The Pastor’s Page
The Pacific Northwest is often described as the “None Zone” because most persons, when asked to state a religious preference, mark the box that says “none.” In this corner of the world, the church is just one entrée in a vast smorgasbord of religious diversity and pluralism.
I rather enjoy this minority status. When enjoying a position of dominance in the culture, the church can get too infatuated with itself. I think this so-called “post-Christian” era is a good time to be church. As our institutional moorings shift or, in some cases erode, we are given opportunity to share the good news in fruitful conversation with the culture even while critiquing it, and lean ever more deeply into God’s Spirit for direction and purpose. It gives us a chance to consider who we truly are.
Here’s an example. One of the more popular mantras in Seattle is the phrase, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” When elected Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton famously remarked, “I’m religious, not spiritual.” Now, I’m not sure what is meant by either phrase, but being back in the Northwest has given me pause to reflect on these things. I have wondered what Christians might mean by these terms and have wondered, too, about the unique witness of the Gospel in our time and place.
I’ve come to observe that in our culture “spirituality” often goes hand in hand with individualism. The spiritual person may be the person who is known by their good deeds or the person with a rich inner life quite apart from the church or commitment to any kind of community. Spirituality in a culture celebrating the autonomous individual can mean whatever we want it to mean.
Christians understand life in the Spirit quite differently. How is it then that we may speak of the spiritual life?
I deeply resonate with the reflections of Gordon Lathrop in his book, The Pastor: A Spirituality:
I have long found deep comfort in the words that Martin Luther wrote on a note found by his bedside when he himself was found dead in 1546 … “I say we are all beggars; this is true.” Having learned about “growth in grace” when I was a boy, studying my catechism, I often wondered if I was really making any progress. I thought probably not. But Luther helped me to see that growth in grace might really mean growth in need, growth in identification with a needy world and with other needy folk, growth in becoming more and more profoundly a beggar myself, waiting upon God. Spirituality is finally “one beggar telling another beggar where there is bread.”
This is a radical point of departure in a culture that tends to reward achievement or promote self-sufficiency, especially when we speak of our need for God or take to heart Jesus’ wish that we “lose our lives in order that we may find them.”
In a recent Sunday Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I believe that a spirituality that rests in Jesus promises freedom. We are free to relinquish control, free to be honest about our real need, free to love others, and free to be radically and fully human.
How does this sort of spirituality describe our parish and our witness in the world? I ask that you pray and ponder the question. Here is one small suggestion: perhaps one week the PRLC sign on Greenwood would read: “We are beggars, all of us. This is true.”