive thing, a sense of yearning that I share. It's a great opening, and a place of commonality.
What I wonder, though, is what that means for the life of the SBNR person I'm talking to.
Let's get all definitional about this, why don't we? What does it mean, if you are "spiritual?" Let's pop out our handy-dandy online thesaurus, and crank through some of the many synonyms. Some are cool. "Sacred." "Divine." "Holy."
Others? Well others are less so. "Incorporeal." "Disembodied." "Unphysical." "Nonphysical." "Intangible." Oh, and this troubling one: "Immaterial."
And then, given that "religious" has to do with religion, here's a clear definition of that term from dictionary.com:
Religion: A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional or ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.The difference between the two? Both have to do with belief in the nature of things. But one is enfleshed and enacted. It makes demands on our lives. It shapes our behaviors towards others. The other is often not.
And that's the place where the the conversation between myself and the Spiritual One goes.
If you are a spiritual person, how does that spirituality shape and inform the way you live your life? I do not ask it with snark. I don't get all judgey. We Jesus folk aren't supposed to do that, eh? It's a simple thing, a worthwhile part of the conversation.
Here is a part of your identity, something meaningful, something vital, something important. How are you living your spirituality out?
That's the question. "How are you living your spirituality out?"
Then, I just listen. Often, what I hear is a lament. "I wish I had time to develop that in myself." "I'm just so distracted." "I'm just so angry and stressed at work." "I feel like I've lost track of that part of me."
And there, there's space to talk. Because a belief that is "immaterial" to your existence is a place of dissonance and frustration, and my job as a pastor is to walk with those souls as they find more gracious and resonant pastures.
Other times, I hear how it has played out in healing a relationship or creating a healthy sense of self. Other times, I hear how it drives someone to make a difference in their community. Or how they make a point of taking time for disciplines of contemplation and meditation.
And I will smile, and tell them my own stories of similar things, and affirm them in their journey.
I do not mention, because it seems more than a little smug, that they are in point of fact "religious."
A rose by any other name, as they say.