At the end of this week’s episode, with little time for anything other than a “hmm,” Frank Shaeffer shared a little gem about the connection between being social and being spiritual. He argued that the two are actually inseparable. Being a church person, he offered a critique of the all too common thought that spirituality can be a private personal practice, while claiming involvement in church is a non-negotiable part of life because it is spiritual but also social. Going to church is necessary both to learn the stories by which we form our spiritual beings, but also a first place to test our spirituality in practice among others. The church is a place where you are loved unconditionally and learn that you are not alone. We are on the same journey, we see the image of God reflected in other people because we care enough about the community to take the rough with the smooth. We all share in the imperfections, we are doing something important: journeying toward something greater than ourselves with other people. And because of that we will even put up with some rules and regulations restricting our personal activities in order to seek the greater good. He contends that the personal, the accountable and the societal are all part of one fabric and we don’t have the option of choosing between them.
I like Frank’s take on the need for church for indeed it is impossible to love in the abstract. We have no standing to say that we are loving if we have never been called upon to love a less than loving or lovely individual. Church is a start, a place where we can test our talk by beginning our walk. That walk must also go outside the doors to be tested. And outside our doors we will find any number of social gatherings that on too many occasions walk our talk better than we do at times. What book clubs, softball leagues and bridge clubs often miss is the spiritual piece, much like churches too often neglect the social side. Is it any wonder that so many people today are not interested in attending our churches, let alone joining them? Social practices will attract people because we are hard wired to join with others and spiritual practices will help us to find ways to be better together than we are individually. Both the social clubs and our spiritual clubs have a lot to teach each other.
How will be find that balance? Will we move beyond the walls of membership and unyielding practice to offer a hospitality that is attractive because it embraces people as they are and offers the gift of challenging spirituality that calls us all to our higher selves together? At Darkwood Brew we are moving beyond the walls, but we surely are not doing it alone. We are nothing if not social. We are learning what that virtual social practice looks like as we do it. We are simply learning as we go, because we are trying to practice what we teach, trying to walk our talk. We aren’t trying to get it right first before trying it. I wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Brimfield, MA He blogs about the intersection of spirituality and society at CultureDove.blogspot.com and the intersection of spirituality and ornithology at https://birdparables.blogspot.com