I’ve been hearing this for a while now, that there is a spiritual revolution – or awakening – happening around the world. Last weekend at a conference on “Re-imagining Faith” for progressive Christians I saw the statistics to back this up. Basically, reports from the Pew Research Center reveal that over the course of seven years, from 2007 to 2014, the number of people in the U.S. who consider themselves “unaffiliated” to any religion increased 6.7%, from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population. The younger you are, the less likely you are to be affiliated to a specific religious group, plus these “unaffiliateds” are becoming less and less religious.
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The interesting dynamic to note is that while our country is becoming less religious, 89% of people still believe in God. And, more and more people say that they have had a significant mystical experience in their life (up from 22% in 1962 to 49% in 2009). Clearly, they are finding God in new and different ways that do not require an institution, and in fact, may be completely different from what they learned in the institution, thus making the institution irrelevant.
The bottom line is that this trend is continuing… more people are leaving organized religion, but more people are experiencing God in mystical ways, in ways that the church hasn’t traditionally taught. The church can not continue to do what it has been doing and expect to get these folks to come back, or come in the first place.
All three speakers at the conference this past weekend, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Diana Butler Bass, and Rabbi Rami Shapiro, advocated for a huge shift in theology, thought and language, in order for the church to keep up with this spiritual revolution.
Diana Butler Bass talked about the cultural, political, and theological divide between those who see the world, theology, and God vertically and those who experience it horizontally. Because of the ancient understanding of the three-tiered universe (heaven – earth – hell), Christian theology and structure has been vertical, top-down. It goes something like this: God, the Almighty Father in Heaven, is “up there” where He can mete out punishments and blessings as He finds appropriate. He sent Jesus down and required that Jesus die for the sins of worthless humanity, then Jesus ascended bodily back up into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father and will come again to judge the living and the dead. Then we have the hierarchy in the church (God – priests – man – woman – children – earth), and even the design of the sanctuaries that draw our gaze up to the heavens where God, Jesus and the angels (and people, too, if you were good enough) live.
Now we want to know where God is amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Haiti, human trafficking, ISIS, the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. Where is God?
When the answers come we don’t buy the answers like “God killed those people because they liked homosexuals” or “God is waiting in heaven to judge them.” Diana Butler Bass, in her book Grounded, says that the most repeated answer in crisis situations today, and apparently the most comforting, is that “God was with them when they died.”
This is not a vertical axis answer, this is a horizontal axis answer.
What does this horizontal axis look like? First, and foremost, it is experiential and mystical. One does not need a priest or pastor to tell you who God is, or how you will experience God. The Divine of the horizontal axis is a presence, spirit or essence that is integral, interwoven and entwined with creation. Inclusion, equality, and justice are key words. The earth and her creatures are sacred and are part of the web of life. Science is embraced and integrated with faith. And, worship, ideally, would happen in a circle, not in rows of pews with a preacher looking down from their pulpit.
The Spiritual Revolution will not destroy the church, unless the church refuses to acknowledge it. It is time to take God out of the sky in our theology, our language, our prayers, our liturgy, our songs. It is time to listen for the whisper of the Divine everywhere, time to place our feet on the ground and recognize the sacredness of what we’re doing, time to see our relationships with all things as sacred, time to celebrate the cycles of the seasons and embrace the wisdom of other faiths and traditions. It is time to go back to the basic instruction of the commandment of Jesus, the Golden Rule and work for justice and equality. It is time to honor the earth and protect it. It is time to broaden our horizons instead of trying to climb the ladder. It’s time to rethink it all.
Peace, Salam, Shalom,