About Me

Friday, July 29, 2016

Naming Rights

Recently, my attention has been drawn to the issue of naming rights.  On a college campus naming rights are often at issue when a new building is built.  The question is whether someone will donate enough money to earn the right to have the building named after him or her.  In most cases this is going to cost the person or couple millions of dollars.  I have mixed feelings about this.  In some cases it certainly is a way to honor someone.  In other cases however I am not so happy that someone basically gives enough money to have his or her name go on a building.  Clearly, it is a time-honored way to raise money.
           
Another place where names play a part on a college campus is with respect to endowed chairs.  I have one myself.  My position at the university was funded in a generous way by the couple for whom it is named and their friends.  The interest from that pool of money pays my salary and other expenses.  I am the lucky recipient of this largesse. 
           
I am not sure I can argue this is ok and naming a building is more suspect.  What I do think is important is what the naming of a building or an endowed chair symbolizes.  In effect we ask, what does the name stand for?  Let me suggest there are at least two phases in figuring out what the name symbolizes.  The first phase is the phase where everyone knows the person or persons for whom something is named.  For example, there is a building on my campus named after a former president.
           
When people hear the name of that building and when they know the former president, that name carries huge significance.  That president was beloved by nearly all folks, as nearly as I can tell.  So for those who know him, hearing the name of that building brings all the memories into play.  By carrying his name, the building becomes special.  Although I did not serve under his presidency, I do know him.  Even though he is a kindly old man now, it is still easy to see why he is beloved. 
           
For all of us who know him, the building takes on the significance of that beloved person and leader.  The significance hits us every time we walk into the building or even here the name of the building.  But then inevitably a second phase kicks in.  At some point everyone who knew the former president passes on.  At some point no one is around who knew him.  There are no more first-hand stories.  He will die and never show up again on campus.
           
In this second phase the name on that building carries little or no significance.  Even though there is a picture of the guy in the entryway, it does not really matter.  In the words of students, “It’s just a picture of some dude!”  Being a “dude” carries little significance.  That is not necessarily sad.  In some ways I would simply say his legacy is not really a building.  This seems to be the end of the story.
           
As I think about it, there is another way of seeing naming rights.  Sometimes a name is used to characterize a group.  We see this in some of the Christian religious denominations.  It is easy to think about the Lutherans or the Wesleyans.  The names are the legacy of Martin Luther and John Wesley.  Although it does not mean every Lutheran or Wesleyan is the same as the historic men the name honors, the significance of Martin Luther and John Wesley lives through the men and women bearing those names.
           
When we go down this route, I am struck by the fact that none of the five major religious traditions bears the name of the founding person.  We might be tempted to think Christians and Buddhists are named after the founding figure, but that’s not true.  Christians take their name from the main descriptor of Jesus---he was the Christ, the Messiah, and the Anointed One.  Those of us who are Christians want to follow the path of the Anointed One.  Our hope is to be anointed ourselves to further the kingdom building he began.
           
And the Buddhists are named after the experience of the one who became enlightened.  The historical figure, Gautama, became the “awakened one” and attracted followers who hoped they might also experience this enlightenment.  Recognizing this fascinates me.
           
From this we conclude that Jesus, Gautama---and we might add Mohammed---were happy to have naming rights.  Effectively, they taught that you could have a name if you had the experience.  If you seek to become enlightened, you can be called a Buddhist.  If you seek to be anointed unto working to bring the kingdom in your life and the world, you can be a Christian.  If you seek to submit to the will of God and do that will, you can be a Muslim.  You have every right to those names.
           
I am very comfortable with this kind of naming right.  But it is a challenge.  You have a right to that name if you are willing to live up to what the name signifies.  Suddenly, I realize it is easier to put my name on a building or something.  To call myself a Christian is a bold and challenging thing.  I am up for it; name me!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thank You

It is such a simple phrase: thank you.  Two small words can say so much.  In many cases they are a gift in return for a gift.  As I began to think about this simple phrase, thank you, I realized again how important it is.  Furthermore, I realize it is also a potential sacred experience.  That was more than I ever imagined.
           
