Why I Am More Spiritual Than Religious

When I tell other Adventists that I am more spiritual than religious, I sometimes feel like a walking cliché. When I read Lillian Daniel’s article, Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me, this feeling only amplified. But while Daniel complains that people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious” only seem to find God in sunsets and mountains, I disagree. To me, being spiritual rather than religious means that my relationship with God is primarily strengthened from things and people outside of traditional religious practices like regular church attendance.

I was born and raised Adventist, so attending church every Sabbath has always been my norm. But I didn’t always know why I practiced this. Church was nothing more than a place to spend time with some of my closest childhood friends. I was the youngest one in my circle of friends, so I was the last to leave for college, and by the time I was a junior in high school, I was alone.

Up until that moment, I believed myself to have a strong spiritual connection to God. But I realized I was defining my Godly relationship according to the strength of my relationship with my church friends. When they all graduated high school and moved out of town, I lost the link that had connected me to God and the church. Without them, I had no incentive to attend church and no real relationship with God, which forced me to question if the church was vital to my spiritual journey. And when I looked around at what was going on within the church, I was unconvinced.

The church was a highly hypocritical institution that preached about things like loving and accepting everyone, giving to those in need, and trusting in God — because this is what Jesus did. Yet I saw and heard groups of women congregating in the back pews gossiping about each other; I saw those with the most to give cling to their wallets and look away; I saw people leave the church angry at God for the plans that he was ruining. At the end of the day, the church succeeded in telling me who Jesus was and who I should be, but failed to follow its own advice. In a room full of people, I had difficulty finding someone genuine, and by the end of my junior year, I still hadn’t found God. But the moment I stepped outside the doors of the church, everything seemed to change.

For my senior year of high school, I went on a student exchange program to the Czech Republic, leaving behind the academy I had attended and moving in with a host family I did not know. At first, I experienced an extreme sense of loneliness. It was in this vulnerability that I began to rebuild my relationship with God.

Desperately craving a familiar friend, I began to read my Bible on a regular basis — something I had never done out of my own free will. I started to pray, especially on days when the homesickness was worst, and I was comforted by the knowledge that I finally had an old friend with me. As the year progressed and I began making friends, I was amazed by the genuine kindness of strangers who welcomed me into their social circles and homes. Regardless of the fact that all my new friends were either agnostic or atheist, their compassion spoke more to me of God’s love than anything else I had seen in church, and my relationship with Christ grew exponentially. Eventually my exchange year came to an end and in 2012 I graduated high school and moved back to the States to start college.

Just weeks after returning home, I moved to northern California to attend the University of California, Davis. While there, I went to church with other Adventists that I met, but being an outsider to a group of people who had grown up together, I was instantly reminded of how exclusive and uninviting churches could be. Because it wasn’t a source of spiritual support and my relationship with God did not seem to benefit, my church attendance became much more sporadic.

After my sophomore year of college, my parents encouraged me to take a year off to travel and experience the complex world that God created. Older, a little bit wiser, and a whole lot more adventurous, I jumped at the opportunity.

As opposed to my time in Europe, this venture was an experience that left no time for loneliness or homesickness, but somehow resulted in the same spiritual growth. As annoyed as Daniel would be, I did find God in the divine beauty of the Balinese mountains and New Zealand sunsets. But, more importantly, I saw Him in the people I met. He was always taking care of me, whether it was through the compassionate bus driver in Colombia who gave me a free ride, or the expat in Vietnam who took care of my meal when I found myself without cash or functioning credit cards, or the fellow travelers who always welcomed another new friend.

After traveling, I returned home and transferred to La Sierra University for reasons unrelated to my rekindled relationship with God, but I still find myself unattached to the church. While I make a conscious effort to grow a healthy relationship with God, I don’t feel the need to attend church on a weekly basis to do so. This is not to say that I expect the church to be perfect, or that I criticize it for its flaws, although I may have done so in the past. To me, being more spiritual than religious simply means that I prefer to spend my time doing things where I actually feel God’s presence as opposed to the things that Adventists say I should. And for me, that just happens to be outside the walls of the church.

