Spirituality and Religion; Freedom and Rules

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

Meditations in Motion

I was back on the elliptical this week. After almost two glorious weeks of running in the warm Florida sunshine, I am back to the reality of post-polar vortex Southeast Pennsylvania, which means lots of snow and ice on the roads. Our visit to my sister and brother-in-law in the Sunshine State had, sadly, come to an end.

I was amazed and somewhat dismayed, by the way, to discover that there are hills in Florida. My first clue should have been the name of the town where my sister lives – Howey-in-the-Hills. I was under the misconception that all of Florida is pancake-flat. Not so, it turns out.

Meditations in Motion

Every morning we would run down to Lake Harris (down being the operative word), travel along the lakeshore, trying not to trip as we (OK, maybe just I) kept an eye out for exotic birds, then run back up to return home. The hill was significant and steep.

 

Meditations in Motion
By https://www.flickr.com/photos/aphrodite-in-nychttps://www.flickr.com/photos/aphrodite-in-nyc/15445694840, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45044905

 

Now I am running on the elliptical again. Today I watched a show on Oprah Winfrey’s network. I have to admit, I don’t remember ever watching Oprah before. Oh, I know Oprah. You would have to be living under a rock for the past 30 years to not know her. I just don’t believe I ever watched her interviewing someone before today.

I don’t remember the name of the woman she was interviewing, but when I heard the topic, spirituality, I perked right up and paid attention. One of the questions she asked her interviewee was “What is the difference between spirituality and religion?

The woman she was interviewing seemed to be at somewhat of a loss, but when she finally responded, she said that spirituality is the important questions that we ask, such as “What is the meaning of life?” and “What happens after we die?” Religion gives us the answers to those questions.

Hmmmm…” I thought. I don’t believe that’s the whole answer. I thought about the difference between religion and spirituality for the rest of my run and for a long time afterward.

Meditations in Motion

There are many people who will tell you that they are “spiritual but not religious“, and I certainly respect that. Spirituality implies discovery, freedom, individuality, all good things in my book. In the same context religion implies rules, organization, structure, maybe initially less appealing, but certainly no less needed.

Here is why I believe I personally need both spirituality and religion.

Meditations in Motion

When my kids were young, we gave them the freedom to participate in any activity they wanted. Play the saxophone? Yes. Try out for the golf team? Sure. Join the Quiz Bowl team? OK. Soccer? Wrestling? Tennis? Piano? Baseball? Yup.

Surrounding that freedom as scaffolding, however, were the rules. You may try anything you like, but you may not quit in the middle of a season. Your grades cannot suffer because you are spending too much time on activities. You must eat dinner with the family. Every night. Every. Night.

Freedom without rules leaves us rootless, unsatisfied, without the tools necessary to build self-discipline. We lack a sense of security and we need security before we can fly. Rules help to socialize us; they are needed in order to develop community. Rules are reassuring, they keep us safe and provide a sense of order.

Rules without freedom can seem petty and restrictive. Too many rules can take away our ability to make decisions and live independent, responsible lives. Living by rules without freedom can strip away our self-confidence and squash our ingenuity. It can invite fear into our lives.

Meditations in Motion

The problem with plain, unadorned, unbending rules is that each group thinks the correct set belongs to them and only them. Christians, Jews, and Muslims each believe in their own set of rules, and please don’t get me started on Buddhists.

Even among Christians, Catholics, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Protestants believe their rules are the correct ones. The United Methodists differ from the Lutherans and the Mennonites. The Amish, Mormons, and Presbyterians each have slightly different sets of rules. How are we to know which set is right for us?

It is appropriate to think about spiritual things. Theologian Paul Tillich called spiritual topics our “ultimate concern“. It’s natural to want to peek under the deep veil of eternity, to consider how we are spending our faith. Everything else is just “playing pinochle in the bottom of a rowboat“, to paraphrase Annie Dillard. Finding our comfort zone spiritually is imperative. Each individual needs to think about what he or she believes. That’s spirituality.

Meditations in Motion

We have a compass to help us do that heavy thinking. Everyone does not need to reinvent the wheel. There are guidelines, a framework, living, breathing rules. Each person is responsible to find the set of rules that fits their faith. That’s religion.

