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Notes Played

I am one of those dinosaurs who still reads physical newspapers.  It is an old habit I will probably never give up---at least until they actually quit printing newspapers.  I like to get my early cup of coffee and read the paper.  I certainly am not against technology.  In fact, I regularly read two or three other papers online---a couple foreign papers, which I would never buy.  My kids make fun of me; they would never buy a “real paper.”

No doubt, this reflects the time in which I grew up.  Being from a rural area, the news came from two sources: newspapers and the radio.  I actually spent a few years of my early life without television.  Now that seems preposterous, but at the time, it was normal.  As I reflect on this, I realize I probably trusted newspapers the way the younger generation trusts the internet.  My students tend to assume whatever they find on Google has to be true. 

Another thing I realize is my tendency to read everything in the newspaper.  Of course, some things a…

Advent as Preparation

When I was a youth, I had no clue how provincial I was.  The good news is I would not even have known what that word meant!  So it did not matter that I was provincial.  Basically, to be provincial means you are a citizen of the province.  In my case my province was rural Indiana and an identity as a Quaker.  Rural Indiana is not unlike other rural areas in this country.  It meant hard work, independence and a limited outlook.  That was my little world.

Paradoxically, there were quite a few Quakers in the little world in which I lived, so I figured the world was full of Quakers.  This illusion was perpetuated because I know there were “a bunch of Quakers” in Kenya, so I figure all of Africa must be crawling with Quakers.  All of this turned out not to be true.  Education did some wonderful things to me.

I learned much more about a much bigger world.  College in the South in a modest-sized city began my growth beyond a rural mentality.  The good news is that I did not have to give up w…

Beginning

One of the most enchanting books I have recently read is by David Whyte entitled, Consolations.  The subtitle is equally intriguing: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning.  Whyte is essentially a poet.  And this book focuses on a series of words.  Whyte deals with each word in a poetic way, even though it is prose.  His writing is fairly dense---as poetry often can be---but the read is worthwhile.  To understand him, you need to slow down and savor the word he is dealing with, but also his own descriptive, interpretive words.  He often chooses an ordinary word and uncovers some extraordinary meanings.

For example, a word I would like to give attention is the common word, “beginning.”  This is a word I have used countless times.  Most people would assume they know precisely what the word means.  But to read Whyte’s rendition of the word, beginning, is to be led into a much deeper, reflective place to discover the word has a profundity to it most of us never would have guessed.

T…

Light in the Darkness

The title for this inspirational piece could well come from Quaker spirituality.  Quakers have always been fond of the spiritual metaphor, light.  I suspect much of this fondness stems from the Quaker appreciation of the Fourth Gospel.  The author of that gospel, John, talks about Jesus as the “Light.”  Indeed, one of the chief functions of Jesus is to shine the light in the world.  The teaching and ministry of Jesus, hence, enlightens the people he contacted and touched.  Quakers went so far as to conclude every one of us has an “Inner Light.”  And I grew up hearing that we each had a “Light Within.”

However, this inspirational piece is not about Quakers.  It is about Catholics; indeed, it is about one Catholic in particular.  The focus is on Father Solanus Casey.  Until recently, I never heard of this Catholic priest.  But he has recently come into the news and I have been fascinated by him and his story.  Solanus Casey has just been beatified.  This is an official step along the way…

The Cosmic Christ

There have been many ways to talk about Jesus.  In fact, one of the special areas in theological studies is called Christology.  Christology basically focuses on how people talk about Jesus, particularly Jesus the Christ.  It is normal to hear it simply put as “Jesus Christ.”  This slightly alters the way I put it, namely, “Jesus the Christ.”  While my rendition doubtlessly will sound strange in most Christian ears, it probably comes closer to the way Jesus and the early disciples would have understood it.  But of course, I recognize when I say it this way, it sounds a trifle arrogant!

It certainly does not mean that “Jesus Christ” is wrong.  Surely it is not.  But at the same time, we need to be clear about what we are doing and what we are affirming.  Let’s put a couple simple affirmations on the table.  The first affirmation boldly assumes Jesus was a real guy---a human being.  We can leave off to the side right now whether he was a guy who ever sinned.  The second assumption affirm…

Advent Season

For those of us in the Christian tradition, we are in Advent Season.  Advent is a four-week lead-up to Christmas.  I must admit, I enjoyed learning about this stuff since Quakers are not very liturgical.  I am pretty confident I never heard about the “liturgical year” until my college days.  It was that time in college when I became aware of what so many who grow up in the Roman Catholic tradition, Episcopal and Lutheran traditions, take for granted.  Advent is the beginning of the Christmas season and matches, in some real way, Lent as the lead-up to the Easter season.

The primary theme of Advent is “preparation.”  People are supposed to begin the preparation for the coming of Christmas.  It is easy these days to see how bent-out-of-shape our preparation has become.  These days preparation is likely to mean the beginning stress of Christmas shopping, etc.  I already begin to sense the frenzy in some voices of those who talk about “taking all Saturday” to get the gifts that many feel o…

A Hidden Wholeness

My favorite dead monk, Thomas Merton, wrote so much that it is hard for my students to believe his productivity. Merton died in 1968 and had not yet reached his sixtieth birthday. Tragically executed in a bathtub in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had travelled to speak at an interreligious monastic conference, Merton’s death shocked the religious world. Partly because of the changing media in the mid-20th century, Merton became famous in his own time. Indeed, it seems ironic that someone would join a contemplative monastery in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky, taking a vow of silence, and then become famous because of all of his words!

But that’s Merton. He is such a fascinating guy because it is impossible to pigeonhole or stereotype him. In many ways his life is fraught with ironies and, sometimes, contradictions. Part of his appeal is the chance to watch him work out his own spiritual journey in fear and trembling, and yet with the confidence in a God and God’s grace that is reassuri…