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Showing posts from May, 2014

Pax: Peace by Any Other Name

On a recent trip to see my daughter, I had to catch a flight home to attend some meetings.I did not mind.I like my daughter and I like the organizations that hold meetings that I have to attend.Both those commitments---daughter and meetings---are signs that I still have a life.I still have a role to play in the lives of people and organizations.I am glad about that.

Sometimes, I conclude, the saddest part about being human is when one no longer has any role to play in the world.Now I do not think our entire identity is wrapped up in our roles.Even if I were not a father, I would still exist.Some version of “me” would be alive on this earth.But it would not be the same “me” that is dad to two girls.My role with them defines, in part, who I am.My role defines my reality.
I am confident being spiritual is having significant, meaningful roles in this world.There probably are a variety of roles that make up spirituality.Certainly, there is the role of believer.I do believe in God.But that…

When You Get What You Want

The phrase, which became the title of this inspirational piece, came to me during a recent conversation.The person with whom I was conversing periodically was talking about wishing for this or for that.As I listened to her, I realized that wishing for certain things was a way she expressed hope.For example, I am sure at one point she must have said something like, “I wish I can have some kids.”Translated that would have meant that she planned to have kids…and did have them.

In many ways I can relate to that.I suspect I am not unusual in saying that I have spent a lifetime wanting certain things.When I was a kid, I wanted to play sports and, of course, wanted to be good.I did get to play sports, but I was average at best.I would have to confess I wanted to date certain girls and sometimes got what I wanted.Other times I got a flat “No!”That was disappointing, but it didn’t kill me.I suppose most of us realize we don’t get everything we want.“That’s life,” goes the saying.
The next rea…

A Stroke is a Stroke

I admit that I play some golf.It is a maddening game.I always considered myself above average athletically, but when I play golf, I have my doubts.I am not willing to claim there is anything spiritual about golf and, perhaps, there are no spiritual lessons to be learned.It does teach me something about humility!And it may well be diabolical---devilish---which may be as close to spiritual as it gets.

I am intrigued by the scoring in golf.For those who know nothing about golf, let me explain.Any time the golf club makes contact with the ball, it counts as a stroke.Strokes are added as you play the course and the one who has the fewest strokes for eighteen holes wins the game.Most golf courses tell us “par” should be 72 strokes for eighteen holes of golf.Of course, I would not know.I cannot shoot “par” golf.It always takes more strokes for me to play an eighteen-hole golf course than that “par” golf suggests it should take.
In this sense, “par” golf is not average.Instead par golf is …

Monastic Towers and Powers

I have had the occasion to be back at Gethsemani, the monastery where my favorite monk, Thomas Merton, lived until his untimely death in 1968.I like going to monasteries, which may be a bit strange for a guy who grew up a Quaker.As a kid, if you had asked me what a monastery was, I am sure there would only have been a blank stare.I am confident I did not meet a monk until I was in graduate school.

Of course, in school most of us read about monks.Many of them were involved in making history, especially during the medieval period.Meeting a monk or two helped me begin to develop an appreciation for not only them as people, but for their way of life.It really is foreign to the way I grew up and from the way of life of the people who taught me about religion.In my early formative days it was still pre-Vatican II, so the Catholic Church was off limits.
Then I began to develop a fascination with the monastic tradition.Monks were more than merely a curiosity factor.I came to appreciate their…

The Art of Remembering

In this country we find ourselves at Memorial Weekend.  Clearly, the description of the weekend is unambiguous: memorial means remembering.  It is the “Remembering Weekend.”  There will be parades to highlight the festivities.  The little parade in my suburban town is so quaint and tiny, it is hilarious.  Of course, there are the boy scouts and girl scouts.  There are all the Little League baseball and softball players.  The fire trucks gain attention because the siren going off in your ears at a distance of 15 feet is dramatic!  And finally, there are always the politicians!
The other thing that is a staple for Memorial Weekend is the visit to the cemetery.  Now that I am living in a much larger, urban context, I am less aware of folks going to the cemetery.  When I was a kid, I did not really understand this ritual.  No one significant in my life had died.  There was no one “living in the cemetery,” as I once put it, that I felt like I wanted to visit.
But when my grandparents bega…

Remain in the Provisional

It is touching to be given gifts.  There are a couple kinds of gifts.  The first kind of gift is the gift one expects.  When I say this, I think of special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.  Giving gifts is part of the norm on these occasions.  While it is not right to say that we expect gifts, it is normal to assume we are going to get gifts.  Of course, we probably don’t know what the gift will be, but we know most likely we will be getting gifts.  So it is not a surprise to be handed a gift. The other kind of gift is the serendipitous gift.  That is the gift we are given when we did not expect it.  In fact, with these serendipitous gifts, we usually do not even see it coming.  We may well be caught off guard. We don’t know what to say.  We did not even think about getting a gift.  Often it feels quite humbling to be given a gift. I received such a gift a few months ago.  I had been invited to speak to a gathering that was interested in Thomas Merton, the 20th …

