Friday, April 29, 2016

"Spiritual But Not Religious"

On Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 4:45 p.m. I posted the following question on Facebook and Twitter: “What do you think it means to say, ‘I’m spiritual but not religious?’”

Fifty-one people responded, and here are their answers, which I found to be absolutely fascinating! I’m compiling them here with the thought that they need to be more widely read than just my social media feeds. There is something really, really cool happening in these responses. Give it a read, and if you have your own answer, feel free to add it in the comments.

- What do you think it means to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious?”

B.W. Freese: I think "spiritual but not religious" means no practices which connect with the holy.

Rob Barringer: I think it means, "I don't go to church."

Elizabeth Perry Wilcox: I tend to hear this from people who believe in God, but do not go to church or participate in organized religion.

Andrew Jones: I love you, but I don't want to marry you. I want all of the benefits of a relationship with God without the responsibility, accountability, or commitment.

Brad Bryan: Means, I'm neither. I'm cynical. But, in my experience, most people I have known that say this are not what I would describe as spiritual. I mean, not really.

Zak McIntyre: Trying to connect with a higher power but not yet seeing how a church fits into that.

Todd Scranton: In my experience it can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it means "I've been burned by the church, but I still have some semblance of my faith left that I'm struggling with." Sometimes it means "I've outgrown the narrow parameters of the faith I was raised with, but I haven't done the work of figuring out what I DO believe." Sometimes it means "I sometimes feel something, but I don't know what it is, and don't have anyone I trust to help me figure it out." And sometimes it means "Get away from me you pushy religious person." The thing I know it DOESN'T mean is "Please, scorn me from the position of your religious community's understanding and treat me like some kind of immature slacker."

June Clark: I have wrestled with this question. As best I can decipher it, this means that the person believes in a higher power of some kind but is not sure how that looks.

Valerie Kistler Miller: A belief in God but not the church as a collective entity.

Susan March: Unsure of what "God" means but still possibly open to seeking. Religion represents 'judgement', so definitely not religious!

Emily Stirewalt: Hurt by organized religion.

Michael Stanfield: It is a statement made by people who feel the pull of God, but are frightened by "Church". Christians, as a collective body, tend treat others as morally inferior. While professing faith in Jesus (a Man who spent his entire ministry preaching tolerance and understanding and dining with prostitutes and lepers) they support agendas that create division, oppression and fear. Christians, as a collective body, tend to be wildly hypocritical and some of the least tolerant humans on the planet. Your statement allows them to say they feel God without having to put that "label" of religion on themselves. Watching how a lot of "Christians" act, I can't blame them.

Bob Maffitt: I think it often means I am afraid to totally deny that God exists, but I do not want to commit my time or money to supporting a church, helping others or learning about Biblical concerns that may be contrary to how I want to live life my life. Just some thoughts.
            Linda Lightner Hobbs: Bob, I think you hit the nail on the head so to speak.

Seth Dylan Hunt: Spiritual is what you own and religion is the construct under which you practice or speech on spirit. That's always been my take.

Owen Smith: Believing in God, but not feeling welcome or comfortable with any local congregation/gathering they know of. May be a cop-out to being active or committed to serve or even attend a church.

Bob Edwards: Not sure. I hope it means that they pray but sometimes spiritual people are not believers.

Mark Hansche: I think it means that they sense the Divine spark that is in all of us, but they have no foundation on which to allow the Holy Spirit to turn that spark into a flame. They're drifting.

Cindy K Day Hauk: I believe when someone says they are spiritual but not religious is they may lack the personal relationship with Christ and His followers.

Joan Cotton DeBoe: Belief in a higher power but uninterested in "being subject to" an organization that expects a particular response.

John Hampton Jr.: I hear "I don't trust the church". Many I've spoken to (so this is just anecdotal) share in their assertion of spiritual, not religious an almost agnostic approach to God; but they share a feeling that the church is corrupt. They'd rather go through life finding God than have some church tell them who God is. I wish I had a better way of telling them that at least we in the UMC are doing the same thing they are.

Dorothy Drago Brucks: They like to hummmmm.