I have been saying thank you for decades.  As I remember my youth, my parents and, especially my dad, were really insistent that I learn to say thank you.  I am not sure what was behind his burn for me to learn and practice this habit.  I wish I had asked him that question.  For some reason it was very important to him.  So I dutifully learned to say it.  I internalized the act of saying thanks and it became a habit.  In my mind I am pretty good at it.
           
I would like to look at the phrase and the action from a couple perspectives.  The first perspective knows that saying thank you is a social grace.  I know my dad would say that is how we respond to people when they have given us something or have been nice to us.  Simply analyzing that simple phrase from it the social grace perspective reveals some interesting points.  Let’s detail those.
           
Perhaps the most basic to saying thank you is the assumption of some self-awareness.  If we are not self-aware, we don’t even realize or recognize that someone has done something for us.  Of course, sometimes it is pretty evident.  If someone hands me a $20 bill, I am aware enough to know I have $20 bucks that I did not work for or find on the ground.  It is gift and I say thanks.
           
This is a good point because I also realize that some of us are actually not very self-aware.  Oh, we might be aware enough to know that a $20 placed in our hands is a gift, since we did not have it a minute ago.  But other things are metaphorically plunked into our hands and our lives and we are not aware of it.  I know people do countless things for me that I would miss if I were not pretty self-aware.  I want to be alert to catch some of this less obvious gifts for which I should say thank you.
           
The next thing I am sure is true is that too many of us are too self-centered to recognize many of the gifts that come our way.  Sometimes I erroneously think everything I get is because I deserve it.  I work hard, I pay my dues, etc.  These all are announcements that whatever I get, I deserve.  Of course some of this is true.  But I dare say, in most things I word hard at, there is also an element of giftedness.
           
The worst form of self-centeredness is pure selfishness.  In this scenario I not only assume that what I get, I deserve.  Now I am assuming that I actually am owed everything I get.  Since I am the center of my little universe, it is all mine anyway.  Why should I say thanks for what is naturally mine?  We all know these kinds of folks are not much fun to be around. 
           
I want to move from the level of thanks, which is a social grace to the level where I see thanks as a spiritual issue.  That is not obvious and actually took learning a foreign language to awaken my fully to its reality.  For me to acknowledge thanks as a spiritual phenomenon means it has to be somehow a moment of the sacred.  To be spiritual is to participate in the sacred---which can mean God, the Spirit or however we want to conceive of the sacred.
           
I grasped this connection most clearly when I was studying eucharistic theology.  I purposely used that big, foreign word in order to make my point.  As a Quaker I am sure I never heard that word, Eucharist, until college or maybe graduate school.  As Catholics would know, the Eucharist is Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.  It is a sacrament.  Precisely, it refers to the wafer and wine, which are the elements served in communion.  We get to the point when we recall the words of Jesus, which every priest utters at that sacred moment.
           
The biblical text says that Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and give it to the disciples.”  The words, “give thanks” are the Greek word, eucharisteo---eucharist.  The eucharist is a sacred moment---the moment when the bread also becomes sacred and is then given to us---to give us a sacred encounter.  This is instructive.
           
I want to argue that all “giving thanks” can become a moment of sacred encounter.  Saying thanks creates the space and the moment when the Spirit can be invited to bless the experience.  All of these Eucharistic moments---moments of thanks---do not have to be at the level of sacrament.  Or better, perhaps they all become little sacramental moments.
           
I am positive my dad never thought at this level.  But maybe he had an intuition; he certainly knew saying thanks was important.  I simply agree it is important and add that it can also be sacramental.  When I see it this way, I can never again use the phrase, thank you, as a throw away phrase simply to be nice. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Live Our Theology

I just finished a remarkable book.  Christopher Pramuk, a theologian who teaches at Xavier, wrote about the theology of Thomas Merton, my favorite monk of the last century.  Pramuk’s book is entitled, Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.  The book is not an easy go.  While it has the hallmarks of a doctoral dissertation, it is very articulate.  It is tough going because it brings in significant amounts of rather sophisticated theology.

