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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Spiritual but not religious' as a starting point

Phrase is a gateway into deeper conversation

Editor's note: This is a response to Lillian Daniel's "Spiritual but not religious? Please stop boring me."

I know about the discomfort of getting on an airplane and telling the person sitting next to me about what I do. Compounded by my age and gender, it's almost always an awkward moment. So when I read about Lillian Daniel's similar experience, I was sympathetic to her situation.

But I was surprised by, and not terribly sympathetic to, her reaction to the person sitting next to her on the airplane. She seemed especially put-off by those who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Now, that phrase confuses (and annoys) me as much as the next pastor. Although I have actually spent time looking for and talking to people who describe themselves that way, I still don't fully understand the phrase (Daniel is probably right about it being the spiritual heritage of self-centered, American individualism). And from my conversations with people who identify that way, my sense is that they don't always understand it either.


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