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Showing posts from February, 2016

Spiritual Innovation

I ran across a reference to a new book recently, which I plan to read when I can get a copy.  The book is Transformational Leadership: Conversations with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, edited by Annmarie Sanders.  Two things make this a likely book for me to pick up and read.  The first thing is my own interest in leadership issues.  I have written a book on leadership.  And I think I have been trying to be a good leader for a long time now and in many different contexts.  I have had official leadership roles, like Dean, and I have been in informal leader with no title in many other instances.  So I am always interested in a fresh look at leadership---what it is and how it happens.

The second reason I am interested in taking a look at this book is because of the respect I have for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  This is a group of leaders from various American congregations of mostly nuns.  This group is often unfairly portrayed as liberal.  Of course the…

Prayer as Exposure

In my spiritual journey I have learned many things, as would be expected.Indeed, it would be sad if we were to be on a journey for a period of time and learn nothing.That sounds more like stagnation than a journey.One important thing I have learned is to balance working with the new---staying connected to the relevant things happening in our world---with the traditional---things like spiritual disciplines to keep me grounded.
A good bit of what I read comes from the spirituality in my contemporary world.I do not fall for the illusion that anything new has to be better than the older ways of being spiritual.But I am not so na├»ve as to think that most of whatever is new will have no staying power in our world.For example, there is so much research coming out of our scientific community, we would be idiotic to ignore that.Neuroscientists are discovering so much about how our brains work, how humans develop and how they learn, it would be silly to ignore or denigrate this. I am not a reli…

Love of Learning

When I was a kid on the Indiana farm, occasionally I would run into something that I had forgotten about and it was like discovering the thing anew!  It was as if something that had been lost was found.  Sometimes, I laughed because I realized I had not missed the thing until I found it again.  And then I could not imagine not having it.  One of my favorite places of discovery was a corner of our barn where most of the stuff was the stuff my grandpa put there.

I have fond memories of days spent on that farm in the tow of my grandfather.  That was especially true when I was young---too young for the heavy work of the farm.  It never occurred to me not to be outside with him and my dad.  But I also did not wonder why they were lifting the eighty pounds bales of hay.  I was watching and that seemed appropriate.

No doubt, it was because my grandpa was beyond his prime in physical strength and I had not arrived to my prime that we were bound together at the margins of the active farm life. …

General Sense of Disorientation

There are a few people I follow in the sense that I want to hear and read whatever they are putting out there.My interest in these kinds of people does not parallel the people the general culture follows.For example, when I go through the checkout counter in the grocery store, I read with some amusement the cover of the various Hollywood-type magazines.I usually don’t even know the people about whom the magazine is putting forward.People are pregnant, getting dumped or duped or generally making a scene out of their lives and I don’t care.I just want to pay for the carrots!
I am not really interested in the sports stars upon whom our culture lavishes so much blabber.I don’t care about Tiger, LeBron or Michael. Certainly, they are accomplished in terms of a skill set for a particular sport.But that says nothing about the kind of human being they are.Many are stinking rich, but I know what most major religious traditions think about wealthy people who don’t share.The kinds of people I fo…

Power of Partnerships

Occasionally ideas simply pop into my head.They come as gifts of the universe or God or some Giver of gifts.When I write this, I have to laugh.I laugh because it is true for me.At the same time, I realize how the truth of this could tempt me to want to manipulate it.I am tempted to think, why not have money pop into my hands instead of ideas popping into my mind!I could immediately spend the money.Ideas come, but they seldom have any value until I work with them, fashion them and put them into a larger whole.

This is what I am doing with this inspirational piece.The phrase, “power of partnerships,” came into my mind.It would have been the easiest thing in the world to ignore it.On the surface, the phrase sounds true enough, but there is nothing special about it.There is nothing that inherently attracted me to the phrase.But I have learned to receive this kind of gift---even if I do not know what it might mean---and then begin to work with it until its value starts to become evident.

Palace in Time

Recently, I had one of those odd experiences which are both funny and humbling.I am nearly finished with Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World.I continue to enjoy and appreciate both her perspective and articulate ability to teach me and to draw me into reflection about my own life.But that is not what is funny.As one who has tried to do some of what I do for a living, I am humbled by how well she does it.But it also is not what initially humbled me.
In her wonderful chapter, “The Practice of Saying No,” Taylor quotes one of my all-time favorite authors, the late Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who died in 1972.Basically, the chapter is about the Sabbath.And the quotation Taylor uses from Heschel comes from his book, The Sabbath, published in 1951.I remember discovering this book while I was in my seminary days.I recall how amazing that book touched me.Heschel had a way of seeing things that made me gasp and think, “I never would have thought about it that way!…

