Spirituality Starts in the Pews
"Religion" has become a dirty word in today's society. "Institution" is another verbal no-no, and we all know that the word "preachy" is entirely absent of positive connotation. Don't let the monosyllabic simplicity of "pew" fool you, either. It may seem like an innocent enough word for some. But many of those unmoored from the ecclesial harbors of their childhood will stiffen at its mention, instantly tormented by memories of sitting up straight on hard varnished planks while some preachy, institutionally-vetted clergyman pushed his religion on them.
And it is not just the secularists who dislike "religion." Anti-religious sentiment is so pervasive in our culture that even among Christians, criticizing the church and its varied institutional trappings is in vogue.
"Spirituality," however, is quite reputable—even popular. The preferred public profession of faith for a massive swath of our society—"I'm spiritual, but not religious."—is so common that it would not be surprising if it became a category on religious affiliation surveys. Participants could check Catholicism, Evangelical Christianity, Mainline Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Atheism, Agnosticism, or Spiritual/Not Religious. Spiritually inclined yet religiously jaded, many of us seem to want a spirituality liberated from the shackles of organized religion and its uncomfortable pews.
Okay, enough, rings a voice of frustration. Please stop, because you spiritual-but-not-religious people are boring me. But that voice does not belong to a hidebound archconservative eager to defend the traditional church against the onslaughts of a hostile culture. The voice belongs, instead, to Lillian Daniel, minister of a mainline Protestant church that might seem quite at home touting spirituality over religion. And her complaint was not originally aired on an evangelical Christian television network. It appeared at the Huffington Post, in an article ("Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me") now expanded into her latest book: When "Spiritual But Not Religious" Isn't Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church (Jericho Books).
What specifically bores Daniel? She is simply unimpressed with any sort of spiritual life extracted from the messiness of a community. Finding God outside a tradition in which spiritualists (or religionists, as the case may be) have wrestled for centuries over the wonders and trials of life and faith? This has no attraction to her: "Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself."
Daniel takes the anti-religious sentiment that has become axiomatic for those outside the church walls (and for many still glued reluctantly to those church pews) and deftly exposes its narcissism and emptiness—but without sounding too "preachy."