Dear friends in faith,
In her brief but widely-read 2011 Huffington Post article “Spiritual but not Religious:
Please Stop Boring Me,” the Rev. Lillian Daniel writes of an all-too-frequent encounter
with someone who is anxious to explain that he is “spiritual but not religious.” He wants
to tell her that he has left the church because God is much more to be found in sunsets,
exercise, meditation, etc. etc. etc. than in the church. She holds her tongue rather than
respond with sarcasm, as though church people don’t know anything about finding God
in nature or anywhere else beyond a pew. Her final verdict: Thank you for sharing,
spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for selfcentered
American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient
religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.
Proudly claiming to be “spiritual but not religious” is not very smart, really. It doesn’t
make sense to give up 3000 years of the human experience of God, human thinking
about God, human wrestling with God, and rely instead on my own observations alone.
Do I use my own experiences, perceptions, and thinking to sift through those 3000
years in order to make the faith my own? Of course I do… but let me never be so selfcentered,
or so foolish, as to dismiss the wisdom of those who have gone before me as
I make my way through life. I want the God I follow to be as close to the living God as
possible, and not just a reflection of my own desires; I can only do that in the community
of faith, with you all and with those who have gone before us.
Diana Butler Bass, in her recent book Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and
the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening notes that while 30% of Americans described
themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” a surprising 48% chose the phrase “spiritual
and religious.” When we talk about being spiritual, Bass writes, we are seeking an
experience of faith, not an empty ritual or routine. The statistics tell us, then, that nearly
half of Americans want an experience of God, but not by themselves; they want to be
spiritual in community, seeking an experience of God with our neighbors and benefiting
from the faith experiences of those who have gone before us.
That’s the challenge for those of us who have found a vibrant experience of faith inside the
church: how do we make church a place where experiences of God happen, and where we
enlighten, equip, and empower one another to experience God wherever we find ourselves.
Lillian Daniel is pastor of First Congregational Church of nearby Glen Ellyn. I just picked
up a book she wrote last year called When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough –
Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. As someone who has also seen God
in surprising places, even Wildwood Presbyterian Church, I’m looking forward to reading it!