Many people in the church would not know what the term, Sophia, means.  That is the Greek word for “wisdom.”  Sophia plays a role in both testaments of the Christian Bible.  In most cases the word would be translated “Wisdom.”  Even though I know Merton’s writings fairly well, Pramuk was able to lift out ideas and analyze them in fresh ways that I found exciting.  Part of the fascination, of course, is my own love of Merton.

He was a remarkable man and monk.  His life pilgrimage into faith is an intriguing story in itself.  Born in France to parents who were into the arts, Merton’s early life was one of instability.  He moved not from town to town, but from country to country.  He bounced between France, Long Island in New York and England.  For a while his father took him to the Caribbean.  Part of the intrigue is when Merton finally becomes religious, he joined the Catholic Church and, then, one of the most rigorous monasteries he could have chosen. And when he became a monk in 1941 at age 27, he took a vow of stability!  The vagabond promised to stay in one place.  And he did.

For all its sophistry (see our word sophia-wisdom in this term), Pramuk’s book is really an attempt to think about contemporary life and how to make sense of it and to make it better.  In fact the first line of the book contains a definition of theology that I very much like.  Pramuk says theology is “a lifelong conversation with wonder and mystery…”  That line already points to a way of seeing God.  God is wonder and mystery.  I think that is a good way to begin.

The key question that follows from this is how do we know this wonder and mystery in our real lives?  And furthermore, if we know this wonder and mystery, what difference does it make in how we live?  Those are crucial questions because all of us who are alive will necessarily choose some way to live.  Will we be ethical?  Or will we not give a hoot?  We will care about others or will we say we couldn’t care less?  Somehow those of us who claim in some fashion that we believe in God should have that belief reflected in real life.

This is the point to which Pramuk returns at the end of the book.  If we are going to be women and men of faith, how do we take the theology of our faith (our explanations of things) and actually live it out?  Wisely, Pramuk chooses words from Merton penned in my favorite book of his, namely, New Seeds of Contemplation.  There Merton says, “If we believe in the Incarnation of the Son of God (God become human), there should be no one on earth in whom we are not prepared to see, in mystery, the presence of Christ.”  Pramuk, then, asks, “Is this not after all the deepest mystery of our faith that ‘has to break through a little’ if we are going to live as children of God, companions of Jesus, bearers of presence, peace, and hope in the twenty-first century?”

Personally, the focus on the incarnation is key for my own belief.  If God is wonder and mystery, as Pramuk puts it, then that wonder and mystery came into our world as a human being.  Somehow Jesus embodies that wonder and mystery.  That speaks positively to me.  Obviously it makes Jesus different than I am.  But it does not mean I cannot emulate Jesus.  The fact that Jesus embodies wonder and mystery is a call for me to do the same.  God is ready to come into me, too.

And when that happens, it makes me see the world in a whole new way.  As with Jesus, it means there are not more enemies.  As Merton said, I need to be prepared to see, in mystery, the presence of Christ in the other.  And I begin to live my life as a child of God---which is what Jesus did.  I become a peacemaker and justice-seeker.  I become a lighthouse of hope in a dark world.  I learn to pray (and mean it), “not my will.”

I can talk theology.  I can use big words, as Merton and Pramuk did.  That’s not bad; it is simply not sufficient to make me spiritual.  Merton’s counsel to his fellow monks at Gethsemani should be our counsel, too.  Thinking and theology are important Merton claims.  But, “What we must really do…is live our theology.”  That is the call and the challenge.

