When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Churchby Lillian Daniel
The phrase "I'm spiritual but not religious" has become a cliché. It's easy to find God amid the convenience of self-styled spiritualitybut is it possible (and more worthwhile) to search for God through religion?
Minister and celebrated author Lillian Daniel gives a new spin on church with stories of what a life of faith can really be: weird,… See more details below
The phrase "I'm spiritual but not religious" has become a cliché. It's easy to find God amid the convenience of self-styled spiritualitybut is it possible (and more worthwhile) to search for God through religion?
Minister and celebrated author Lillian Daniel gives a new spin on church with stories of what a life of faith can really be: weird, wondrous, and well worth trying. From a rock-and-roller sexton to a BB gun-toting grandma, a church service attended by animals to a group of unlikely theologians at Sing Sing, Daniel shows us a portrait of church that is flawed, fallibleand deeply faithful. With poignant reflections and sly wit, Daniel invites all of us to step out of ourselves, dare to become a community, and encounter a God greater than we could ever invent.
Humorous and sincere, this is a book about people finding God in the most unexpected of places: prisons, airports, yoga classes, committee meetings, and, strangest of all, right there in church.
Marvelously gritty wit...an impassioned and winning case for why church, community, and formal religious traditions are so integral to creating a fulfilling life....her ideas are thought provoking and infectious."Booklist, Starred Review"
Intelligent, inviting and nurturing, these essays...offer a rich banquet for pastors, lifelong congregants, disaffected Christians, and confused seekers alike."Publishers Weekly, Starred Review"
This is the wonderful, essential Lillian Daniel at her best-earthy, perceptive, devout, tough-minded, angry and laugh-out-loud funny, all in one. Daniel's easygoing style is just right for revealing her great gift of finding God in the everyday. Sometimes she is biting. Sometimes she is tender and often what she says is stunningly beautiful."Bob Abernethy, Executive Editor, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, PBS"
Here is why I love Lillian Daniel's writing: it is honest; it is funny; and it teaches me about Mary and Martha via a yoga class. The church she describes is the place that has sustained my spiritual life when my own interior sense of God's presence has faltered; and it is the place that, as often as not, is where I am sitting when my sense of God's presence reignites."Lauren F. Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis"
You read some things because you have to or need to or ought to. You'll read Lillian Daniel for the pure pleasure of pitch-perfect writing-she has the rare talent of a "natural." Along the way, you'll discover enrichment and insight that you needed and wanted ... Lillian cooks up a delicious and nourishing feast for readers. Don't miss it!"Brian McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (brianmclaren.net)"
Lillian is as fed up with bad religion as anyone else, but she's also careful to celebrate good religion and good spirituality that brings people to life and makes the world a better place. May her book invite us to stop complaining about the Church we've experienced and work on becoming the Church we dream of."Shane Claiborne, author and activist, facebook.com/ShaneClaiborne
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When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not EnoughSeeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church
By Lillian Daniel
Jericho BooksCopyright © 2013 Lillian Daniel
All right reserved.
Searching and Praying
Spiritual but Not Religious?
A man recently told me something about his faith life, as people are wont to do with ministers. He said, “I’m spiritual but not religious, and I want to give you my testimony, if you will, about why I do not attend church.”
Now, can I just vent for a minute? When I meet a teacher, I don’t feel the need to tell him that I always hated math. When I meet a chef, I don’t need to tell her that I can’t cook. When I meet a clown, I don’t need tell him that I think clowns are all scary.
No, I keep that stuff to myself. But everybody loves to tell a minister what’s wrong with the church, and it’s usually some church that bears no relation to the one I am proud to serve. So I braced myself.
Like so many Americans, he had made many stops in the new American religious marketplace, where we no longer have to stay in the tradition we were born in. Today, Americans shop for churches. I’ve moved from one church to another, and some of you probably have too.
So he was raised in the Catholic faith. He came to feel injured by that tradition, let down by it. His questions weren’t answered or welcomed. The worship, the rituals, the preaching—it all felt pretty irrelevant.
So later, after college, he was drawn as a young adult into a conservative Baptist church. He had joined that church because of the great people, and even accepted Christ as his personal savior during a service. But later, after joining, he realized the church held all sorts of strict beliefs he could not contend with, the worst of which was a prohibition on dancing, not to mention a prohibition against sex before marriage, which as you know, often leads to dancing. What kind of God would not want me to use my body to move? He wondered, about that, and about the dancing. He drifted from that church.
