Noted without comment

It may not surprise you that the data show that people who regularly participate in faith communities are likely to live years longer than those who do no. People connected to communities of shared purpose are less lonely, more motivated, more hopeful, and more fulfilled. Even still, I don’t know anyone who ever joined a church because of advanced metrics.

— Rabbi Sharon Brous, The Amen Effect: Ancient Wisdom To Mend Our Broken Hearts and World (2024), p. 41.

Finding the sacred for Gen Z

Springtide Research Institute recently published a study of Gen Z titled “The State of Religion and Young People 2023: Exploring the Sacred.” They charge twenty-two bucks for the full report, so you might want to check out Religion News Service’s excellent summary.

A key finding, in my opinion: Gen Z are quite willing to find and define sacred moments outside of traditional religion. Tricia Bruce, executive director of Springtide Research, told Religion New Service:

“‘Certainly, we might expect young people to tell us, “Yes, I’ve experienced the sacred when I attended a religious service or in prayer,” and they do, but they also told us “I experienced the sacred in nature,” “I experienced the sacred when I got into college,” “I experienced the sacred in a virtual connection,”‘ Bruce told Religion News Service in an interview. ‘Creative spaces that we may not think of as sacred themselves, or as religious, or we may not materially construct as such, young people are telling us that, in fact, that’s where the sacred lives for them.'”

Actually, some of us do in fact view “creative spaces” as sacred. (1) I’m one of those people, and I’m not even in Gen Z. I’ve had some of my most intense sacred experiences through the arts — in my case, through things like the visual arts, making music with others, poetry, and so on. (2)

Apparently, the survey also found that 69% of people in Gen Z have experienced a sacred moment in nature. Here again, although I’m not in Gen Z, I’m one of those people who experiences the sacred in nature.

Honestly, I don’t often experience the sacred in a worship service. (When I do, it mostly comes through music or group singing.) For me, the point of a worship service is not to experience transcendent experiences, but to provide a community where I can make sense of the transcendent experiences I have in the rest of my life. And then, once I make sense of those experiences, I want to figure out a way to use them to make the world a better place.In my opinion, transcendent experiences can be justified only if they bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice (otherwise they’re just self-indulgent), and if you want to make justice happen you’re going want to be part of a community.


(1) I actually don’t like the term “sacred experiences.” It sounds too Christian-centric to me, and not in a good way. I prefer to talk about mystical experiences, or better yet transcendent experiences.

(2) I’ve always taken this for granted, but I guess it’s not obvious to others. Maybe I need to write more about how I have transcendent experiences through the arts.

MLK and Royce

I recently learned that Martin Luther King’s famous idea of the “Beloved Community” apparently derives from pragmatist philosopher Josiah Royce. So on this Martin Luther King holiday, I decided to look into Royce.

I’ve started looking through Royce’s The Problem of Christianity (New York: MacMillan Co., 1913), a series of lecture he delivered at Manchester College, the Unitarian college at Oxford University. It’s available at the Internet Archive. And while I’m just getting started in this book, I skimmed through it to look for references to the Beloved Community. It looks like Royce equates the Beloved Community with the Kingdom of Heaven:

“The Christian churches and nations of mankind [sic] have done as yet but the very least fragment of what it was their task to accomplish; namely, to bring the Beloved Community into existence, or to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.” [p. 371]

Later on, it seems to me that Royce is saying the Beloved Community is the Spirit (note the capital “S”) in institutional Christianity (p. 428): “Let your Christology be the practical acknowledgement of the Spirit of the Universal and Beloved Community.” And then a page later: “The core of the faith is the Spirit, the Beloved Community, the work of grace, the atoning deed, and the saving power of the loyal life.”

In this and other passages, it sure sounds like Royce is providing a sort of theology or philosophy of institutionalism. Which is right up my alley. In fact, this is exactly what I’ve been thinking about recently: what is my philosophy or theology of religious institutions? In the past I’ve used a little Bernard Loomer and a little Starhawk and a lot of handwaving. But with the rapid decline of religious institutions, clearly this is an area to which I need to devote a lot more thought.

So I decided I had better start studying Royce myself. I immediately went to the Seminary Coop Bookstore website and ordered a recent scholarly edition of The Problem of Christianity. That’s a special order, but they also had in stock two basic introductions to Royce, Basic Writing of Josiah Royce: Logic, Loyalty, and Community, and The Philosophy of Josiah Royce. (On a whim, I also ordered Varieties of Transcendental Experience: A Study in Constructive Postmodernism, which apparently references Royce.)

What a great way to spend MLK Day.

Reading list: Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge

Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge by Vic Glover (Native Voices, 2004) is one of the best American spiritual memoirs I’ve read. In a series of linked essays, Glover talks about what it’s like to live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, covering everything from commodity foods to reservations roads to the cars and trucks that drive on those roads.

Through all the trials of life on the reservation — the poverty, the low quality commodity food, the harsh weather — Glover’s spirituality sustains him. He doesn’t make a big deal of his spirituality. He describes, simply and well, his efforts, and the efforts of his tiospaye, to keep traditional spirituality alive.

Glover’s accounts of sweat lodges and the Sun Dance are unsentimental and emotionally powerful. Even when he’s not talking about specific religious rituals, spirituality creeps in to his accounts of every day life: the sense of connectedness of all life, the sense of something larger than ourselves, the necessity for justice work to bring ideals into reality.

I especially appreciate that Glover understands how spiritual community works. More than once, he points out that you can’t just show up at a Sun Dance and expect to be part of the in crowd. Spirituality is not just about one or two big sacred events: spirituality is something that happens day after day. And spirituality happens in community. It takes people in community to keep the rituals alive — people who do the mundane but necessary chores, people who cook the food eaten by the community, people who show up.

Maybe that’s the whole point of this book. You have to show up. Regularly, whenever you can. Like the member of Glover’s spiritual community whose truck breaks down and then walks for miles to show up for a routine sweat lodge. Glover quietly contrasts this kind of person with the spiritual dilettantes (my term, not his) who show up for the big celebration, the Sun Dance, and then disappear. Glover doesn’t pass judgement on these dilettantes; they’re welcome to come and participate at that level; but he makes it clear that it’s the people who show up regularly who keep the tradition alive.

There’s a parallel here with what happens in the Unitarian Universalist congregations I’ve been part of. Lots of people only show up when there’s a special musician, or a Big Name Preacher, or for the Christmas Eve candlelight service. But the ones who actually keep the tradition alive are the people who show up week after week. They just show up, even when it’s boring. They’re the ones who keep it going — by just showing up. That’s how community is nurtured, and that’s how religion and spirituality are passed on, in a community. The traditional spirituality of the Oglala Sioux is very different from Unitarian Universalism, but the common human thread that runs through through both is community.

This is a book worth reading. Buy it if you can, either from the publisher or an independent book store (not from Amazon, please, because their business model screws authors). If you really can’t afford it, you can borrow it online from the Internet Archive.