18 May 2016

Spiritual, but not religious...

As you may all know, my spiritual journey has been quite eventful in the past few years.  I've faced challenges like I would have not imagined coming from the RC church, I've been introduced to new ways of knowing God, I've dabbled and considered joining the Episcopal Church, and I've been welcomed into an amazing church that is the Old Catholic Church.  Although I can't say that some of these events were easy, I can now look back upon some of them and reflect on what it means to 1. be a person of faith in the modern age, and 2. be a person who has been disenfranchised by the religion of one's upbringing.  To some extent, REM's song "Losing my Religion" comes to mind.  That's me in the corner...  just losing my religion.  Yes, yes, it may seem a bit of a stretch, but these experiences have brought me to a place where I can better understand those who are spiritual, but not religious.  (Warning: This is more of a self-reflective blog, so if you choose not to continue reading, I can't blame you.)  If you've chosen to stay with me, welcome aboard!
The reason for this blog is primarily to sort through some of my own thoughts on being a so-called "Millenial" and being a person who has seen the best and the worst of religion.  As I sat and thought back on the years of roller coasters that I've experienced, I was taken aback at a certain point when in some exasperation, I sighed heavily and thought for the first time in my life "I'm spiritual, but not religious..."  I must admit, the thought was a random and thoughtless expression of the situation I had just encountered, but as I thought about it some more, I felt that this thought had to be explored a bit further especially since its not completely true, but also not completely untrue.  As I mentioned before, this blog is about being a person of faith today, tomorrow and into the future.
So what does it mean to be a person of faith?  If you look on Facebook, it means clicking "Like" on some cheesy image of Jesus, or perhaps sharing your opinion of what "the Bible says" or some other mindless expression of faith.  Outside of Facebook, it can mean living a life that is holy and good, but even that is vague and easily manipulated into what the church or my particular social group expects of me.  What does it mean to be a person of faith today.  What does it mean for me?   To be honest, for a long time, I don't believe I could have answered that question.  Add to that the fact that I have never doubted my call to service in ministry, and you have a whopper of a dilemma.  But in reality, being a person of faith today, means living a life that is authentic and honest.  A life that leads to being true to oneself even as we encounter God on a daily basis and carry the Gospels more and more profoundly in our hearts.  All too often, I have encountered and have seen within me, the notion of being a pietistic saint.  A holy version of myself, all polished up and ready to show the world.  Those notions of piety and holy are nice for statues and art, but don't serve the Gospel well.  The instead hinder my growth and make a mockery of the very mission we have as Baptized Christians, primarily to evangelize.  A shiny and holy saint looks good at church, but it is an authentic witness that makes the difference.  If one truly looks at the Saints throughout history, one will find that these men and women were people who grappled with their own struggles, recognized their need for Christ and accepted God's love as a redeeming force of transformation.  I too am in constant need of this redeeming love, and I would venture to say that many of us are.  That is what makes good witnesses though, and eventually Saints.
2.  Welcome, but not really.  The other element of my journey has been to belong but not.  This was and is primarily true with the Roman Catholic Church.  In their final letter from the Vatican, I was addressed as Father Rick, but was told that should I choose to return, I would only ever be able to serve as a Brother.  Today, I continue to minister as a priest in the Old Catholic Church, and this has been a blessing.  Thankfully, my journey has only shown a future full of hope and newness as I explore God's love in the Old Catholic Church.  This aside, however, I cannot help but understand the countless people who so often feel welcome but not, or worse, kicked out of their own parish or religion.  For some, the distance was created by a church unwavering in their harmful and almost hateful ideas and ideologies, for others, a natural growth has taken place that has lead them away from the religion they were brought up in.  Still others, religion has proven to be a hindrance to authentic growth and true human life.  To some extent, all of these are true, but what do these things mean for me as a minister?  First of all, I believe that they call me to my own authenticity, first as a human being, then as a priest.  Secondly, I believe they sit as a challenge to constantly renew my church and my way of serving.  This does not mean change the liturgy, it means be willing to go beyond my comfort zones to those places that are often considered off limits.  I recently read an article of a group of pastor's wives that ministered to strippers at a strip club, they shared a meal with them and then provided them with toiletries and other necessities.  The author of the article spoke of her realization of the fact that these women weren't monsters to be avoided, but the fertile ground of which Jesus spoke.  As a church, and as a priest in the church, I am called upon to name the uncharted waters of religion and to go to them.  I am called upon to listen to my flock and to minister to them as they need ministering, not as I think.  overall, I am called to live authentically as a human being and to love as Christ has loved, not because I have to, but because I cannot help but share God's amazing love with others, whoever they may be.
Today's church is full of potential, and instead of avoiding those areas of growth that the Spirit leads us into, I am called upon to recognize the challenges and to accept them.  This doesn't mean that I'll be successful 100% of the time, but no Saint ever was, but they were faithful.  My sincere hope and prayer is that in my own life, I can be a sincere witness of God's love, and that in whatever way, that I can be a catalyst for someone else as they live out their life in an authentic manner.  Together, the difference will be visible, even if it doesn't seem possible all at once.  We aren't called to be perfect, but we are called to live our life to it's fullest, and as we are reminded by St. Irinieus, "the glory of God, is humanity fully alive!"  Be alive, be blessed because you are beautiful and you are loved  Fr. Rick

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