It makes me think of a more street-savvy way of putting it.  “Words are nice, but actions speak louder than words.  We have to live our theology.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Queen for a Day

In the mid 1950s there was a radio and tv show called “Queen for a Day.”  I don’t remember too much about it, but do recall the basic thrust.  It was part of that era’s fascination with game shows.  Often there was a pot of money or some other big prize to win.  That show usually had mostly women contestants and, I suspect, a bigger female audience.

The host of the show would begin by asking, “would you like to be queen for a day?”  Of course, the answer would be affirmative.  And then the host would interview the various contestants and at the end of the show the audience would vote one of them to be queen for a day.  I don’t recall many details. But it often was true the stories of the women contestants were sad and touching.

This reminds me of another show at the same time period, namely, The Millionaire.  In this show unsuspecting people were give a million dollars (a huge sum in 1950s currency) and see how a fortune changed lives for better or for worse.  That show had an amazing impact on how people often would express their desire for instant wealth.  Perhaps our contemporary culture’s fascination with the lottery is comparable.

It is funny and sad to see people live with what I would call an “if only…” mentality.  This perspective is not limited to wistful longings to be on a tv show and be the winner or suddenly to have someone drop out of the sky and hand us a million bucks.  We can see this mentality present in people’s lives in ordinary and extraordinary ways.  I have seen it when someone is diagnosed with lung cancer and laments, “if only I had not smoked.”  It is not unusual to hear a student’s cry, “if only I had studied a little…”

As a kid, I remember people asking each other, “so if you were queen (king) for a day, what would you do?”  We see versions of that in our own day around the lottery.  Or sometimes we see it when a high school or college super-athlete gets a huge signing bonus---becoming instant millionaires.  It is not unusual that they go buy a really fancy, expensive car.  They choose a status symbol like that which is an attempt to say, “look at me; I am somebody!”

I see these kinds of shows and, even, the appeal of the lottery as a way of inducing us to dream of a life different from the one we currently have.  Too many folks I know spend time wanting to be someone else.  In effect, they are saying, “if only…”  I certainly understand the appeal of fantasy.  Who would not want a perfect life?  Maybe money or fame would bring us closer.  But I doubt it.

I doubt it because fantasy is never real.  Fantasy is make-believe.  I understand it as entertainment, but when it is mistaken for reality or for hope, trouble looms.  Fantasy does not work because basically it is an escape.  Rather than being reality, fantasy is an escape from reality.  It is interesting the show only offered a chance to be queen for a day!  Why not a week, a year or the rest of my life?  To be queen for a day and then return to reality only seems disruptive to me.

Beneath all this I see a spiritual issue.  Spirituality is always a reality-based undertaking.  Let’s compare being queen for a day and the opportunity to be spiritual for a lifetime.  They both offer riches.  But they are very different kinds of riches.  Typically, to be queen for a day offers some kind of financial reward.  Spirituality offers the treasure of deep meaning and purpose.  One is a resource that will be spent down and the other is a resource that can never be exhausted.  In fact, like love the spiritual resource only increases.  Spiritually, the rich do get richer!

Being queen for a day almost never transforms your life.  You are still the same person, but with money or a new car.  Being spiritual should not only change you, but also transform you into a better and bolder person.  Instead of queen for a day, you become a child of God for a lifetime.  Spirituality is a long-term investment with a huge upside and an optimistic outcome---regardless of the process that we may have to go through.

Finally, a big difference between being queen for a day and being spiritual is who wins.  On the tv show there was only one winner.  The rest of the folks were audience---were being entertained.  They spend a half hour of their day watching someone else get rich!  And their lives never changed and no transformation happened.  Becoming spiritual, however, offers everyone a chance to be a winner.  In fact, spirituality is not a spectator sport.  It is not entertaining.  And it’s not a game.  It is real and for real.

I don’t mind watching some tv.  But I don’t want to be queen for a day.  I am trying to be spiritual instead.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Serendipity Suffers

I read a fairly wide range of things throughout my day.  But one staple is the morning newspaper.  I am one of the old-fashioned people who like to have the physical newspaper in hand.  Every morning I make a trek to the store for a cup of coffee and the daily newspaper.  It is usually early in the morning, so it is quiet and, during much of the year, still dark.  It is a special time.