Later, after marrying, he joined the church of his wife’s upbringing, an open-minded liberal Protestant church in my own denomination, a church he described as a big warm hug. There, dancing and drinking were not frowned upon, and neither were his theological questions. In that intellectual environment, he was encouraged to use his mind to study the biblical narrative, to consider the history of the day and think critically about scripture. His questions, even his doubts, did not shock anybody, and in fact he was told all those questions actually made him a very good mainline Protestant.
But the marriage ended, and now that church really felt like his wife’s, so he found himself spending his Sunday mornings sleeping in, reading The New York Times, or putting on his running shoes and taking off through the woods. This was his religion today, he explained. “I worship nature. I see myself in the trees and in the butterflies. I am one with the great outdoors. I find God there. And I realized that I am deeply spiritual but no longer religious.”
He dumped the news in my lap as if it were a controversial hot potato, something that would shock a mild-mannered minister never before exposed to ideas so brave and different and daring. But of course, to me, none of this was different in the least.
This kind and well-meaning Sunday jogger fits right into mainstream American culture. He is perhaps by now in the majority—all those people who have stepped away from the church in favor of …what? Running, newspaper reading, Sunday yoga, or whatever they put together to construct a more convenient religion of their own making.
I was not shocked or upset by the man’s story. Naturally, I have heard it a million times before, so often that I almost thought I could improvise the plotline along with him. Let me guess, you read The New York Times every Sunday, cover to cover, and you get more out of it than the sermon. Let me guess, you exercise and where do you find God? Nature. And the trees, it’s always the trees during a long hike, a long run, a walk on the beach. And don’t forget the sunset. These people always want to tell you that God is in the sunset.
Like people who attend church wouldn’t know that. Like we are these monkish people who never heard all those Old Testament psalms that praise God in the beauty of natural creation, like we never leave the church building. God in nature? Really? It’s all over the Bible that we hear every Sunday, but these folks always seem to think they invented it.
But push a little harder, on this self-developed religion, and you don’t get much, at least much of depth. So you find God in the sunset? Great, so do I. But how about in the face of cancer? Cancer is nature too. Do you worship that as well?
You see God in the face of your children, when they are saying loving things, or looking just like their grandmother, or saying something cute and winning about God.
Have you ever noticed that these spiritual but not religious adults, so averse to hearing about God in church, where adults have actually spent some time thinking about these things, never tire of hearing about it from their own children? These are the people who keep the “cute things kids say about God” chain e-mails in business.
“Let me tell you what my kid said the other day: ‘Mommy, I think God is like the rainbow.’”
“Can you believe the wisdom of that?” says the proud spiritual but not religious parent.
Have you ever noticed that these people’s children are always theological geniuses? They amaze their parents with their wisdom. What are the odds? I presume it is because, like most children, they are parroting back their parents’ values. So the children also see God in nature but, because they are children and have bigger eyes, large heads, and high voices, they generally do so in much cuter ways. “I think there will be doggies and birdies and candy in heaven.” Awww…
But let’s take that a little further, junior. Will there be sharks and snakes in heaven too? Ewww. How about blood-sucking vampire bats? Now that’ll keep you up at night, junior theologian.
These kids, teaching their parents with homespun aphorisms, are actually being poorly served. If they went to Sunday school they could ask about bats and scorpions in heaven. They could ask about cancer when a grandparent gets sick. They would have a place, a spiritual community, in which to go deeper.
But their parents, so afraid that the church is a place where they force you to accept their answers, have set up a vacuum in which the answers get invented without any formation or guidance. So when there are rainbows and happy kids it all works, but it’s not so successful in the face of temper tantrums, selfishness, and dare I say it, sin. Because most self-developed Sunday morning ritual has little room for sin.
Or for disaster, for that matter. Suffering is seldom accounted for in these self-made spiritualities, other than as something we might overcome, by hard work, exercise, and reading the op-ed page. But worldwide disaster, how do you wrestle with that?
Well, here’s how the man I told you about did it. Realizing that as a pastor I was desperately in need of reeducation, he went on to explain that his own little junior theologian, now a teenager, had bowled him over with another great insight, a brilliant thought exchange between father and son that made the dad realize his choice not to attend church was the right one, for his son had truly embraced the values he had always hoped he would.
