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Showing posts from March, 2014

The Genius of Servant-Leadership

Sometimes I wonder when I first encounter a concept that has become important to me and my life’s work.Sometimes I can remember, but most of the time I have no clue.Often we bump into new concepts and there would be no way of knowing the concept will become important later in life.Such it is with the concept of servant-leadership.

The idea of servant-leadership defines how I have tried to be a leader.A leader is a leader, but many leaders are not servant-leaders.And there are countless servants, but few would be servant-leaders.The reason this concept is important to me is simple.I think it is a spiritual approach to leadership.I also happen to think most of the major world religions have championed this kind of leadership.I think this is the style of leadership evidenced by Jesus.That seems true for the one called the Buddha.Within many of the other religious traditions, we will find leaders who also are servants.
The person who coined this idea---at least, in contemporary times---is…

Something of Heaven

In yesterday’s inspirational piece I commented over of the most recent issue of The Merton Seasonal.That is a quarterly publication by the International Thomas Merton Society, which continues to spread the message of the late twentieth century monk, Thomas Merton.Although Merton died in 1968, his writings, poetry and photographs still speak to the spiritual seeker of the twenty-first century.

That recent volume had a wonderful drawing on the front cover by my friend and Ursuline nun, Sister Donna Kristoff.Beneath the drawing are a few words from my favorite book of Merton’s, namely, New Seeds of Contemplation.The words fit the drawing, upon which I commented yesterday.In this piece I would like to ponder Merton’s words.
Thomas Merton said, “As we go about the world everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch…plants in us…something of heaven.”For those of us who know Merton’s works fairly well, this is vintage Merton.It is simple, yet elegant---much like the drawing fro…

A Walk in the Woods

As regular readers of this inspirational reflection know, I find the writings of the twentieth century monk, Thomas Merton, very insightful and helpful as I think about my own life.On the surface, it would not seem like a Trappist monk (that is a very serious and strict order of Benedictine monks) and a Quaker would have too much in common.He took a vow of poverty and I have money in the bank, a wife and kids and grandkids.

However, there is much about Merton’s spiritual experience that resonates with my own.In fact, I find him so helpful because he was in quest of similar things to me: a life with purpose, a life with deep meaning and a first-hand experience of the Living God.He felt called to join the monastic community in Kentucky.He knew he needed a community of fellow spiritual travelers to help him on his way.I also know I need a community of fellow pilgrims to help me.I find my spiritual helpers in my college community and in my local church communities.
Although Merton died in…

Real Soul Making

Some books I continue to return to in order to get a spiritual reminder or a spiritual boost.One of those books is my friend Alan Jones’ book, Soul Making.I find reading Jones a challenge, but always rewarding.However, I also know that when I assign that book in one of my spirituality classes, the students seldom like it!That usually makes me a little sad.It is as if the students reject a little part of me.

I think Jones’ book is so important to me because it came at a time when I was in a significant spiritual growth phase.Simultaneously, I was also trying to figure out whether I could teach spirituality and, if so, how I would do it.The idea of “soul making" was an eye-opener for me.Growing up in a fairly rural Quaker meeting (church), I had only heard that language that affirmed people “had” souls.Of course, at death the soul left the body and for many folks, the soul is what went to heaven.
I never thought much about that.When you hear stuff like that as a kid, you usually ta…

The Importance of Interviewing

It may seem odd to be talking about interviewing in a spiritual reflection.I never thought about it until recently when I was asked to interview some students for a special program.It is funny that I never thought about this before, since I have interviewed students for many things over decades now.But it hit me and I realized interviewing can be a spiritual experience.

When I say it could be a spiritual experience, I don’t mean I was interviewing the student for some kind of religious job.We never talked about God nor religion.On the surface no one would get any kind of clue that it was about spirituality.Perhaps it was only in my mind.But let me unfold my understanding.
I was set to interview a young man and the appointment was made.From his name, I assumed he was Asian or, at least, Asian-American.As far as I was aware, I have never met him nor had I ever seen him.I asked him to tell me a bit about himself.
I know this is not an unusual request when you are in an interview process …

Encounters at the Well

Recently I had reason to engage a biblical text that I have not read for a while.It is a very familiar story to me, so I was glad to hear it again. The story comes from John’s Gospel and it narrates an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at a well.Since I used to teach a seminar on John’s Gospel, I have thought about this rather long passage and read a fair number of commentaries to gain a deeper understanding.

