By Scott Hughes
“If religion once served as a sacred canopy of meaning, we since seem to have grown quite comfortable living under a naked sky.”1
As I said in the opening blog post, as intriguing as this quote may be, I disagree that we are comfortable with this new reality. While we are accustomed to living without a canopy of meaning, this dynamic is the reason so many people struggle with issues related to identity – either consciously or subconsciously.
To this point on the blog, we have explored many of the cultural voices that call out to us and shape us, sometimes even beyond the gaze of our awareness. These voices are often misaligned with the values we treasure and wish were the real shapers of our actions.
Consider how the tires on a car direct the car as someone steers it. If the tires are out of alignment, then car’s other systems – engine, steering, and so on – are affected. The car may vibrate and be difficult – even dangerous – to steer. There is stress on all the mechanical systems. Similarly, much of the stress in our lives (anxiety and brokenness) is due to the misalignment between our stated values and purposes and the values and purposes of the cultural voices we’ve specified.
Although we may wish to live guided by the values and spiritual practices of Christianity, we may discover in moments of reflection that we are not making spiritual practices (means of grace – worship, prayer, Scripture reading, etc.) a priority. And we are not experiencing the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). As a result, we are uncomfortable, anxious, and impatient.
To deal with this discomfort and suppress the tension it causes, we tend to stay more active, filling our lives with more (fill in the blank), working harder, partying harder, and anything else to avoid addressing the underlying discomfort.
The influence of the cultural voices will continue to persuade and challenge us. The first step is to name the voices as the root of our discomfort. This naming reveals why our values do not match our hoped-for life experiences. The next step, which we’ll turn to in the future blog posts, is learning to be intentional about finding appropriate kinds of shade under this naked canopy.
Reflection Questions for Individuals:
- When do you feel the tension between your stated values and lived realities?
- What do you tend to do with that tension?
- What is one spiritual practice you can prioritize this week?
Reflection Questions for Church Leaders:
- How do we invite participants’ experiences that will allow for reflection on the tension they experience in safe spaces?
- Ask other church leaders if your church helps adults experience and imagine living lives’ that display the fruit of the Spirit.
1 Porpora, Douglas V. Landscapes of the Soul: The Loss of Moral Meaning in American Life. Oxford University Press, 2001; p. 96.