Kate Blanchard’s Religion Dispatches essay caught my attention for its title (“Spiritual But Not Religious? Come Talk to Me”), but it’s very interesting reading, especially in light of the commentary on the pope’s new evangelization hopes for the post-Christian West.

Where to start pulling these loose threads together? What about liturgy?

But most Sundays I don’t go to church because, frankly put, it bores me; I am tired and church fails to provide any compelling reason to get out of my pajamas. (Were I living in a large, cosmopolitan city where churches with high liturgy, weekly Eucharist, beautiful architecture, and trained musicians abounded, my story might be quite different.)

Note: the author lives in central Michigan, fifty miles north of Lansing.

Is the Sunday service about being serviced? Boring I get. Usually I suggest dissatisfied parishioners get involved. Quality is slow work. Takes many hands. Lasts many years.

I’ve had assignments as a parish liturgist in which it seems I open the door to a trashed building. Dust and dirt on the floor. Broken pieces scattered or piled inside. Appropriate first step is usually to pick up a broom and start sweeping. It’s not glamorous work, but you have to make a start somewhere. Given the overall American indifference to the arts, it’s an uphill struggle in large cosmo cities. Even with the Eucharist. For a small college town (population 9k), I think you would find more support for good worship on campus.

Although I like the people at church very much and I wish to support them in their hours of need, I am still unwilling to prioritize membership. I have an emotionally demanding job that takes up all of my time and psychic energy during the academic year, and I would honestly rather get work done in my off hours than act as an usher or sit on a church governing body.

Do I detect the meme that to be participating you have to get involved? Seems like it. There is an honorable middle ground. One can go to Sunday worship and just … worship. Focus on God. Don’t join. Don’t complain … much.

Professor Blanchard is the kind of person I like to talk to. For mostly the same reason she has a certain profile of student she regards well:

In my experience as a college professor, “spiritual but not religious” is my bread and butter; it is the very thing that drives many people into my classes. For better or worse, it is often the conventionally religious students who seem satisfied (sometimes smugly so) with shallow understandings of their own traditions—to say nothing of anyone else’s religion. Meanwhile, some of the spiritual students (though certainly not all) are those who work the hardest to figure out what they can believe in or sign on for, while still maintaining a sense of personal integrity.

I think she has the measure of the lack of curiosity our culture promotes. People seem to want to be entertained from the common ground of self-satisfaction. If religion is part of a person’s make-up, too often it becomes part of the background hum. A nice, well-swept room. Nothing loose or out-of-place.

Me? I concede that the life of the religious and spiritual should be messy. Ethics should be difficult. We should struggle to disentangle ourselves from the conflict between self-interest and the Gospel. Worship should dissatisfy. We live on a pilgrimage, a faltering and stumbling journey into the light–but very often the shadows are thick and deep around us.

Faith is hard work. Let’s admit it’s a very difficult endeavor. From John Thavis at CNS:

As evident in Germany, the pope sees “new evangelization” as a long and uphill process that starts with a clearer understanding of the church’s own nature and purpose, and not an attempt to find middle ground with critics.

If this is true, the Holy Father is missing an interesting opportunity. Maybe the critics have something very helpful to offer.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Ministry, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to SBNR

  1. I’ve read so many posts about this original post… and yours is by far the best take on it. I am passing this along to others; thanks Todd.

  2. Holly in Nebraska says:

    I would agree with the Holy Father. How can you engage critics if you don’t first have an understanding of the nature of your own faith?

    I agree about the messy part. All of us being sinners, we can’t really avoid it.

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