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Showing posts from December, 2013

Another Year

I am not sure how old I was when it dawned on me (or someone told me) that Christmas and the New Year did not come at exactly the same time everywhere in the world.I am not sure how I felt when I learned the kids in Europe had opened their presents six hours before I did.And for sure, I do not think I could quite grasp the fact that Chinese kids had done their New Year’s party at noon my time.And by the time I watch an old year go out and welcomed a new one, the Chinese had just had their lunch!

Now I know fully that all this is due to the fact that our earth is round.It is a big ball.And it takes the ball twenty-four hours to spin around one time.I know this in my head, but honestly I have had very few experiences to convince me the earth is round!It still looks flat, except when you get in the mountains.But there is nothing even with the mountains that would tell us the earth is round.I don’t doubt the scientists, but I do have to take it on faith.
What really intrigues me is the wh…

Age of Anxiety

This title is not exactly the title in the opinion section of the New York Times I read, but it is close.  I was pulled to read the entire article.  Clearly there have been times when I have felt anxious.  I am sure that is perfectly normal.  If someone told me that he or she has never been anxious, I would not believe it.  Even after years of public speaking, I still get a little anxious when I step to a microphone or to the lectern to begin a speech.  Even if I am pretty confident, there is always a tinge of anxiety.

But that’s not the kind of anxiety the article is describing.  The kind of anxiety the author of the article, Daniel Smith, is describing is a more chronic, more debilitating kind of anxiety.  The tinge of anxiety I feel when I begin to speak wanes very quickly.  Soon I am into it and all the anxiety has vanished.  That kind of anxiety is not chronic and it is not debilitating.

The issue the author is engaging is whether our age---our American culture---has created a co…

Keep Me Faithful

One of the reasons I use and like the daily lectionary (reading) is the fact that it gives me the benefit of regularity.And in a sense, regularity is the key to any discipline---spiritual disciplines, too.Spiritual disciplines are much like physical exercise.If I did it only when I felt like it or want to do it, I might slack off.I would get out of shape---physically and spiritually.So I decide I want to be in shape physically and spiritually and, therefore, make the commitment to be disciplined about it.That is the role of the lectionary.

Since I use the lectionary more in the mornings than the rest of the day, I often look at the readings for Morning Prayer.I also like the fact that Benedictine monks around the world are doing the same readings as I am doing.That connects me to a community that I value.
One of the readings for this morning came from Psalm 86.That is not one of the familiar ones to me, so it is always a bit of a surprise when I come to one of these Psalms.The opening…

By Their Fruits

First it was an email and then a follow-up phone call.The name I did not recognize.But as I read the email, clues began to emerge.The person contacting me was a student in my classes more than three decades ago!I was not surprised that I did not recognize the name.He would have been one of twenty or thirty in a class of seven or more classes in my second year of teaching.There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of students in and out of my life in more than three decades.

Of course, theologically I would affirm that each of us is a unique human being.Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God.Sure, all of us “image” the same God.But we are not “spitting images” of each other, as my grandfather would say.So David, as I will call him, was not someone whose name triggered my memory bank.
Of course, none of us is a name alone.There must be tens of thousands of guys named David in this country alone.He may even share a last name with some other Davids.But he is unique.Only h…

The Desert and Dessert

When I was younger, these two words confused me.Sometimes, I misspelled them.And I see this same confusion among students today.I know that many faculty claim students are not what they used to be.My guess is the same thing was being said of my generation.Spelling may be one of those things we all are sure current students don’t do as well as the older ones remember they once did!

What I do remember is not being clear, which was to spell the arid land devoid of water and the food served at the end of a meal.Do I use one “s” or two?And why does English have to be so confusing was the question?I can only imagine what learning English as a second language might mean. 
I thought it would be fun to explore both words---desert and dessert---as words that can have a spiritual meaning.In this way perhaps we can have a handle on how to remember them.And as we will see, they are opposite ends of the spiritual perspective.
We can start with the first word, desert.Perhaps we can say that it is si…

Me For Sure, Maybe You

The title of this spiritual reflection came from an article I read about the Pope, Francis I, and his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”).This publication comes far enough into Francis’ papacy, people now are beginning to suspect they understand how the Pope thinks about things.Clearly the first Pope from the southern hemisphere looks at things differently than the previous European-based Popes did.I find this fascinating.

