Lately, I have listened to a number of people talk about the difficulties they are experiencing with their religious affiliation or specific church (or other religious group) connection. Certainly it does seem that today most all organized religions seem to be in internal turmoil, and this institutional turmoil is leaving many people in personal turmoil over their personal faith. This turmoil is often reflected in the continually diminishing number of occupants in the pews, the oft-stated worries about “the graying of the congregation” as young people turn away from church attendance, reduced financial support, and confusion about church mission and role. Conversely we have the phenomena of the Evangelical mega-churches with their tens- and twenty-thousand members. These numbers perhaps suggest a desire for “strength in numbers” as a defense again religious turmoil, rather than having to face the many challenges of direct human relationships that are encountered in smaller congregations.
Many people are struggling with what they have been given
regarding their religious teachings and ritual, and the messages they hear
inside their local church, versus what they see happening in the world and what
their hearts and minds are saying to them.
Hypocrisy between spoken words and daily actions is all too
frequent. The religious teachings do not
seem to fit today’s circumstances or reflect in personal conduct.
In sorting our way through this fog of spiritual doubt, it
may be helpful to remember that God is all things spiritual, who thinks and
acts on a plane far beyond our capability.
But religion is human, not God, and thereby inherently reflects all
human limitations and shortcomings. And
our church is simply everyday people, no more nor less than the neighbors who
live on our block, or the co-workers we meet each day at our job. The church is its people, with all the people
frailties that that entails. So the
church necessarily has limits on what it can accommodate and explain. God has no such limits.
When we feel that we are in conflict with our religion or
church, there is a basic question we need to reflect on: is our religion or
church failing and needs us to remedy it?
Or is it we who have simply outgrown what it can offer to us? A child must one day leave the teaching
environment of its parents; we must similarly leave a job when it comes to
limit, not nurture, our career. So it is
with our understanding of, and relationship with, God. The difficult spiritual questions we ask are
the tools that move us from being a spiritual child doing what we are told to
do, versus becoming a spiritual adult.
An adult able to use God’s guidance and the lessons of the great Teachers
to answer for ourselves our questions about how to live, how to be with others,
and how to find fulfillment in this lifetime.
In the end, we are not the servant of the church; in all humility, the
church is the servant to us. Our focus
and responsibility is, and should be, only to God.
Humans have a natural instinct and drive to want to “fix
things” that are broken. But sometimes
what has been broken is simply the restrictive bonds that are tying us to that
which is no longer supporting us. In
which case it is we that need to be fixed.
Fixed by leaving that known safety of our current religious house – be
it our parents’ teachings, our church, our spiritual community. Fixed by going out to make our own spiritual
way through this abundantly rich yet often-frightening unknown vastness of
Life. If that time to grow comes upon
us, we need to embrace it and go to that new place where we have been called.