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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Spiritual Tourists


I read this today, and found it struck a chord:

Communities, like families, can be healthy or toxic, but western individualism provides no true alternative.  Ironically, the spiritual-but-not-religious embrace a consumerist mentality that in other contexts they harshly criticize.  The irony is compounded when one realizes that these spiritual individualists - inheritors of an "I" culture - most often pluck items off the shelf of "we" cultures.  Spiritual tourism offers the benefits of wisdom derived from those who submit to authority and discipline and tradition without having to do so oneself.

But spiritual tourists have no home to return to; they are always restlessly consuming new experiences.  They can't eat, pray, and love enough...

...In worship we become participants, living members of a body, rather than observers and connoisseurs.

-Gregory Wolfe, "Religious but Not Spiritual" in Image, number 68.

Today in worship, Marlin Vis said that if you're interested in a personal relationship with Jesus that isn't in the context of community, then following Jesus isn't for you.  A good but hard word.  Being a church-critic by standing strangely aloof while pretending to participate, silently observing and critiquing, is a subtle form of soul-bending.  I mean by that what Wolfe gets at in this paragraph, that we cannot merely glean the wisdom and benefits of community while remaining individualistic separate, over, and above.  True critique can only be made from within by those who are embedded in a spiritual oneness that comes through true corporate worship (and this is what I take Wolfe to mean when he uses the word "liturgy," not merely a codified set of accepted traditions).  When we stand aloof outside community and try to critique as if we were embedded within that community, our souls bend and threaten to break under the weight of a hypocrisy that makes us two-faced.  "Speak the truth in love." Love requires a relationship.  So ultimately, those who merely shop for a better church, or a more palatable experience are firmly planting their spirits outside of the community of love that requires real relationships and all the good and bad those relationships have to offer.  The language of "spiritual tourist" hits the nail on the head.  A visitor to a community can critique the community all they  want, but without sharing history, struggle, victory, failure, success, context, and texture, a tourist can never truly understand the community.  It is only when one moves into the neighborhood and becomes a true neighbor that one can truly critique from within.  And that is exactly what Jesus did when he "became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14) and taught us not only how to love one another, but also confronted our lies and dysfunctions with powerful truth.  Being a spiritual tourist is easier in some sense than being a spiritual resident of a particular community, but the soul-bending required probably makes us far less human.

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