Since the publication of this apostolic exhortation (a long document), there have been a variety of comments.The Pope has been praised for his emphasis on the missionary impulse of the Church.He is lauded for his focus on the poor and marginalized.He has been criticized for what some see as an attack on capitalism.One commentator went so far as to label the Pope a Marxist!I find some of this to be spot on, as the British say.Other critiques I find amusing.
I found one commentator who made a great deal of sense to me.This comment…

Poets of the Soul

One of the ways lately I have been thinking about spirituality is focused by the phrase, poets of the soul.  By itself, the phrase may sound nice, but it does not convey anything special.  If I simply used the phrase, poets of the soul, you would not have a clue what I meant by it.  So let me unpack it a bit and give it a context and some specific content. No doubt, most of us would have some idea about poetry.  Most of us had exposure to poetry in high school, if not before.  Probably some of us would say something like, “exposure, ha, I was forced to read poetry!  It is easy at my age to have some regrets about my education.  One of my regrets is that I did not take poetry more seriously.  I don’t blame the poets or my teachers.  I am sure the blame falls squarely on my shoulders.  I do not know why I would have claimed, “I don’t like poetry,” but that would have been my claim. It surely means that I have missed out on a real treasure of wisdom, beauty and truth.  It is something I…

Purpose of Human Life

I have often said that religion is one way of making meaning in life.And I do believe that.Religion offers a perspective on the world and on life that paints a picture to show how we understand ourselves in that world.Of course not everyone has a religion or shares a religious perspective.It is very easy and quite acceptable today for someone to be an atheist.Atheism also is a way of making meaning in life.

Sometimes that bothers a few of my religious friends.They do not think atheism is a way to make meaning in life.Simply because they are religious, they cannot imagine any other way to do it.With this perspective, religion is the only way to make meaning.I understand that perspective; I don’t share it.I don’t share it, in part, because I do not think I can be the one who defines what counts as meaning.For example, if I am to assume that you have to be religious to have meaning, then I am going to tell an atheist that he or she cannot possibly have meaning---even if they think they do…

Freedom of Exploration

The phrase, freedom of exploration, I read somewhere.I have no idea, since I read fairly widely.I do remember when I saw it that my interest was piqued.Perhaps it is because I have some interest in the process of innovation that it intrigued me.But I also thought about my work in the discipline of spirituality.Let’s look at both of these arenas.

The freedom of exploration seems like a suggestion or, even, advice to me.I can imagine saying it to someone.“Go ahead, explore freely.”I do not know how you could order or command someone to do this.It feels more like permission.“Go ahead.”There is an element of encouragement that I very much like.
I value both words, freedom and explore.Our American culture talks a great deal about freedom.It is assumed that we are a country with immense freedom.Perhaps the ideal is being able to do what I want whenever I want and wherever I want.I am not against this idea of freedom, but I am not sure that is the deepest or most profound freedom.In fact the…

A Deeper Understanding of Thanks

I remember so many times when I was growing up in rural Indiana, one of my parents (or even grandparents) would ask, “Did you thank him?”They drilled into my head that I owed someone a word of thanks if I were given something or if I were told something special.I suspect that I did not fully appreciate what they were doing for me.

I am sure they were teaching me this lesson long before I could register what they actually were doing.I know with my own kids and, now with grandkids, I am watching that age-old lesson being taught.No doubt, the kids are too young really to grasp why saying “thanks” is all that important.I know when I was young I was just happy to get a gift.I am sure I was driven by pure self-interest.In a one or two-year old, that is normal and fine.
But learning to say “thanks” is an early lesson in self-transcendence.That is a big word, which simply means, you are not the only one in the world!What’s more, the world does not revolve around you and your interests.Of cour…

A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!So let me explain it by some development.
For sure, every adult knows what pain means.It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.There is physical pain; we all know this.There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.Not everyone thinks there is s…

Devout, Doubt and Out

Recently I read a great opening line and now cannot even remember where it was.But I do remember the gist of the line.I think the line was used about Roman Catholics, but it really applies to all traditions and, certainly all denominations.The author said there were three kinds of believers: the devout, those who doubt and those on their way out!I certainly know some Quakers who fit all three categories.I am confident I can come up with names of Catholic friends in all three.And clearly in Judaism and, likely, every other major group, there is membership in all categories.

I suppose in our now secular age, we could add a fourth category, namely, those who were never in.But they really don’t count, since they are not wrestling with the issues of faith, belief, membership, etc.Or if they are wrestling with it, it is not in the context of the church or synagogue.So I will set this fourth group aside.I am interested in the other three.
Personally, I can only identify with two of the three…