Juliette Lee is a senior at La Sierra University majoring in English: Writing, and is pursuing her teaching credentials.

Image Credit: FreeImages.com / Andrei Ghergar

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8019

great article…here in alberta, not far from calgary, we have spectacular snow-capped mountains, amazing aqua-blue lakes, and wild country that goes on forever…one of my favorite places is emerald lake in fields, b.c. (2 hrs from calgary)…i love driving out on a sabbath morning and finding a deserted spot by the shore of the lake, where swallows and other birds don’t seem to notice you…taking in something like Ephesians 1-3 in such a setting is completely transporting - so much more invigorating than sitting in a pew and listening to a sermon that may or may not really be inspiring, or even helpful or relevant…i totally get what juliette is saying…i don’t see that there are any rules about being a church attending adventist that shouldn’t be loosely applied…it’s much more important to do things on a sabbath, for instance, that directly impact one’s spiritual walk than to attend a sabbath school and church service every week because it’s the thing to do…sometimes it is the most spiritual thing to do to worship in a church setting with others…but a lot of times, i feel an irresistible impulse to just withdraw from the world in order to be alone with god…egw says this is what enoch did, PP:87…

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Thank you for sharing your journey and showing the importance of friends in a spiritual journey. Given how prone we are to move to unfamiliar places for work or education I can understand how so many young adults find it more difficult to connect with a new local congregation. All of us travel a different path and even older adults can relate to your experience – the church is not always living up to its claim. That you found joy and strength in spending time reading an “old friend” is neat. Good books change people’s lives. Thank you.

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a false dichotomy, Walking with God is individual, Church is sharing. If we have been with Jesus the natural thing is “Come and see!” spirituality is. One’s. Relationship with God. religion is one’s expression of the fruits of that relationship. One correctly engaged give xpression to A redeeming relationship.

What works for Juliette is an option that many older retired SDA’s are finding works for them as well. Worship is our response to God and is a deeply personal experience. On this quest for authenticity and joy I discovered Senator Men Sasses’s book “The Vanishing Adult” which points to our need to find spiritual meaning in our life as opposed to allowing a church or any institution define it for us. In the first chapter he says:
" Algorithms in our search engines and social media platforms shape what we receive based on our previous preferences and choice, confirming our natural inclinations to read things that confirm our beliefs rather than challenge them. This is a problem to us as a society—and young people in particular, who will only know this digital world—because of its inherently polarizing effect, its tendency to favor emotion over reason, and because citizen engagement in a republic requires reasoned debate, critical thinking, the thoughtful contesting of ideas, and individuals willing to stand up for what they believe, even when challenged”

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Thanks for telling us about your experience. Please don’t give up on the church or leave. It needs you. The hypocritical behavior of church members is inexcusable and I’m sorry you experienced it. Keep your eyes on Jesus. We certainly need a deep spiritual experience and to make it practical in life, to show kindness and love.

If you’re burned out on church, Jesus says 'come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. ’ Matthew 11:28-30. Being spiritual but not religious and leaving church is lonely and solitary. We need fellowship with the believers. Hebrews 10:25, TLB. “Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of His coming back again is drawing near.” Jesus set an example of attending services on the Sabbath. Luke 4:16, NIV. “He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day, He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. And He stood up to read.”

Church membership and attendance has benefited my life personally in so many ways. It has brought me closer to God spiritually, provided life-long friendships, helped strengthen my marriage, helped me get my diet and finances under control, and given me prayer partners. I hope others can experience these good things too.

