I have a good friend here in Haiti who came to the country four years ago to work with a large Christian NGO based here. After two years of working for that org, having raised significant funds and provided significant growth to their programs, he was kicked out of the organization on the basis of being “not spiritual enough”. Although he has now moved on to do his own thing with a fair amount of success (and what I would consider a very high level of spirituality) this allegation of his spirit lacking depth still nags at him making him constantly question whether he is being an acceptable reflection of the god he follows through the work that he does here. He is one of the growing number of young Christians working within this country who may not accept the missionary label but they still do what they do out of a complete devotion to Jesus Christ and what they feel to be his calling upon their lives to serve their brothers and sisters in need. So when someone criticizes their spirit, especially for the purpose of fulfilling a nonprofit political agenda, it becomes deeply personal and can cause one to really doubt their reasons for even trying to follow God.
I’ve been in that place before myself, perhaps more legitimately so than my friend, where Christian supporters of the work that I do here throw into question my own spiritual standing with God, often as an excuse to save them from the burden of caring themselves. It’s a convenient way to blame their lack of desire to donate or volunteer or promote by saying that I’m the one who’s not spiritual enough. It makes it easier for them to ignore their own mandate to live in humble unity and sacrificial love if they can reject it based on a simple dogmatic checklist of my own spiritual actions. If I don’t mention the work of Jesus Christ a certain number of times in my newsletter, then clearly they don’t need to donate to any of my community programs that benefit Christ’s children.
So when this friend and I were recently sitting and eating some grio (fried pork) and plantains along with another friend who was visiting, all three of us being Americans with backgrounds of being raised in different sectors of Christianity, we tumbled upon this conversation once again. An open discussion of theology and how we apply it to our work and everyday interactions with one another ensued. Who is the authority to decide what is spiritual enough, or when one becomes too spiritual? How can we come to terms with our own personal spiritual paths, when they become a measure of our ability or inability to do a certain job that we feel called to do? How can we continue to ask questions that lead us to a fuller understanding of our own spirit while still holding firm to a sense of faith in our beliefs? These questions brought up the issues of how, in the nonprofit world, money often carries power to dictate the level of spirituality that is integrated into one’s work regardless of how much is already in one’s life. There seems to be a secret code to gauge these levels that only the people giving money are privy to, not those asking for the money. A code that is never revealed in the Bible or any other book but is constructed out of our own agendas to prove ourselves right.
Somewhere along the trajectory of the conversation it was revealed that I have a minor degree in religion and have studied a variety of religious practices which would seem to suggest that maybe I would know some of the answers to such questions. But really, I think that anyone who has studied religion, especially those who have studied it much more than myself, might agree that the more you learn, the more questions you ask, not the more answers you know. The more you study the more mysterious and profound the Spirit becomes when you see how it is manifested and experienced by so many different individuals and cultures around the world.
Which is why it becomes especially offensive when someone uses our spirituality as a scapegoat for something completely different. When someone suggests that we may not be spiritual enough to do our job, what they really are saying is that the way we experience the spirit doesn’t look enough like the way they experience it and they are afraid of what that means so they want to remove us from their presence so that they don’t have to confront those questions that they might be tempted to ask themselves. What it means is that they’ve deduced the Spirit into a tidy dictionary definition with which they can judge someone’s value as a human being. They think they’ve caught lightning in a bottle and they’ve quickly shoved a cork in the top so when someone suggests that such a thing can’t be contained they swiftly gesture into the distance and cry, “Away from me you heretic!”
I believe that any religion that requires language to define its legitimacy deserves to be questioned. The spirit moves without words, driving our beliefs to dance and change like the wind. The moment you start to tie that spirit down with labels that try to describe something we can never fully comprehend you betray the essence of your own spirit that moves you to be dissolved into something greater than yourself. That spirit moves beyond the limitations of words like Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, or any other. Any one may be true or they all might describe some sort of truth, but no one can deny that there is a spiritual reality to each that can be universally understood and experienced once the words are wiped away. Describe the experience without the religion, and it all tastes the same. Beautiful and sweet with a sense of hope residing somewhere in its core. Of such a thing, there can never be “enough”.
So may we all reject notions of “spiritual enough”. No matter what label we choose to affix to ourselves based on the building that we walk into when we want to commune with the spirit in an intermutual fashion with others, let us live with a desire to never be spiritual enough. For such a state of being does not exist and anyone who claims to be there is probably living a much more boring life than the rest of us anyway.
What do you think? Is spiritual enough possible? And if it is, once we get there, what is there to live for after that?