Russell and Duenes

I’m a very spiritual person

with 8 comments

Religions all have their own “lingo.”  Protestants want to “fellowship” instead of “hang out.”  Catholics assemble in “mass” instead of “going to church.”  Mormons use “bicycles” instead of “cars.”  So, it is clear that in every religion, the terminology changes.  However, “religious” language is not bound to the believing set any more.  Enter stage left-the “spiritual person.”  I was talking to someone the other day who told me plainly that they were a “very spiritual person.”  Being that this is a phrase (cliché) I hear often without any explanation, I asked for a definition.  The response was like Sarah Palin trying to explain String Theory: “it means that there is something out there that moves and brings us to a place of strength and peace… I believe this is the calming sense I receive.”  What in the name of Nicolas Cage’s hairline are you talking about?  When I hear that someone is a “spiritual person” it tends to mean that they abide by the following guidelines.  First, they try to be nice to people based on some form of reciprocity.  Second, and most universal, is that they are seeking their place in the world and looking beyond themselves to find it.  Last, and most interesting, is the sense of physicality and “spirituality” oneness.  Or, as Clinical Psychologist Vijai P. Sharma puts it, a “Relationship between mind and matter:  Spiritual people know they are more than their physical bodies, and their awareness and knowledge are far greater than the sum total of information provided by their five senses.  Intuition is at its highest in them.”  In other words they can be solely autonomous based entirely on their own intuition.

This, of course, conjures up a whole host of problems; namely that every “spiritual person” will act differently as each acts according to their own wants and feelings.  This is why it is very difficult for a “spiritual person” to describe to someone else what it really means to be “them.”  It is because they haven’t decided yet and probably never will.  They want life to be good for them (and in turn hopefully ok for others too).  But they don’t really know what this means.  Many who can articulate what their intuition “tells” them are also on drugs (that was thrown in for my own amusement).  I predict that defining oneself as a “spiritual” person will only continue to amass a greater following.  It is utterly tempting to define one’s own spiritual existence based on what one wants.  Individual autonomy has begun to ebb away at the social foundations of our global consciousness.  There is becoming a deep desire to exclude all that is societally concrete and replace it with momentary intuition.  Even our most trusted societal institutions have come to rest on their own intuition: The policemen who uses the “spirit” of the law versus the letter of the law, the Judge who legislates from the bench instead of following Constitutional precedent, the average American worker who stays home from their job because they “feel” they need a break, or the “loafy,” get-rich-quick “minister” who wants you to send him money because HIS spirit moved him to demand that YOU do so.   Not being able to articulate what motivates you to “do” will become indulgent quickly and will continue the cycle of self adulation that comes with being a “spiritual person.” 


Written by Michael Duenes

July 27, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Reflections, Russell

8 Responses

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  1. I like this new spiritual lingo. I think my best response it to acknowledge that we (myself and the self-identified spiritual person) have something in common. We both long for more than what meets the eye. We both believe life is more than the pursuit of material things. Think of all the materialistic Christians of whom I could hardly make this statement.

    In the past, I used to get stressed out when I people said they were spiritual, because I felt I needed to offer them an apologetic that would penetrate. As you probably know, that’s very difficult. It’s easy to end up in an argument and to be cast as the bad guy. It becomes “my spiritual quest” versus Christianity.

    Now I no longer go into apologetic mode. I know they are seeking, and God is already working in them. I see my faith as an ally in their quest. I trust the Spirit to offer correctives, and I just get to enjoy the person and affirm their desires for anything that comes from God (love, peace, etc.). I don’t try to slip in questions that make them doubt their ability to bring about such things, because that’s not my role. They probably already know anyway, and it’s work best done by the Spirit.

    The multiplication of such people in society is a great thing, if only Christians will get out of their buildings and become their friends and allies in large numbers. I think this is the gist of what many so-called emerging/missional/emergent forms of Christian life are attempting.

    Sorry my thoughts are not better organized, but I am typing in a hurry. Basically, I’d like to challenge you to celebrate these people. I wonder if you have any close friendships with people like you’ve described (you probably do), and what positive things have you appreciated in them?

    BTW, when Jesus said “Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees” not to mention “rip your eye out” don’t you think he was talking about following the spirit of the law. In fact, we live by the Spirit. I wonder if peoples’ attempts to live by spirit and not by law are not, again, a positive thing to celebrate.


    July 27, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    • Andy,
      I truly attempt to understand the faith “quest” of others. I suppose I have a problem with both the “spiritual person” and my own emphasis of creating faith on personal intuition. I certianly have friends who claim “spirituality” as an all-encompassing faith journey. I appriciate their sincerity and I hope they appriciate mine. But sincere seeking and sincere finding are different things. Hopefully their seeking will lead to Christ. It is true that life by the Spirit and not by law is what the Christian should seek. However, it would be problematic to “create” our own definition of what the Spiritual life should be. Christ laid the foundation for this experience and without Him and the Spirit we are simply seeking out our own desires. I also think that the emerging/missional/emergent forms of Christian life are crucial to the evolution of the Church. I would not want to see the emerging Church rooted in a foundational error- that of building upon an autonomous, self-directed faith.