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There is something more than “Relationship ,” with Christ . ( Please see statement in the Sabbath School Quarterly - The Fruit of the Spirit , dated March 14, 2010, pg.138,bottom of page ) . You just might need your pastor to explain this to you. As we enter the sanctuary we will notice that it is divided into three parts…: the outer court- friendship, the holy place-relationship, and the most holy place-commitment . Please note that all our preachers , both Adventist and Sunday Keepers emphasize ,Relationship . To do so , means that we are still in the holy place , . A position / seat there that is occupied by Satan (EGW - Early Writings ). That is why we are not growing spiritually . Satan is not feeding us the Bread of Life. It sounds good , the preacher performs each Sabbath , but puff, there’s nothing in it when you need help. Spiritual and Religious is just a play on words . Don’t get lost in the allegory. God is Spirit . The closer we get to Him , the more spiritual we will become . Our religious experience is an out growth / expression of our experience ( in the church ) , and the wider world . Many are called but few are chosen. But that is not the end of the Christian experience . Read Revelation 17: 14, : For those who are with Him, are Called ,Chosen and Faithful .There is a steady progression in this Christian walk. Don’t be fooled by those who just preach RELATIONSHIP .

Juliette–
I do not know if you will be reading these posts, but I have a suggestion for you, if you have not already done so.
I believe you will be greatly blessed in your “more spiritual than religious”, and probably discover WHY it is reaching a resonating chord in your life. And discover what it is that you have missed for so many years in the “Adventist tradition”. And that IS lacking in the Adventist tradition.
“Christianity For The Rest Of Us”, “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler Bass.
These 2 reads will help you to understand that it is OK to be on the path that you have found.
May you find a Religious Community [hopefully in an SDA church in your area, but if not, in another one] where you can find others to share with.
Actually, I attend SDA on Sabbaths.
BUT, I receive most of my Spiritual Blessings from a Sunday church, and where I find a lot of ways to share with others, not just on Sundays. It has also opened doors of service to ministering to HIV+ victims, tutoring [learning to be an Elementary Teacher] in a weekly program for K-5th grade kids the past 5 years, meeting homeless and volunteering in a day shelter, some of whom have become “friends” over a several year period and I still minister to them in tangible ways from time to time.
Several months ago I began taking lunch at Macon Outreach [a Methodist church program] for homeless. I have several there I buy bus passes for, have moved 12 people into housing with the help of Good Will and a local Mission for furniture, taken to grocery so they can use their food stamps. Working poor also eat there. One person, a painter, broke his upper left arm at work in Nov. Was out of work 4 mo. Had to move under a bridge down next to the river in a tent. I helped him out as best I could those 4 months. A former Catholic, but have taken him to Sunday church a number of times. Had his first Eucharist in several decades. Have even housed him for a week end.
Because of a contact in my tutoring program, I began teaching English at a local Baptist Church Tuesday mornings – 6 Russians, 1 Italian woman, 1 Korean student. Did have 2 from Guatemala, but they stopped showing up [were they illegals? dont know. we dont ask. Just welcome.]
Enjoy your Spiritual Tour with God [Father,Son,Holy Spirit] as your partner.
My Sunday through Friday community is St. Francis Episcopal here in Macon. but it is special of the 3 in town. There is a Methodist community I also enjoy and have friends there. Several I have served with at the homeless shelter.
One finds Spiritual Community by watching, listening.

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Too often we speak in cliches, both in and out of church but especially when it comes to abstractions in our lives. Words like “spiritual - personal relationship” are thrown around without meaning. When you actually think about it, there is nothing more important than “relationship” when it comes to Christ in the life of Christian. I would guess what you’re really saying is “IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO JUST FEEL GOOD ABOUT CHRIST - WE NEED TO OBEY THE COMMANDMENTS” (as an Adventist emphasis on behaviour).

I would suggest you’re still stuck in the Old Testament sanctuary; and have yet to realize that it was only a “shadow” - a concrete depiction of an abstract idea - an ancient religious exercise come to life in Christ. As a whole, SDAs need to come out of the shadows and start dealing with reality. Those compartments in the old sanctuary do nothing for us as we wrestle with real issues in our lives. Traditionally, young people are the ones brave enough to speak more clearly - to blurt out “the emperor has no clothes”.

