CROSSPOST: Not Religious, but Spiritual (and BORING)

While she hails from a different tradition, I DEEPLY appreciated Lillian Daniel’s observations, and wanted to share them during this introspective month of Elul. You can read the original post here

Riffing on Ms. Daniel’s theme, I think that Elul offers us the opportunity to explore the boundaries of what might be our comfortable habits, and approach a God who is not always convenient, not always understanding, and not always willing to forgive us offhand. We might find ourselves standing in front of a God who is justifiably upset with our behavior – individually or collectively – and wants something more than a trite “sorry”. If/When we find ourselves in that position, our responses – both active and emotion – can tell us a lot about ourselves.

Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.

“On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

Next thing you know, he’s telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . . did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

Like people who go to church don’t see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?  Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.


Dear God, thank you for creating us in your image and not the other way around. Amen.”

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