Category Archives: Spirituality

Seeing God in Surprising Places

When “Spiritual but Not Religious” is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, Lillian Daniel (Jericho Books, 2013) $19.99

spiritualnotreligiousIf nothing else, Lillian Daniel has a breadth of experience in her years of ministry! In her book, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” is Not Enough, Lillian takes us along for the ride as she chats with random strangers on the bus, visits prisons and monasteries, philosophizes with her dog about late-night TV evangelists, and deals with family crises as she takes on the task of “Seeing God in surprising places, even the church.” Her quirky anecdotes draw the reader into her inner thought circle, giving the book the feel of a rambling campfire rant among friends. With each section divided into bite-sized chapters, the author challenges many commonly-held beliefs, both in and outside the church, and shows us through her stories that we need to look deeper into the every day fabric of life than we are accustomed to, in order to find the answers to the big questions.

You won’t find quick and easy theological answers to the questions she poses. You won’t find loosely superimposed object lessons, and you won’t find hum-drum do-it-yourself suggestions for cultivating a lifestyle of prayer or confession or communion. The author resists giving you the answers to the test at all costs. Instead, she tells you about her experience with these aspects of spiritual life, and lets you fill in the blanks. In her discussion of communion, for example, one moment, you’re sitting in her financial planner’s office discussing tithing, and the next minute, you’re whisked off to O’Hare airport to discover the joys of impromptu road trips with strangers in snowy weather—and then you’re in her mother’s dining room, waiting to be served roast duck! And, while there is a conclusion to be drawn from her sharing each of these stories in short succession, the author leaves us to draw that conclusion on our own.

The abruptness of her transitions, interjected with the odd chapter where she can’t resist jumping up onto her soapbox, can be disconcerting. Even the conclusion of the book is abrupt. Yet, there is an endearing quality to the way the author tells her stories. A keen mind and gentle heart shine out of every chapter. It is obvious that Lillian Daniel is actively engaged in wrestling with the deep, unsettling questions of spirituality, and even more impressive—she’s comfortable with the patchwork gaps in her knowledge of God, assured that her faith and her experience will continue to fill the gaps. Indeed, it would seem that from her perspective, the only way to allow the gaps to be filled is to continue to experience life through the lens of faith.

If you’re looking for a book that will encourage introspection, challenge complacency, and make you laugh all at the same time, pick up a copy of When “Spiritual but Not Religious” is Not Enough. You never know where you’ll find God.

Holly Messenger Aamot studied philosophy and botany at the University of Alberta, and now work as the Business Manager for the Chokka Center for Integrative Health in Edmonton, Alberta. When she is not working or reading she enjoys writing, crocheting, and making music. She lives in Edmonton with her husband and daughter.

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Talking About God

What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell (HarperOne, 2013) $25.99

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Rob Bell is in a new place with a new book. What We Talk about When We Talk about God is his first publication since leaving Mars Hill, the off-beat mega church near Grand Rapids, MI, that he founded in 1999. Bell is now writing, teaching, surfing and working on media projects in Southern California.

Despite these changes, people who are aware of Bell’s earlier material—books, speaking tours and Nooma DVDs—will find themselves in familiar surroundings within these newly printed pages. His signature cadence, humor and minimalism remain. Beyond these stylistic cues, major themes from previous works find new traction—the scientific wildness of Everything is Spiritual[i], the moral trajectory of The Gods Aren’t Angry[ii], the assumption from Velvet Elvis[iii] that all truth is God’s truth.

Readers of theology and philosophy will also find continuity with Bell’s established method of interacting with heady theology in subtle ways. Bell avoids the jargon of academia, and he rarely quotes the theologians he is wrestling with, but these thinkers are quite present just below the surface. From a communication perspective, this is one of Rob Bell’s greatest gifts. He guides readers over the difficult terrain of theodicy, epistemology and moral philosophy—all covered in this latest book—in ways that focus us on the important issues without the distraction of opening a theological dictionary. Bell demonstrates that wrestling with life’s most important questions does not require esoteric terminology. Only a certain type of reader can appreciate Peter Rollins’ style of writing in How (Not) To Speak of God, but anyone can understand Bell’s reference to Rollins as “my friend Pete” (95).

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Help, Thanks, Wow

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books) $17.95

Photo by Gary Leonard, courtesy of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles

Anne Lamott in conversation with Father Greg Boyle.
(Photo by Gary Leonard, courtesy of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles)

“I do not know much about God and prayer but I have come to believe, over the last twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.” Those are the opening words of Anne Lamott’s new book, Help, Thanks, Wow.

Lamott is best known for her memoir, Traveling Mercies, and her incredibly popular book about writing, Bird by Bird. In this short but enticing book about prayer she argues for honesty with God. “My belief,” she writes, “is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God…. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if you exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table” (6-7). But more than mere argument, she models the raw honesty that she believes brings us into proximity to God. In this book, as in her earlier ones, she is transparent about her own weaknesses. She speaks often of alcoholism, drug addiction and the deliberate attention to her sobriety, the alienation of her childhood, the pain of loss, migrane headaches and other challenges of every day life.

In perhaps the most profound line in the book, Lamott writes:

If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.

These three truths roughly correlate to the three prayers. In finally recognizing our ruined condition and how little control we have over virtually everything, we cry, “Help!” In response to the deepening sense of being loved we respond, “Thanks!” and then “Wow!”

Anne Lamott is nothing if not relatable. I laughed and nodded along with the rest of the audience as we listened to her easygoing conversation with Father Greg Boyle at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles event this past Monday evening. She makes you feel smarter and more spiritual by her self-deprecating humor. If only we could all wear our woundedness with such honesty we, too, could be best selling authors, I found myself thinking.

The “Help” chapter is the longest by several pages and Wow is the shortest. I pointed this out to her and asked whether it might be a function of her experience, figuring most human beings have more experience with Help than Thanks. Even less with Wow. She offered a different explanation. “‘Help’ is the hardest prayer,” she said, “and the most profound. It the stuff of great literature and movies; when a character is driven to their knees by the futility of their own ideas. If you can pray, ‘Help,’ you’re half way home.”

I was once again feeling better about my chances—chances of surviving the challenges life throws my way or of finding a deeper connection with God—even if I’m never a best selling author.

RB

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