Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Recovering from Toxic Religion

It was an honor to hear my predecessor on Saturday. He and I together participated in a funeral service for one of our church members. My predecessor served this congregation for 33 years before his retirement. Under his leadership, the congregation became an oasis for those who were raised in toxic religion.

Toxic religion in a nutshell, poisons people's spirit with threats of hell and punishment. It is a pervasive ideology that posits a wrathful deity. Its goal is to make people feel that they are worthless, even evil. It makes people fearful of anything that isn't supposedly true dogma. It discourages people from thinking for themselves or from feeling good about themselves. It discourages spiritual growth and the discovery of their true selves. It makes all kinds of rules and punishes people for supposed infractions. You will find toxic religion in all denominations, some more than others.

Some folks who grew up in toxic religion were able finally to leave it as an adult. Many of these have left religion altogether. I don't blame them for that. Better no religion than a toxic one. These folks bear its scars. For some the wounds are still open.

I do believe there is a role for religious practice or spiritual practice that is healing, open, and affirming. I believe there is a role for communities that foster spiritual recovery and growth. The good news is that there are many congregations that are oases of recovery. You have to look for them.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Original Blessing. This is the book by theologian, Matthew Fox. Fox is a pioneer in the movement called Creation Spirituality. Fox has been able to help a lot of people, including me, clear the spirit of toxic residue and find a liberating spirituality.

See if you resonate with his 95 theses for a new reformation of the church.

I plan to attend a conference this year marking the 25th anniversary of this book. Check it out. The 25th anniversary edition of Fox's work will be launched at this conference. You can read about that here.

I am not suggesting that Creation Spirituality is the only way to go, by any means. If you are like me, you have probably heard enough of people proclaiming something is the only way. But I have learned a great deal from him, as has my predecessor, and you might, too.