Nathan Cornelius” That is someone whom the church as a business has "turned off"

Ben Mulford: I'm surprised no one has said it means "I'm okay with burning in hell." Not that I think that, but I could imagine a deeply "religious" person responding that way.

Doug Cannon: I think being spiritual, but not religious, is becoming commonplace. Many people have been spiritually abused in a church, and don't want to be a part of a large group on Sunday morning. These people have a connection with God in their hearts, but don't feel the need to share that connection with others.  As stated before, many are turned off by some church they've visited. Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was what the pastor said. Maybe it was not being made welcome when they walked in. People who have experienced this have chosen to worship their God in different ways. I think this is becoming more & more the norm. "Church" can mean many things. I've had church alone on a forest. I've had church with 5000 others.

Chris Snyder: I don't know but there are days I worry I am religious and spiritual.

Niki Parrish Scott: I think it means someone has been hurt in some way & may be afraid of being hurt further by a "structure" that should actually be doing the opposite.
I fear we underestimate it as a cop out or whatever you'd like to call it. I'd like to see a way to communicate without "the church" becoming defensive.

Joy Perry: I have always thought that it was a comment made by someone who has been hurt by the church or who is fed up with the politics of the church. Another possibility is someone who has seen too many hypocrites there. They believe in God, but don't feel they need organized religion.
            June DeWeese: I agree totally with what Joy wrote. That would be the case with the person whom I know. Except where she wrote " or" I would write "and"......

John Schmalzbauer: Agree with much of what has been said. People hurt by "organized religion" and disaffected with congregations. I think there is also an element of American individualism. Jefferson said "I am my own sect." Saying you're spiritual but not religious is analogous to being political without voting. Many studies show Americans are disaffected with institutions, including the church, the government, business, and the news media. A lot of this is because institutions have let us down.

Megan Hammer Lucy: I agree with all the above, but would also say that while sometimes people are turned off by being treated poorly by church goers but still like the ideas of Christianity, that sometimes it can be the other way around, too. People can be turned off by things like the way the Bible talks about women, or the way church doctrine addresses LGBT people but still feel connected and loved by Christians in a way that makes them feel spiritually connected to the community. At least that's the way I feel sometimes. I find myself frustrated by the "written policies" of the church and even the Bible sometimes, by the goodness and love of God's people draws me back.

Kathryn Smith: And there are those who say they can be closer to God on the golf course or on lake.

Wyn Andrews: I think it's indicative of someone who has been hurt by church. I used to say this about myself. Religion has been deeply problematic throughout human history, and it's not unreasonable to want to separate oneself from that. Of course, as a regular church goer (I used to say that even though I went to church every week. I still do.) I believe in the positives that an open and affirming congregation can offer to members, local communities, and the world. But, I don't think it's helpful to criticize this statement - not that you are, Andy, but I've seen some troubling comments here that, in my experience, will keep people from wanting to embrace going to church.

Dan Bohannon: The "religious" follow rules and people and are usually are viewed as less tolerant of other "religions" or people who follow a different path. The "spiritual" follow a perception of a "higher power" or their own bliss or something, anything they feel doesn't put them in the religious category. They may feel they are less judgmental and more tolerant than their religious friends.

Margie Lutjen Briggs: I think of religious people as Bible thumpers, the rules and regulations, flowing robe kind of people. Spiritual people are deep in faith and trusting with their walk. I guess I feel that being religious one must talk about the rules and see to it everyone follows them like they believe they should be followed. The kind that would use the Bible as weapon. A person who is spiritual tries their best to be full of love and grace.

Julia Essman: I don't know if it's been stated but I know one person I talked to recently said that their definition of their spirituality was listening to the feeling that come to them and in general letting fate take its course type of a thing. The way they described it sounded along the lines of agnostic, but with "following the path that is put before them" thrown in... I don't have a personal definition of "spiritual not religious" because I don't know enough about it. That's just from the conversation I had recently.

Maureen Glynn McNeil: I think it's a copout.

Thomas T. Sanders: Not much. I mean, it doesn't seem to me to be a statement which intends to communicate much, but more likely block or cut off communication about the subject.

Patsy Rhodes: I've been told I answer certain questions the way I do because I'm Spiritual. But to me, I say I'm Spiritual because of experiences I've had and visions I've seen. That's probably not what’s the correct way to describe a Spiritual person, but who is to determine what's correct and what's not.

