In light of my comments in a previous post about the subtle differences in emphasis between the two streams of the Mennonite world I am becoming increasingly familiar with, I was intrigued to come across a passage by Ron Rolheiser in my reading this week that addresses the importance of both the private (i.e., individual piety) and the public (i.e., concern for justice) dimensions of Christian spirituality.
The following two quotes address the twin dangers of a spirituality that is either too personal or not personal enough, and are taken from a chapter called “The Nonnegotiable Essentials” in The Holy Longing:
Within liberal Christianity, and within secular culture as a whole, there is a certain fear that having too-privatized a relationship with Jesus is dangerous, that this is something that takes us away from true religion. Thus, to speak of a personal relationship with Jesus today is to run the danger of being called a fundamentalist….
There are real dangers in an overprivatization of spirituality. The spiritual life is not just about “Jesus and I.” However, there are equal dangers in not having enough “Jesus and I” within our spiritual lives. The danger in not having the proper interiority (intimacy with God) and the personal moral fidelity to back up our faith preaching is that we end up turning Christianity into a philosophy, an ideology, and a moral code, but ultimately missing what Christianity is all about, a relationship with a real person. If we refuse to take seriously this first pillar of the spiritual life, we will continue to go through the motions, perhaps even with some passion, but we will be unable to inspire our own children or pass on our faith to them. Moreover, we will eventually find ourselves both empty and angry, feeling cheated, and struggling with the temptation of either becoming ever more bitter or of chucking it all.
And the opposite danger:
When we make spirituality essentially a privatized thing, cut off from the poor and the demands for justice that are found there, it soon degenerates into mere private therapy, an art form, or worse still, an unhealthy clique.
God cannot be related to without continually digesting the uneasiness and pain that are experienced by looking, squarely and honestly, at how the weakest members in our society are faring and how our lifestyle is contributing to that. This is not something that a few liberation theologians, feminists, and social justice advocates are trying to foist on us. This is not a liberal agenda item. It is something that lies at the very heart of the gospel and which Jesus himself makes the ultimate criterion for our final judgment.