When people ask me what I do for a living I say:
“I help people create right-fit spiritual practices for themselves and their families. Mostly I work with recovering evangelicals and people who would describe themselves as spiritual, but not religious.”
Spiritual, but not religious. It’s a mouthful right? Wouldn’t it be ever so much easier to just contract it down to an acronym? Say, SBNR.
It’s not unusual for people to think that SBNR types are lazy. The assumption is that folks like us don’t want to practice our spirituality in community. Religious folks often thinks we relig-ish folks are resistant to authority. They imagine that we live undisciplined lives involving nothing but hemp clothing, organic tempeh and lots of navel gazing.
In her recent article at the Huffington Post pastor Lillian Daniel dismisses SBNR folks this way:
“Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?”
In Pastor Daniel’s eyes SBNR folks are dull, bland, self-centered, un-influenced by their elders or their heritage, and cowardly.
Pastor Daniel is woefully uninformed.
Friends, it takes real guts to live a SBNR life. There are no road maps for creating an eclectic faith. Curating your past to create something authentic to your present is challenging intellectual, emotional, and spiritual work. A life lived with emerging faith is not for the faint of heart.
Just like there are all flavors of religious folks out there, there are a lot of different types of SBNR people too. It’s true that many self-defined SBNR folks aren’t actively engaged in creating spiritual practices. But plenty of us are. And for those of us who are spiritual engaged but not religiously affiliated, I’d like to offer an alternative definition to Pastor Daniel’s.
- SBNR people are not self-centered. Rather they are in the process of creating spiritual practices that reflect their core values so that they can better serve the world. (Practicing a religion that does not accurately reflect who you are and what you value drains you and keeps you from extending love, compassion, and service to others.)
- SBNR people do not find ancient religions dull. Rather we want to understand the deep roots of religious practices. Often we will cull from a number of ancient practices to create a set of disciplines and celebrations that are authentic to our roots and values. This allows us to honor our heritage, while exploring the historic traditions that appeal to us in the present. (I myself pull from Jewish and Christian traditions, as well as Celtic rites and feminine wisdom practices.)
- SBNR people do not operate independently, apart from “a cloud of witnesses.” Rather, we have many teachers and influencers who guide and inform us. (My short list: Jesus’s sermon on the mount, the compassionate teachings of Buddha, and emerging thought leaders like Karen Armstrong, founder the Charter for Compassion.)
- SBNR people do not want to live in isolation. Rather we want to build relationships in which each person’s beliefs and practices are valued and honored. Many of us long for a tribe, and the loss of our former tribes–which required a unified belief in order to belong–is deeply felt amongst us.
- SBNR people are not cowardly. Rather we are brave, facing our fears and doubts and leaning deeply into what Sabrina Ward Harris calls “the true and the questions.” Like explorers, we are forging new paths in uncharted territory. Rather than hide our true beliefs, we bravely face criticism from those we love. We endure the loss of relationships when our beliefs drift away from those of our friends, family, and tribe. And we remind ourselves that we are on the hero’s journey, which requires us to be brave in the face of fear.
What about you Magpie? What has your experience been as an SBNR type? How do you define your spiritual or religious flavor? (Define gently good friends, with soft boundaries and porous membranes. You never know when your soul might need room to grow.) I’ll see you next week.
*your magpie girl
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Ask Magpie Girl is our Friday feature this fall. Maybe you want help raising soulful kids, creating a customize-blend of soulcare practices, or living more intentionally? Or maybe you just want to know a little more about something you read on the blog? Ask away in the comments or drop me a line. I’m happy to help. Thanks for being here! -R