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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Spiritual But Not Religious

Lillian Daniel is an intelligent, funny, and astonishingly honest writer. She's also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ - one of the most liberal denominations in all of Western Christendom. Her latest piece, "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me," however, has certainly raised some progressive/liberal hackles.

Together with Martin Copenhaver, Daniel wrote the book, "This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers," which I found one of the most compelling books written about the "impossible vocation" of ordained ministry. It is as brutally honest as it is positively joyful about the challenges of daily pastoral leadership. I think it should be required reading for all aspirants, postulants and candidates for ordination as well as members of the laity.

I suppose I have a warm spot in my heart for Lillian Daniel. Well, a couple of them, actually. While she presently serves as senior minister of the First Congregational Church, UCC, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, she was raised Anglican and Episcopalian.

In her book, Daniel tells the story of growing up in Asia in the 1960s and 70s while her father covered the war as a journalist in southeast Asia. She and her family attended a dozen or so Anglican churches in those years, and she talks about the comfort she knew in the consistency of worship in all those different countries, "as familiar as the lukewarm tea and sandwiches with the crusts cut off" that were served after church.

She returned to this country for high school, and went off to college determined to prepare herself for a massively lucrative career in international finance. Until she took a course in the history of religions.

She graduated as a religious studies major, formed in a social justice milieu, and found herself with a vague sense that the next step was going to divinity school. She applied and was accepted at Yale.

The not-so-friendly priest in her church told her that summer that she'd missed a step about consulting with the Church about this decision. So she called up Yale and put off her enrollment.

The parish discernment committee was pretty blunt with her. You have no discernible gifts for the ministry, they told her. You give no evidence of interest in sacramental ministry, they said. And, they told her, you're immature and you have authority issues.

She was with it enough to ask if they had any other ideas, and the head of the committee was surprisingly direct: go get some experience of the world, work for a nonprofit, get an MBA so you can serve the church as a lay leader committed to social justice.

She listened, and went to work for a nonprofit serving homeless and at-risk teenagers. Her co-workers, when they finally heard her story, told her maybe she was in the wrong church, and that they did see a vocation to ordained ministry.

Well, Lillian did go off to Yale and was ordained as a UCC pastor. She tells a remarkably gracious story about her journey:
"Gradually I came to know this: the Episcopalians were not wrong. Their ordination process actually worked. I wasn't called to ordination in that tradition, and they saw that when I could not. I was immature. I do have issues with authority and obedience. I choke in hierarchies and thrive in independence. I love to preach long sermons and I hate homilies. I would have made a lousy Episcopal priest. But I was richly blessed by the Episcopal Church."
See what I mean?

This story alone hits all the warm places in my heart. The book is filled with stories like this one.

Daniel closes her essay about her discernment process with a reminder about lost sheep and absent shepherds.

She says that the Episcopal priest from her high school parish "calls me periodically to check in on me, to see what I am up to. I count it as precious whenever he seeks me out. It is as if I am the one sheep he does not let get away".

So, how does one square the person who wrote this essay with the one who wrote "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me".

Some have described her tone as "condescending," "arrogant," "smug," and "snarky". I suppose one could read it that way, but as a clergy colleague who has had more than my fill of arrogant, smug, condescending, snarky people check out my clerical collar and tell me that they are "spiritual but not religious", I have to admit that I was really glad for Daniel's little rant.

I heard her 'venting' just a bit, which I totally understand. I mean, she wasn't talking about folks like Buddhists who are deeply spiritual but not 'religious' in the same way that, say, Christians or Jews are - or, can be.

And, she's not saying that all religious people have cornered the market on spirituality. Indeed, we all know folks - some of whom are ordained - who wear their religion like a badge of honor but have no discernible sense of spirituality except the "oughts" and "shoulds" prescribed by their religion.

Here's the thing: In my experience, people who have a deep sense of spirituality don't feel the need to tell other people that they are "spiritual but not religious".  They just are.

In my experience - and, I'm just talking about my experience here - people who like to say that they are "spiritual but not religious" are often folks who are very angry at organized religion. Typically, they are angry because they have experienced some deep pain or disappointment or sense of betrayal by a priest or pastor or bishop - or, perhaps, an entire congregation or denomination.

In my experience, people who seek me out while I'm wearing a collar - or otherwise discover in conversation that I'm a priest - and tell me that they are "spiritual but not religious" want me to know that because, on some level, they want me to experience the same rejection, hurt or betrayal that they have known.