Listen to what my son wrote, he said. “Children are starving with empty bellies in faraway lands. They have nothing to eat. All around them they hear the sounds of gunfire and bombs going off. And it made me realize that we are so lucky. We are so lucky to be living here and not there.”
“I had tears in my eyes when he said that,” the proud parent explained. “I was blown away and I realized, he gets it, he really gets it. It was gratitude. That’s our religion—gratitude. And at that moment, when he recognized all that suffering and how fortunate he was, I could not have been prouder.”
Never been prouder? I thought. Really? I mean, I can see being proud that your kid watches the news. I can see being a little proud that he understands himself to have privileges in this country that other people do not. I can see being a little relieved that he knows not everyone goes to bed with a full stomach, that he can at least imagine the fact that war causes unimaginable pain. But then what? The punch line from the religion of gratitude: “We’re so lucky that we live here instead of there.” Really? That’s it? Never been prouder?
What’s missing from that worldview—and this is no fault of the teenager—but what is missing from that worldview is the perspective that you might get in a Christian community that would take you from lucky to actually doing something about it. But this kid didn’t get there. Or if he did get there, his dad didn’t care enough to make it part of the story.
His dad was happy to stop with the self-made religion of gratitude, like a person who fills up on the deep-fried appetizers and doesn’t order anything else from the menu. He may not feel hungry for dinner now, but that snack will not sustain him for anything like real exertion. It tastes good, but it’s just not enough.
I am guessing that this family gives to charity and has a good supply of PBS tote bags. But when you witness pain and declare yourself lucky, you have fallen way short of what Jesus would do.
When you witness suffering and declare yourself to have achieved salvation in the religion of gratitude, you have fallen way short of what God would have you do, no matter what religion you are called to.
And by the way, while I think God does want us to feel gratitude, I do not think God particularly wants us to feel lucky. I think God wants us to witness pain and suffering and, rather than feeling lucky, God wants us to get angry and want to do something about it.
The civil rights movement didn’t happen because people felt lucky. The hungry don’t get fed, the homeless don’t get sheltered, and the world doesn’t change because people who are doing okay feel lucky. We need more.
As the scripture today tells us, “In accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We can’t sit back and simply feel gratitude, or feel lucky. No, as Christians we expect more, way more, like a new heaven and a new earth, and because we follow Jesus, we better expect to be involved in making it happen, alongside other people.
Gratitude is a biblically commended attitude. Feeling lucky is another religion altogether, one that says the gods pick one teenager to live in the suburbs of the richest nation on earth and another teenager to starve. In a worldview of luck, righteousness is really not at home.
But at some point the worldview of luck just doesn’t pan out. At some point you realize that this isn’t enough, and you long for something as outrageous as a new heaven and a new earth. At some point, if you think about it at all, that person with the self-made religion will use his God-given brain and the wisdom of hard experiences and start to ask angry and provocative questions about this spirituality of status quo.
“Who are you, God of sunsets and rainbows and bunnies and chain e-mails about sweet friends? Who are you, cheap God of self-satisfaction and isolation? Who are you, God of the beautiful and the physically fit? Who are you, God of the spiritual but not religious? Who are you, God of the lucky, chief priest of the religion of gratitude? Who are you, and are you even worth knowing? Who are you, God whom I invent? Is there, could there be, a more interesting God who invented me?”
I’m not against gratitude, any more than I am against finding God in a sunset or a child’s eyes. Those are all good things, along with puppies, rainbows, great vacations, and birthdays. But here’s the thing—none of that constitutes a religion, and I actually believe, contrary to popular wisdom, that in an age of spiritual people who are not religious, we need religion, and its dearest expression to this particular religious Christian person, the church.
I remember a family new to our church, whose grade-school-age kids had only a year of Sunday school under their belts. In the middle of what was his second Christmas pageant rehearsal ever, the little boy cried out in total exasperation, “Do you mean to tell me that we are doing exactly the same story we did last year?”
Today that youngster is grown up and has been blessed by the repetition that gives his chaotic days meaning. In a world that demands that everything be a one-time-only original production, the church remains a place to remember that there is someone much better than we are at original creations.
And let’s get back to that proud father as an example. When he told me about his son, it finally hit me what was bothering me about this self-styled religion he had invented—he hadn’t invented it at all. It was as boring and predictable as the rest of our self-centered consumer culture, and his very conceit, that this outlook was somehow original, daring, or edgy, was evidence of that very self-centeredness.
