Spirituality Starts in the Pews
Though I had anticipated a more substantial examination of our culture's anti-religious winds, I now realize that the book is better understood as a collection of vignettes and brief essays on spirituality, with the "spiritual but not religious" theme loosely serving as a sort of gravitational center. They depict a spiritual life that can appreciate sunsets only because the religious practices of gathering in community, knitting baby booties, hearing the liturgy, and reading Scripture help us face sin, injustice, and disaster as the sunset gives way to darkness.
A Place for the Bruised and Broken
Our heritage of institutional Christianity need not be viewed as a shameful skeleton to be kept locked away in the ecclesial closet. Well, okay, there are some darker chapters in our history that need not be retroactively whitewashed, but in many respects, that heritage and our communal traditions are precious gifts.
Daniel is not dishonest, however, about the shortcomings of the church's religious life. As a pastor, she has probably seen those failings more up close and personally than most folks claiming to be spiritual but not religious. One does get the impression that the sort of church culture she finds most embarrassing is of the more conservative stripe, as opposed to her own mainline church tradition. She is gracious, though, never naming names and maintaining sincerely that the various manifestations of Christianity all have their weaknesses and strengths (even her own).
Some readers might wince at a few sentiments at home in mainline Protestantism but contested in evangelical circles. But Daniel's book is neither a defensive manifesto of mainline spirituality nor an attack against any particular religious tribe. Even her witty polemic against the Spiritual/Not Religious notion is much more of an invitation than a critique. Daniel concludes powerfully by extending the arms of Christian religious life toward the religiously bruised and broken. There is a place for all of us right next to her seat on the pew.
Andrew Byers, a chaplain for St. Mary's College at Durham University, is the author of Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint (InterVarsity Press). He blogs at Hopeful Realism.