See? I don't need to go to church. And, I certainly don't need a priest or a pastor. I can experience God in a sunset. Or, at the ocean. Or, rock-climbing. Or hiking. All by myself.

Besides, well, church is boring.

It's at this point that I have to work very, very hard not to lose my cool and start a rant of my own.

First of all, while I've suffered through more than a few poorly planned liturgies and perfectly horrible sermons in my time  - as a member of the laity as well as since I've been ordained -  I  have to tell you in all honesty that I bust my butt to provide liturgies that are meaningful, with beautiful music and sermons that are relevant and challenging. I don't always succeed, but that's my goal. And, I'm here to tell you that there are LOTS of us out there - lay and ordained - who strive to meet the same high standard of excellence.

So, please don't judge ALL clergy and ALL laity and ALL churches based on the bad experiences you've had.

I also work really hard on this blog which has become a form of spirituality for me that grows out of my religious experience. I try to write about where I see God in politics and science and nature and baseball and church and rock stars and addictions and family and cooking and making a home for myself and my family.

Oh, and the Anglican Covenant which is prima facia evidence of something that is "religious but not spiritual".  As Anne Lamott writes, it's enough to "make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish."

I do this primarily for myself - it helps me keep a foothold on my sanity - but I'm also discovering an audience that is hungry for some honest conversation about spirituality and religion.

I've been at this blog thingy since June of 2006 and I'm less than 100,000 visits away from my millionth visitor. I think that speaks less about the writings of one Episcopal priest and more about the hunger of God's people to connect in some meaningful way with their own spirit through some part of the church. 

What I really want to know is this: When did church become a form of entertainment?

Boring? Really? That's your best shot?

When did the process of spiritual growth and maturity become the equivalent of an endless succession of Sundays at the beach or picnics in the park or attendance at a theater?

I agree: Church should be an inspiring experience. Sometimes that means you walk away with a sense of peace and calm and serenity. Other times, that means you are challenged - and perhaps even disturbed - by a new way of thinking about God's work in the world and the part you play in God's work.

Even so, sometimes the message isn't for you. Not at this time. Not in this place. Maybe not even at this time in your life. So, you walk away wishing that the preacher had said something - anything - that relates to you and where you are in your life. The thing of it is that someone else may be walking away at that very same time from that very same service feeling inspired or challenged or disturbed or serene and peaceful.

Or, maybe you're just in the wrong church.

Or, perhaps, like Lillian Daniel, you're in the wrong denomination.

Here's where Evangelicals and I agree: Christianity is costly. If you are going to be in relationship with Jesus, you're going to have to change parts of your life.

I don't know what those parts are - that's between you and Jesus. I only know that Jesus is all about incarnation, death, resurrection and reconciliation. That means that parts of you are going to have to die so that other parts can be born  -  or, yes, born again.

And, if you are part of the Body of Christ, it means it's going to happen in community. That means that you are going to find yourself in relationships with some of the biggest losers on the planet - people who were once lost but now have been found so they can lose themselves again and again only to find themselves loved by God and hopefully, eventually, serving the people of God.

These "biggest losers" can be very annoying. And, very challenging to be in relationship with in some kind of meaningful way. Especially if you don't understand the paradox that you are also a Big Loser who has so much to gain in your losses.

Yes, it may also mean that, from time to time, you will find yourself taking a hike up a lush forest trail leading to a hilltop from which you see a magnificent sunset and feel closer to God than you ever have in church.

That doesn't mean that what you experienced in your church community was necessarily lacking in some way. It simply means that God loves us so much that we are sometimes called off to a quiet place for some time alone to experience God in a different way. And, sometimes, that's right where many of us find we need to be - and not in the midst of the sometimes annoying or painful experience of working out our spirituality in community.

I'm quite certain that God also laments, and Jesus weeps and the Holy Spirit wails at what goes on - or does not - in some organized religions. But, that doesn't mean that the entire enterprise is spiritually bankrupt.

And, for those of you for whom religion is spiritually bankrupt, then by all means, please do find God in the ways that bring you closer to a meaningful, deeper spirituality.

Here's the deal: I won't try to convince you of belonging to an organized religion if you'll stop telling me that you are "spiritual but not religious".

Even so, I'll still sit and listen to you, as I always have. I'll continue to ask gently probing questions about your experience in church and what caused you to stop attending and ask you to tell me a story about when church was really good for you and then I'll ask you to tell me a story about when the church or someone in the church disappointed or hurt or betrayed you.

