UCC Pastor Lillian Daniel, co-author of An Odd and Wondrous Calling, wrote a Huffington Post piece that went viral a few years ago.
In it she vented about her irritation with those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”
Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.
The trouble comes when we decide our faith is private. That we can have our entire faith confined between us and Jesus. Me, myself, I, and God.
As an introvert, this is tempting for me.
As a pastor, I know this is a disaster waiting to happen.
The Christian faith is designed to be lived out in community with other believers. Sinners who are saints. Saints who are sinners.
We are told in Scripture to confess our sins to one another, to pray together, to encourage one another in times of trial.
We are called to the Church (big “C”), a universal body of believers united by baptism. We are called to individual churches (little “c”) where we serve and grow and share and learn.
Faith is personal, there’s no doubt. Intensely personal. No one else lives in your head, experiences your life, knows your soul. No one but Jesus, that is.
But faith must not be private. Private faith withers. It is easily changed by circumstance, appetite, desire, stage of life. Private faith is bound to no one but the self, and the self is fickle and easily grows weary or distracted.
Faith lived in community has people to rest upon when it gets tired, strengths to share where others are weak, and is able to draw from the wisdom and love of different people’s journeys with the same Savior.
Sometimes you will need to lean hard on your faith community. Other times, they will lean hard on you. The important thing is to keep showing up, to live this faith out step by step in the presence and view and pew as your community.
In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes of her pastor, Veronica, who told her the world is a lot like:
the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.
I love how the author of Hebrews puts it in chapter 10:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The Christian faith is designed to be lived out together God lives together–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and calls us to community, too.
It’s not about pie-in-the-sky, everything-is-easy-and-great Christian community. As the great pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once cautioned, in Life Together:
The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.
It is not enough to have private faith. Faith must be lived out in a community of the faithful–saints and sinners, sinners and saints, one and the same.
Let us not give up meeting together.
Are you tempted to have a private faith? How have you found God in community?