I once read that spirituality is based on love; religion is based on fear, but I think that is a misconception. In the Bible, 1 John contains the words “God is love” not once, but twice. In Isiah, we are told, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you“. And in Deuteronomy, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.I think we have mistakenly added fear to religion, where it does not actually belong. There is no need to fear the rules. They are there to help us.

Freedom and rules, individuality and community, independent thought and guidelines. I need both sides of the equation in order to follow my heart closer to God. I need that balance of spirituality and religion.

I think I will run on the elliptical again tomorrow. The weather prediction for tomorrow morning is for icy fog. Not a great combination for road running. Maybe I will watch Oprah again while I run. Who knew her interviews could be so thought-provoking? Stay tuned.

 

I am linking up with Shank You Very Much for Dream Team and Global Blogging, Random-osity for The Good, The Random, The Fun, Hooks and Dragons for Mix It Up, Mary-andering Creatively for LMM, Char at Trekking Thru, Purposeful Faith for RaRa, Abounding Grace for Gracefull Tuesday, Mary Geisen Tell His Story, Meghan Weyerbacher for Tea and Word, Bethere2day for Wordless Wednesday on a Tuesday, Deb’s Random Writings for Keeping It Real, Welcome Heart for Let’s Have Coffee, Becoming Press for Writer Wednesday, Amelia Gilliand for Words That Inspire, Worth Beyond Rubies, Kristin Hill Taylor for Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Ministries for Word Filled Wednesdays, Reflections From Me for A Blogging Good Time, and My Random Musings for Anything Goes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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78 comments

  1. I can’t wait to run outside in the warm temps. I head there Thursday for a few days.

    Same as you. Never watched Oprah. I do admire her and but surprised at her choice of guests. Thanks for the share.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post! I wrote a chapter for a book titled Illness, Resilience and Spirituality. In each chapter the writer or a family member was facing a serious illness. Each writer referred to a faith: Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Yoga. I think our culture prefers to the term spirituality to religion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. IMO (My opinion is rarely humble, so I omit the H), Oprah’s bringing spirituality and religion into the limelight and popular discussion is her most significant contribution to American culture, where she still ranks as a powerhouse. I don’t think many folks would consider me conventionally religious, but I do find that what can easily be missed when one attaches to “spiritual but not religious” is the element of practice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love the omission of false humility. IMO there are way too many people telling us that they were “humbled” by an award or another momentous event when really they mean “proud”. OK…taking a deep breath…I agree with you about Oprah. No one has the weight to bring a topic to the forefront of our national consciousness as she.

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  4. Good for you laying down the law with your kids Laurie – you were firm but flexible and look how well they turned out … I have hear Oprah speak a few times on TV, but awhile ago.. She packs a punch in getting your attention – no wonder she has been such a success through the years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, she is a compelling speaker. I was on the elliptical, so I had to use closed captioning since I don’t like to use earbuds, but it was a really interesting program. It made the time pass quickly!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My mom used to listen to AM talk radio during the day for years. When Oprah’s TV show came out, my mom, in a rare move, used to go watch her show at 4:00 p.m. weekdays – she’d stand at the door to the den so she could be watching dinner at the same time. She used to tell me about her guests over dinner. I had to Google “elliptical” as I was not familiar with it. I belonged to Elaine Powers years ago, and it had exercise equipment, and classes, no pool – nothing fancy. I was watching a video on YouTube … that looks difficult. The girl was even doing it backwards and not hanging on. Looked like it needs a lot of concentration so you don’t fall off, more so than just a treadmill.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The good thing about the elliptical is that there is much less stress on my legs. No pounding. It is really not hard to use once you get the hang of it. I can do the miles much faster on the elliptical than on the treadmill.

        I remember Elaine Powers. That is a blast from the past! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was surprised it was such a large machine. Knowing we’re the same age, I wondered if you’d remember Elaine Powers – at one time it seemed there was one at every outside mall. Low budget/no flash exercise place. I went with two friends from work three nights a week, then we went out to eat dinner … in retrospect, not too smart as we gained back all the calories lost, and then some.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. As a band mum (and former band geek) I was pulled into this post by that great image of the sax. And I love your analysis of the Oprah-ism. There was a season back a while when I prayed for that woman every day. She has taken on a lot of responsibility and makes truth claims that I find to be frightening–even though I know she believes every word she says.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I always enjoy visiting here, Laurie! You give me so much to think about. Thanks for your insight into the age old debate of spirituality vs. religion. That elusive ‘balance’ seems to tease us often, but I think you’re right, we need both. I’m finding that seeking God and putting His word into practice keeps that ‘balance’ close by. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your comment, Carlie. “Balance” is my word for the year, ao I am trying to think about it and keep it in the forefront of my mind. Seeking God does help with that balance.