Andrea Young: This has been a very good question. To me it could be like the chicken and the egg. I feel the spirit of God within me but yet I am not versed well in the religious teachings of the bible. I cannot quote scriptures and I don't know which testament is which sometimes. I cry every time I pray because I am so moved by the spirit of God. Someone might ask how can I know God if I do not know the bible? Which came first, Spirit or Religion? I only know what I feel
            Whispering Pine: So, Andrea, what holds you back from studying more and exploring that which is moving in you? Why not seek understanding and wisdom?
            Patsy Rhodes: Andrea, I understand and respect you for what you so eloquently Posted. You spoke for me too. No one can believe in and love God, Jesus and The Spirit more than me, and I am not well versed, as you stated, in the Bible. I had tears when I read how you cry every time you pray. I know and believe in them because I survived and experienced them and their love in real life.

Hector Eduardo Bousson: "I'm confused but I want to sound smart while saying it."

Chris Mixson: Spiritual= Individual / Religious=Part of something bigger than me.

Terry Hammer: There is a mindset which allows a person to believe they can live a Godly life without actually engaging with other people and the broken world. It is a very alluring proposition-much safer and less messy, but it is also a false premise. What if Christ had not engaged with the world?

Marti Fort: I have wondered that many times. Maybe they don't think they fit in to the church establishment.

Bo Tucker: God is moving you to take action outside the walls of the church.

Debby Peebles: My sister - you practice yoga, you read spiritual books, but you don't go to church unless maybe the yoga class is there

Pat Barker Auston: I believe it is possible to be both spiritual and religious. Spiritual - feeling within self, religious - going to a church and becoming an active member of that religion. So can you be religious and not spiritual? Yes, but missing one of the most important parts of religion, spirituality . Can you be spiritual and not religious? Yes, but missing fellowship.

Sonseeahray Hodge: A "personal walk with God" is just that. Personal. You don't have to be hurt by a church community, or follow a daily doctrine to have that relationship. When someone says that they are spiritual, it means that they have not found a church community that regularly adheres to values that they believe reflect their vision of what God wants. People within church communities don't realize that they truly speak another language, "church talk" that is very isolating and at times even appears ridiculous to people that are not within that community. When those outside the church community see this language, the hierarchy of members and see church members failing to follow their own doctrine...they ask themselves why would they want to be a part of that and why would they need that in their personal relationship with God? Religion is a practice, if that practice does not entirely reflect your spiritual belief then you do not need to be a part of it.

Lawrence Kyle Hern: I think it means that God's location has changed.

Ashley Hicks: I am actually one of those people. I'm sure the definition is different for each of us so I will only speak for myself. I believe in God, I pray, I was raised in the church which was a wonderful experience and shaped who I am as a person. That being said, my personal beliefs as I've grown don't really fit into one specific religion so I don't feel right identifying with one. Many of my beliefs overlap with a variety of religions so I tell people I'm spiritual because I guess I don't really know how to define it. Life = love for me.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Plan to Fix the UMC - "The DIRT"

This is what we need to do, United Methodist Church. Not that you asked me. But I can fix it. I call my plan “The DIRT.”

Here’s how it goes: No new petitions will be allowed at the 2020 General Conference. The Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions will be “paused” for four years. The entire General Conference of 2020 will be devoted to the formation of a 24 person “Discipline Rewrite Team,” known as the DIRT.

We will meet people, get to know them, hear their ideas, nominate those we think would be good to serve on the DIRT, and at the end of our Conference, we would elect them and they would get to work. General Conference 2020 would be devoted exclusively to this purpose. And, most importantly, the election of the DIRT would imply approval of the work they would do.

Their task would be to start from a blank slate and write a brand new Book of Discipline, and here are the only guidelines we would give them.
- They would have four years to do it.
- The final product should be as simple and succinct as possible, like 50 pages max.
- They would be instructed to create  a book of policy that
1) empowers the local church to accomplish the mission,
2) redefines connectionalism for the 21st century, and
3) articulates that which comprises a distinct United Methodist ethos.