And, your story will come tumbling out - it almost always does - and we'll end our time together with you telling me that if you lived closer to me you'd attend a church where I was the pastor but we both know that you wouldn't because there is this wonderful safety in pouring out your story to a person you'll probably never see again, which may say more about the actual state of your spirituality than you would ever care to admit.

Lillian Daniel
It's okay. It's that "lost sheep and shepherd" thing that Lillian Daniel was talking about at the end of her essay. Sometimes you're the sheep and sometimes you're the shepherd. Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield.

The point is this: we all need people like that in our lives from time to time. It needn't be someone in a collar. It just needs to be another human being who will listen to your story and, perhaps, share a bit of their faith story with you.

Just please know that, every once in a while, some of us in the business of lost sheep and shepherds have to vent. Let off a bit of steam. Just every now and again.

I'm thinking, however, that, rather than do that in a blog or essay, it may be better to take a long walk along the ocean and let the roar of the waves swallow the frustration and anger that sometimes builds up.

That's not being either religious or spiritual, necessarily.

It's just being human.


Diane M. Roth said...

thanks for this.

that's all I can say right now.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Diane - Thanks. You've said a great deal.

PseudoPiskie said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, for expressing thoughts similar to mine. I didn't read her comments the way others did and was startled by the animus.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

PseudoPiskie - Well, to be honest, i did hear the anger and frustration in her tone and I secretly rejoiced in it. I was glad she said it - because then, I didn't have to. But, some folks took offense and I wondered what that was all about. And then, I realized that I had to say something, too.

Terri said...

I didn't take offense to what Daniles wrote. I did find it harsh.that made me wonder about how Daniels is doing? Because when I hear myself in that tone she used, I know I'm really tired. So, I wondered if she is getting enough time herself to take a walk and chill with the divine on the beach or in the mountains.

That said, Thanks, Elizabeth, for this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Terri - Well, I think Daniel is such an honest writer that she decided to write honestly about the frustration of being so committed to and passionate about "religious spirituality" that she decided to let us all hear what many of us say from time to time. I don't know about the wisdom of that, but I, personally, was glad to hear it said out loud and in print. Somebody had to do it. I'm glad she beat me to the starting line, but I hope I've given her some reinforcement.

Lerewayah said...


Lerewayah said...


Gretchen Chateau
Atlanta, Georgia

IT said...

This is why I don't talk to people on airplanes. :-)

That said, it's inevitable that people who strike up conversations look for what's common between you. And for some people, if you ID as clergy, that's going to be their experience of religion. Probably a lot of them are exactly as you've stereotyped. And I see how that can be frustrating.

But think of the person who is deeply hurt by the church--maybe a gay person who has been treated badly, and is reacting with defensive bravado. The church of row 25 might do that person some good, even if it's the same, tired ground for you.

Or think of a person who is really a spiritual seeker and a lurker in the Rev. Daniel's community, probably, yes, injured by religion in some way. I bet the Rev. Daniel has ensured that person will not step foot in her church, if that's "what she really thinks of us". After all, who wants to go to a church where your experience will bore the pastor? This is the scenario that I had, reading her post.

And what about those who ARE truly "spiritual, not religious" but not in the narcissistic way she describes? They'll read this and think, "is this what she REALLY thinks of me?"

And that's why I found her original post smug and snarky. Surely she could have made the point without being so, well, angry about it.

I certainly appreciate that professionals need to release steam. And more than most, you as clergy carry the weight of other people's expectations. (Hey, just think of traveling RC priests who probably get an earful from angry ex-Catholics!) But if I want to rant about students or colleagues, I save it for a private medium.

So perhaps when traveling, the Rev. Daniel should not wear a collar, and should identify as someone who does counseling, if she prefers not to repeat the shallow conversations with the "spiritual, but not religious".

Or use my preferred approach. Just don't say anything.

Kay & Sarah said...

I left a church many years ago because of too many hurts. During that time, God never left me. The church did leave and I am grateful that that church did leave. It was the wtong church (your blog made me realize that). I was found by the Episcopal church many years later. I am grateful for my time away from religion. It has made me more appreciative of the church I have now. Being a part of the Episcopal church is not always easy but it is worth the difficulties. I have found that through the difficulties I have grown spiritually.

captmair said...

I appreciate your take on this article. I am one of those who found Ms Daniels writing on this subject to be condescending and arrogant. It has been my experience, as a lay person, that when people want to speak with me about their spirituality as opposed to their religious beliefs, they are in fact talking about the same thing. As an amateur I am not singled out as a representative of anything, just an interested party who is willing to listen, and therefore not the target of any aggressive feelings they have toward the "church" in general. I'm sure it must get tedious and "boring" having to listen to the same old stories over and over again, but I isn't that a part of what a priest or minister does?

