Non-Religious Christian Spirituality

doing | ethics

alien guide

Last Sunday we talked about the Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who under the most difficult of conditions remained not only steadfast in his own faith, but found the presence of God and therefore beauty even amid the horrors of the darkest days of the second World War. He was a light and a comfort to his people and helped them live rich and meaningful lives despite their hardships. He repeatedly refused offers of escape from the Nazi imposed ghetto and concentration camps in order to remain with his people and was eventually shot to death by camp guards.

Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (1889-1943)

When we look at his picture, we see someone who seems so alien to us–at once ancient and culturally incomprehensible. But surface differences aside, he represents the epitome of a spiritual leader, pastor, rabbi, priest: a shepherd who wouldn’t leave his sheep even in the face of personal danger, a follower who continued to see the presence of God regardless of circumstances. For any of us desiring to truly follow our God and help others follow as well, Shapira is not alien at all, but as close as our next breath. There is so much more that connects than separates us when we begin to understand that our circumstances don’t dictate our awareness of God’s presence–our awareness of God’s presence in each moment dictates our perception of circumstances.



the difference it makes

On the first Sunday after Easter, it’s not too soon to ask how the Resurrection has affected our lives. Has it made a difference? As people of professed faith, it’s not enough to ask ourselves what we believe. We need to know what difference it makes that we believe. If faith without works is dead, then Resurrection as cause without effect may as well never have happened–and for any of us without such effect, it hasn’t happened…yet. To see the Resurrection as an event that happened at a certain place and time in the classical past, is to miss the significance of a deeper truth. When Mary and the women come to look for Jesus that Sunday morning, they find God’s messengers instead asking, why do you seek the living among the dead? That question is the central question of our lives. Mary is looking for Jesus where she expects him to be–in a graveyard. We all do that. We look for things where we expect them to be, and in our search for the merely plausible, we miss what’s entirely possible. Our beliefs limit what we are capable of seeing. The moment we settle on a belief, set it in stone, let it become static and unmoving, that belief is dead, no longer among the living–and Jesus is not there. God’s spirit, ruach [wind, breath, spirit], is always described in motion, just as wind and breath are by definition always in motion or no longer function as wind and breath. If we look for Resurrection only in the past, in the pages of Scripture, in church, in religious practice, we are looking for the living among the dead. Jesus is always in motion and where there is motion there is life, and where there’s life there is Resurrection–the living Jesus. If we can’t find the living One in every face and embrace, then we have missed the difference it makes when we finally stop looking for things only where we expect them to be.

Message delivered @ theeffect, 4/15/12. Here for audio message.

water and wind

What does a middle way between religion and spirituality look like? Religion without authentic spirituality is empty at best, abusive at worst. But Thomas Keating wrote that though the spiritual life doesn’t need to be felt, it does need to be practiced. The daily practice of our spirituality is our religion, whether personal or denominational, but as we become increasingly disenchanted with our religion, we are taking an increasingly passive role in our spirituality, letting the religious structures that have stood for centuries around Christianity fall away. Jesus has two critical conversations back to back in John 3 and 4. One is with a Pharisee named Nicodemus and the other with an unnamed Samaritan woman. Both Nicodemus and the woman have questions for Jesus about the nature of God and worship, and both are so limited in their thinking that the symbols Jesus uses to break them free–water and wind–completely escape them at first. For Nicodemus, Jesus presents the water of baptism as the cleansing and practice of an active spirituality, but one that must be based in the wind, the constant and unknowable movement and breath of spirit. For the woman, water becomes the living water that like wind and spirit is always flowing, in motion, and will usher in true worship that knows no mountain or limited space. To follow the middle Way is to be born again: to drink living water, to blow about without needing to understand every principle and process–yet at the same time, following a daily practice, a worship in spirit and truth that constantly brings God’s presence into sharp and active focus. It’s the only Way to the Father: the middle way of water and wind.

Message delivered @ theeffect, 3/25/12. Here for audio message.

to be or not to be…

For anyone not familiar with the title of this post, it’s where Shakespeare’s Hamlet debates his own suicide as a cure for his depression. In an intensely charged news story that we discussed at our weekly study a couple of weeks ago, Jack, a 59-year-old retiree is trying to decide whether to use Oregon’s assisted suicide law to end his own life, of which he only has about 6 months left due to bone cancer. To avoid all the pain and loss of dignity and control to himself and his family, he thinking over the options he has, but is at least thankful that Oregon law provides such options to him in the first place. At present, the White House has instructed the Justice Department to prosecute any doctor who prescribes drugs for assisted suicide under federal law, regardless of state statutes. That decision has been stayed pending a court decision.