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Showing posts from November, 2013

Thanksgiving: a Day and a Way of Life

As Americans, we enter the Thanksgiving season.Already people are wishing me a “happy Thanksgiving.”I am delighted with that greeting.And I would be delighted if someone next week wishes me a “happy Monday.”But I guess Mondays are supposed to be normal…not so happy, not so awful.

I am not sure I do major holidays very well.I am not against them.They celebrate important events in national, religious, and often personal lives.Thanksgiving is an American deal.In Turkey it is just another weekday!As an American, I welcome it.And I hope it is happy.
I am confident one of the reasons I am not sure about major holidays is the trickiness of expectations.For example, Thanksgiving is supposed to be “happy.”Christmas is supposed to be “merry” and, of course, we return to the “happy” theme for New Years.Clearly, for too many people there are too many lousy things going on to gear up to be “happy” and “merry.”Holiday expectations are tricky things.
The truth is Thanksgiving lasts one day.It is here a…

Creation, Community and Cemeteries

If you stop to read titles before launching into the prose of these inspirational pieces, this current title must baffle the reader.Other than beginning with the same letter of the alphabet, there seems to be little in common with these three words.There is certainly nothing obvious to connect them.

A second thing these three words have in common that would not be evident is the inspiration for this reflection.Most of the inspiration came from two students who are now my friends.Faculty often complain about “grading.”Some aspects of that are unappealing.But anyone who grows up on a farm knows that that life has some unappealing aspects, too!However, when I have a chance to read papers from students and to be privy to their experience, their creativity and their learning, I am usually made better for the process.
Recently I had that privilege of reading their papers.They were reflecting on some ideas from Kathleen Norris’ book, The Cloister Walk.That is a favorite book of mine, so it i…

Life With Hope

Sometimes I wonder if people give up on religion because they cannot figure out how to do it day by day?This seems probable to me because I am not sure most of us common people are quite sure how to define religion.By saying that, I do not mean those of us who went to church or to synagogue are complete idiots when it comes to religion and what it means.

When you know something, it is always difficult to remember when you did not know anything.Now that I have a Ph.D. in religion, it likely is impossible to remember accurately those Indiana farm days when I did not know beans about religion.But let me guess nevertheless!
I suspect that most Christians, at least, would define religion along the lines of doctrine.For example, I would assume if you ask the person on the street to define religion, he or she would begin by saying something about believing in God.Doctrine has to do with believing.If one is a Christian, it is likely that Jesus enters the picture in some form.It would probably l…

Presentation of Mary

Growing up as a Quaker lad in Indiana meant that I never heard of this Feast Day, as the Catholic Church calls a day when a saint is remembered and celebrated.Of course, the saints are not worshipped, but they do serve as models of faith.They are human, but they also were so open to God’s Spirit working in and through them that they became servants of that Spirit in the world.The implication is you and I also can become instruments of the Spirit. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was one such saint.In fact, for many of my Catholic friends and non-Catholic friends, Mary would be unique among the saints.Only she can claim to be the mother of Jesus.In that sense she has been accorded special status within the Christian Church.In fact, she even plays an important role within Islam.Many of us who are not Catholics do not “get it.”Rather than be dismissive of this stuff, perhaps we ought to pay more attention and see what learning there is for us. Be open rather than opinionated is a pretty good …

Conversion: Learning to Live

Every so often I run into a quotation that stops me in my tracks.That happened yesterday when I was finishing one of Thomas Merton’s books.Periodically, I teach a seminar on Merton’s spirituality.I have done this multiple times.I like Merton and I suspect I will get something new every time I teach that seminar.Often I have read the book before, but somehow a particular quotation never hit me like it does the current time through the material.

Merton was a Catholic monk who died tragically in 1968.He wrote a great deal and was ironically very famous even as a silent monk in a monastery in the hills of Kentucky.So even though he could not speak that much in his monastery and would have to get the abbot’s permission even to receive a visitor he “spoke” to millions of people around the globe through his writings.The voice that had chosen the silent path spoke in volumes!
Merton’s story is very familiar to me.After a rather tumultuous youth and an atheistic phase through college years, Mert…

Spirituality: Making Sense of Life

I lead a group that meets every Monday.It is a delightful group of people to join weekly.Our purpose is to discuss life and hear how each other is engaged in making sense of life.That may seem too general to be interesting, but I can assure you it is not too general.As a matter of fact, people bring their real life experiences to the group and we all prosper by hearing each other share what we know about life, as well, as listen to each other’s questions about life.

