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Spiritual AND Religious

Spiritual AND Religious

by Rie Linton with Nancy Kern

During my Education for Ministry (EfM) journey, the subject of the “Spirituality versus Religion” meme was discussed. In examining this, I was reminded of a parish I attended. The parish had a thriving youth program. Older adults congregated at the church as if it was a social club but it was lacking in something for young adults often called millenials and/or Generation “Y”. They said that “millenials” did not attend church but, after much persistence, they finally began a new young adult class. It was suggested the class take over the “prime” classroom and have a coffeehouse theme. Metal chairs and long tables were relegated to storage closets, replaced by upholstered chairs, lamps, a rug from the attic, etc. The posters and mailers announcing the class were loved by the millenials and deemed “garish” by vestry members, who stood outside the classroom, counting the people who came. One week later, they stood outside that same door, awaiting the Bishop and insisting the class stay to “account” for the change in the décor. When the Bishop arrived, he asked to see the room and then smiled: “I think John the Baptist would feel right at home here” he said.

The millenials of today and Generation “Y” live and breathe in part according to meme theory. Many theologians blame it for the decline in their effectiveness. What is “meme theory” and from where did it originate? According to Wikipedia, a go-to reference for all millenials, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The word is an abbreviation of the word memetic, a theory of mental evolution based upon the work of Charles Darwin, coined by British evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins. Opposing the religious culture, which most assuredly could be said to be based upon a meme, the term has become the battle cry of atheists who ironically, in their attempt to be different, have formed their own communion.

The coffeehouse feel was on target in developing the spirituality of the young adult meeting room and created an environment that drew people in and allowed for a “safe” exchange of ideas. They had cappuccino mix for the coffee pot, tea, hot cocoa, doughnuts and communion. Class “lessons” included a scientific flowchart for the Summary of the Law. Sadly that vision was blinded by the status quo. The class became more “conventional, more religious” and within three months no one was present. Once enrollment numbered fifty-five; it became zero.

What we can learn from this is that we must address spirituality if we want to engage our young adults, our future. They know more of Ziglar’s pump parable than Jesus’ lost coin parable. We have got to have the vision to allow the former in order to discuss the latter. Today’s young adult is not content with following blindly but wants to engage his/her spirit – fully and completely. We exactly is this “spirituality versus religion” concept?

Spiritual Healer Nancy Kern explains it this way: “Spirituality is a direct experience of God, by whatever name: Source, Spirit, the Light, All That Is, Allah, Shiva, Jesus. Religion is learned, passed on through families and cultural institutions, including churches. Religion is built around form, characterized by dogma, ritual and social interaction. Religious organizations are built around spiritual values, and also encompass politics, fund-raising and identity built on beliefs and practices.

“Spirituality involves a direct experience of grace through a bodily knowing; no intermediary is required, no particular beliefs are necessary. The ego cannot manage spiritual experiences or make them happen. Spiritual experiences range from beautiful to frightening, and may contradict religious and scientific beliefs. Both religion and spirituality can involve prayer, contemplation and/or meditation. Both can be positive forces of healing from emotional and physical distress. Spirituality can be encouraged through sensitivity to nature and the cultivation of awareness, gratitude and loving kindness. Religion can encourage and foster spirituality, but does not necessarily do so.”

Kern adds: “Mysticism is spiritual. Mystics from all religious backgrounds see connection between traditions rather than separation. This is because mystics cultivate direct experience of oneness with all of creation. Creativity is innately spiritual. All people are innately spiritual. Religion must be learned. Spirituality is a formless realm of limitless possibilities. Religion limits possibilities through beliefs and taboos. Spirituality may contradict or reinforce religious teachings. Although beliefs in Hell begin as religious teachings, when internalized, they become spiritual fears.”

If we continue to make enemies of spirituality and religion, then we are looking at the future with very poor vision. Today’s young adults live passionately and want a passionate faith. Religion should be a living entity that embraces and uses their spirituality. We must let faith breathe, embracing that which emboldens our spirit to receive the Holy Spirit.

Rie Linton is a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM journeyer, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. She hosts the blog n2myhead, is currently developing a curriculum on Diversity and lives in Huntsville, AL.

Nancy Kern is a professional artist and writer, former midwife, licensed massage therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Flower Essence Practitioner, trained in Buddhist meditation, Native American shamanism, Akashic Field therapy, guided imagery and counseling. She teaches at the Spectrum Center and the Jung Center of Houston, TX and can be reached at her website.


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barbara snyder

Interesting article! As far as I can tell, mystics have always come out of Traditions; there’s really no such thing as a “generic mystic,” or mysticism that arises by itself. There is, instead, Christian mysticism, and Sufi mysticism, and Jewish mysticism, and others I’m not even aware of, I’m sure.

The reason for this, to me, is simple; “have a direct experience of God,” you first need an understanding of what you’re talking about when you talk about “God.” Mysticism extends beyond dogma, yes – but as the saying goes, in order to break the rules you first need to know what the rules are.

I’m all for “spirituality” and mysticism, truly. One of our wonderful Anglican mystics, Evelyn Underhill, referred to “the splendor burning at the heart of things” – and that, I think, is what people are longing for when they seek “mystical experience.” It helps, I think, to remember that Christianity is, just by itself, a mystical religion; we don’t really have very far to go to in the first place.

For me, Kara Slade says it all. I’m a Christian because of Christ, and for no other reason. I don’t understand why anybody would bother with the church at all, if not for Christ. When everything else is gone, Christ is still there, loving the world from the cross. Christianity deals honestly with the world, and with pain and suffering (and joy); it tells the truth about reality – and in fact offers the most (as Kara notes) compelling understanding of the human condition that I can imagine.