My objection to Ms Daniels article was not in the content. She has as much right to her opinion as anyone. My objection was that she is a representative of the Christian Church, an ordained minister, and she chose "to vent" in an open forum, and tell people who believe they are "spiritual but not religious" to just stow it and quit "boring" her. It sounded like she was saying, if you don't think of it like I do, well I'm not interested in speaking with you about it.

I think she was frustrated. I think she had a bad day. I also think she is a professional, and has an obligation to express those frustrations in an appropriate manner, preferably among her peers, not to the people she is suppose to be counseling. They might get the idea she isn't interested in hearing what they have to say unless it is what she wants to hear.

I hope she is feeling more positive by now.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

When I posted on this, I think for me, it wasn't "what she said" but "where she said it." I totally got where she was coming from. A collar must be like a magnet for that. When I saw it in the UCC daily devotional, I literally cringed and thought, "Ow. Wrong place." For me a devotional is meant to take me to a better place and I already have a tendency when I am in a bad mood to want to snarl at the SBNR--and that's not THEM, that's ME, because I DO die to this stuff and I HAVE struggled with the whole God in community thing. It's all I can do when La La Sunset Person gets in my face when I'm in the middle of 20 e-mails regarding the parish weekly newsletter to not snarl, "F#$% you, Sunset Person, you and your special private relationship with God and the horse you rode in on. Rawwwwr!"

Now, that's not a special rant at the SNBR; I can just as easily rant at the SBR when they whine about Eucharistic Prayer D and drop the F-bomb just as hard. I'm an equal opportunity ranter.

But what her article did do was make me step back and think about simply trying to be more inviting.

I homed in on your quote "In my experience, people who seek me out while I'm wearing a collar - or otherwise discover in conversation that I'm a priest - and tell me that they are "spiritual but not religious" want me to know that because, on some level, they want me to experience the same rejection, hurt or betrayal that they have known," today.

Let me flip this around. I think that is one reason. I wonder if another other isn't roundabout. Sometimes, I wonder if that person is subconsciously seeking a way back to the church in a different way--one that gives their past hurt a name and allows God to hold it all somehow. They don't know how to ask you, "see my pain. Show me how it becomes blessed."

I say that because that is how I think I tried to find a way back in my 20 unchurched years. I needed a human voice to touch me in a place I could not reach. I didn't know how to get there myself. I found my way back--and have managed to stay--but honestly, Elizabeth, it's been the rare clergy person who even sees "that place" in me. That saddens me, because I think it's where the Light of God most strongly shines in me. If I believe in that in me, I have to believe some of the SNBR are looking for that place, too.

RENZ said...

Really enjoyed this and appreciated the validation of how I interpreted her piece. I'm in the midst of a hiatus from Facebook having ended up in a thread that went toxic with a SBNR individual who was significantly angered by the piece.

You and I have butted heads in threads in the past and no matter how obnoxious or snarky I got, it always left me sad and tired.

This individual with whom I was arguing just couldn't seem to read what I was saying and took it all as a personal attack. Then she revealed that she was raised Roman Catholic (as was I) and her anger seemed to make more sense.

Thanks again.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Friends - I hear you. I'm not disagreeing with you about the appropriateness of either the message or the place of the message. I'm saying that I understand the frustration that lead to her posting this essay in the first place.

BTW, I understand that this was a "seriously" edited down version of a much longer article which first appeared in Christian Century. Clearly, the sharpness of the message was one the UCC editor wanted to communicate. I haven't read the "original" article but I have a hunch it wasn't this pointed or sharp.

And, I'm not saying that listening to people who are SBNR is "boring". I'm saying that, as a clergy person - like many other clergy persons - I am a natural target for the anger of people who are angry at the church. It's not easy, but over the last 25 years, I'm getting used to that. It's just that, while I'm out there busting my butt to do the best for Jesus and the people of God, it gets a little frustrating every now and again.

Again, she's not talking about people who ARE "SBNR". She's talking about people who love to talk about how they are SBNR. To clergy. On planes. Or trains. I think that says something very specific that is not about people who actually are SBNR.

I'm glad that Daniel named the elephant in the sanctuary. Trust me, there are lots of clergy who have said very similar things to what Daniel wrote. I'm glad I didn't have to do it in public. I don't know how wise that was to do, but I'm really glad the topic is being discussed.

