Friday, December 28, 2012

When "Spiritual but not Religious" is not Enough

By Lillian Daniel
New York, Jericho Books, 2013
215 pages     Spiritual

Lillian Daniel, a United Church of Christ pastor, has created an interesting amalgam in her book When “Spiritual but not Religious” is not Enough. Part sermon, part memoir, part existential musings; Daniel is always on point and personal as she explores what it is to be Christian in the 21st century.  

A contributor on several national blogs, such as The Huffington Post, Daniel is also a nationally known speaker and workshop leader. She is the pastor of First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Some of her entries in this book are obviously sermons. One that I especially appreciated is called, An Honest Prayer. I have always been a bit a bit reticent about the asking for myself in prayer. I am pretty good at asking for others, praying for others, or asking for clarification for situations. In other words, I ask for others and not myself. Daniel says, “…that reluctance to ask God for what we really want is arrogance posing as humility. It seems humble to not ask God for our own desires, and to put other larger matters first. But doing that seems to imply we have power in all this. As if by asking God to cure diabetes before asking for a raise, we might actually affect God’s priorities.” What I especially appreciated about this essay on prayer is that I have noticed that when I pray sincerely, I usually end up in a different place than where I was as I began the prayer. Daniel confirms that power in our prayers…”an exposure of the deeper need beneath our prayers.” 

I also enjoyed the brief essay entitled Things I am Tired Of. She begins by saying “I am tired of hearing people say stupid things in the name of Christianity.”  She suggests that we live in a society where ”…stupid and simple spirituality always trumps the depth of a complex faith.” It echoes my sentiments exactly. Some essays and sermons are scarcastic and biting; others are joyful, while others are haunting—especially the final essay in which Daniel discusses her parent’s separation and divorce in relation to our relationship with God. She says that we are always trying to separate ourselves from God and each other, while God is always trying to knit us back together again. This essay really touched me because we have family members who are trying to find ways to remain in relationship; I wanted to print off the essay to give to them, but they are “spiritual but not religious” and I’m not sure they would appreciate my intervening. So, I will have to pray for them instead.

At best, the essays are profound; at worst they are trivial. There is an unevenness to the essays that makes the book all the more interesting, because the reader is left in a guessing game. I have issues with the title of the book; it is too cumbersome. However, that is a minor issue. Then I wonder who I will give this book to. Who is the intended audience? in other words. I liked the book; it caused me to think, but I am not sure who else would appreciate it.  Publishers Weekly calls this book a “wise and witty collection” and answers my questions about the intended audience when they say that Daniel “offer(s) a rich banquet for pastors, lifelong congregants, disaffected Christians, and confused seekers alike.” Daniel makes me want to attend her church or one of her workshops. I like how she connects her faith with the trials of living. Her concerns remind me of my own.

There are a lot of Lillian Daniel sermons on You Tube. Here is one of them:

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