Sometime when I begin reading something, I think I might get an idea or be inspired for one of these inspirational pieces.  Other things I read, I have little expectation that something significant will appear.  For example, I like to begin reading the sports page.  I will even read an article about a game I may have seen the day before on tv!  Another thing I will do is read the whole paper.  Perhaps this stems from my early days when this was the way we were informed about our world.  Certainly, the internet has changed that and I am active on the web.  But I also am a throwback.

So it was that I settled in my chair with coffee in hand and read the sports page.  There was no revelation there.  Most of what I read I already knew.  And then I moved to the travel section of the newspaper.  I like this section because it often has a story about a place I have already visited.  I like both domestic stories and foreign.  And there are also stories about places I might visit some day.

My eyes wander to the bottom of the page and this headlined jumped at me: “Don’t let your baggage weigh you down.”  I smiled, as I thought how much I know about this topic.  I have traveled enough to know how to travel light.  And so I began to read Rick Steves’ piece with the assumption that I already knew what he was going to tell me.  And in almost every sense I did know everything.

Although I have never met Steves, I feel like I know him.  He writes regularly for the print media and he has a travel series on tv that I have seen.  He has a great job.  Somebody apparently pays for him to run around the globe, meet interesting people, eat some great food and report on it.  I would do that in a heartbeat.  He does it well and I appreciate that.

As I neared the end of the brief article, I hit an intriguing idea.  The idea began when I read the following sentence.  “Packing light isn’t just about saving time or money---it’s about your traveling lifestyle.”  I liked that idea that packing light is about my traveling lifestyle.  I realized there were spiritual analogies in this and what was to come.  My mind perked up.

The spiritual analogy works well if we think about life as a journey.  This is an ancient metaphor for understanding our life.  Life is a trip from birth to death---a journey.  It is intriguing to think about life reflects a “traveling lifestyle.”  Our lifestyle might be characterized by wealth and greed.  I might be poor and uneducated and that is a very different traveling lifestyle.

I am sure the way we think about and live out our spirituality is reflected in our traveling lifestyle.  On my best days I hope my spiritual lifestyle is characterized by caring and sharing.  I hope it is other-centered and not totally self-centered.  I am not perfect, so I am not a model of the spiritual lifestyle.  I am a work in progress.

But I do know it is best to pack light.  It is hard to be spiritual with huge possessions and very difficult to be spiritual when we are possessive.  It is tough to be spiritual when we don’t care and don’t share.  When we have too much stuff, we have too much baggage.  As Steves said, “Too much luggage weighs you down.”  When we have too much, then we are too focused on what is.  Change is often threatening.  I get stuck in this place too often.

That is when the next, short sentence of Steves’ profoundly impacted me.  If we have pack too much---carrying too much baggage on our trip through life---then “Serendipity suffers.”  Serendipity is one of my favorite words.  Serendipity is a pleasant, sometimes, great surprise.  As I understand it, it is always good.  Serendipity is good things coming our way we could not have expected and did not see coming.

Theologically, serendipity is grace and mercy.  It is love for us—realizing that we are cared for in ways we didn’t merit and may not even be able to explain.  Steves is right.  If we are carrying too much baggage---packed too much for the trip---we will suffer our chances for serendipity.  It is really easy to close ourselves off from serendipity.  If you are in a rut or in bondage, serendipity has been walled off.

I am not sure we can prepare for serendipity.  But we can travel lightly.  We can be open and even expectant.  If we pack too much baggage for our spiritual travel through life, serendipity suffers.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Loveable Losers

The title for this inspirational piece must seem a little strange.  Why write about losers?  I would agree that winning seems preferable.  I done both in my life and I do prefer winning.  It is more fun.  I got the title from the two words embedded in the middle of a quaint article.  It is in one of the online resources I routinely read simply because there is usually interesting stuff there.  I was not disappointed.