The word is out. The elephant has been named. You have a right to your anger. You have a right to work it out and express it. Just know, if you are one of those folk, that we see you. We know. If you have to pigeonhole a clergy person on a train or plane to announce "I'm SBNR" you probably aren't.

Me? Unless I absolutely have to, I do not travel with my collar on. In any event, I wear earplugs. It's just the way I protect myself from getting frustrated and angry - which can only lead me to being religious but not spiritual.

Matthew said...

I found her tone condescending and harsh. I also think she lumps all these different types of people in the same category. There are many many people who would never call themselves spiritual but not religious but they are not active members of a church either. In my former parish, every single former senior warden but one stopped coming to church after serving as senior warden. Does this apply to them? Where I live now there is only one mainline church (episcopal) and it is pretty lackluster. I can sympathize with those who leave sometimes. I understand where Daniel is coming from but I also really really relate to Barbara brown Taylor's wonderful book Leaving Church. I really wish Daniel would instead respond to the ideas raised in that book because i think far more of us fall into that category than the spiritual but not religious.

Kemlynb said...

I've been reading your blog for a few years now, because you and your writing are very approachable for somebody who does not go to church. I may never join an organized religion, but contrary to Daniels, I do want to challenge my beliefs. Your blog, and a other things I read, do that. I may be one of the people who frustrate you, but I do appreciate your writing. Thanks.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I don't see her lumping everyone into one category. I hear her addressing the same folk who frustrate me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kemlynb - I've never experienced you as angry and painting me into a corner for the sins of the church. Just keep working on your spirit. You're always welcome here.

MarkBrunson said...

I'm sorry, but her comments still sound just like the priest in England who wrote the nasty little article moaning about the funerals at which he'd had to preside.

It's cruel, it's simplistic, it's stereotyping, it's derision and it's not what a minister of any faith should be writing. A very poor, very disappointing witness from UCC.

Lindy said...

Look, I think it's ok to feel frustrated. I feel that way too sometimes. But it is not ok to turn around and kick the dog, yell at your wife, or verbally thrash a group of people you've never even met. Those things are not OK.

There are other ways of dealing with frustration. Less hurtful ways.

I really do believe that we were not made to be slaves to our gut reactions and that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can actually be civil to one another... at least in public.

But, I'm a dreamer.

Gotta go watch the sunset.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - I don't expect a lot of people to understand. I do. It was intemperate but I'm glad she said it so some of the rest of us didn't have to.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lindy - Yours is an interesting response. "Kick the dog"? Is that how you experience her sentiments? When someone feels the need to tell a clergy person that they are "SBNR" it feels like an attack on everything you stand for and are passionate about and committed to. After a while, some sharp, pointed words may be just what is needed to try and stop what feels decidedly like an attack. Clergy are, after all, human, too.

IT said...

Elizabeth you wroteWhen someone feels the need to tell a clergy person that they are "SBNR" it feels like an attack on everything you stand for and are passionate about and committed to.

I'm absolutely sure that's true, often.

But of course, for a lot of "SBNR" they've had exactly the same experience in reverse, being attacked by the religious for "everything they stand for and are passionate about and committed to".

For an obvious example, look at all the gay-bashing so-called Christians have done for years. There are a lot of walking wounded from that. Church hurts a LOT of people. Just ask the 1-in-3 born Roman Catholics in this country who leave the misogynistic, homophobic Mother Church.

But I'm also sure that sometimes the conversation is, as Kirk said, a need for a contact, a desire to find their way back.

In any event, as I keep saying, IMHO the concern is less the emotion and annoyance Daniel expresses, which obviously resonates with you professional clergy as an authentic experience.

No, my issue isn't that. it's putting it out there in public with such a smug tone of superiority and dismissal. It's one thing to say it to other clergy, letting your hair down and venting. It's another to slap it in the face of any well-meaning SBNR person out there.

Because the SBNR aren't all attacking "everything you stand for" any more than every Christian is attacking me as a lesbian, atheist scientist. (just try being a gay atheist scientist in a religious country that despises gays, science and atheists. ) Yet it's written as though they are.

if I WERE SBNR, and a seeker, and i read her article, I'd cross her church right off the list. What she says is "you bore me". What she says is "your experience is trivial and immature". What she says is "I got this figured out and you are a lazy whiner." What she says is "your shallow experience is not welcome." It reflects very poorly on the person who does it.

Yup, way to build church.....Not.

She could have written the same thing in a different tone, still made her point, and not come across as so angry.