If we can’t sell that story, we’ve got far more serious problems than we think. It’s a story that, told right, makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Personally, I always think that nailing up a crucifix somewhere in the church is the way to go, myself….

Kara Slade

“Understanding the mystery of liturgy should be hard. Following the program of liturgy in a printed booklet should be easy.

Living the gospel should be hard. Finding out what time Mass is should be easy.”

This. A thousand times this. The only way I know God is through Jesus Christ who has died, risen, and who will come again. The only way I know how to share God with others is by sharing the good news of Christ, and what his overwhelming grace has done in my own life. I think last Sunday’s Gospel gets to the heart of it: “What are you looking for? Come and see.” Which doesn’t mean, “”We’ll cater to whatever we think you’re looking for,” but “Come and see that here you’ll find something (and Someone) more compelling and life-transforming than you ever thought possible.”

Adam Wood

>>costly integrity

That. Yes.

I get two things over and over again from parish, diocesan, and national leadership:

1. We don’t want to have to ask people to do anything difficult.

2. We’re not willing to let things that should be easy be actually easy.

Understanding the mystery of liturgy should be hard. Following the program of liturgy in a printed booklet should be easy.

Living the gospel should be hard. Finding out what time Mass is should be easy.


Back in the 1980’s Fr. Kenneth Leech wrote this:

“There were exceptions, but on the whole the Church [in l967] was baffled [by the hippies]. As it simplified its liturgies and became ‘relevant,’ the hippies turned to caftans, bells and incense, and read ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’…Young people who had come through the hippy experience to local churches…had moved often via LSD and Eastern meditation, towards an interest in the spiritual tradition of Christianity…We needed Christian people, clergy and laity, who would be able, unselfconsciously and with integrity, to minister to these young people out of the riches of the Christian spiritual tradition. But it was very hard to find such people. Sadly, I found that many priests were quite useless at communicating the deep things of the spirit. The hippies complained that they did not seem to know God as the Eastern teachers did. They were into words and activity more than silence and contemplation. Christianity came over as a very head-centered and bourgeois movement. . . Twenty years on, I am not sure that we have learnt the lessons of that summer.”

And it continues to be entirely true. “Many priests were quire useless in communicating the deep things of the spirit.”———and that is ALL living young people want to know/hear/experience today just a they did twenty or forty years ago. The “programs” just don’t work—incredible spiritual validity and costly integrity is what is needed.

When I took monastic vows and donned the habit, everything changed—because that was a visible witness to any and all that I had staked my life on what I was preaching and teaching! And that I spent a significant share of my time with God alone—and was on intimate terms with that God. And people wanted to know what it was like!

I’d also second almost everything that Adam says above. No “program” will ever do it! Because young people have not yet had to learn how to play the “religious game”—and so they expect/want/need some deep, intimate, honest-to-God wholly-committed utterly counter-culture deep experiential lspirituality.

Rie Linton

1. What happened after three months? Since the class was designed for Young Adults and that is defined in our diocese as ages 18-30, when those ages 35-55 wanted in, I established another class for them with a leader of their choice and all in both classes participating in bimonthly dinner parties. The vestry appointed the associate rector to take over the Young Adults class and thanked me as they replaced me. The format changed and became more conservative with no refreshments. More on age later.

2. Zig Ziglar was brought into the class discussion by two twenty-something’s: one an attorney and the other a CPA. I vaguely knew of him but had to look him up – and they seemed to like that I would be the one doing the learning from their discussion. I did as well.

3. With all due respect, I don’t think non-church-attendance has an age limit on it. I think the younger person is more honest in not attending than the older person who comes due to peer pressure or to look good for the job. Networking goes on at church just like it does at cocktail parties. I prefer a dialogue to see why people are not coming and staying, not just rely on assumptions.

4. There are enough hours in the day for a variety of styles of services. In our two months and two weeks of classes – we had guest speakers for two meetings, we had folk music, Taize, Gregorian chant, praise and celebration, classical, etc. It served as a backdrop for the socialization but was discussed. The point was to recognize and respect our diversity. I would add, though, that churches with multiple services should treat them equal. Far too often, the evening contemporary service will not have the extras that the morning services have and that is not fair in my opinion.

5. What our intent was in writing this article and our collaboration hoped to illustrate, is that God’s children are many, varied, with different spiritualities but we can and should coexist together for the purpose of being better people. After all, when someone feeds the homeless, their church affiliation is of less importance than the deed they are doing.

6. If I limit my vision to only what I know or have experienced, then I am limiting God and I personally am not brace eough to do that. All too often I have heard people say that they cannot work with the youth or young adults because of their age. I did not know a great deal about Zig Ziglar but now I do. I did know about the contemporary music but that is because I am a professional musician and wrote a folk mass forty years ago. [That could lead to a question about how contemporary is what we call contemporary! LOL]

7. I reject the division between attendees based on age. I was scared going into the Young Adults class but would have been scared starting any class for any age group. I am not that brave or extrovert a person. That is just me. I was old enough to know that effort is what counts and I left the success up to God. At what age is someone too old or too young to live their faith? In my late 50’s, I walked into a class of 18-30 year old young adults and within fifteen minutes and later three months, had a great group of friends who embraced me with their hearts and their faith. Age was left at the door.

8. Thanks be to God for your comments and this website – seriously. This is the type of dialogue we need to reach out, learn, and embrace. Thank you, Adam and Ann!

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