Friday, September 30, 2016

A Cage or a Guide?

"A Way in the Wilderness"

I have been reading Brian Mclaren’s new book, The Great Spiritual Migration, in which he makes this very thought provoking observation:

As I see it, religion is at its best when it leads us forward,
when it guides us in our spiritual growth as individuals
and in our cultural evolution as a species.
Unfortunately, religion often becomes more of a cage than a guide,
holding us back rather than summoning us onward,
a buffer to constructive change rather than a catalyst for it.
This is even more tragic in these times when our culture needs
wise spiritual guidance
and all it gets from spiritual leaders is anxious condemnation and critique
along with a big dose of nostalgia for the lost golden age of the good old days.

Some new statistics have been just released indicating that “religion” in America is in a steady and probably unstoppable decline - more and more people nowadays are rapidly abandoning affiliation with established religions, and this is especially true among younger people.  Furthermore, in spite of the seemingly endless campaigns to get people to return to the religion they have left behind (or never before joined), there seems to be no way to reverse this trend in the foreseeable future. When people leave a formal religion they probably won’t come back and, despite the wishful thinking of church leadership, most younger non-religious folks are unlikely to become part of an established “church” in the days to come.

I wonder if so many people are abandoning religion in America because they see the religion they grew up in (or the religion they never joined) as being more like a cage rather than a guide?  Glib and easy answers about “God” and “faith” have become stale and childish to them, religious laws, rules and rituals are seen as restrictive, judgmental and discriminatory against those who are are different.

I have been a “religious” leader for most of my life and yet, in some ways, I think that maybe it’s a good thing that religion as we have known it is in a free-fall decline.  Maybe now a new vision of religion can emerge from the ashes of the old and religion might become the guide it is capable of becoming?  Today’s society in which so many people seem to be wandering around so aimlessly really seems to need a guide.

I came across this helpful and insightful piece of wisdom written by Rabbi Rami Shapiro:

When it comes to religion
 or for that matter, when it comes to embracing any spiritual path,
there is no security, surety or safety.
There is only the wildness of life lived in the shadow of death.
If your religion provides you with the humility
to know that you do not know,
the wisdom to see past what you claim to know,
and the courage to navigate the unknown
with compassion, curiosity, justice and grace,
then it is as true as any religion can and needs to be

In this era of growing confusion and societal chaos, where prejudice and violence is so visible in our public life, it seems to me that the “primary” task of any religion is to help each of us as individuals and as a culture to  navigate the unknown with compassion, curiosity, justice and grace.”

When it comes to religion there is no safe harbor, no security or surety. Instead, religion should help us to embrace the “Great Mystery” known as “God” as we make our way through the wonderful and sometimes frightening territory of living every day - the wildness of life lived in the shadow of death. And as we navigate our way through the wilderness, religion should help us to hold each other as close as we can as we treat each other with dignity and compassion and work to build a more just society.

I’ve been “religious” all my life and I think it’s time for all of us “religious” people to get out of the cage and boldly walk together into that wonderful, unexplored territory known as “God.” The world may be depending on us more than we may imagine.

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