The Journey: Spiritual not religious

Posted by Rev. Daniel Christian on

                  My wife Michelle and I own a restaurant in Novato called Beso Bistro. I share this because drinking wine is part of the job and I do this aspect of my job with lots of joy. Cleaning dishes, not so much. We were at a wine tasting event and we had just started tasting the whites. I was on my third tasting of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlboro region. It was crisp, light, refreshing, with hints of wild grass, grapefruit and sunflowers. I was writing down my wine notes, which consisted of a happy face if I liked it and a sad face if I didn’t. My scoring may not be up to the standards of Wine Spectator, but hey, at least I was going to be able to understand them at the end of the evening!

A woman came over and asked, “You are a Minister?” I did a Homer Simpson to myself, “D’oh!” “Yes”, I answered. She had to first preface our conversation that she was “spiritual not religious.” I assured her I left my snake handling stuff in the car, and I hadn’t thumped anyone on the head with my Bible in over a week. Now that that was out of the way, she took a sip of a wine, Chardonnay from Sonoma I think, and asked me, “What is the difference between a Baptist and a Presbyterian?” I was waiting for a punch line. None came. So I asked, “Are you a Baptist?” “No,” she said, and then went on to say how she didn’t like Baptists.

I didn’t ask what the Baptists ever did to her. I was about 45 seconds into my answer, and I was really getting warmed up and in all honesty I was impressed with myself, when I could see by her eyes that she was hearing, “Blah blah blah.” It was clear she was nowhere near as impressed with me as I was of myself. She cut me off and said, “Thank you,” then moved on to taste a Pinot Grigio from Italy with hints of mint, celery and wild mustard.

So alas, she had asked a spiritual and a religious question, but was not interested in sticking around for an answer, or at least my answer.

Mendocino County is a place where things religious and spiritual are of great interest. “Spirituality” has become a type of buzzword and catch phrase. We see manifestations of spirituality everywhere, from the workplace, college campus, salon and to the yoga studio.

I believe one way of talking with people who identify themselves as spiritual not religious and have little or no background, experience or practice in either, is before I open my mouth, I need to listen.
As a minister I spend much of my time in the spiritual and religious deep-end. On a daily basis I am meet people and families who are facing end of life, death, loss of many kind, fear, worry, safety and shelter. If spirituality is like a swimming pool, then getting wet is required. Not everyone has to jump in the deep-end. We first start by sticking our toe in, then our foot, then we run back, then next time we are up to our knees.

Spirituality when we allow ourselves to truly live into the depth of its meaning is the longing for transcendence and intimacy. I appreciate and recognize both as essential qualities in faith. Transcendence is believing that life extends beyond ourselves, beyond how much money we make, or what people think of me, beyond how self-conscious we are of our bodies, or that our teenage kids are embarrassed by the fact that we exist.

Intimacy is a core belief that deep within me lives an essence that not even a Madison Avenue marketing firm or political pollster can reach. Spirituality recognizes the link between the two. The depth of spiritual expression within our religious life is the opening of our life to the beyond and a hunger from the within. Growing in our faith isn’t about making our life a little bit better. It is the audacious belief that God can make us anew!

Rev. Daniel Christian is the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Ukiah.