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  7. I agree with you!! Balance is needed. To some the term freedom in Christ can be a bit confusing until they experience it. We have freedom as we walk in step with Him and there are ways he tells us to walk, hence the “rules” but it’s the freedom that in doing this you can be confident that your steps will lead you where you are supposed to go, He will take care of you along the way and we have peace, after all isn’t peace and contentment such a freedom!! Great post. Visiting from #teaandword

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your explanation is fantastic! It’s an issue that is brought up again and again, even within churches. So often people associate religion with the unhealthy experiences they have in the church. But that isn’t the whole picture. Your description puts things in a healthier perspective for all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have found Oprah to be a remarkable interviewer. I’ve heard more than one famous person say “I’m only going to talk about this once. In the future, I’ll say watch the Oprah interview.” That shows great trust in her which I find remarkable after all her years in the limelight and also remarkable. I’ve also heard more than one interview on spirituality and religion. I always learn a little something from others’ perspectives even if I don’t agree with them. Just like I learn and grow coming to visit you and reading your perceptive posts. Thanks for another good one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • She was very insightful. As I watched the interview, the time on the elliptical went by so quickly (which was the whole point of watching TV in the first place!) Thank you for your kind comment!

      Like

  10. I miss the Oprah show, and I must search my spectrum app to see if I can stream any of her shows she is doing on her network. She did bring up important topics related to spirituality on her show, making people examine their beliefs. I believe as you do, Laurie, that I need both religion and spirituality. They should go together like peanut butter and jelly, but all to often they don’t. Many are religious but not spiritual and I’m with you on the fear thing. If you read the Bible there is a whole lot more there about love than fear. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love that you encouraged freedom with rules and how you apply rules to different religions. It can be so confusing sometimes and all religions have such a different mindset. But in the very middle of it all is faith, and faith is what you believe, so I totally agree with finding something you really feel comfortable with. I haven’t watched Oprah for many years.
    #keepingitreal

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly, that is the important part – in the middle of it all is faith. We must each decide which rules we are comfortable with and which ones fit our beliefs. It’s all about balance! 🙂

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  12. I haven’t quite thought of it that way before! I enjoy hearing what others say about this topic because it’s such a hot button. I like how you call religion a “rootedness.” I can see that as a needed thing, and helpful to those who agree “spirituality” is too broad.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your neighbor at Let’s Have Coffee. Lots to think about. Both words “religion” and “spirituality” mean such different things to different people. It is so important to clearly define them within the context of discussion. Thank you for sharing your response to Oprah and her guest.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I have a simple explanation of the difference between religion and Spirituality:

    Religion is something you choose, or reject, as the case may be.
    Spirituality is Something that chooses YOU!

    I think in this age of the ‘Me’ generation(s) (i’m talking post WW2 here but it grows each decade, seemingly)
    far too many of us work on the assumption that they try to find a ‘religion’ or a thing they refer to as ‘spirituality’ that suits them – that they ‘like’.. and then if a part of that raises up something they don’t like and it becomes overly inconvenient to them personally then they abandon it and search for a ‘better’ one. They think they have the freedom to do that as often as they like. They seem to listen to their own egos more than to what The Spirit is telling them.

    To me a religion is a mostly human attempt to provide a shared organised structure to enable us to better hear what The Spirit is saying to our soul. Sadly ‘Organised’ religions can have a way of clouding or forgetting sometimes that this is the true purpose – to re-connect us with God through His Spirit entering and interacting with our soul in order that we better follow His Divine Will.

    Religions over time have devised sets of rules for followers to follow so that we do not follow our own egos so much and learn humility in His Presence.

    I also agree that we are not to fear God, but we are to fear the consequences of not following His Law.

    God leads the way through Love but also punishes those who willfully disobey His Law. (and follow their own versions of morality over that of The Spirit).

    A punishment all should be afraid of falling on themselves.

