Being Spiritual but not Religious

When I am at my best I admire people with talent and when I am at my worst I am envious of them. Bangor Daily has an amazing ensemble of bloggers. I most admire Karen Foley’s Postcards from a Work In Progress, Pat Lemieux’s Manchild, and Monica Pettengill Jerkins’ Heavy.

Today I confess I have a writer’s crush. I’m drawn to the writing of Erin Donovan of I’m Gonna Kill Him. She’s funny, genuine, and I mean…who doesn’t love a gal who can drive a gynecologist to drink and shoots video blogs from inside her dryer?

Erin is a modern, way cooler version of Erma Bombeck. She’ll get you laughing but leave you thinking. Her latest blog touches on a tough part of parenting: how do we give our kids a foundation for faith without bogging them down in the politics, divisiveness, and dogma?

Which leaves me wondering… why do we never hear about disorganized religion? I’d like to start that. No, really. I’m thinking of centering it around brunch. Who doesn’t like brunch?

I’ve always thought that what church was supposed to be was a community of people sharing their spirituality. That’s what my friends and I do…we just don’t call it anything. Perhaps we should. If greater Bangor offered a decent brunch I’d gladly go and call it “church.”

It’s possible that I missed my calling. I’d have made a fine evangelist. The only thing that stopped me was I don’t care for religion. I enjoy public speaking and the possibility of having a congregation sends my ego into orbit. When my ego is properly reigned in, I love talking with people about what they believe and more importantly, what they do about it.

Faith without works is dead – James 2:14-26

I like having my own personal faith and practices because nobody can tell me I’m doing it wrong. To me, being spiritual without being religious means growing in a relationship between myself and what I choose to call the Universe, or God, or Goddess, depending on my mood. I believe that what the Universe wants me to do is to work and play hard. Most of all It wants me to connect to good people, to love and be loved and to give and receive all of the things that make life most worth living.

My life’s work involves helping people to heal deep wounds. For those who seek to overcome and grow, I see spirituality as the absolute key to transformation. Most of the folks I work with tend to have faith that is based in either fear or shame. My faith is not based on fear of the next life. It’s designed to bring passion and purpose to my current life.

Years ago I worked peripherally to a Christian Rehab. I enjoyed talking with the clergy there because they were earnest about what they believed and what they did about it. My role to those they served was largely to help them sort out the confusing and contradicting concepts that the clergy presented. This was never my intention, just another role I found myself in. Being spiritual means I forsake my plans and accept what’s put in front of me.

In the morning, the clients would meet with a fire and brimstone preacher. He read from Revelations and spoke of a Judging and Angry God. This fueled the clients’ fears and feelings of being unworthy of God. In the afternoons, the clients met with a young preacher who read from the book of Psalms and taught of a forgiving and loving God. The clients feared this was too good to be true and were torn about what to believe. Whose vision of God is correct?

I frustrated most of these folks in the way therapists often do, by answering a question with a question. I would ask, “Is God infinite?” They all agreed S/He is. Well then logically, all definitions/explanations of God would be accurate. I would then share with them the story of the three blind men and the elephant

I encourage people to use the buffet approach – take what you like and leave the rest. Choose your own vision of God and practice that which allows you to feel closest to Her/Him. Believe what brings you the most joy, the most peace; what brings you the most purpose and passion. Choose to honor what you believe by the way that you live and the ways that you love. Do this consciously, daily, and with reckless abandon. Teach it by example to your children.

Spirituality is intimate. The greatest and most powerful forms of love hinge on our willingness to be vulnerable. It’s the way we love our children, our partners/spouses, and our closest of friends. Wholly. Completely. Unconditionally. Isn’t that what Jesus taught? Maybe everything else just isn’t terribly important.

May the New Year make us more mindful of what unites us rather than what divides us. Oh, and let’s do brunch.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.