No, it’s not enough to stand on the mountain, or the seaside and declare the beauty of God’s earth; but neither is it enough to simply plug into the SDA template that prints out clones of 19th century Christianity. Having said that, church has a place in our spiritual experience. Hopefully, it gives us a context within which we can develop our relationships with others and with Christ - but those relationships are the main point of our religious experience - not a ritualistic wandering through an ancient sanctuary.

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While I am very much in need of spirituality and continually seek to enhance mine, I do not favor the understanding of spirituality as a substitute for theology. Spirituality, as I understand it has to do with the fact that as a Christian I live in the Spirit and guided by the Spirit. It has to do with living in the world of the flesh and being attuned to the Spirit. I am afraid that many times spirituality is taken to be a way of thinking that has to do with “feeling the power” as a substitute for serious theological engagement with the world in which we live. Sometimes spirituality becomes a fuzzy theology in most books about spirituality.The fact that it is becoming more difficult to speak cogently about God and God’s involvement with the world should not be taken to mean that we can forget about making sense.
I am also concerned with the notion that being religious is a dubious endeavor and the best way to cease being one is to quite going to church regularly. It is assumed that being religious provides a seed bed for hypocrisy. There are different ways of being religious, and religiosity usually carries a negative connotation. Christianity, however, is a way of being in the world that is lived in community. That is why I keep finding the church a most welcome place in which to share my life with fellow sinners who are also struggling to live in this world. To me, participating in the Lord’s Supper is an essential part of my Christianity. I cannot be the body of Christ by myself. I am and will always be, I trust, a member of the body of Christ.
If being spiritual means not being able to share life with fellow sinners, then spirituality has become the enabler of spiritual pride and spiritual pride is the cousin of hypocrisy.

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Being “spiritual and not religious” is the perfectly fine way of going about it and might be the preferred way if you are an anabaptist and a pacifist.

While someone’s experience is truly personal, I find this article symptomatic of Western hyper-individuality in its approach to spiritual life. The NT, however, speaks of Christianity as a community experience, not as a private spirituality.

Additionally, Paul’s letters are written to deeply flawed and troubled communities. Just check out 1 Corinthians and Galatians. Yet, he addresses the Corinthian church members as saints… not as hypocrites. He never speaks of withdrawal from the body of Christ as a solution to its problems, its inconsistencies, or its hypocrisy. He does continually call for unity, self giving love, mutual service, and bearing each other’s burdens… shared life in the shape of the cross.

With that said, I understand that there are many congregations that can be and are toxic, and that people need to leave for the sake of their sanity and well being. But complete withdrawal from the body of Christ is a whole different story. Christ is looking to build his church, a new humanity, a united people in this world, not to just have a personal relationship with or save a bunch of individuals. He wants us to be part of the former while engaging in the latter. Both/and, not either/or. And, that can get messy. Shared life and growth often is.

But, this messiness is spirituality as I understand it in the NT.

Thanks…

Frank

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Personally I keep it simple. Religious just like the Scribes and the Pharisees or Spiritual like Christ was who was in constant communication with His Heavenly Father. This reflected on how Jesus related to the established rituals of the time. Example the way Christ kept the Sabbath, the amount of time he communicated with his Father. His priority was to please His Heavenly Father rather than his fellowmen. Religion for Christ was simple and straightforward his relation with God the Father for the religious leaders of the day is was a convoluted process of traditions and man made rules. Keep it simple folks.

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It is an interesting phrase, more spiritual then religious, not because of the actual meaning what what is interpreted to be the meaning quite apart from the words. For instance here is the dictionary definition

Definition of religious
1
: relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity a religious person religious attitudes
2
: of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances joined a religious order
3
a : scrupulously and conscientiously faithful
b : fervent, zealous

religious it seems has taken on the last two meanings more then the first two. Religious as an institution