Magazine article The Christian Century

Me, My Church and I

Magazine article The Christian Century

Me, My Church and I

Article excerpt

SPIRITUALITY" VERSUS "religion" has become a defining conflict of our time. Former colleague Winnifred Sullivan taught me that some people take all of the things they don't like out of religion and call what's left "spirituality." Spiritualities modified by adjectives are not a problem: Jesuit, Jewish; African-American, feminist, medieval and other such spiritualities are rich; unmodified spirituality is banal.

For a recent case study let's examine the witness of singer Melissa Etheridge, who was recently interviewed by religion writer Cathleen Falsani in the Chicago Sun-Times. Etheridge begins by taking apart "religion." She disses her father, the church and the church's God. She characterizes the denomination in which she was raised, United Methodism, as purveying "white bread ... religion-lite," and she dismisses dogma, creed, hell, the "Jesus Christ myth" and Baptists. This polemic clears space for her to declare her own spirituality.

Let's line up "religion" and "spirituality" in her published witness.

* Religions make truth claims and offer benefits that come with faith. So, according to Etheridge, do spiritualities: "My faith has been rewarded. I have been rewarded for speaking the truth. I have been rewarded for saying 'OK, I'm in this really lonely, awful ... place and it feels horrible where I am, but I believe.' And that's faith."

* Religions have a doctrine of creation. So does Etheridge: "My faith is, I believe, I know that I am on this Earth, and I am an energy that is moving forward, ... and I'm in control. ... I believe that. I have faith in that. And I've been shown that."

* Religions advocate humility but often fail to deliver. Etheridge's spirituality is not humble, but it delivers: "I know in my heart and soul that I am on the right path, and that I am not wrong or going to hell or any of those labels that certain religions want to put on me . …

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