Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Are The Churches Doing Their Job?

Earthquakes. Floods. Wildfires. War. Famine. Gas Prices. Global Warming. Terrorism. Some days it seems like the whole world is going down the drain. In the midst of all of this I recently read an article in the newspaper revealing the results of a survey on religion in America. If I read and understood the article correctly, it would appear that fewer people go to church but more people consider themselves spiritual. With everything going on in the world you would think the churches would be packed. I have all kinds of mixed feelings about church and religion. I grew up as a strict Catholic. At the time it was all I knew and I generally liked it although looking back I see I was often more motivated by fear and obligation than desire. Most of my adult life I've had a shaky relationship with organized religion. So many of them seem filled with controversy, acrimony, or scandal. It's difficult to pinpoint where religion and I began to be uncomfortable with one another. Some people go to church but feel like they get very little out of it. Others go to church and simply go through the motions of faith. A core group of faithful attend week after week and genuinely find it spiritually uplifting and supportive to their lives. Many feel no need to attend any church and feel no sense of loss. My relationship with my church has sometimes been a little like a tempestuous love affair. We're together for a while, then we get tired of one another. We make up and get back together. The passion returns and then it disappears. I feel the need to separate again. It's a pattern that's has repeated itself many times over the years. At the same time I am one of those people who still sees himself as a spiritual person. At different times in my life I have had experiences that I believe were transcendent. They were moments of clarity, awakening, oneness with the moment, Zen, contemplation, etc. There are many names for this experience. Those who've had them know what I am talking about. They almost never happened in church. They happened in the context of living my daily life. That's when I started wondering if religious experience had anything to do with going to church. Throughout my life it has also seemed like no one in any of the churches I ever attended talked about experiencing God in any meaningful way. The lack of experience was sometimes explained as God's will or the "mystery" of God. The experience of church was usually all about doing things and knowing things but rarely about experiencing the transcendent. I am reminded of a favorite story of mine. Two people had no knowledge of oranges. One went to the library and checked out every book about oranges. The other went to the fruit stand, bought an orange, and ate it. Which of them understands oranges the best? I think this is why many people do not go to church but are still spiritual. They are not being fed oranges at church. They were hearing and reading about God but not truly experiencing God. Church and organized religion can seem like spiritual libraries for many people when what they are looking for are the spiritual fruit stands of life where the taste and the juice of oranges can be experienced in a very real and direct way. They want to "know" oranges, not know about them.

It is not my intention to offend anyone who consider church and religion important or those who attend church on a regular basis and are content and satisfied with that experience. Many churches do many good things and they can and should be important but I believe most of them are not reaching most of the people who are spiritually hungry and seeking the experience of God. God is a great mystery as is much of life. Many people, however, want authentic and meaningful spiritual experiences, not pep rallies. Too many churches are "Spirituality Lite". I am not just speaking of my own church. Everything I read says all the mainline churches are losing membership and attendance. I could be way off base with these thoughts and many might disagree with me. These thoughts are just the feelings of one man who is stumbling down the spiritual path and occasionally wandering in the desert. .

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