Spiritual Transformation

One of the classes I have taught for years is Spiritual Disciplines.I am always amazed at how many students sign up for this class, even though they don’t really know what it means or what they might learn.Even if they went to church in their growing-up years, they probably don’t have much of a sophisticated idea of what spiritual disciplines means.They usually think it is going to be a course in prayer.Of course, prayer is a key classical spiritual discipline.
It goes without saying many students know what discipline means.They might be musicians, artists, scientists or athletes and in each case a fair amount of discipline is required to be successful.We know the very successful ones combine both significant talent and an equal amount of discipline.Without discipline the very talented ones cannot excel.Discipline is a difference-maker. Spiritual disciplines are no different.Many of us know what it is like to pray haphazardly.We pray if we need something.We utter a prayer in the face …

Map of the Heart

When I stay at my daughter’s house, I am aware there is a rather large map on the wall by my bed.I like sleeping right next to the entire world!Obviously, I am old enough to have looked at maps a thousand times.I have traveled enough to know where most major countries and places in the world can be found.I know if you look at a map and locate China or Australia, you realize why it takes so many hours in a plane to get to those places.Maps give us a sense of place.

I have liked maps since I was a kid.Of course, I grew up in the pre-internet days, so maps were much more prevalent.Nearly everyone I knew had a map or two in their cars.I grew up in Indiana.I knew all the big and little towns in the vicinity.I was so provincial, I thought Indiana was a rather large place.I guess it beats Rhode Island, but it is one of the smaller states.And yet, there were so many places I could never locate until I checked the map.Maps seemed necessary to know where you were at in relation to every other p…

Peaceful, Happy and Strong

It is hard for me to imagine anyone seeing the three words that form the title of this reflection---peaceful, happy and strong---not wanting a share in all three.Can you believe anyone would say, “Nah, I prefer war to peace. I prefer conflict to peace!”Can you imagine anyone saying, “I much rather prefer sadness and despair to happiness!”And it is just as difficult to hear someone saying, “Heck, I’d much rather be weak and hurting than be strong.”Anyone in his or her right mind wants to be peaceful, happy and strong.
The real question is not whether I prefer these attributes, but how do I get them?Is there anything I or we can do to make them come true?Or do we simply have to wait, sit back and hope to become peaceful, happy and strong?The good news is, there are some things we can do to bring peace, happiness and strength to ourselves and to others. I encountered these ideas recently when I was reading one of my favorite books which I use for a class.The book is by Thich Nhat Hanh, a…

Spiritual Support

Sometimes it seems those of us who strive to live some kind of spiritual life, try too hard.Saying such does not mean I believe the spiritual journey is so demanding that we need to see it as a herculean effort that only strong folks can manage to do.Actually, I think the journey may be fairly simple.Theology can become quite complex, but the spiritual walk itself is relatively simple.I think that is probably true in all the major religious traditions.I am convinced it is for Christianity.I suspect it is also true for my Jewish friends, my Buddhist colleagues, etc.
There are some basic components to the journey.Faith is surely a beginning point.Somehow we need enough trust to begin the walk.There has to be some commitment to develop along the way or we would not continue.Commitment is formed through a process of discipline.Surely any journey that lasts for some time is going to require a modicum of discipline. For anyone who played sports or music, this is no surprise.Discipline is al…

Living With Purpose

I continue to work through Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World.In this book Taylor is looking at everyday experiences to show that they can become practices, which enhance our spiritual growth.The chapter I just read is entitled, “The Practice of Living with Purpose.”When I saw the title, I knew I would resonate with it.The theme of purpose has been an important one for me for a long time.
Taylor has a funny autobiographical story of her search for what God wanted her to do in life---for her that would become her purpose.Finally, she narrates, God spoke to her and gave her the one-line purpose for her life.What did God tell her to do?“God said, ‘Anything that pleases you.’”Well, that is clear, but it is pretty general!
As Taylor said, “At one level, that answer was no help at all.The ball was back in my court again, where God had left me all kinds of room to lob it wherever I wanted…Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that matte…

Blessing of Generosity

Her name was Anna Kurzwell and I had never heard of her.In fact it would have been virtually impossible for me to hear about her if I did not regularly read the National Catholic Reporter.I like reading periodicals like this in order to stay somewhat informed on the world’s news.I don’t read all the articles, but apparently my eyes glance over most of the titles.I was grabbed by this title: “Kansas City teacher astonishes with a $2 million gift to the Jesuits.”“Those lucky rascals,” I thought!
I like the Jesuits and I respect them.Although I am not Catholic and never went to a Catholic school, I have had a couple Jesuits as faculty.They were smart and well trained.In fact our current Pope Francis is a Jesuit.The Jesuits’ official title is the Society of Jesus.If you see a SJ after a priest’s name, that means he is a Jesuit.They were founded in the sixteenth century by Ignatius of Loyola.They are distinctive in that they owe obedience to the Pope.So they are free from many of the local…