So then, in 2024 we would vote to abolish the old Book of Discipline and approve the new one without debate or motions to amend. We would be able to do this with confidence because of all the relational work we would have done in 2020. And then the rest of General Conference 2024 would be devoted to training on the new Discipline, which the DIRT would facilitate.

Here’s the motivation for my proposal: The structure of the United Methodist Church has become a hot sticky tar pit in which our ecclesial dinosaur has become stuck and is slowly being engulfed. The Book of Discipline is a document filled with unnecessary complexity that nobody actually understands fully. It has been amended and tweaked and adjusted and added to little by little over the years to the point where now it is almost completely useless for meaningful governance. The UMC needs a massive change, and the DIRT plan is the only way it can happen. Otherwise we’re just adding another layer of tar to the pit.

Frankly, I cannot find a single flaw in this plan. Other than, you know, it will never actually happen. Other than that though, I’m pretty sure I have just fixed the United Methodist Church! You’re welcome.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jesus is Alive and I'm Wide Awake!


I am disheartened by the number of clergy people and church staff members publically lamenting how tired they are on Monday morning after Easter.

Having said that, I realize it won’t be the most popular opinion among my peers. I mean no offense to anyone in particular. Don’t be a hater. Please let me explain …

First of all, everybody works hard. Everybody. Yes of course, we work hard during Holy Week and Easter. But we do not work harder than anyone else. And most people work harder ALL THE TIME, just to make ends meet. Our complaints about how sleepy we are on the Monday after Easter are belittling and disrespectful to people who do not have the privilege and luxury to take a day and a half off after a particularly rough few days of work.

Secondly, theologically speaking, if you are not energized into action by what happens on Easter morning, you did it wrong. I cannot WAIT to get up and get going on the Monday after Easter! There’s so much energy in resurrection, and I am totally charged up by it. “Christ is risen!” is more than just a liturgical greeting or a pithy internet meme, it is a profound spiritual truth that should inspire us to be someone brand new, especially on the Monday right after Easter.

Thirdly, what is it about us that creates the need to point out publicly how hard we’ve been working? What are we looking for from these public pronouncements? It is as if we need approval, someone to say, “Yes, I noticed you working. Good job.” Now to be sure, it is really, really nice when that actually happens. It’s always good to receive affirmation and gratitude. It’s very cool to know that someone heard you. But I guess I just do not understand the need to fish for it on social media.

And finally, if your congregation is typical, chances are you just worshiped with at least twice as many people as on a normal Sunday morning. You saw people you haven’t seen in weeks, you had guests there for the very first time, you had people there who really didn’t want to be, and on and on. It was packed out! Now, build from that momentum, keep it going! Don’t take a break at this point, bringing it all to a screeching halt. Take that energy created by all those people there to encounter the living God and go somewhere with it!

Yes, I know all about Sabbath rest and self-care and all that jazz. I had an hour long nap yesterday afternoon. What I’m talking about is using social media and other public venues to intentionally mention how tired we are on Monday, how sleepy Easter made us. No, no, no! Easter doesn’t put us to sleep – it wakes us up! Easter is the beginning of new life, new energy, new focus, new purpose.

Churches should view Easter Sunday as a launching pad, not an arrival point. The Church needs to get up with Peter and run to the risen Christ. Churches ought to blast off from Easter into a brand new season of mission and ministry We ought to stop telling everyone how tired we are, and start telling everybody how alive Jesus is!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Missouri SJR 39

I just emailed the following to the speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives:

"Good morning Mr. Speaker,

Thank you so much for your service to our beautiful state, and for the time you are taking to read my message. I will try to be brief.

I am a pastor in Springfield, and I do not believe that religious freedom is at risk. SJR 39 is unnecessary, since freedom of religion is quite clearly protected at all levels of government, local, state, and federal. Isn't it remarkable to live in a country in which freedom to worship God is such a high value?

Furthermore, SJR 39 makes discrimination a constitutional right. Our great nation has come so far when it comes to the just treatment of all people, I do not want us to regress. I am proud of the hard work of so many fine Americans - politicians, pastors, activists, etc. - whose dedication and diligence have paved the way for so much of the freedom we now enjoy. I do not want their work dishonored by making discrimination a constitutional right.