If we made a church for all these spiritual but not religious people, if we got them all together to talk about their beliefs and their incredibly unique personal religions, they might find out that most of America agrees with them. But they’ll never find that out. Why? Because getting them all together would be way too much like church. And they are far too busy being original to discover that they are not.
But here in church, we hear scriptures like the one we heard today that tell us that originality and isolation are not the answer, where Jesus says to ordinary, fallible Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” In other words, you people are stuck with one another.
Now, let me acknowledge that on all sides of the Christian spectrum, there is much I do not want to be stuck with, from Koran-burning, pistol-packing pastors to the more ordinary preacher who was trying desperately to be inspiring and shouted out, “Let us launch into the depth of the sea, standing upon the rock that is Jesus!”
No wonder many good people get like the pop singer Prince—they want a new name for what they do, like the artist formerly known as Christian.
The church has done some embarrassing things in its day, and I personally do not want to be associated with a lot of it. But, news flash, human beings do a lot of embarrassing, inhumane, cruel, and ignorant things, and I don’t want to be associated with them either. And here, I think we come to the crux of the problem that the spiritual but not religious people have with the church. If we could just kick out all the human beings, we might really be able to do this thing and meet their high standards.
If we could just kick out all the sinners, we might have a shot at following Jesus. If we could just get rid of the Republicans, the Democrats could bring about the second coming and NPR would never need to run another pledge drive. If we could just kick out all the Democrats, the fiscally responsible would turn water into wine, and the church would never need another pledge drive.
But in the church, as everywhere, we are stuck with one another, and being stuck with one another, we don’t get the space to come up with our own human-invented God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In church, in community, humanity is just way too close to look good.
It’s as close as the guy singing out of tune right next to you in your pew, as close as the woman who doesn’t have access to a shower and didn’t bathe before worship, as close as the baby screaming, and as close as the mother who doesn’t seem to realize it’s driving everyone crazy. It’s as close as that same mother who crawled out an inch from the heavy shell of postpartum depression to get herself here today and wonders if there is a place for her. It’s as close as the woman sitting next to her, who grieves that she will never give birth to a child and eyes that baby with envy.
It’s as close as the preacher who didn’t prepare enough and as close as the listener who is so thirsty for a word, she leans forward for absolutely anything. It’s as close as that teenager who walked here to church alone, seeking something more than gratitude, something more than newspapers and coffee, but instead finds a complicated worship service where everyone seems to know when to stand and when to sit and when to sing except for him, but even so gets caught up in the beauty of something bigger than his own invention.
Suddenly it hits that teenager. I don’t need to invent God, because God has already invented me. I don’t need to make all this up for myself. There’s a community of folks who, over thousands of years, have followed a man who was not lucky, who, in the scheme of luck, was decidedly unlucky. But in the scheme of the church he was willing to die alongside the unlucky, to be raised from the dead, and to point out in that action that there is much more to life than you could possibly come up with. And as for the resurrection, try doing that for yourself.
Around that resurrection assumption, that humbling realization that there are in fact some things we simply cannot do for ourselves, raising the dead being the big one, around that humbling notion, communities of human beings have worked together and feuded together and just goofed up together, but we do it together because Jesus did it with these same types of people.
And thousands of years later, we’re still trying to be the body of Christ; utterly human and realistic enough to know we need a savior who is divine.
At a historic Congregational church in New England, I had the pleasure of leading the church through a big anniversary celebration of the laying of the cornerstone of our third church building. This church had gone through some rough times, two church splits, some angry and painful departures of ministers, but things had been looking up and we were ready to celebrate.
We took two years gearing up for it, and in that last year all sorts of committees were at work, planning a special worship service, the choir rehearsing special anthems, guest speakers and half the church involved in cooking a feast, which, in the tradition of our Pilgrim forebears, would naturally be lasagna and garlic bread. It was going to be great.
And then just about a month before the big day, it came to our volunteer church historian’s attention that there had been a mistake.
In calculating the date.
We had the wrong year.
Our building’s seventy-fifth anniversary had been the year before.
