Being Spiritual and Religious

November 6, 2017



As I prepared for this week's sermon, I came across a story from pastor and author Lillian Daniel. She shares a story about meeting a man who explained to her why he was spiritual, but not religious. He knew that he had made the right choice not to attend church, though, when he realized that his son had still embraced the values of gratitude. Daniel shares:

“Listen to what my son wrote, he said. ‘Children are starting with empty bellies in faraway lands. They have nothing to eat. All around them they hear the sounds of gunfire and bombs going off. And it made me realize that they are so lucky. We are so lucky to be living here and not there.’

‘I had tears in my eyes when he said that,’ the proud parent explained. ‘I was blown away and I realized, he gets it, he really gets it. It was gratitude. That’s our religion- gratitude. And at that moment, when he recognized all that suffering and how fortunate he was, I could not have been prouder.’”

There are good reasons for being hesitant about attending church or any other faith community. I’ve been to churches that are trying to drill a particular way of thinking into those attending.  Daniel points out, though, that by not attending any faith community we create a vacuum in which we create answers without formation or guidance. She compares this worldview of feeling lucky and gratitude like a person who “fills up on the deep-fried appetizers and doesn’t order anything else from the menu.” [2] It might be tasty, but it’s not going to sustain the body for any real exertion.

My Christian tradition teaches that feeling lucky for good things doesn’t cut it. We can acknowledge how lucky we are, yet it should drive us towards justice. Each week we talk about Jesus and his teachings because we believe that all these years later we are still called to be his students. We try to take these lessons and try to create a new heaven and a new earth, not just merely sit idly on the sidelines.

My five-year-old son has a developing theology of his own. He has learned how to treat others through shows on PBS and from school. He also tries to meditate because he wants to float and live to be a thousand years old. He has a place, though, where he can learn stories of his faith and ask questions.

Recently, our congregation members brought pictures of people who had died to place at the altar for our All Soul’s Day service. My son and I brought a picture of his great-grandfather, and during the service, he went up to light a candle remembering his great-grandfather. He also learned that the father of one of the childcare workers at the church had died, so he lit a candle for her.

We talked that afternoon more about missing family members who died and what death meant. Like the dad with Lillian Daniel, I found myself proud. But I wasn’t proud because my son gave the right answer. Rather, he was taking the time to wrestle with his faith, and it was giving him a deeper understanding of himself and others around him.  

I’m not against gratitude or feeling lucky, but it’s not a religion or religious view. While there are spiritual people proud that they aren’t religious, I find myself indebted to religion. I want a reminder that there is something deeper than what I can create, change, or influence. In a time when it seems that division is more valued than compromise, I am glad to be part of the church where we are stuck with one another. Again, I’ve been to churches that seem to exist only to bolster their members' prejudices. But when done right the Church can draw upon her diversity and invite us to listen to one another. We can discover that there isn’t much room to create our own human God, yet draw us towards something deeper than ourselves.




[1] Lillian Daniel, When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough (New York: Jericho Books, 2014), 13.


[2] Ibid., 13-14.

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