On the other hand, i suppose it's good to know what people REALLY think.

And she's certainly given any church-hating SNBR justification for their views that church really DOES disdain them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I hear what you're saying, IT. Point well made and well taken. Here's the thing: If you have a problem with your heart, you will go to a cardiologist to be treated. If you are in psychic pain, you'll go to a psychiatrist to get some help. If someone is really serious about the state of their soul b/c it's infected with anger, bitterness, frustration, then go see a pastoral counselor who can help you work through your issues. Please don't take pot shots at random clergy - especially when they are "trapped" in an airplane for hours upon end.

Read her first sentence again: "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".

I don't know how clearer she can be about the situation she's describing and trying to address. She's naming the "code" some people use when they describe themselves as "SBNR" - which is not only neither but it's an insult to people who actually are.

That's what I resonate with and am supporting. Hope this is helpful to you.

IT said...

Elizabeth, I don't feel the need to out myself as a lesbian in every conversation--and I know you don't either. In the same way, BP's cousin the sailor often chooses not to wear his uniform when traveling.

So it seems to me the solution for Daniel is not to out herself as a clergy person. (Or not talk to people on airplanes!)

But regardless of who she THINKS she's venting at and about here, because of the tone she chose, she's the one coming across very badly. (And as I'm neither spiritual nor religious, I'm obviously not taking it personally. )

It's just, well, unprofessional. At least that's how I see it, and I think that's how the others who have been taken aback in this thread are also reacting.

RENZ said...

Elizabeth, as on the Facebook thread, I am reading the same problems with the negative commenters - they seem unable to differentiate between genuinely unchurched, spiritual people from those who feel the need to debate it with a cornered clergy person. I really appreciate your take on folks that feel the need to do this... I also am finding it very interesting that folks seem to feel that clergy people aren't entitled to get frustrated and angry, that they must police their on line "tone" so as not to offend...that they are obligated to be "good little angels." In addition to the buried anger some of these SBNR folks carry around from past negative associations with church, I would add that the hostile reaction she has received from folks also reveals some signifiant insecurity in the validity of their SBNR self-description.

Matthew said...

Elizabeth, maybe Daniel herself was not trying to lump everybody together but i wonder if our popular culture is partly to blame. I see lots of online surveys and even dating websites where you check your religion using a pull down menu (i always hate the Christian ones where the only choices are protestant catholic and orthodox). Sbnr is often the only choice for those who will not check the atheist or agnostic box. So it becomes about branding or a label and some find it harmless and use it. I know sbnr's who had wonderful experiences with their church and have merely fallen away or attend only occasionally. They may not volunteer that they are sbnr unasked but if asked that is the label society has told them to use. And the ones I know never talk about sunsets but they use sbnr as some kind of shorthand and use it when talking clergy because it seems the shortest way of getting the issue out of the way (rather than, raised episcopalian but have not attended church in a few years). I know people who use the phrase innocently and who would be astounded that the rector of their childhood parish does not feel them to be really spiritual because people who use that phrase aren't considered to be. I personally am not yet willing to say that those who use the phrase probably aren't spiritual. I'd probably have to know that person to make that call.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - "Unprofessional"? Because she was honest? Because clergy are not supposed to have an angry tone? Ever? It seems to me that Jesus was highly "unprofessional". A lot. He was quite "mean" to the Canaanite woman who simply asked him to heal his daughter. He was downright rude to the Pharisees of his time. And, he often verbally smacked his disciples around from time to time.

As for wearing a collar or "outing" oneself on a plane, well, sometimes, wearing a collar is unavoidable - especially when you are dashing from the airport to a meeting or to a funeral or wedding. And, I don't know of any other profession who, when asked in "polite conversation" - "And, what do you do for a living?" - needs to "hide" that for fear of running into the kinds of people Daniel was talking about.

Sometimes, we are called to be truth-tellers. Sometimes, that ruffles feathers. So be it. I'm glad Daniel wrote what she wrote. Mostly, because I didn't have to. Granted, I probably wouldn't have been as 'sharp' as she was, but I don't fault her for it.

She certainly made her point - which, I would submit - was an important one to make, despite the flack she's taken from people who clearly don't understand that she's not talking about them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Renz - I've been amazed - totally amazed - that the same people who criticize Daniel for being "sharp" and "unkind" and "mean spirited" feel absolutely entitled to do the same thing to her and anyone who disagrees with them and tries to explain her point.

