THERE IS STILL a political definition of “Christian” out there that is depressingly familiar: the right-wing voting, Fox News-sourced agitprop spewer who uses Jesus to shoehorn others into something the actual Lord of the universe could care less about. Lillian Daniel is not going to take this definition anymore, but she’s not mad as hell. She’s winsome as heaven. Her humor clears the way for her preaching to hit home, and her love for the church, both her congregation and universal, anchors this work. Give it out to your friends and to strangers on the street.
First, Daniel’s humor: It is hard to give examples of her humor without them falling flat. She’s at her droll best when the reader’s defenses aren’t up. This isn’t the humor of the warm-up act before the preacher gets on to something serious—she often drives her meatiest points home with her funniest stuff. For example, a running motif in the book is the airplane companion who thinks he’s being edgy when he says to the pastor beside him that he sees God in rainbows and sunsets. This “spiritual but not religious” mindset is now the bland norm in America, not some spectacular new revelation: “They are far too busy being original to discover that they are not.”
Some of Daniel’s most withering observations are reserved for the mainline church she loves: the sneering religious critic is told “all those questions actually make him a very good mainline Protestant.” The self-congratulatory short-term missionary who comes home convinced how “lucky” she is to live in America receives this barb: “When generosity begets stupidity it wasn’t really generosity to begin with.”