      July 27, 2009 at 11:49 pm

  2. If the Spirit of God is working with a person, won’t it appear that his or her quest is autonomous or self-directed even when it is Spirit led? Who would have thought Zaccheaus was close to faith? Only one person evidently. What did Jesus see when he was kicking back sipping wine with “tax collectors and sinners?” Did any of them convert the next day, or ever?

    We can’t see what the Spirit is doing, but we can see whether a person is attending church, reading the Bible, or following other visible Christian formulas for seeking God.

    One thing I’m learning by living in Japan is to be patient. It can take years, literally, just to build trusting friendships. In the same way, it may take years for a person to come to faith.

    I think when relating with spiritual seekers we need to learn how to wait. We may have to be allies on their quests for a long, long time. We are patient when people who follow the formulas “convert” but never seem to change. Imagine the celebration (in heaven too) when one seeker genuinely comes to faith and changes everything.

    I don’t want to distract from the main point, but I don’t think it’s enough to say that Christ “laid the foundation.” Christ is the entire life of our faith. Christ is in us. For this reason, I may have more trust in spiritual life that flows from within me than you seem to be.

    I heard a great discussion on “The God Journey” yesterday that relates:
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    If you’ve never listened to The God Journey, you may enjoy checking it out.


    July 28, 2009 at 12:12 am

  3. Andy – My main issue with what you’ve said, as usual, is that the “Spirit” that’s working in you seems to have no vocabulary for sin and repentance. You seem to take it as a given that people will realize that they are sinners under the “curse of the Law.” But the Spirit of God clearly thinks such things are not a given and must be spoken and proclaimed. This is one of the difficulties. You’ve made many cogent and, I think, accurate points. They are well worth reflecting on. But it seems to me that Jesus did not just join any old person claiming “spirituality” (though no one used that word). He certainly believed there were false spiritualities and he called them such. We do not have to blast people, and your point about being patient is very apropo. I need to heed it myself. But almost the first public words out of Jesus’ mouth, to religious people, might we say, “spiritually seeking” people, were “Repent and believe in the gospel.”



    July 28, 2009 at 5:08 am

  4. Again, you are always stuck on words. Amazingly, you actually say I’m lacking “vocabulary.” Vocabulary…?! What people are searching for is a new reality, not words. What Jesus came to proclaim is bigger than the sum of the words he used. It’s bigger than the sum of scripture. The only big enough way to possibly understand what happened is to say that Jesus IS the Word of God.

    The words Jesus used, and scripture later, point to the reality God wants us to know:

    “Repent” – change the way you are thinking, change your direction
    “Believe” – know/act on this
    “the gospel” – the good news that
    “the Kingdom of God is near” – everything is changing in reality

    All together: It all comes together in Jesus (follow me, the Way, Truth, and Life)

    So, yes, I do believe we are all separated from God by sin, and we have the capacity to reject God and turn away from His good news. But I believe the Word has been spoken, and we are still proclaiming it in words, that Christ has done it. The new reality that changes everything is here. The message we have for “spiritual seekers” (and everyone) is: Good news, what you long for is here. Change the way you think about everything, turn, and respond to the God who has revealed Himself in Christ as Love, not to mention Righteousness/Justice/Mercy.

    Moreover, my sense is that these “spiritual seeking” types who are dissatisfied with life as we see it are often more attentive to the gospel than “religious types” who choose religious illusions over living in God’s reality. To enter God’s reality requires submission, whereas religion, as many perceive and practice it, offers a way to appease God and remain in control of myself.

    (Note: I said, “are often.” It’s not a rule I’m proposing. The most likely people to find God are seekers of all types and kinds. In general, I’d say they are desperate people whether left, right, hookers, hippies, soldiers, sinners, tax collectors, etc. You don’t have to tell a desperate person he or she has a problem. The Word is already at work in such a person. Look at Zaccheaus and the narrative of his repentance.)


    July 28, 2009 at 6:00 am

  5. Andy – I agree with virtually all you’ve said from your second paragraph on. Since you said it in words, I thank you.



    July 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm

  6. That’s great, but I’m really not sure why you wouldn’t agree that God’s revelation in Christ is “bigger than the sum of the words he used” or “bigger than the sum of scripture.”


    July 29, 2009 at 12:23 am

    • Because once again, you’ve erected a false dichotomy between the words God uses and “The Word” Jesus Christ. Your assertions set Jesus off against Scripture, and God does not do this. Your denigration of the words of Scripture – words inspired by Jesus Christ, words that reveal Jesus Christ most fully, words without which we could not finally be saved, words spoken by Jesus Christ – your denigration of them is not shared by God himself. If I followed your lead, I’d be going down the road to a kind of gnosticism, even though you don’t think you’re going down that road. Is Jesus “bigger than the sum of Scripture?” Yes, in that he exists outside of Scripture and in that things outside of Scripture point to his reality. But your point is to downplay “vocabulary” and “words” so that people can experience “new reality.” The problem is, this “new reality” of life in Christ cannot be experienced apart from words, either spoken or thought. I’ll stick with Jesus when he said, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words (plural) will never pass away.” He wasn’t just referring to his person, but also to his words.



      July 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

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