There were hastily-called meetings, not official ones but those unofficial ones among the cognoscenti in the church where they pull one another aside in the bathroom to say, “Did you hear?,” whispers at choir rehearsal and in the parking lot, those kind of meetings, serious debates among the long-term members as to whether or not we ought to even mention this mistake to anybody, or were we obligated to confess our error to the entire congregation?
But we were a small church and by the time you had asked enough people whether or not we should make public the news that we had missed our own anniversary, it was pretty much public already. In fact, I even had some other minister colleagues calling me up from other churches where the news had spread to say, “Really? Really? Your whole church missed its own anniversary?” In historic New England, that’s pastoral misconduct.
By the time we arrived at the next church council meeting, everybody knew but no one had discussed it in any official way and the big anniversary Sunday was around the corner. Would there be blame, embarrassment, frustration, or forgiveness?
Finally in that reserved New England way, when we came to the regular agenda item that had for the last eighteen months been listed as “Anniversary activities,” somebody said, without emotion, “And now we come to the small matter of the anniversary date of our church building, or perhaps we should say the actual anniversary date as opposed to the assumed date we have all been working with, and what should be done about said matter.”
There was a long and awkward silence. And then finally someone said, “Well, I’ve done some research, and it turns out that it took them quite a while to complete the building after they laid the cornerstone. In fact, by the time the building was finished it was no longer the year they started, but it was a year later. So you see, it all depends on what this is the anniversary of. I mean, you can celebrate the anniversary of laying a cornerstone, but that’s hardly fitting. Wouldn’t it be more fitting to celebrate the anniversary of the completion of the building?”
Someone else chimed in, “Not the completion of the building, but the first worship service in it. That had to be that next year. I mean who celebrates the anniversary of a building? It’s all about the people.”
“Why, you’re right, that makes so much sense. I can’t believe we didn’t see it this way from the very beginning.”
To which a wise elder responded, “Ah, but I think we did.”
So in a bit of revisionist history, and if you’ve ever served on a church committee, you know they are seed beds of revisionist history, our story changed from being a church that had wanted to celebrate the cornerstone of the building to a church that had always intended to celebrate the first worship service. And after some more whispered updates at choir rehearsals, in the bathroom, and around the parking lot, it was never mentioned again. This had always been our anniversary plan and it always would be.
I remembered the epistle: “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”
And so on every day, somewhere some tender, fallible, unlucky, lasagna-making, anniversary-forgetting community of faith celebrates an anniversary.
I want to say thank you to all those people. Thank you for being faithful to one another, for welcoming the stranger, and for worshipping the God who invented you and not the other way around.
The Stand-in Church
Pete was the sexton at the first church I served, in charge of maintaining the physical plant of the church. Sextons, not Saint Peter, hold the all-important keys in church life, securing the building after twelve-step meetings, cleaning up before Sunday worship, making sure the boiler is ready and running. A rock-and-roller who had turned his life around, Pete the sexton had finally met the right wife, finally quit drinking, and finally started to think about one day quitting smoking.
With his ever-present dark jeans and T-shirts, salt-and-pepper beard, and rock-star-skinny build, people were always telling Pete that he looked like Eric Clapton. He still played the guitar with other men in that New England suburb, who parked minivans after work and descended into basements where tube amps and Stratocasters kept out the noise of the children’s cartoons upstairs.
As sexton, Pete spent as much time visiting with the church members as he did fixing up the church, more comfortable sharing his philosophy of life than hammering in solitude, unless it was on that guitar. The beauty of working with Pete was that he might come over to my parsonage to fix a leaky pipe, but he’d end up being convinced to have just one cup of coffee, and then another, and then another. Soon you’d discover that three hours had gone by. While the sink was not yet fixed, you sure had learned a lot about Masonic conspiracy theories, the hazards of a bad acid trip, or why life in the Connecticut suburbs had never been for Pete.
After I left that church, Pete and I remained friends as I followed the gossip of the church I had left behind over yet more cups of coffee, now in my own home, where leaky pipes did not beckon to him to be fixed. The news he brought from that old church was nuanced in that Pete did everything there except attend worship.
Scarred by church long ago, Pete had been drawn into an intellectual dance in which he read much about all religions but could not bear to rest in one. Fascinated and horrified by the life of faith, he had found a job that pulled him into the inner workings of a community of faith without demanding any confession of faith. In many ways, Pete practiced the Christian faith, but his early experience of a church obsessed with doctrines had left him gun-shy of the institution. While he never sat in those pews at the appointed hour, he was participating in the church in every other way.