The resource is actually a national Catholic magazine that I read online.  So you can imagine that I was a little surprised when I read the headline, “What I learned about life playing center for the Cubs.”  The Chicago Cubs, I wondered.  Indeed, as the first sentence revealed.  The author, Michael Leach, says, “When I was a kid in the 1950s, all I wanted to be was center fielder for the Chicago Cubs.”  I was right---it was about the Cubs!  But I did not recognize Leach’s name, even though we have to be approximately the same age.  I don’t know all major league baseball players since the 60s, but the Cubs are close enough to Indiana, I was a little surprised I had never heard from him.

As I read further, I realized why I don’t know Michael Leach.  He talks about growing up in the vicinity of Wrigley Field, the home of the Cubs.  As he narrates his growing up years, baseball was learned in the alley three blocks from the field.  He confesses he barely made the Pony League team, so I knew he probably was not pro caliber talent.  There would be another angle to the title.

He claims his father took him to his first Cubs’ game when he was one week old.  It doesn’t matter.  Playing for the Cubs became his dream.  I know about the Cubs.  When Leach says, “It wasn't winning that drew us -- that was not going to happen much,” he was correct.  The next sentence gives the real reason.  “It was hanging out on this day with nice people under the sun with a lake breeze cooling our faces…”  As a theologian I said, “ah, it was community.”  

It was in the context that he uses the words, “lovable losers.”  The team was not going to win the pennant, but because of the community, the ambience, etc., it was fun to be part of the “lovable losers.”  A new thought began to creep into my mind.  You don’t have to win to have fun.  And losers are not necessarily despicable, sorry slobs!  Of course, I knew this; but the Cubs’ story is a nice reminder to all of us ordinary people.

Leach’s narrative gets more focus when he treks with his seventeen-year old friend to watch a Cubs’ game.  After the game concluded, a few players hung around to practice a bit more.  The two teenagers approached Dutch Leonard and asked if they could go onto the field and chase balls that were hit.  At first Dutch nixed the idea, but with pleading he relented in the way an old-school guy would. “What the hell. Go ahead. Be careful.”  Leach trotted out to center field.

He didn’t catch one ball.  And he nearly wiped out Moe Drabowsky in the process.  (I have heard of Moe!).  And then, Leach concludes.  It sounds a bit spiritual, even though he might not mean it that way.  “My soul learned a lesson in humility that day. Being a star isn't happiness.”  The key is not winning.  The key is remembering “the joy of just playing.”  That can be a recipe for the good life.  We don’t have to be winners to know joy.

I like very much the last line of Leach’s piece.  He says, “Baseball, like life, sets you free only when you play it for fun.”  Leach sets us up very nicely for seeing baseball as an analogy for life.  And I want to push it even further and talk about the spiritual life.  A couple important issues emerge from this last quotation.  Leach talks about a life that is free.  Freedom is a tricky idea.  I am sure everyone I know feels free.  None of us are in jail.  But we can be free from jail and in bondage at the same time.  Workaholics are trapped.  Our contemporary culture provides all sorts of ways that trap us.  Many of my younger friends are trapped by social media.  We are not as free as we think.

The second significant piece Leach talks about is having fun.  I think he is correct when he posits that no one who is trapped truly is having fun.  This is true even for those of us trapped by Facebook, Twitter, etc.  When we are trapped, we have to do it.  When we are free, we can do it.  Finally, it is fun only when we have the freedom to say no.

I think this applies to the spiritual life.  If we are spiritual because we have to do it (for whatever reason), then we are not free and it won’t be fun.  I’m some might suggest that being spiritual is not supposed to be fun.  Of course, it is not fun all the time---any more than being at a baseball game all day and night would be fun.  But if it is not fun some of the time, then I think we need to consider what kind of spiritual way are we walking.

