Ken Wilson thinks Americans are on a religious pilgrimage. Most of us, anyway. Whether we spend the Sabbath at a place of worship or not, he says, we are searching for meaning in greater numbers than ever before.
And our search is drawing us together. Wilson says that, too. Some of us cling harder than ever to our own particular beliefs, he says. But most of us are trying to figure out what we have in common.
Wilson is an evangelical minister and one of the leaders of a collaboration between evangelicals and scientists as they attempt to save God's creation/the environment. This spring, he published a book called "Jesus Brand? Spirituality."
In a telephone interview from his home in Michigan, Wilson said he sees a massive change going on in the religious landscape.
Wilson, himself, follows Christ as a source of leadership and inspiration. However, he is seeing the coming together of all faiths and those who are unaffiliated with any religion.
Wilson writes, "There are wrongs that need righting; problems in our world that need fixing. These are complex problems that can only be solved by extraordinary cooperation.
"We can't get there from here without a shared concern for justice, rooted in the hope for a better world. We can't get there from here without a substantially increased capacity to practice love, including love of our enemies and those with whom we don't easily get along."
The recent Pew Forum surveys of the U.S. religious landscape seem to bear out at least part of Wilson's theory that there is a whole lot of searching going on. Fully 44 percent of Americans have changed faiths at some point during their lives, and the number of those who are unaffiliated with any religion has never been higher. It's at 16 percent and continuing to rise.
Wilson also believes all humans are innately spiritual and that those who are not affiliated with any faith find their own ways to nurture their souls. When a person of faith meets someone who says, "I am spiritual but not religious," Wilson advises both to take the opportunity to ask questions and find common ground.
He offers dozens of questions in his book. Questions such as, "Is it possible to be a disciple of Jesus while remaining unsettled about what many consider to be core issues of faith?" Questions such as, "What are some experiences you've had on the giving and the receiving side of contempt over matters of spirituality or religion?"
Recently the Deseret News asked several Utahns who are not affiliated with a church to consider two of Wilson's questions: "What opportunity do you see in your own life to participate in the communal dimension of spirituality?" and "What one thing about the church (your own, those you know of, your impression of the Christian church at large) would you change to make it more in keeping with the spirituality of Jesus as you understand it?"
Julianna Shields says she and her husband draw comfort from a group of friends who, like them, are no longer members of any church. She's especially glad to report that the bitterness they all felt when they left their faith has dissipated now. She says practicing Christians would be more like Jesus if they could do away with labels and stop comparing themselves to others.
Leslie Urry has a group of friends who believe there is something larger, a force with power over their lives. But her friends don't need a house of worship, she says. "They are comfortable with being quiet and letting the rhythm and music of the world wash over them."
Urry spends time in something she doesn't necessarily call prayer. She names her burdens and lets them go. Or she looks at opportunities and allows herself to become open to them. She believes churchgoers get further from Jesus the more time they spend judging others.
As for Judy Zone, she finds a spiritual community through her work as director of a nonprofit. When people are feeling a lack of spirit the best thing they can do is help others, she says.
The turning point in her religious life came when she decided that a wise God would not have created so many different religions without a reason. She wishes all religions would focus on the reason they are here, to enhance the natural good of the world.
When it comes to a sense that believers are in motion, Shields says she doesn't see much motion, but she adds that may be because she lives in Utah County. And in fact, the Pew survey bears out her observation that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among the least likely people in America to go looking for a new religion. The survey shows that Hindus retain 84 percent of those who start out in the faith, while Jewish, Orthodox and LDS religions come next with 70 percent retention rates.
Still, Wilson would point out, you can stay within your own faith and still feel an increasing connection with those who have other beliefs. He ends his book by advising conversation. "We are traveling together," he writes.
That being said, he has a thought for those who say, "I'm spiritual but not religious." This phrase has been around for 30 years, he says. He thinks the phrase is an attempt to corral and separate the negative aspects of religion, and he understands the impulse.
But Wilson would like to hear something more specific. He'd like to hear words that could start a conversation.
Perhaps, "I don't attend church. I also believe there is more to this world than meets the eye."Or, "I find myself on a robust and often dicey spiritual pilgrimage."