Religious but not spiritual

I don’t know how exactly to consider myself from a religious standpoint.

I was on the Sojourners website and I came across this blog post from a Gen-Xer writing about the importance of creeds and the way that creeds have changed for this 21st century Spiritual but not religious generation. Rather than the Apostles’ Creed, it’s U2 that resonates with us.

As much as I love “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and even though I crank it every time it comes on the radio when I’m in the car, I don’t feel as though I’m having a religious/spiritual experience when it comes on.

Maybe it’s because I’m too young, or maybe because I’ve never been to a U2 concert. I hear they’re pretty incredible experiences – even spiritual experiences.

But then again, I don’t really consider myself a spiritual person. I’m not anti-spiritual, either. My not being a spiritual person is informed primarily by my youth, when I was a very spiritual person, constantly seeking spiritual highs; my life was more or less a roller coaster of highs and lows, a series of emotional experiences where God was present to varying degrees depending upon how attuned my heart was, or maybe God was trying to teach me something through the lows and then maybe trying to reassure me and comfort me that everything would, in the end, be OK through the interspersed mountain top moments.

Now that I’ve come out on the other side of a few turbulent years, I no longer consider myself spiritual. The constant quest is too tiring. It is true that without this sort of lens through which to see the world, by which you can judge every event, every moment of boredom, every let-down, every triumph, you are left a little unsure of yourself sometimes. I wrote about this problem last November here on this blog, as I tried to reconcile myself to this new position:

Personally, I’m left with deep admiration for the Gospels, for the idea of a god who would lower himself to such a humiliating state and respond to it in such a superhuman, transcendent way. But frankly, it’s not the same. I’m left with a feeling of smallness, a feeling of being a breath in the wind, a tiny dot of life floating on a rock hurtling around its corner of the universe.

In place of a “personal relationship” with God – a concept that appears in the Bible nearly as many times as homosexuality, by the way – or considering myself “spiritual”, I’ve settled on something new: Being religious, but not spiritual.

I’m not doing a very good job of it, but I think it’s a significant step up from seeking spiritual highs while you’re listening to CCM on the radio or trying to figure our what God is teaching you through depression.

This summer I saw some of my dad’s family for the first time in years at my sister’s wedding; a couple of them remarked to me something along the lines of, “Joel, you seem so much happier than we remember. You’ve turned into such a nice young man.” It was strange, because I didn’t feel completely at liberty to explain why I was so much happier than they remembered me. The truth was, I stopped fighting myself. I stopped my little roller coaster life of irreverent prayers for good grades and God to protect me from being gay. Sure, I’m betting a lot of people would point out the less nice things about me ever since: My language. My lack of church attendance. My out-of-check, flaming homosexuality.

But at the same time, now that I’m no longer fighting myself or constantly trying to hear the voice of God, I’m much more where I am, if that makes any sense. Now that I’m off my little quest to be God’s perfect soldier who measures each day’s success not through the impact he’s had on others, but rather through the lack of infractions, I am free to be where I am, to love others more freely because I am able to love myself more freely.

Being able to love others is worth missing out on that spiritual roller coaster. And I can still enjoy U2.

Of course there is some conflation here. You can definitely be spiritual and gay, but for myself, I choose otherwise. If I were straight, I would choose otherwise. There is great value to being a person of spiritual interest and perhaps one day I may yet learn how to live a healthy, spiritual life.

For now, I am happy to be happy.

More to come.

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