Clergy are human. We're not angels. We don't even try to be. At least, I don't. I figure I've got eternity to be one. This is my time for being as fully human as God created me to be. That doesn't excuse bad behavior. It means that I try to be as close to the image of my full humanity that God had in God's eyes when I was created.

It's been amazing to watch this all unfold.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Good points, Matthew. The folks I'm talking about - and, I believe Daniel is writing about - are clearly "angry young men/women with their fist in the air and their head in the sand" that Billy Joel sings about.

At one hospital I used to visit, there was a book of computer print out sheets of admissions, broken into categories: Catholic, Orthodox and then the various Protestant denominations. The thickest category - even more than the RCs - was the category "DND". That stood for "Do Not Disturb".

There may be lots of good reasons to list oneself in that category on admission - keeps away the well-intentioned 'non-denominational' self-ordained folks who what to "juss want to ask you, FatherGod, to heal this person in the Precious Name of Jeee-sssuusss". Others may have their own pastor and expect him/her to visit, thanks all the same. Some are SBNR - at varying levels of understanding about what this means. But others are also clearly hostile to organized religion.

"DND" like SBNR needs to be unpacked. But, I'll say it again, if you read the first paragraph of Daniel's article, you understand completely what she is talking about and the situation in which she finds herself.

IT said...

sigh. I guess we are just talking past each other, then, Elizabeth? I certainly don't think this is a fair description of my attempt to explain my opinion to you in this discussion.

the same people who criticize Daniel for being "sharp" and "unkind" and "mean spirited" feel absolutely entitled to do the same thing to her and anyone who disagrees with them and tries to explain her point.

I do not think I am being "sharp", "unkind" or "mean spirited" to you. I would regret if you felt that way. I am explaining my reaction to the text given and what I think of it. Your experience and opinion clearly differs.

So be it: I am done.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sorry, IT. I wasn't referring to your post. I've been swamped with offline comments that have been unkind and, frankly pretty awful. That is NOT how I experienced your comments. I apologize.

IT said...


Though kinda makes the point that it's not always clear to whom a writer is referring! I mean, you, the writer, knew whom you meant, but I, as reader, didn't.

But regardless, I really AM done. I have to go wipe off the tears after reading your new 9/11 post.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, IT. And, you're right. It does illustrate that point.

Anonymous said...

I suppose if a clergy did not want to encounter this type of situation on an airplane, where they would be trapped, they could merely not wear the collar or disclose their vocation. Many of our service men and women do not dress in military attire on airplanes for this very reason. However, you can generally tell them apart from others by their hair cut.

On another note related to your statement, "And, if you are part of the Body of Christ, it means it's going to happen in community. That means that you are going to find yourself in relationships with some of the biggest losers on the planet - people who were once lost but now have been found so they can lose themselves again and again only to find themselves loved by God and hopefully, eventually, serving the people of God." A valid point. But it makes me question whether I should have left the RCC. Is it ever right to leave a christain community? Should a person remain in a "christain" or "Jewish" or faith community if they are being abused or treated as less than a full person? Is it selfish to leave? Are all churches the same on the inside?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - I think I've covered your first question in the comment section of this post: Sometimes, it's unavoidable - if I am rushing from the airport to a meeting or a funeral. But, why should I have to "stay in the closet" to avoid random hostility?

As to your second point: I think I cover this in the post. I left the RCC. Daniel left TEC for the UCC. The point is to work it out in community - and to leave a community for another, if necessary, again and again as you find your way on your path. Because, no, not all churches are the same on the inside.

walter said...