    The Old Testament has a great deal to say in the matter. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved this line especially “To me a religion is a mostly human attempt to provide a shared organised structure to enable us to better hear what The Spirit is saying to our soul”. It is exactly what I was trying to say. The organization is nothing to fear. We need it to be able to fully develop our spirituality. We need to ask the questions – we are human, after all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would agree – religion, in the form of organisation, is nothing to fear we should fear doing the wrong thing – wrong to humans including ourself, but especially the wrong thing to the Spirit via our spirit. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Excellent thoughts! It’s sad how the word “religion” has become so weighted. I find people claiming to be “spiritual” sometimes means they are open to anything, as long as it gives them that emotional feeling they crave. (It also makes them feel very non-judgmental, which is the epitome of modern morals it seems!)
    I find religious means that a person will go on believing and doing something, even when there is no immediately apparent reason, or emotional reward to do so. (Which is faith, I think!)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh, I watched Oprah almost since the beginning. Love her or hate her, she asks thought provoking questions.

    I do think about the spiritual vs religious question, but haven’t really come up with my own answers for it. I am religious, but I no longer go to synagogue. I definitely consider myself to be a deeply spiritual person. I think I just don’t think about things as deeply as you do, but I love your thoughts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Florida! Oh you are so lucky! I LOVED this post! A friend said the other day, as I was talking about the rules and regulations household that I lived in, “It seems like she was missing part of the equation.” I thought about that for a second and said that she was right. My mom did not have that balance. So while she may have loved me in her own way, all I saw was what she portrayed. A God of rules and regulations. It has taken me many years to get past this. And honestly until I just read you post, it did not hit me that I while I have said that I do not have religion, the rules and regulations, I have always known that I needed them. And I also followed them. I need that balance. I do not need the Pharisee way of life. But I do need both.

    Thank you for a very thought provoking post and for linking up @LiveLifeWell!

    Blessings,

    Amy

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Balance really is a key in life. I have a relative who has started to skew very heavily into limited religious thinking. Everything has become good or evil. TV, evil. Church on Sunday, good. Movies, evil. Religious movies, good. People who swear, evil. Without the balance, she’s condemning entire segments of the world with a very broad brush. #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This is an interesting topic. You have a great way of approaching sometimes difficult topics with grace and thought provoking words. In my own opinion…for what that’s worth. 🙂 I think people use “spiritual” as an escape goat…Yes, I believe something, but I’m not going to define it. I’m not going to let it affect my life. It is based on my emotions, feeling, and circumstances. It is sad that religon has gotten such a bad rap. I do think a lot of it does have to do with fear. Although, like you said it shouldn’t evoke fear, but I think it does. People think religon and they think rules, regulations, control. I agree that we need boundaries in our life. We need the truths of the bible to protect us and to guide us. Spirituality is missing definition…what exactly do you believe in? And Religon -can be- missing relationship. It’s all about your relationship with Jesus. Thanks for sharing with us at #LiveLifeWell

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree completely with your thoughts on spirituality. Usually, that means “I don’t want to go to church”. Rules are not such a bad thing. I don’t understand why it has such a negative connotation. Thank you for giving a platform to share thoughts.

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  20. I love that myself Laurie, when you inadvertently encounter something that provokes great thought in you. They are always the best! Something to really chew on. I totally understand where your point – you need a healthy balance of the two. Unfortunately I have directly encountered this issue many times with my husband’s family because they are atheists and definitely do not like living by ‘rules’. At this stage we just never ever discuss religion on any level because it never goes well and only causes upset. I’m sure being on the elliptical helped give you clarity – there is nothing like exercise to clear your thoughts! As usual I really enjoy reading your posts. Always thought provoking #ablogginggoodtime

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tracey. I think a balance of religion and spirituality is best, but everyone has his/her own ideas. Atheists and religious people have their own ideas. Having an open mind is best, I think.

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  21. Hi Laurie, your run in Florida reminds me of our hike last Sunday… Down, down, down we went over 10km to the edge of some cliffs and the return climb was a mere 4km, but oh how they hurt!… Who knew that Oprah could be so thought-provoking, but I must be honest and say that I have never watched her – I do live on a big rock. Life is one big balancing act and getting it right is often easier said than done. For me, it’s a balance between rules, freedom and respect that I have tried to instil into the family and whilst we aren’t perfect, I’m happy.

    Thank you for popping by and sharing with #keepingitreal.

    xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I always liked runs that started out uphill and finished downhill – save the easiest part for the end when my legs are more tired! If you’re happy, you must be doing something right! 🙂

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