When lung cancer caught up with him, when a cup of coffee became too heavy to hold, when bad cells had wrapped themselves around the last safe breathing space in his thinning body, his wife called me to a Catholic hospital, where I saw Pete be still for the first time in my life.
To watch his wiry, fidgety body at rest, moving only with the up and down of the respirator, to hear the gurgling of fluids in his chest that would end up bringing on a death by drowning, to watch the tears of the “right wife at last” as she held on to him in this small moment, I was suddenly the church.
A former associate minister, one who had stayed too short a time to affect much at all, I was suddenly the Church of Jesus Christ writ large, present at the moment when Pete would die, and I would witness my very first experience of life leaving one body and going somewhere else.
I think we do this for one another all the time, we mad people of faith. We interact with those who will not step foot in the institutions we love. We make friends with nonbelievers who claim that we are crazy. And then in these moments of utter crisis, we find ourselves called into the eye of the tornado. And suddenly we realize that we have become, for them, the church. And we are called to play a role greater than our role as friend, family member, or colleague.
“Do you believe in heaven?” they may ask, as Pete had asked me many times over coffee, just checking to make sure I still thought it was true.
“Do you still believe in God as you watch him suffer?” they may ask, as the wife of a dying man asked me, angrily challenging yet longing for some word of hope as her love slipped away. Forever?
And suddenly, instead of thinking that a debate is about to ensue, you realize you have been called upon not for your answer, not for your argument, but for your testimony. Not just your testimony, but the testimony of the church that has stood in the midst of utter sadness and made claims that only the mad would make.
Many quietly faithful people struggle with testimony. We don’t want to shove our faith down people’s throats. We don’t want to be pushy, obnoxious, or self-righteous. But sometimes people put us on the spot, put us on the witness stand, and ask for our testimony.
Testimony is calling out that you have seen light in the midst of darkness. Testimony is telling the story about how you met God, even when you have forgotten it. Testimony is telling the story of a community over time, of a particular people, and how God has intervened. And when the unchurched call us into the most intimate and sad moments, we become the church. We can either sit mute or give our testimony.
It may not be eloquent. Some of the best testimonies are stumbling words choked out of the same sorrow that the nonbeliever stands drowning in, but at least the believer can say, “Yes, in the midst of this tragedy, I believe there is more than all of this.”
I remember, when I walked into Pete’s hospital room that day, that not only was my role unclear but my place was unclear. Was my role to be friend or to be some kind of pastor? What was my place in this situation?
And what was my place in this physical room? Pete’s wife was next to him; there were no free chairs and no one to act as host. I wondered where to place myself.
Like the disciples who asked Jesus where they should sit, with regard to who could be at his right side, loved ones around the bed of a dying person often wonder the same thing. Where is my place?
There can even be a hierarchy of the grieving. Who sits closest? Who does the doctor address? Who is forgiven from speaking and who is called upon to explain?
And the newcomer, entering the room where death has settled, is always unsettled. Do I hold the hand of the one who is slipping away? Or do I hold the hand of the one who will be slipped away from?
In this case, I felt my place was at the foot of the bed. Pete’s wife had his head in her arms, his heart next to her heart, but I at least could keep vigil over his feet. I rubbed his foot, first one then another, gradually realizing that indeed I had found my place, not just here but in a longer story.
The great prayers of the church, the testimony that life will go on and that the dead will live forevermore, often get heard from the feet up. They come, for most who grieve, as background noise in the surprising busyness of death. Even the details of the funeral overshadow the words that are spoken, and family members worry over who brought the chicken salad, or who will read the poem at the graveside.
But God has never objected to speaking from the bottom end of things. It was, after all, his son who washed the feet of the disciples who preferred to argue over who would sit at Jesus’ right hand. Jesus preferred to proclaim from the foot of the bed, and to take his cues from the foot of his own body.
Excerpted from When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough by Lillian Daniel Copyright © 2013 by Lillian Daniel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Lillian Daniel has served as the Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, United Church of Christ, in the Chicago area since 2004. An editor at large for Christian Century Magazine, and a contributing editor at Leadership Journal, her work has also appeared in The Huffington Post, Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, Books and Culture, and in The Journal for Preachers. She has also hosted the Chicago-based television show 30 Good Minutes. Her Huffington Post article "Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me" gained widespread interfaith attention after going viral on the Web. Daniel has taught preaching at Yale Divinity School, Chicago Theological Seminary and the University of Chicago Divinity School. In October 2010 she received the distinguished alumni award from Yale Divinity School for "Distinction in Congregational Ministry." She is the author of two previous books: Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony, and This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers, and she contributed to Gifts My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-One Women on the Gifts that Mattered Most.