The Primacy of Care

I was recently at a gathering of sports figures, business folks and normal people like me.  It was an interesting gathering in two ways.  The first way the gathering interested me was because of the topic, namely, how to work effectively with young people.  Of course, that is a perennial concern.  So I was all ears to gain some tidbits that might help me do a better job in my own teaching.  The second way the gathering was interesting to me was simply the unlikely collection of different kinds of people.  It reinforced my conviction that some of the best learning I experience comes when I hang out with people different than I am. The best line of the event came in an almost off-handed comment by a football coach.  While he would not have been tabbed as the philosopher of the group, he had some deep insights because of his own involvement and work with young people.  I listened to him, less as a football coach, and more as an experienced teacher.  At one point he was describing one of…

The Scandal of Grace

I have a book that contains quite a number of short pieces.  Some of them are articles in various periodicals---journals that might be religious in nature or some more popular magazines.  I occasionally read another piece.  Some of the authors I know and very much like---people like Annie Dillard.  Others I have never seen their names and know nothing about them.  One such name was James Van Tholen.
His article appeared in Christianity Today, a well-known, more evangelical magazine that I try to read with some regularity.  James was a pastor in a Christian Reformed Church in Rochester, NY.  He had been assaulted with a nasty kind of cancer at age 33.  After some months of chemotherapy, he was able to return to his church.  The selection I read was his first sermon back with his parishioners.  It was very touching and I wanted to share some of it.
I was touched by his openness and vulnerability.  Early in his sermon he communicated these words.  “So let me start with honesty.  The truth …

Two Paths

Throughout the history of spirituality there traditionally have been two paths that one could follow.These go by various names, but the thrust is the same.One classic way of talking about them is to label them the active and contemplative life.The active life is what characterizes most of us.It is normal life in the world.It describes those who have jobs and families.The contemplative life typically is a more restricted, more reserved life.Traditionally, it is seen a less worldly.

Another way the two paths are described is the monastic and lay paths.Obviously the monastic life is for those men and women who withdraw from the ordinary world and join a monastery.They dedicate and devote their lives to God in a more focused and time-consuming way than the other, lay folks do.To those of us outside a monastery, it might seem like a more demanding way of living.But perhaps the monks look at all of us “out here” in the world and wonder how we do it.For many there are jobs, families, chores a…

Appreciation: a Matter of Perspective

I stopped by one of my favorite places to get something to eat.It was supposed to be a quick in and out, so that I could head home to do some work.Sometimes I will go there for a little social time.The people who hang out there are so very different from me.At one level, we share almost no common interests, except perhaps an interest in sports.While I like sports, they certainly are not a very high priority in my life.

I know the owner of the place pretty well, although I would only call him a friend in a very loose sense of that word.So I was sitting on a chair, waiting for some food to arrive.The owner came to me and greeted me.It was nice to see him, for it had been a pretty long time since we had seen each other.I was genuinely glad to see and greet him.
I am sure he makes it a high priority to befriend all the people who come into his place.In the business world that is called business development!If I were to put it crassly, I was part of his business development plan!If I would…

Original Self

In the process of writing for another project, I had the occasion to return to one of my favorite authors, Thomas Moore.I recalled he had commented on some ideas that I was trying to develop in my project.In brief I am thinking about the issue of identity.On one hand, that is fairly easy to determine.Most of us would claim that we know who we are.

On the superficial level, it is easy to describe our identity.We have a name.Most of us stick with the names our parents gave us.As kids we may gain a nickname, but we all know that is not our ‘real name.”And often women change their names when they get married.But even if this happens, there are times when they will refer to their maiden name as if that is actually more basic to their identities.
And in this country we all get social security numbers.Of course, we don’t like to think about ourselves as a number, but the fact is, that number points to my uniqueness.No one has the same social security number that I do.So in the case of my name …

Having a Purpose is Good News

As I began to study religion in college, I began to acquire information and knowledge that helped me to think about my own religious heritage.Acquiring some knowledge also helped me to think about life.In the days when I was growing up on an Indiana farm, there was not the technology that exists today.Because of that, I spent great deal of time by myself riding a tractor in some field.There were only things to do: think and daydream.I did a huge amount of both!

This life was a good life.But there was one drawback, which I did not recognize at the time.The drawback was that I did not have enough information, experience and knowledge to make sense of life.I was given a rudimentary religious education that probably helped make sense of life.But I don’t think I paid much attention and, certainly, did not really “own” it as my perspective.In some ways it was like a borrowed or rented perspective.
I doubt that I was unusual.I do not think babies come equipped with meaning and purpose in the…

On Beginning Again

I have often commented that the key to a discipline such as writing one of these daily inspirational reflections is to pay attention.That sounds so simple---and it is---but it is not always easy.I am always amazed by how easy it is for me to go through my life on autopilot.Having a number of routines in my life makes autopilot very easy.Like many people, I’m sure, my daily routine does not vary much.Coffee and newspaper in the morning.Meals are about the same time.I tend to see the same people on a regular basis.There is nothing wrong with any of this, but it does make living on autopilot very easy.

I like variation and variety.And I do have some of that in my life.And I know that it is much easier to pay attention to things when I am engaged in something different.For example, when I drive the same route day after day, it does not call for much attentiveness to get from point A to B.But if I am driving to some new place, I need to be attentive.I have to take the right roads, make the …