The passage is far too long to give consideration to all its aspects.So we can pick off a few salient features that have something to do with our spiritual life today.In the first place, a little historical background might be useful.I almost always want to laugh when I begin to share some of the historical background.I laugh because Jesus really should not be at that well at that hour with that woman!
Going to the well to fetch water is a standard thing that must have happened in those ancient times.However, because of the heat of the day, the normal time to go would…

Love: the Ground of Our Being

I have never met anyone who prefers the lack of love instead of love.I agree with many writers in multiple spiritual traditions that humans want to love and to be loved.I conclude that is a basic human desire.I am sure we could point to the occasional person for whom this might not be the case.But that person, I argue, is a person who has somehow become deformed or was malformed as he or she grew.I have never read in any spiritual tradition where we don’t come to love at some point.

I have read so much about love that I sometimes think I have forgotten more than I have remembered.I recognize how easy it is to think about love and even to write about love.To think about love and to write about it does not mean necessarily that I am very good at loving.In fact, most days I still feel like a kindergartner when I think about my capacity and execution of love.So I welcome one more time to ponder love and see if I can continue to learn and to grow.
As I think about what I know about love, m…

The Story of Endings

In many ways being in an academic institution, like a college, is different than being in the real world.In fact, students and faculty often make references to the “real world out there” as if the world of the college is not “real.”Often the real world is painted in unkind ways.People talk about the dog-eat-dog life out there!Folks will lament living in a rat race.We have all heard these references and usually they are not pointing to some fun time.

Granted there is much in our world that is hard and unpleasant.Life can be difficult and does create losers.If we are old enough, we all know what it is like to lose.We don’t get the break we think we deserve.Someone may have cheated us out of an opportunity.Some get sick---sometimes very sick---and life does not seem fair.The list goes on.
Fortunately, there is another side of the story.Sometimes things do go well.Rather than a rat race, it may turn out to be a walk in the park.For some people things do come up roses.And amazingly, there ar…

To Live Creatively

It may not be quite true, but I think half the good things in my life come to me graciously and unexpectedly.  Of course, that does not take me off the hook for planning and having some discipline in the way I go about life.  I am sure that is true for you, too.  I am willing to conclude life is lived with an interesting mixture of human effort and grace (whether that is divinely bestowed is a theological question).  In sum, life comes though effort and serendipitous gift.  We can upset the balance and probably mess things up pretty easily.

Workaholics err on the side of effort.  Workaholics think they only get wherever they want to get by sheer effort.  Granted there is much to laud in human effort.  If I think about myself, I never could have been offered a college teaching post without having my Ph.D.  That is fact; it is neither good nor bad.  And I can tell you, a Ph.D. does not come without human effort.  I learned those foreign languages.  I wrote those papers and, ultimately, …

Our Wounded Ego

I have been teaching for a long time now, but I never tire of the freshness of what I am doing.I feel very fortunate to have groups of young people troop through my classes.I suspect that most of them really don’t know what they have signed up to receive in my class.That may be true for most college classes, but I doubt it.I should think if you sign up for a Chemistry or Accounting class, you have a pretty good idea what the content will be.However, when eighteen year-olds sign up for a class called, Contemplative Spirituality, most of them have little clue what that really means.

In fact, I am frequently surprised that students keep signing up for something like this.Generally human nature is not up for taking on the unknown.Most of the time most of us prefer the known.I am grateful for the chance to have so many walk into the room the first day of the semester and, then, hang in there for four months.
When I tell them my focus is “experiential,” I don’t think that really registers.T…

Walkways and Pathways

Often I am inspired to write one of these reflections by an experience I would never guess could become spiritual.This happened recently when I was in a large east coast city.Since I grew up on an Indiana farm, visiting a city continues to be an eye-opening experience.As a kid, I had cornfields, not skyscrapers!I appreciate nature, to be sure, but I also appreciate the marvel of human engineering and building that the large cities represent.

It was during a rather leisurely walk in the middle of this large city that I began to take note of something pretty mundane.A couple times, I turned off a big, multi-lane street on which I was walking and headed down a much more narrow side street.There is nothing remarkable about that, until I began to notice the stark contrast between the huge throughway that the big street represented and the tinier walkway that linked some of the larger roads.
It occurred to me that I would never describe the major throughway as a “walkway.”I was intrigued wi…