Continuing on the theme of self-acceptance, I want to approach self-acceptance from a little different angle than we often approach it. I want to look at it through the eyes of self-understanding and in particular the self-recognition of our spirituality.
Whenever we talk about spirituality we enter a very difficult area. Like many things in the Christian world, the word “spirituality” alone is wrought with misunderstandings and clichéd expressions that the majority of people have difficulty even beginning to understand what it is all about.
Personally, I had a lot of friends who would tell me that they were “spiritual and not religious” but when I asked them what that meant they had a difficult time explaining it to me beyond the declarations that organized religion was bad. I can accept that the church had burned them but there was always something lacking in that statement. By the time I made it to seminary I had a very negative feeling about spirituality. It seemed that, like many relativistic lifestyles, the spiritual one basically allowed people to justify almost anything.
But in seminary I began to think of spirituality as a piece of how one comes to understand God, not a movement in itself. As one of my mentors said, “spirituality is how we come to know God, the church is how we sustain that relationship.” OK, that sounded a whole lot more profound when I was 23. But it made sense, and with my elementary education background, I began to understand spirituality in the same terms as individual learning styles. This means that just as people all learn differently, people also come to understand God differently.
The ah-ha moment really came when I read the book by Corinne Ware called Discovering Your Spiritual Type, which, while overly simplified in many ways, helps the reader understand what spiritually connects them with God, and what spiritually turns them off. This is important because it takes away judgment. Instead of looking at spiritualty or acting spiritually good or bad, it recognizes that each spiritual way is equal, yet different. This also means that there is no singular way to understand God.
For me, this was a very freeing time recognizing that what my friends were saying was not that the church was bad, but that the churches they were going to were not matching their spiritual needs. Understanding is a great thing! Here, understanding that makes a world of difference because when we understand that people all have different spiritual types, it allows us an easier time being community. While a church will never be fed spiritually in the same way, by understanding how we all connect with God and the differences we learn patience and acceptance.
This week we are going to embark on talking about ways in which we understand God. Instead of the usual back and forth homily and discussion, we are going to share ways in which we have connected with God over the years. This is more than what Les Montgomery has coined “God Winks,” though, that may be part; the stories that we will be discussing are more personal, more revelatory, to how we are not just seeing God, but how we come to understand God. A good example can be found in the book “This I believe” published by Henry Holt and NPR. We will also include a couple of the essays in the service.
Click here for a link to the book This I Believe on Amazon.com
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen