To start, a story.
A few years ago a female student wanted to visit with me about some difficulties she was having, mainly with her family life. As is my practice, we walked around campus as we talked.
After talking for some time about her family situation we turned to other areas of her life. When she reached spiritual matters we had the following exchange:
Obviously, I was being a bit provocative with the student. And I did go on to clarify. But I was trying to push back on a strain of Christianity I see in both my students and the larger Christian culture. Specifically, when the student said "I need to work on my relationship with God" I knew exactly what she meant. It meant praying more, getting up early to study the bible, to start going back to church. Things along those lines. The goal of these activities is to get "closer" to God. To "waste time with Jesus." Of course, please hear me on this point, nothing is wrong with those activities. Personal acts of piety and devotion are vital to a vibrant spiritual life and continued spiritual formation. But all too often "working on my relationship with God" has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being."I need to spend more time working on my relationship with God."I responded, "Why would you want to do that?"Startled she says, "What do you mean?""Well, why would you want to spend any time at all on working on your relationship with God?""Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?""Let me answer by asking you a question. Can you think of anyone, right now, to whom you need to apologize? Anyone you've wronged?"She thinks and answers, "Yes.""Well, why don't you give them a call today and ask for their forgiveness. That might be a better use of your time than working on your relationship with God."
Going to churchWorshipPrayingSpiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)Bible studyVoting RepublicanGoing on spiritual retreatsReading religious booksArguing with evolutionistsSending your child to a Christian school or providing education at homeUsing religious languageAvoiding R-rated moviesNot reading Harry Potter.