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Rogue Spirituality

Project Conversion is still getting into my head. I came across a phrase there one night, a phrase that stuck with me: the spiritual rogue. It got stuck in my head, and the next morning I came back to the site and looked for it and couldn’t find it and thought I’d dreamed it. But it was there, all right, buried in an offhand comment. A week later it’s still with me.

Before going further I suppose I need to clarify what the s-word means to me. Spirit, spiritual, spirituality. I know people have many different ideas and emotions about this. The very word may become an obstacle because it conjures so many negative associations. Yet at the core, I think of spirituality as encompassing three main things which few would deny: meaning, values, purpose. (Props to Arthur Zajonc.) Forget about all the other baggage (religion, dogma, mystical experiences, prayer, ritual, tradition, church, incense, afterlife, divinity) for a moment. When I think of the spiritual aspect of life, I’m thinking about meaning, values, and purpose. If there’s a better word for this, I don’t know what it is, though I’m certainly open to suggestions.

So back to this phrase, the spiritual rogue. It resonates with a double meaning. The first image in my mind is that of a socially independent “drifter” type who has a sensitivity to spiritual issues. But then there’s also the idea of a person whose spirituality is sort of rugged and individualistic.

And, surprise surprise, I kind of see myself in both of these images. I’ve been a spiritual rogue for most of my life — all my adult life, in fact. There’s nothing particularly unique about that. I suspect it’s a quintessential modern American experience. We are a nation of spiritual rogues. Or at least, there are a lot of us out here. It stands to reason that there are two other camps: those in true spiritual communities, and the spiritually dead. Off the cuff, I’d guess the dead outnumber the rest of us. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But as many as one-third of Americans say they’re “spiritual but not religious,” and that seems like a pretty substantial chunk.

Spiritual but not religious” is so well-worn it’s become almost cliché, at least in my mind. But now that I think of it, isn’t it the same thing? Maybe so. Sometimes a fresh turn of phrase makes a difference.

I’ve considered spiritual matters of paramount importance for as long as I can remember. Yet for the better part of my life I’ve been out here on my own, not a part of any formal community or school of thought. I’ve been a rogue wanderer so long I’m not sure I can be anything else. But what does this rogue spirituality mean for my family, for my daughter who is only three years old? Can a lone wolf be a good dad? And thinking about these things makes me realize something that is kind of hard for me to admit: namely, that I have been longing for spiritual community.

I should make clear that I don’t desire a label or an -ism just for the sake of social respectability. But since the birth of my daughter I’ve found myself stretching and growing in ways that surprise me. I want what’s best for her, of course, but it’s more than that. I also have been redefining what’s best for me. The idea of being part of an explicitly religious community remains waaay outside my comfort zone. And yet community is important to me. I’m very active in my community, but it’s all so damn fragmented. We are always looking at pieces and never the whole. Ritual and tradition have great power to make meaning of life, though many of the big secular ones in our society leave me cold, or worse. It would be nice to be able to celebrate holidays that truly reflect the values we cherish. There’s a strength in numbers, too, which might provide a little buffer against those who see the world differently. That might make it a little easier to walk our path from day to day.

These are questions I’d be wrestling with, regardless, but it’s eerie how the recent Project Conversion postings have resonated with me, ripened certain thoughts, and provoked me to seek greater clarity. I’m afraid it’s all still rather incoherent. Clearly this is a work in progress. But these are things I have been thinking about, and I’d rather make mention of them in half-baked form than leave them out entirely.

Published inTheology


  1. jay jay

    “it’s eerie” My friend is a spiritual rogue, I’ve never heard that phrase but it really makes sense. He claims he once had an ongoing headache and he was compelled to literally pull the negative spirit causing the pain from his head and throw it out the window. It was a last resort because advil or whatever was not working. Almost instantly he heard a car screech to a halt, so he looked out the window and the hood of the car was detached and in the street. He went out and the driver told him the hood was not previously damaged and it was a freak incident. The spirit was so strong it ripped through steel! More eerieness: My 4 y.o. nephew said “I want to see a shooting star!” when we were looking at stars and almost instantly a HUGE sparkling meteor appeared directly overhead, and actually freaked him out.

  2. Garvey Garvey

    @jay: if there were a supposed “negative spirit in his head,” why would getting rid of it be a *last* resort instead of a *first* one? Doesn’t make a lot of sense, really.

  3. The experience Jay describes is exactly the reason I supplied my own definition of spirituality. When I reference spirituality I’m not talking about possession by demons, or precognition. Just wanted to make that clear.

  4. Peris Peris

    Yet I think there’s something to be said for giving a child some experience of the world of the church-going. My wife thought it was a good idea for our daughters to have, though she had no church, and I had less, rogue that I am. It was very difficult for me to accept at the time, but I think she was right. They found the local UUs to be a community that fit, and they grew some strong friendships, while learning a lot about all religions.

  5. […] sunburnt about the torso, I took the laptop outside and sat in the shade, posting a meditation on Rogue Spirituality to my blog and catching up with […]

  6. Martin Martin

    Hmmmm….. Spiritual Roguishness – brings to mind a winking Buddha or some such. Certainly more relaxed than the sober seriousness and (all too often) high-handed righteousness one often encounters within the more established (and establishment) religious camps. But to each their own, I say, not to mention the fact that some of the rituality that occurs makes for glorious theater in and of itself.

    As to what to do to and for the kiddies – why not pick one of the more common camps for them to use as a foundation when they’re old enough to more-or-less understand the stories and then, later on, have them switch to something else for comparison so that they can learn to pick and choose what, if anything, suits them as they grow older. My folks did that for me and voila’!, I ended up a ‘Spiritual Rogue’ myself – pretty well grounded in nearly everything and ending up not particularly connected to any ‘religion’ per se.

    I have to admit, however, that I lean strongly toward Taoism – the belief system, that is, but certainly not the religious form, which is really peculiar.

  7. […] But hold on just a minute. Isn’t that religion? A set of practices designed to develop our natural faculties for meaning, purpose and values? But I have no religion. I’m an atheist, an anarchist, a spiritual rogue. […]

  8. Lpf Lpf

    Funny, I was driving today and saw a model car with the name rouge. I often see graphic signs spiritually as they tug on my sub-conscious and curiosity. I then prayed and felt the leading to look this up. Only those with “spiritual gifts” usually pick these things up in different forms. I am independent of any church but have a foundation of Christianity filtering away religious yorks. Sin is still something that eats away at the soul, so this is not a free for all church hurt situation. Back to my point.. yes we could be spiritual drifters or the opposite and spiritual rouge cold he hindering you from your next level such as someone close in your life that has influenced you and turned you off from the idea of community. Look at a few definitions and see how it fits your situation.

    A tramp or vagabond

    Biology.a usually inferior organism, especially a plant, varying markedly from the normal.

    verb (used without object), rogued, ro·guing.

    to live or act as a rogue.

    verb (used with object), rogued, ro·guing.

    to cheat.

    to uproot or destroy (plants, etc., that do not conform to a desired standard).

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