Please oppose SJR 39, Mr. Speaker. As a Christian, as a Missourian, as a citizen of the most amazing country in the world, I respectfully ask you to do all you can to prevent this bill from advancing.

Rev. Andy Bryan"

I'm not one to tell anybody what to think or how to vote, but if you are of the same mind as me on this and have a moment to spare, please consider contacting Speaker Todd Richardson and/or your own representative to let them know what you think. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

"Intentional Relationships" - SPST Strategic Plan

The Saint Paul School of Theology Board of Trustees has approved a “Strategic Plan” to guide the seminary’s work in the future. I’m really excited about the potential for the school that so deeply formed me for ministry.

And it’s important to say that formation is still the heart of Saint Paul’s mission. Specifically, “to form people for transformational ministry” is in the stated purpose of the school. There’s a long, kind of rambly statement of purpose, mission, and vision that will be published, and it’s rather too long and rambly if you ask me. But if you can sort through all the words, forming people for ministry, equipping people to serve “in a rapidly changing world” is the central task.

One of the components of the plan involves becoming a “seminary of intentional relationships.” Saint Paul is becoming an expanding network of relationships that include collaborations with other higher education institutions, partnerships with local churches and other ministry sites, and special partnerships with United Methodist Annual Conferences and other denominational bodies. Each category of relationship has a particular definition.

Collaborations will, among other things, allow Saint Paul to enter into 3+3 programs with universities, so that a student can complete both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in six years.

Partnerships will, for example, allow Saint Paul to expand our “Fellows” program to place more students in active ministry sites, and continue to grow opportunities for practicum experiences and workshops.

Special partnerships will hopefully allow for closer cooperation with the United Methodist conferences in the heartland to prepare people for ministry in a variety of settings, including mentoring, coaching, and specialization certifications.

The second exciting component of the strategic plan is a commitment to diversifying the degree options at Saint Paul. We want to see concentrations and specializations for all kinds of ministry in all kinds of settings. The MDiv degree is no longer the only way to go, and Saint Paul is behind the curve in creating more opportunities to specialize.

How cool could it be? A specialization in pastoral care, in community organizing, in justice ministry, in church planting, in … what? It’s clear that we need to offer an array of options, suited not for ministry of twenty years ago, but for ministry twenty years from now.

And the last thing I’ll mention about the strategic plan is a commitment to offering online coursework. Bricks and mortar are no longer top priority for Saint Paul. A flexible network of relationships, accessed online, is the vision for the future.

Personally I do not think that seminary education will ever go completely online. I think the pendulum will swing back. But I think it won’t swing back all the way, and online coursework is here to stay. That’s why developing hybrid course options is so important. The future, I believe, is in courses that blend online work with face-to-face interactions.

To me, those are the three most exciting parts of Saint Paul’s new strategic plan. There’s a lot more, and there’s a lot of detail I left out of the three parts I mentioned, but I’m just sharing this to hit the highlights. I’m sure Saint Paul will be releasing the more detailed version pretty soon.

In the meantime, Saint Paul alums as well as United Methodists in the Midwest should understand that the seminary is in critical condition at the moment. We are in ICU, but hospice has not yet been contacted. It is going to take a combination of higher enrollment, close management of expenses, and expanding the donor base to get back on our feet again.

The strategic planning team was well aware of that reality as they envisioned the future for Saint Paul and crafted the framework of a plan to get us there. And I for one am encouraged by and grateful for their work. And though the work is not over yet, the pieces are in place to create a vibrant future for Saint Paul School of Theology!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Rule 44

In the United Methodist Church, we are going to be trying a new thing at General Conference in May. It’s called “Rule 44.”

Rule 44 is an attempt to define a way for the General Conference to dialogue about particular questions. It is a group discernment process intended to be used when the questions on the table are particularly emotional or sensitive. The hope is to infuse the General Conference with the spirit of “Christian Conferencing,” gracious and respectful conversations in which we might manage to “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.”

I for one love the idea! I'm all for that "grace-filled, respectful dialogue!" It’s a good idea to try something different than what we are doing now, which is essentially following a modified version of “Robert’s Rules of Order” to discuss, amend, and vote on bunches of wordy resolutions. I am so grateful for people who are 1) astute enough to name the need to change, and 2) bold enough to actually propose a way to change.

