Pew Forum study was trotted out as evidence of the reality that while we may not like it - the sunset and beach folks are not coming to our churches and we better change now or die the slow death of cultural irrelevance.
Personally, I've been wondering a lot about these issues, and Rev. Daniel's post certainly struck a cord with me - enough so to drive me into the Facebook commenting fray that my less-than-holy side can sometimes succumb to. Anyway, so what does an emergent-Christian with a UU background think of all this? Here's where I'm landing:
- If you really look at the Pew data - you'll find that "spiritual but not religious" does not necessarily mean what you may think it means. Most unaffiliated Americans are not raving new-agers, agnostics or atheists, as I've sometimes understood many UUs to think. Actually, according to Pew "people who are not affiliated with a particular religious tradition do not necessarily lack religious beliefs or practices. In fact, a large portion (41%) of the unaffiliated population says religion is at least somewhat important in their lives, seven-in-ten say they believe in God, and more than a quarter (27%) say they attend religious services at least a few times a year." These are people who have some traditional framework of faith, but currently do not practice that faith within structured communities as they exist predominantly today.
- Rev. Daniels is spot-on when it comes to the integrity of religious tradition, practice and community that is much more demanding, life-changing and ultimately rewarding than keeping your thoughts to yourself and never engaging in life with others.
- However - this sort of life-giving and rewarding community rooted in tradition but open to interpretation is not the sort of community that most of our churches are creating in America - hence the unaffiliated masses.
- There will always be spiritual consumers who prefer to only ride the waves of mountaintop experiences without doing the work of living a religious life. When they look down their noses at those who are living for the sake of all God's children - then Rev. Daniel's rant will be there to affirm our venting.
- But for the majority of those drifting in the limbo of the "spiritual but not religious" - we need to start providing the right kind of communities that will actually engage them.
So what does this relevant religious community look like? I can only speak qualitatively from my own experience. But based on my own hopes and desires for the community I want but have not quite found yet, as well as what I'm hearing from the emergent world, it's this - a religious body:
- In deep and serious relationship with an ancient tradition offering many streams and paths to learn from - body, mind and soul. This is the biggest reason I struggle to remain a Unitarian Universalist.
- That, authentic to its own teaching, lives in service to others and not to itself. I think this is one of the biggest reasons people remain unaffiliated. I hate being part of a church that spends more time thinking about plans to re-carpet the sanctuary than it does about creating disciples who will change the world - one act of service and compassion at a time. I do not have "time, talent, or treasure" to give to a fraternal organization. Or if I do - it's nominal. Fraternity is why yuppies join climbing gyms today - not churches.
- That offers more ritual and practice, which is always open to personal interpretation, than it does dogma. This is part of the reason people are drawn to Buddhism today - and read Brian McLaren's Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices if you want to see how the emergent church is filling this need within Christianity.
So that's my thinking on the matter. Bottom-line: the rant was applicable, although not complete. Religion is awesome - we just need to be doing it better. What do you think?