Part of the fun in the spiritual life is community.  Being spiritual is not necessarily a long, lonely journey so that we can have fun later (maybe only after we are dead!).  That is not my spiritual path.  I want to play center field and have fun before I’m dead!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Present and Future

An unlikely source of spiritual inspiration, we might assume, would be alumni magazines.  My immediate family of four has access to quite a few of them, since the four of us hold multiple degrees from various institutions of higher education.  The range is from smaller, college-related institutions to larger public research institutions.  Of course, there is a great deal of commonality to these magazines.  And there also are significant particularities because no institution is just like another.

I was reading a recent edition of a magazine and landed on the column written by the president.  I am sure it was the title that caught my attention: “An Invincible Spirit.”  I like Harvard’s President, Drew Faust, although I have never met her.  By training she is an historian.  So I was not too surprised to find the article made use of some history.  But the content was a surprise.

The article gave considerable attention to Harvard’s decision to reinstate ROTC.  Harvard had discontinued ROTC in those tumultuous Vietnam years.  I remember those years and the protests that accompanied them.  On so many campuses ROTC was a lightening rod for anti-war protests.  What I did not know is ROTC had begun on the country’s oldest college in 1916 as the US prepared for the possibility of entering WW I.  So nearly a century later, ROTC was to be reinstated.

I am not that interested in Harvard’s action.  I have no knowledge to have an opinion.  As a Quaker, I am a pacifist.  However, I do respect the men and women who serve in the military.  Even a pacifist has to agree we live in a world with too many problems and with too much violence.  How this is addressed and peace brought to our lives is a complex, crucial issue.

President Faust talked about walking around campus, visiting various buildings with the names of Harvard alums who had given their lives in defense of this country.  She singles out one name, Charles Russell Lowell, 1854 class valedictorian, who served and died in the bloody Civil War.  She cites his words, offered a decade before his service and sacrifice for the country.  Those were the words that I found inspiring.

Faust says that Lowell encourages his classmates “both to consider what should be and to imagine what can be.”  He continued with this amazing thought: “This uneasiness with the present married with an eagerness to shape the future” is the key attitude.  Realizing that I am lifting these ideas out of the discussion about ROTC, they do seem to me to offer a good way of seeing the role of the spiritual in our individual lives and in the peace-making life of communities and, perhaps, countries.

The first thing to note---and this is very obvious---is we only live in the present.  I can only have today.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet.  But it is also true that humans have the capacity to know time in many dimensions.  Even though I am living today, I can remember yesterday, I can know what I did and, even, what I regret not doing.  In the same way I can anticipate tomorrow.  Having this capacity with time is a blessing of being human.

Because we don’t live in a perfect world, all of us can understand life in the same way Lowell talked about it in his first sentence.  We are able to consider what should be.  And more importantly, we are able to imagine what can be.  Notice the two different verbs used in that articulation.  We are able to “consider.”  This means in the present I am able to consider---to think about and ponder---what should be.  We should be good; we should be loving.

And we are able to “imagine” what can be.  This is a future state.  I imagine tomorrow; yesterday is gone.  But without imagination tomorrow will be like today---or perhaps, worse!  This is where the second thought of Lowell impacts me.  I like that Lowell talks about the uneasiness with the present.  That does not mean the present is awful; clearly, there are some good things going on.  But the big picture does make me uneasy.

I am concerned with climate change.  I am concerned about terrorists---people who make meaning in life so radically different than people I know.  Terrorists thrive on violence; there is no future there.  So I am uneasy with the present.  But I am also eager to shape the future.  That is crucial to me.  I have grandkids who likely will live to see 2100!  We have to shape a future that is going to great possibilities.

The good news is this is exactly what I think God desires, too.  God desires to shape the future so there is peace and love, instead of violence and hate.  God desires people of all religious traditions---and no traditions---to learn to love and to create communities of mutual care.  If we don’t do that, we have chaos and communal destruction.  It’s a spiritual work we have to do: create a future befitting a kingdom.