I was listening to a podcast today that suggested that it was the Protestant Reformation that led to the idea that spirituality was to be somehow segregated from the rest of life. He said that prior to the Reformation people saw their spirituality as integrated with everyday life, and was advocating for a return to that practice. Perhaps most interesting of all, the man wasn’t a Christian.
It’s an interesting point, one that bears some reflection. Clearly, whether it happened at the Reformation or at some other time, we in the west have segregated spirituality from daily life. If it wasn’t true, we wouldn’t see anyone who identified as Christians not involved in social justice work – because social justice issues are the most common issues in both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, covering some three thousand verses of scripture. We wouldn’t see children going hungry or without a home, and healthcare would be seen as a right rather than a privilege. Somewhere along the way – and I want to say it was over the past forty to fifty years – the notion of “my little Jesus” became popular, and social concern flew out the window. Spirituality became all about turning Jesus into our imaginary friend, which led to Christians becoming even more self-absorbed than they were prior to having Jesus over for Cheerios in the morning, a feat I would have guess wasn’t possible.
Ironically, this “personal relationship with Jesus,” which is a product of our imagination and not reality and blurs the lines between Jesus and Christ so profoundly it would be hard to find where they once existed, has led to an almost complete denial of our brothers and sisters – they very people Jesus told us to love as ourselves! He didn’t say the two great commandments were to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul; and invite Jesus to breakfast – he said to love our neighbors as ourselves!
The problem with imaginary friends is that they stunt our growth. At a certain age they are very appropriate and actually help us develop certain social skills by affording us a safe place to try things out. They give us someone to talk with when we are feeling sad or lonely, and they give us someone to have tea parties with. After a certain age – say, by the time our birthdays number in the double digits – imaginary friends are no longer appropriate and actually stunt our development because they provide us with an excuse to avoid developing social skills, because our imaginary friends can make no demands of us.
Come to think of it, neither can imaginary Jesus. Maybe that’s why we like him so much more than the real Christ, who calls us out into the world to live and love radically.