I think we all have assumptions about life.One assumption I have about people is that all of us in our own way are trying to make sense of our lives.When I say make sense of life, I mean we are trying to figure out our purpose in life.Another way to put it is we are trying to find meaning.I am confident that the core experience of living a life without meaning is despair.Despair literally means to be without hope.
A second assumption I have about life is there are many, many different ways to make sense of life.And any attem…

First Things First

I have heard the phrase, “first things first,” so many times during my life.Growing up on a farm, it made perfect sense.Often there was an order or sequence to the chores facing us.Clearly, “first things first” implies a logic to how one goes about things.Usually if you did not do the first things, nothing else would be possible.Or things would start to go very badly.

When I left the farm to go to college, I did not hear the phrase as often.However, it surely applied to much of what I did in college and, then, later in life throughout my career.It probably also makes sense when we think about having a family.Likely it also makes sense when it comes to friendships and all the other adventures of life.
It occurred to me this morning when I was trying to do a little spiritual time, that it also very much fits the spiritual life.Some day, perhaps I will wake up and have nothing planned or nothing to do all day long.Then “first things first” may not apply.But that is not yet my state in li…

Spiritual Community

I am part of a group that meets weekly.It is a great group of fairly diverse people.The folks have a variety of jobs.Both genders are represented.The age range is significant.Some are retired and others are newer into their careers. Not everyone has the same religious background.We have Christians and Jews and some who probably are not institutionally affiliated.But the greatest thing about the group is how well they get along.

I like being part of a community.Usually, I can tell if a group is a community or if they are just a collection of individuals.They may even be working to some common end, but a collection of individuals will not automatically become a community.I am pretty sure I cannot give you an academic definition of community.But I do know there are some key aspects.
Community requires commitment from the various members.Typically, the community members have voluntary membership in the group.No one made them join up or even stay with the community.Clearly there has to be mu…

Caring and Being Careful

Yesterday I was asked to be part of a session in which we were supposed to talk about our work and the context of our work.That sounds like a simple request, but it proved more difficult than I thought it would be.My work centers in spirituality.And many would argue the context of that work is the classroom.I would not disagree.But when I reflected further, the classroom is only one context for my spirituality work.There are many other venues where my work is also is engaged.

At the superficial level, there were the obvious answers.I teach religion.In most instances I walk into a classroom and proceed.I talk about ideas; I cajole them to reflect on and also talk about ideas.I ask them to begin what many have never done, namely, talk about their experience (if any) and to begin to formulate that into their own belief system.Most of them find it difficult, especially at first.And I agree with them; it is difficult.
One cannot live superficially and reflect deeply.Now I am not accusing my …

Spiritual Output and Impact

When you live long enough, no doubt you do things you never thought you would be doing.I guess I have lived long enough!I am ok with that. However, most of the stuff I am doing, that I never thought I would be doing, was not invented when I was a kid.If I think about the friends I have who are in their eighties or nineties, the changes in the world in their lifetime is stupefying.Even the changes in my lifetime astound me.

Obviously, much of it is technology.The fact that I sit with my laptop typing this inspirational piece which then will be uploaded to cyberspace to be read as an email or blog makes me laugh.I use words in that previous sentence that would have made no sense to a Hoosier farm boy when I was growing up.A car is a car, but my car today is not even close to the first car I drove.And so the countless changes could be added to the list.
I am not an early adapter.I certainly was not at the head of the line to get to use the computer when they arrived on the scene.I manage…

Image of God

Even though I grew up in the Quaker tradition, I don’t think I was a very good Quaker.But I was also not a bad Quaker.In retrospect I probably would say in most ways I simply was not a Quaker.I was a normal, middle class farm kid whose parents went to church like most of the families I knew.“Going to church” in my case, meant going to Quaker meeting, as we called it.If that is what you do every Sunday, it is easy to assume that is normal! If I had gone to a Methodist church or a Catholic church, I would have claimed that as my identity: I would have been Methodist or Catholic.In all likelihood I would not have been any better at being Methodist or Catholic than I was at being Quaker.Going to church was what people did.But that did not make it important or, even, relevant in my life.After all, I was clear that basketball and girls were more important and, certainly, more relevant! Things began to change for me late in high school.There was nothing dramatic---certainly no crisis.But that …