This year, if we pass “Rule 44,” the idea is to apply it to all of the resolutions about human sexuality. In the future “Rule 44” could be applied to any set of issues. All of the proposals would be taken out of legislative committee deliberation and instead the issue will be discussed in small groups. Each small group would have a trained facilitator, and would create a report of recommendations on how best to proceed with the proposals around the given issue.

These written reports are then given to a facilitation group comprised of six delegates. Their job is to study the reports from each group, looking for trends or patterns, and then make a recommendation to the body as to how to proceed. This recommendation might be a single petition or multiple petitions. The body then deliberates and proceeds on the facilitation group’s recommendation using the rules of order of the General Conference.

It’s pretty bold, isn’t it? It’s very different, and apparently a lot of people are scared of it. Our Missouri delegation had a chance to speak with Judi Kenaston, the Chair of the General Commission on General Conference, and she told us that there have been some pretty negative online responses. (But you know how “bloggers” are, right? A bunch of opinionated blowhards, thinking everybody wants to read their words and stuff. Sheesh!)

One of the reasons for the idea is a request from the 2012 General Conference for a proposal that would shift the tone of General Conference “from issues of governance and towards building consensus on ministry,” an admirable goal and worth pursuing, to be sure. More voices can join the conversation under Rule 44, rather than a few louder ones dominating the discussion. Rule 44 goes a long way toward easing the artificial US v. THEM divide that seems to permeate everything these days. And the final decision(s) that will be made will have a deeper sense of ownership, as each delegate is given an opportunity to express her- or himself in the process.

As a first alternate delegate, I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to vote on Rule 44 or not. If I did, I’d definitely be voting in favor.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Ignorance on Display

The bumper sticker says, “Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11.”

There is a picture of the enflamed World Trade Center towers to the right of the text.

Think of the layers of horrible decision-making that bumper sticker had to go through to appear on the back of that white SUV in Springfield, Missouri.

Someone had to think of the idea. A graphic designer had to put it together. A printer had to produce it. A marketer had to stock it in a store or on a website. A citizen had to see it, like it, purchase it, stick it to his or her car, and drive around town with it in full view of anyone who happens to look.

The bumper sticker says essentially, “I am ignorant. I am choosing to remain ignorant. I am, in fact, proud to be ignorant. I want everyone who drives behind me to know that I am ignorant and choosing to remain so.”

Ignorant – adjective
1. lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned.
2. lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact.
3. uninformed; unaware.

I really cannot process how I am reacting emotionally to seeing this bumper sticker this morning. I am angry. I am stunned. I am terrified. I am hoping it’s a joke. I am afraid it isn’t.

I am praying to God that this attitude represents a tiny, tiny minority opinion. Please God tell me that it’s the smallest possible fraction of people who think this way. Maybe even just this one guy. That would make it easier, if it was just this one guy.

I know, each person in this nation is entitled to their own opinion. We are free to think what we want to think about Islam as a religion and about Muslims as individual people practicing that religion. No one should attack another person for an opinion they hold.

Unless … Yes, there is an “unless” here. It may not be a legal “unless,” but it is most definitely a moral one. You can think what you want, unless it does harm to someone. If your attitude toward another person does them harm, or creates the potential to do them harm, then it needs to be challenged. And let’s not even entertain the “how can a thought do someone harm” question; it is na├»ve, deceptive, and misses the point entirely.

“Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11.”

My heart breaks, my stomach turns, my jaw clenches. I cannot fathom why anyone ever thought such an idea should see the light of day. I don’t know if I’m more upset about the idea itself or about its public display. I even found myself wondering about this person’s friends and family, and why nobody said anything to the driver, like, "Um, hey man. That bumper sticker is horrible and it makes you look like a moron, so you know, you should probably not put it on your car."

Someone please tell me this kind of thinking does not represent more than a handful of America’s most ignorant citizens. Please tell me that. I can’t imagine living in a community in which this sentiment represents more than .05% of the population. No wait, that’s too high. I’m still holding out hope that it’s just the one guy.

Because surely nobody else thinks like that … right?

I mean … right?