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Showing posts from January, 2015

Fundamental Human Questions II

If the first fundamental human question is “who am I,” surely the second question is “what should I do?”In most cases these two questions are inextricably tied together. What happens with one question affects the other one.However, we can only talk about them one at a time, so this reflection piece gives focus to the question, what should I do?

The first thing to realize in this question is the focus goes on the verb.In the other question, “who am I,” the focus was on the subject---on “who.”But in this second question the focus clearly shines on the verb---“do.”The implication is everyone should do something.Not doing something is, in effect, doing something, i.e. doing nothing.This tells me that human beings are essentially designed to be somebody and to do something.The only questions are who am I as a somebody and what should I do, since I have to do something.
Humans were designed from the beginning to do something.In the Genesis story of human creation, the original humans were p…

Fundamental Human Questions

I have the pleasure throughout my day of engaging some very interesting people.Many of those people are students.And others are adults of various ages and stages.I don’t do too much with the younger children, so I can’t speak to that level of human development.I have read about the earlier developmental stages, but I don’t have a great deal of practical experience.I have watched my two daughters grow through the various stages, but that probably is not sufficient evidence for stating truths about life.

As I have paid attention to the range of conversations over the years, I conclude there may be two fundamental human questions.I am sure others could argue there are many other fundamental human questions.Of course, many might agree with my two questions.Right now I posit these two.
The first fundamental human question asks, “who am I?”Essentially, this is the human question of identity.I can’t tell you for sure when kids begin to ask that question.But I suspect it is earlier than many …

Thomas Aquinas: Theological Mentor

Today is the saint day for medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas.St. Thomas, as he was known after being declared a saint, is arguably the most famous theologian in the Catholic Church and even the greater Christian community.Although I don’t recall hearing about him until I bumped into his writings in college in a class on Christian history, I suspect that is not quite true.I am sure many high school European history classes have some material about Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas lived during the period that often is called the “High Middle Ages.”It was a time in which the Catholic Church played a huge role in medieval European society.Thomas was born in a well-to-do family in 1225 in southern Italy.His early education came at the hands of the Benedictines monks, who had already been around for more than six hundred years. With Thomas’ religious bent, it might have been expected that he would join the Benedictines and move into the monastery.But Thomas chose another route.
Thomas Aquinas dec…

Practical Contemplation

For a fairly long time in my professional life I have been interested in contemplation.As I so often comment, “contemplation” is not a word I heard while growing up as a young Quaker in Indiana.I am confident I was not paying attention.I don’t think Quakers I knew were using that word, “contemplation.”So if I had been asked about it, I would have offered a blank stare.

I am sure I heard about the word, “contemplation,” while I was in school.I may have heard of it in college, but more likely I first heard about it in graduate school.I can guess I encountered it first in some kind of history of Christianity class.Because Quakerism dates from the 17th century, we have a bad habit of skipping from Jesus to the 17th century.I knew almost nothing about the sixteen hundred years between Jesus and the origins of my tradition.Quite a bit happened during that time!
Early Christian contemplative tradition is rooted in the early Christian developments of monasticism.After the first couple centuri…


I confess to liking the way columnist, David Brooks, thinks and writes.I read almost every piece he writes in the New York Times.I have never met him nor have I been to hear him speak.I would enjoy doing both, but until then, I am left to read what appears in newspapers and other media.He recently wrote a piece entitled, “The Devotion Leap.”I had no clue what the title might mean.I suspected it was something on politics or the global situation.Even in these ponderings, I find what brings to bear philosophically and, even, religiously is fascinating.But my guess was wrong.

The first line of the article immensely surprised me.“The online dating site OkCupid asks its clients to rate each other’s attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 5.”Wow, I did not see this one coming!I was tempted not to read further.I am at the age where dating services are of no interest and even less help to me!Besides, the last thing I want to know is how other folks are going to rate me on an attractiveness scale.I a…

Tools of the Spiritual Craft

The Rule of St. Benedict is a classic spiritual text.It was written by the founder of the Benedictine monastic tradition, Benedict.He was an Italian who lived in the late fifth and early sixth century.The Rule is usually dated somewhere around 529 CE.The era of Benedict was a chaotic time in what is modern day Italy.The glory of the Roman Empire was long over.The identifiable nations of modern Europe were far from being formed and developed.It was the period known as the early Middle Ages.When I was in my early years of education, this period was known as the Dark Ages.

