In chapter 3, Butler-Bass talks about her discovery of the church she now calls home (as of the writing of this book). She talks about how Trinity Episcopal in Santa Barbara, a classical mainline congregation, stopped being just another liberal charitable organization–a United Way or the Rotary Club, for instance–that did good things for the community, assuming that its members already were spiritual and knew how to grow spiritually. Trinity recognized that people were looking for a place that, yes, engaged their community and world to make them better places; but also taught, modeled and joined together in practices where they could pursue and grow in Christian spirituality. And Trinity came alive and began growing again. So Diana started investigating other growing mainline congregations across the country to see what was similar and what was different in their congregational experiences.
In this chapter, the author hits on a number of concepts that I believe offer fertile ground for further discussion.
- Spiritual AND Religious rather than Spiritual BUT NOT Religious. Despite conventional wisdom that Americans are fleeing religion for individualized spirituality, the congregations that Butler-Bass visits along with polling and research done by Newsweek and many others suggest that Americans want a both/and experience. People are finding fresh expressions of ancient tradition to awaken individual and communal spirituality
- Practice, Not Purity, as the Goal of Congregational Life. Rather than enforcing a narrow range of belief and behavior, these congregations are welcoming of people from a wide variety of belief and lifestyle without judgment. The congregation is united by its practices of worship, study, prayer, fellowship and service rather than by doctrinal conformity.
- Pursuing Wisdom Instead of Certainty. Or to state it another way: Believing that the Questions are more important than the Answers. There was a deep sense among the congregations Diana visited that wisdom happens in the wrestling with the issues of life and that wrestling happening in ongoing dialogue in community. Having all the answers brings an end to growing in wisdom. Wisdom can grow when you know you don’t have all the answers.
- Shared Pilgrimage instead of Settled Spirituality. Butler-Bass shares three diagrams about the dynamic movement that happens as Tradition, Practice and Wisdom interact with each other in community. The congregation understands that it is on a journey in faith together and that their personal development and corporate growth depends on the continued devotion to and innovation with these principles of communal faith. This work invites the individual nomad or wanderer to join with others in intentional pilgrimage with other pilgrims.
- How would you answer this question: Am I religious, spiritual, both or neither?
- Do you have a negative or positive reaction to the word tradition?
- What do you think a congregation would look like that emphasizes practice over purity?
- Do you think faith is more about questions or answers?