I confess: I didn’t want to like Lillian Daniel’s latest book, When ‘Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough’: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. Though I appreciated her 2009 book with Martin Copenhaver, An Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers and assigned a few chapters for class, the tone of some of Daniel’s public presentations and writing left a bitter taste in my mouth.
As I responded here, and as Landon Whitsitt wrote here, sometimes Daniel’s snarkiness (boy, is she good at snark!) cuts too sharp and I worry that it closes rather than opens doors to the church. Though present in two or three essays, that snark is but a small portion of an overall good read. Despite my prejudice, I found myself enjoying the book quite a bit. Overall, it’s a book of beauty, not snark.
Daniel’s essays run the gambit from short, blog-like entries to longer reflections to sermon-like essays drawing out scripture. Genre is a tricky thing, perhaps especially when a book is made up of 32 essays. I found the variation a nice touch, though it might be off-putting for some readers.
Speaking of readers, unlike some books written to draw the “spiritual but not religious” into the faith (like, say, many by Brian McLaren), Daniel’s latest felt more like a work for those already in the church, or at least those flirting close to its edge.
The work particularly shines when Daniel draws on emotion – humor or tragedy – to relate her faith stories to the broken, beautiful people of Christ’s church. While some readers may have come across several chapters previously published online or in magazines, like an Odd and Wondrous Calling I found that publishing them together brings a worthwhile heft to the book. One can also make apt connections between the essays.
So, thanks, Lillian Daniel, for providing the church (and its discontents) with a fine work of essays, snark and all.