Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On the Road

"If we don't know where we are going, any road will get us there."
-Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places

The saying above is probably best considered proverbial, but I attribute it to Eugene Peterson because of the context he provides for it in the introduction to his book, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places.

The saying, as applied to spirituality, leads me immediately to think of that class of people who are "spiritual but not religious." There are a handful of ideas that just bounce around in my mind like flies that won't go away no matter how many times I swat at them, and the idea of being "spiritual but not religious" is one of them. My natural inclination is to try to find a way to get a handle on them so I can properly squash them. The challenge is to resist that tendency and instead seek a better understanding. The above saying in Peterson's book gave me a sort of skeleton key that I could use for either purpose.

It's quite easy to apply the saying derisively to those who reject any formal religion, and this is probably in line with the proverbial spirit of the saying. The "spiritual but not religious" are a bunch of blind wanderers who are going nowhere and this saying is another club I can bash them with.

But the saying subtly offers more than that. Viewed positively, the road will get us "there." Where? Well, who knows...but somewhere. It's about the journey not the destination. You have to appreciate the importance of the trip. When I drove my family across the country this summer, I kept telling them, "We aren't going somewhere; we are somewhere." And this is a point easily missed with regard to the spiritual journey.

As Peterson observes, despite the declining popularity of religion, we live in a time in which there is enormous interest in spirituality. I don't think this can really be considered a bad thing. Obviously, I'm not about to become "spiritual but not religious" myself, nor do I think it's the best course for anyone else. (I haven't yet tamed the annoying fly.) But there's good in it. I might even, grudgingly, say it's good.

It seems to me that the best thing the Church can do in this age of freelance spirituality is to stay faithful to our traditions, to remain available while continuing to offer what we've always offered. I suggested somewhere that we may be entering a time when Christian congregations play a role in society similar to that played by monasteries in the early middle ages -- an example and a guide in the midst of chaos.

Our culture is determined to explore the spiritual landscape. That's not such a bad thing. When I was 20, I did the same and eventually found my way back to the Church. I ended up on the right road, but I took the scenic route -- and I learned some interesting things along the way.

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