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The thing about Lillian Daniel's charming, hilarious, relatable take on the importance of faith in community with others is that I just can't get enough of her. If she wrote a daily meditation, I'd be on it every day. She is earthy, yet a fine, creative thinker, eloquent in the most entertaining way, and she cares enough about faith that she's willing to be challenging and provocative but is also remarkably warm-hearted and never harsh. In the past I've been one of those "spiritual but not religious" folks, and when I first heard the title of the book, I was a little taken aback. Shouldn't those who are on a spiritual journey, but not part of a community, be nurtured into coming back? Shouldn't they be cajoled and lovingly coaxed into church? And truth be told, that's precisely what Daniel does in her book, but in a elbow in the side, friendly, get-out-of-your-own-way manner. I hear her saying, "Aw, come ON, it's easy to sit up in your bedroom and think positive thoughts about the world - but it's getting your hands dirty and your agenda tromped on by real people in community with one another that actually helps you grow in faith." She's right. She wins me over. Sometimes religious ideas can be communicated in a sterile manner. That can make religious tomes downright boring. But Daniel hilariously points out our (and her own) foibles and quirks in recounting contemporary real-life stories, and I can't help but relate to what she says. If you're looking for religious (and spiritual!) inspiration and growth, you can't do better than Daniel's new book. On the other hand, if you feel like she's mistaken and on the wrong track, give her a try anyway. She might surprise you and in any case she'll surely entertain you.
Preachers/pastors will enjoy these stories told well and with Lillian Daniel's trademark snarkiness.
Is it you? Her? Him? Or that guy across the street? After reading Rev. Lillian Daniel's book, you will know for certain! Lillian, in writing this book, talks about what a Pastor of ANY church feels and considers when ever 'They' say something that is a blatant excuse for not being involved in the activities of the church. She describes the frustration that builds in the Pastor's mind when people excuse themselves with silly statements that have no value or make no sense. She covers a lot of ground in this book, going from the question "Why aren't you in church?' to prayer and other subjects. Best described as a collection of essays than prose, the points covered reveal the inmost mind of any Pastor without slight. Honest, humorious, and inasightful, this should be on every Pastor's and church worker's reading list. Well worth the time to read cover to cover, and then go back and read chapters that spark your mind.
Dr. Lillian Daniels newly published book."When Spiritual but not Religious is Not Enough: Finding God in surprising places - even the church," is a pastor's response to those who use the above "self definition" as the rationale for not covenanting with a community of faith and being part of a local church community. Dr. Daniel's thoughtful and some times humorous approach to this position taken by many people can serve as a way to engage them in conversation about how God is found even in the brokenness of the local church that some may find so flawed and unacceptable. It's a helpful guide of sorts for clergy who encounter this statement from people whom they meet on a plane or train or walking through their lives in any one of many places…or a guide for church members who find themselves talking with family members who may be uttering this same "self definition." It's a darn good read on many levels…ENJOY...and learn.
Well-written humorous critique of the "non-religious" arguments against participation in organized religion. I recognized myself as well as others in her descriptions of those wrestling with the facts of faith.
I have often appreciated Lillian Daniel's observations. I have also been oft moved by her willingness to disclose precious and painful experiences from her life. It makes her struggle for meaning an "eyes wide open," fearless and complete exploration. Too, I can usually relate to her concerns and identify with her experience as we share the same profession. I dropped two stars from a perfect rating, one because the book appeared to be a series of independent observations, as if she were simply cashing in on sermon illustrations that she had composed, all be they eloquently crafted and poignant. I was looking for one point developed through the writing rather than an anthology. It seemed to me that the title "promised" such development. If it happened, I clearly missed it. The second "star" fell from the rating because it was not helpful for me to have my own penchant for griping reinforced. I identified with her gripes with, "Yeah, I've had that encounter... I've been 'there' too." But then I wanted help getting out of that rut. I don't think we needmore curmudgeons in this world. O Lillian, please deliver me from my chronic complaining!!