“Are you all a bunch of ‘spiros’?” smirked the quizzical visitor to our youth group, lo, these many years ago.
I was bemused. If you’re visiting a Christian youth group, what exactly are you expecting to find? And if we’reChristian youth(ette)s … just how spiritual do we want to be?
The question bothered me then, and bothers me now. Specifically, what kind of ‘cool’-scale was this girl using? The implication of her words seemed to me at the time that there were church youth groups that were ‘spiro’ (not cool) and church youth groups that were ‘not spiro’ (cool). For all I knew, there were cadres of young people out there doing all kinds of heinous stuff, with a thin veneer of Jesus over the top to whitewash their way through church funding. But perhaps I was too harsh: it may simply be that some groups laid on the Jesusness very quietly, so as not to startle those who might be won over by peer loving rather than dogma-up-front. Demonstration, rather than delineation.
Whatever this girl was expecting, that was not us. We were loud, proud Pentecostal planet-shakers before Planet Shakers had been invented. If there was peer pressure at Powerhouse Youth, it was the push to get into the Bible and talk to God more than once a week – pressure to live clean, pray with volume, tell the world, and take care of one another. It wasn’t perfect, but it was awesome. We were serious about our faith, and about effecting change in our world for the better. We wanted clean hands and a pure heart. What we lacked in life experience we more than made up for with enthusiasm. We weren’t willing to settle for being a club that held poolside barbecues and swapped boyfriends, when there were missions trips and dance outreaches and RE concerts in the offing. We were disciples. If that made us ‘spiros’ … so be it!
Exactly what is ‘spiritual’?
I’ve been told that Western thought looks at the universe dualistically: there’s ‘natural’ and there’s ‘spiritual’. On the other hand, Jewish thought (from which our religion sprang) runs more to ‘God’ and ‘not God’. Their holistic approach lumps all the ‘not-God’ elements into a category that interacts with God on what is pretty much a level playing field. So, they tell me, while your average bear thinks God might be interested in ‘spiritual’ things such as devotion, holiness and Hillsong CDs, a Jewish person might expect God to be just as interested in how your marriage is doing, whether your job is working out for you, what that peculiar rash behind your knee is, and so on.
Where it gets a bit muddy for me, is that the New Testament (which, let’s face it, was mostly written in Greek – the epitome of Western-ness) talks frequently about flesh versus spirit. Some translations take out ‘flesh’ and insert ‘sinful nature’. In that case, it would probably be more accurate to divide life into ‘BC’ and ‘AD’, ‘old self’ and ‘new self’.
As a singer, from time to time I’ve tied myself into knots by overthinking what I do. (No, really? I hear you ask.) “Give me a C, a spiritual C!” cried someone in What About Christian Rock?. There’s no denying that you feel ‘flowier’ when you’ve prayed for half an hour before singing. But there have also been times when God’s done amazing business with people, despite my part being played by imperfect, underprepared, frazzled Me. I’d rather not make Him resort to going around me … but that’s the rub, isn’t it? Does my self-confidence impede Him as much as my nerves, only from a different angle?
My friend Rod cut the Gordian knot for me one night in the green room, by calmly pointing out, “Spiritual is notmystical. The Bible doesn’t ask us to be mystical.” If God is involved and interested and intimate with every area of our lives … then clowning around backstage isn’t blasphemous, because God is there. Sneezing in a prayer meeting isn’t inappropriate, because God is there. Crying your way through church in the back row doesn’t make you a Happy Clappy Club aberration, because God is there. Having your toddler on your hip while worship leading isn’t unprofessional, because God is there (so long as she’s not competing with God for the right to speak into people’s lives!). God is with us in all the quirky, shapeless, tangled moments, as well as the slick t-crossing ones. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. But it does mean that we don’t get so upset if our t’s aren’t as sharp-edged as someone else’s. There will always be people waiting in the wings to tell us that our i’s aren’t dotted to within a 1.37mm spec. You can’t please them all. The One you can please, is the one who asks not for perfection but for faith, not for heroics but for love.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. That’s spiritual. The rest is just the learning curve.