A connected spirituality in Asia

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Steps to Temple of the Emerald Buddha at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Bangkok and Thailand is filled with many temples, including some mosques and churches.  It’s a religious and multi-religious society with a connected spirituality.  Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on it; but I couldn’t find words to explain why I felt the people of Thailand and S.E. Asia were “nice”.  “Nice” doesn’t accurately describe the people’s calm, kind and compassionate demeanor.  After some reflection, I think I’ve got it.  Their culture has been influenced through their Buddhist religion and spirituality that teaches and espouses values of kindness and compassion.

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Ratchaprasong District, Bangkok, Thailand

Notice this public map at the Skytrain station in a very busy district of Bangkok.  Thousands of people pass by it everyday to seek direction.  It says: “Eat, Pray, Shop.” The surprising thing is “Pray” is highlighted and “Eat” and “Shop” are grayed out.  No need to hide their spirituality, but rather, it emphasizes it.  I really like that.  They are openly spiritual people and recognize the need to “Pray”.  That’s something we can learn from.

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White Temple, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai

Yes, here in the west we may be multicultural but it doesn’t mean we have to hide our spiritual or religious differences by wiping them away.  To wipe away and hide our religious and spiritual heritages is to deplete ourselves of a blessing that it has nourished and enriched western society. I “pray” that we don’t do that and destroy God’s blessings that the Holy Spirit through Christ’s teachings have provided us (e.g.,, things like kindness, love and compassion and the fruits of the Spirit).  The Apostle Paul reminded the Church in the Epistles to the Galatians 5:22-23 (Holy Bible) of these things I hope we continue to practice:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Part 4: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have you noticed a decline in evangelism in your local church?

In most rural communities, the visible church is more stable and will likely remain (although many historic mainline churches are closing).  Naturally, change in rural communities do not happen as frequently; therefore, people will have the opportunity to integrate their spirituality and their religious life when they feel a need to do so (e.g., some may even decide to enter a church after a long absence after Baptism, Confirmation, wedding/funeral, or the odd Christmas worship service).

However, in the urban communities where the visible Church is less likely to be a permanent fixture.  Fast-paced change is common place (due to construction and new developments).  If an established or historic local church were to disappear from a major intersection in “City X”, the religious loss might not be very apparent; however, the spiritual void will eventually be felt by people whether we know it or not.

What does this mean for the visible Church in urban settings today?  The visible church triumphant must continue to remain and become a more visible part in our urban communities.

Are we, the Church, trying and working hard enough to make the visible Church more visible in our urban settings?  Hardly.

Tragically, many congregations of the historic mainline denominations are shrinking and disappearing from the religious landscape.  This will continue for the foreseeable future because they are failing to  help people make the connection between people’s spiritual lives with their real everyday lives.  There is a currently a huge void and lack of vision for evangelism in reaching out to people with Jesus’ Gospel message.

This means that our contemporary evangelical churches must continue to take responsibility and carry the load for evangelism and mission in urban communities.  Thankfully, many churches have not forgotten or lost their passion and vision for evangelism and outreach.  As Christ’s visible Church triumphant in North American society, we must remember and carry out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Is your local church doing taking responsibility in carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28?

[ see previous post: Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural ]

Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Is there still a need in people’s lives to express their spirituality in some way, shape or form–and within community?  Our  western culture seems to have taken individuality to the extreme where religious community life has been secularized and devalued to the sidelines of life, and even ignored.  Participation in religious community life has now become totally voluntary… but maybe this is good.  It separates true and genuine Christian believers/seekers who voluntarily commit to their beliefs from those who follow Christianity due to involuntary happenstance or family heritage.  As religious community life becomes more marginalized, what distinguishes the visible church from the invisible church will be pared down.  The expression of true spirituality and religious life will become more apparent to secular eyes.

Morever, and more to my point, is that, people who voluntarily desire to become a part of an organized religious/faith community (a church) are not as prone to sliding into spiritual oblivion. Here’s a few cases I witnessed the past month that explains our human need to be in Christian community:

The other day, a stranger walked into our church during our prayer meeting.  he didn’t know us, and we didn’t know him from Adam.  I admired his courage to enter our church.  I suspect the reason why he came might have been motivated by his desire to express his thanks to God for getting him a new job, after having been unemployed for the last four months.  In our prayers together, I felt that our small prayer group was successful in helping him express his thankfulness to God for giving him a job.  I ended up giving him a bible to take home, and we all welcomed him to come again to join us for Sunday worship and Wednesday night prayer meetings (may the Holy Spirit continue working in his life).  Also another fellow had walked into our prayer meeting a month ago. I don’t know what motivated him to come but I sensed he had a need to come.  He wasn’t a complete stranger to the church because he says he knew someone from a while back.

All of us need to have  an outlet for spiritual expression.  Without it, we will ultimately become disconnected from true spirituality.  If the opportunity for one to access  such expressions are denied them, will their spirituality become lifeless and formless? 

[ next post expresses what we need to do about this disconnect. See previous post Part 2. ]

Part 2: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have we, as a society, kept our spirituality hidden away too much from the eyes of others for the sake of being tolerant? 

In my move from rural to urban, I have also noticed a big difference in how people approach spirituality (as opposed to religion).   Spirituality in the urban setting (especially on the part of the postmodern generation), is much more individualized, where one person’s spirituality might not  be the same as another’s approach.  This is fine, but when one’s spiritual life is totally disconnected from the religious community life and privatized, there is a hidden danger.  When a person’s sense of spirituality goes dry and empty without some kind of organized religion to support and back them up, their spiritual lives can slide into oblivion.   They may lose their entire sense of spirituality and never know how far they’ve gone because no one is there to keep them accountable.

Has the expression of individual spirituality become too privatized?

[ next post expresses our lack or need of spiritual expression in society. ]

Part 1: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

This will be the first post in a four part series.  I want to bring up and provoke some thoughts about differences in people’s attitudes toward religion and spirituality in both rural and urban settings. The Church is at a critical moment in the 21st century. Either we work to survive and thrive, or we curl up and die in a corner.  What has Christ called us to?

Have you noticed a difference in people’s attitudes toward religious and spiritual expression between rural and urban communities?

Having moved from a small community to a large one, I have noticed very big differences in the religious and spiritual landscapes between urban and rural settings.

In the rural setting, religion is still part of people’s normal everyday lives.  Whether or not they participate in organized religion, the established Christian church is there and is accepted as an integral part of the community.  It is funny how even non-church goers understand and accept the Christian church as  part of being people’s normal everyday life.  If the church were to collapse or close  in a rural community, there would be a marked void in their life because they will feel that something is missing.  I think this is due to how the church has remained somewhat integrated into the life of small communities.

In the urban setting, religion is hardly and rarely a part of people’s everyday lifestyle.  If a church is not sitting there in front of their face, it can very easily go unnoticed and be forgotten.  Furthermore, the impact of the Christian church is minimal and hardly felt in the midst of the busy and changing marketplace.  If an urban church were to suddenly disappear due to deconstruction to make room for a new condo and business developments, most people won’t even notice.  They will have forgotten that a church had even existed on intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue.

How is your local church integrated into your community (rural or urban)? Would there be an impact in your immediate community if your local congregation were to burn down or suddenly disappear?

[ next post touches on society’s approach to finding a connection with their spiritual lives. ]