Christianity was now part of the fabric of the land.But Christianity had lost some of its original spirit and fervor when it became so much a part of the social culture.Since it was no longer illegal to be a Christian, it was easy---some would argue, too easy---to be Christian.People like Benedict wanted more.They wanted a life of the Spirit that would approximate how Jesus lived and that characterized those early disc…

Cultural Shift: Spiritual Loss

There are some writers who speak to me in fairly predictable ways.Some of them are contemporary people who write for newspapers, on the internet, and other social media.Others who speak to me are long since dead: spiritual greats from centuries ago, i.e. people like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and a host of others.I don’t really pay too much attention to their political or religious categorization---such as conservative or liberal, evangelical or modern.

One such writer I like is David Brooks.He writes for the New York Times.Some of the really great material he brings is nothing he invented.It comes from something he reads or hears and, then, reflects on it.Maybe I am attracted to this because it is much like I work.
Recently, I read something from Brooks.I was lured by the headline of the article: “What Our Words Tell Us.”Granted, I have a love of words.Any of my students will tell you that.So I wondered what our words tell us, according to David Bro…

Host and Guest

Hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin.I was first clued in to this fact when I learned Latin.The Latin word, hospes, gives us the English words, hospital, hospice and related words.In its Latin form, it can be translated “host,’ “guest” or “stranger.”That is why I can say that hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin.The Latin coin is hospes.Let’s look at each side of the coin.

Probably most of us learn about being a guest before we learn about hosting.I have early childhood memories of going with my dad into the town in early mornings.For a kid growing up on the farm, this was a big deal.Since I was the oldest kid, there could be an entire day when I would see no one except my two parents.That was not bad.But it was more fun to go to town and see some of my dad’s friends.
Often we would stop at the local drugstore, which was really the epicenter of human interaction on an early morning in that small town.There the guys would gather, have coffee and …

Travel and Travails

I had a recent trip out of town.It was a pleasant trip to a place I very much like to visit.Since I was traveling for an organization I represent, it was not going to cost me much, except the time I would spend away from campus and from my friends.I always miss that, but the trade-off is not bad.I get to meet new people and, maybe, see some old friends.So off I went.

I like being in different cities.Each city has its own characteristics.Often there is a different offering of restaurants---sometimes with local ethnic fare.I like experimenting with different options.It is on trips like this, I realize again how very provincial my growing up on an Indiana farm really was.I don’t lament that, but I am grateful that I have begun to experience a much bigger world.I am not sure we can understand and appreciate just how big and diverse God’s world is until we travel a bit.I have been fortunate.
One of the things planned for the end of my trip was a scheduled appointment with a person that i…

I am Free

To be free, oh, to be free.Freedom has always been a major theme of American culture.Indeed, this country was rooted in a political and religious quest for freedom.Any of us with any age hears the resonant voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the turbulent 1960s calling for freedom to ring out. But freedom is a much older concept than these North American colonies, now global super-state.And freedom certainly is not an American concept alone.Freedom goes back to those Jews who experienced liberation from Egyptian bondage.It is as old as those Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle.Freedom has been an issue on the national scale as well as on the individual scale. Freedom is always the opposite of bondage and slavery. In many ways I would claim never to have experienced bondage and slavery.But it can be an issue even for me and others like me who are politically free, who are not bound by the bondage of poverty, etc.Ironically, we can be free and, yet, bound.We can be …

Mindfulness for the Moment

I often wonder what goes through folks’ minds when they see the title of my inspirational reflection.When I use the word, mindfulness, I wonder what sort of connotations that has for the people who read this.If they have some awareness of Buddhism, they might figure I am doing a Buddhist thing today.Certainly mindfulness plays a very important role in Buddhist spirituality.But mindfulness is not a Buddhist concept.It is a more general concept which plays a huge role in Buddhist practice. I suspect there is a role for mindfulness in every major religious tradition.Clearly, the word, mindfulness, may not be used in all the traditions, but the idea is there. In fact, it is difficult for me to imagine anyone who is religious or spiritual who is not mindful in some way. Let’s take a general look at what people mean when they use the word, mindfulness.I like the definition I found in a recent article.The writer talks about mindfulness as “intentionally paying attention to the present nonju…