From the depth of the Vitale Kaeton’ Collective Unconscious God time has come to us for our Queerful Christian Family, 4, to offer, in the Sacramental Moment, One Organism in Spirituality and Religion - The meaning of life: Which one is the sense of our existence, which is the meaning of the existence of all beings in general? Being able to answer to a so made question means awareness of religious feeling. The most beautiful sensation is the fullness and mysteriousness of life. It is the deep feeling found always in the cradle of art, the pure science and the liturgy of life. Who is no longer able to feel amazement and surprise is as a way of saying it, dead. The eyes are turned off. The impressive fullness of the mysterious, even mixed to awe is awakening, among spirituality, religion. To know that it does exists something impenetrable, to know the manifestation of the deepest intellect and of the brightest luminous beauty, that are accessible to our reason only in the most affirmative mystic forms, this knowledge and this feeling, behold this is the genuine devotion: in this sense and only in this sense I am the deeply religious Man. I do not wish and they cannot figure me a human individual that survives corporeal death as the individual mind fully developed quickly and queerfully loses its individual corporal bonds. How many weak souls, for fear or ridiculous egoism, nurture themselves of such ideas! It is enough to me to hear the mystery of the eternity of life, to have the conscience and the intuition of that which is, to fight actively to catch an atom even if most small, of the intelligence that manifest in nature to generate the complexity of the Organism. I recognize the fact that in using the formal name Creator, I am using anthropomorphic terminology. I do this quite deliberately, because I find it quite impossible to think of action – and this is implicit in the term – as an abstraction. While it is true that when the mind is concerned with something as vast as existence itself, any kind of limitation is paradoxical, if not contradictory, nevertheless, the mind as a thinking entity can only make sense of this complexity by using allegories that can stand for ideas and fields of comprehension. Behind the “thisness and thatness” of experience and observation one has to sense something more. Whatever term is used to express this dimension simply extends the boundary; it does not get rid of it. One may use the term ground or infinitude , or, to borrow a phrase from Northrup, “the undifferentiated aesthetic continuum”; or Eckhart’s nameless nothing or Godhead as he distinguishes it from God, or a contemporary theologian’s term, “God above God.”; or in the post-modern Freedom Theology of Brother Walter, Brother Paul and Sister Elizabeth, The Blue Grotto Dimension. Some of these phrases are an attempt to escape the dilemma of pure existence that, to the human mind, is meaningless; some others mean actualizing potential. Please Lord do go beyond our cultural limitations of racism classism heterosexism homophobia in The Messianic Vision, not of the Second Coming because we already know it but, but of the Diversity Coming. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused awakening the fullness and mystery of life, Jesus the Christ.

Walter Vitale

Matthew said...

Elizabeth, last comment on this. I agree the first sentence is key in her post. I also think that you are smart in that you don't always wear the collar and wear earplugs. Maybe that is what Daniel should do more. I can only assume she is really frustrated by these experiences. However, I have also known clergy that always wear the collar and always strike up conversations with total strangers everywhere they go. They LOVE the argument. The thrill of the debate. They so love arguing about religion. With anyone. Some clergy draw these people to them like a magnet. That may not be Daniel but I do think that if you do things (perhaps subconsciously ) to attract these people then you may want to examine that possibility instead of complaining. For many years I attracted men who were very bad for me and everyone around me could see it except me and then I always complained about the results. Again, that may not be daniel but i have known clergy that clueless. I confess that I often put myself out there for conversations with strangers on planes and often regret that i did not say I was busy. Lastly, I think this is an issue in which the laity probably cannot completely relate to the clergy and vice versa
W should all try to be more empathetic of our different experiences in the church and how they shape us.

RENZ said...

Elizabeth, any links to the full, unedited version of her essay? I think it might be helpful to read what she has written in the full context of her words, not the edited down version that we are call commenting on here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The full essay is now online. Here it is:

JCF said...

I'm late to this party (was away for a few days "communing w/ God in nature" ;-/)---

First things first: I can't believe that, after 40 comments, I'm the first to note the obvious: Lillian Daniels is a BABE! (Is she single? I could go for an ex-PiskieUCCer! ;-D)

OK, w/ the hormonal out-of-the-way, two things:

1) I really want to second what you said here, Elizabeth:

In my experience, people who have a deep sense of spirituality don't feel the need to tell other people that they are "spiritual but not religious". They just are.

In my experience, genuinely spiritual people are ALWAYS interested in another person's spirituality---whether that spirituality is "religious" or not.

No, I think the expression "Spiritual But Not Religious", in THIS culture, about 95%+ plus of the time, means "I'm a defacto Christian who doesn't go to church" . . . and

2) as Daniels says, they see a collar as an outlet for "Let me justify why I'm not in church."

As IT so importantly notes, there are several STRUCTURAL reasons that justify this: the homophobia and sexism (to a lesser degree, classism and sadly, still some racism) in the church(es).

But is it those STRUCTURAL problems that made them leave? If it is, an active, compassionate listener (as I like to think I am---and I believe Daniels is, too) will probably find out fairly quickly.

However, I think many more SNBRs are "Christians Not In Church" for something other than these structural issues. In MY experience, these are the ones more likely to (frankly) blather on re how they "don't need a church to find God". It's very self-justifying, NOT from the heart and, as Daniels says, boring.

Everyone here who's angry at Daniels? JMO (and OCICBW), but I don't think she's talking about you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

"It's not about you". I wish I had said that sooner, JCF. That's exactly it. And yes, Daniel IS a babe!