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Showing posts from March, 2016

Generosity and Community

Those of us who go to college and graduate school make some friends that we track all through our careers.Sometimes we don’t have much contact with them, but we watch their careers take off or take different kinds of turns.Often we watch them through the books they publish.Today we frequently track them through social media like Twitter.If they are in our academic discipline, we might see them periodically at conferences.
One such person I have known for decades now is Parker Palmer.Although we never were in school together, we have known each other since the earliest days of our careers.In the earliest days he was not a Quaker, but he was at a Quaker institution and was flirting with Quakerism.Because he was serious about his spiritual search, he became in many ways more Quaker than those of us who grew up as Quakers! He figured out how to take the best from my own Quaker tradition and “package” it in teaching and leadership situations to become “somebody.”It was fun to watch him bec…

The Sister, My Friend

Recently I had occasion to go back to my home state, as I like to call it.I have not lived there for nearly two decades, but I suppose the place where you are born and live much of your life will always be “home.”As they say, it is where you are from! No matter where you are now, that is the place where you are from.
I was not going to the place where I actually was from.I had to go to the state capitol for a funeral.Of course, this funeral had not been part of my plans.Funerals seldom are part of anyone’s plans.Maybe it is not even in the plans of any of us living; we know we will die, but we don’t plan to!Sometimes those folks in a good hospice program are now planning to die.That is what I would do it I have the kind of death that comes with my knowing it and having the grace of some time to plan to die. However, the funeral was for a beloved woman who had helped me and my community in so many key ways.She had lived a quiet, non-egotistical life and made everyone around her better …

Without a Doubt

A friend sent me an interesting article that I want to share some parts of it with you and a little commentary on it.The article carried the intriguing title, “God is a Question, Not an Answer.”The author, William Irwin, is a philosophy professor at a college at King’s College.What I did not know was the phrase apparently comes from a fairly recent novel.The novel is not important; what is important is the phrase that God is a question, not the answer.
Irwin offers his perspective within the first paragraph.Irwin says that phrase resonates with him.He comments, “The question is permanent; answers are temporary.I live in the question.”Some of us may laugh off this perspective by saying what else would you expect from a college philosophy teacher!But that is too easy.I don’t go as far as Irwin, but I do hold high regard for questions.And no one who is an adult should say all answers are sacred and never change.Most of us know we have changed our minds on some of our earlier “answers” in…

Home and Away

Most people I know have a home.I have a nice enough home.It is not luxurious, but it is more than adequate.If you were to visit me, you would know that my home has that “lived in” feeling.It is not the kind of place with dazzle and formality.I have been in those kinds of homes.I always feel slightly uncomfortable and on edge.I hesitate to sit down or touch anything.Even though I am fairly athletic, in those kinds of situations I temporarily become a klutz!

It is pretty commonsense to differentiate house and home.Many people know the experience of moving into a new house.In fact, we usually say it precisely that way.We can buy a house and move into it.But it takes a while to have the house become a “home.”That process is likely different for most people.And the process typically has no time frame.Some may know how to become “home-makers” much more quickly than the rest of us.I actually think I am a pretty slow homemaker.
There are intentional things people do to make a “home.”There are…

Holy Week and Easter…Again

Even if you are a Christian, I have concluded it depends on where you are---what is your context---how aware of Holy Week and the impending Easter you are.If you are a Christian and work in a mainly secular environment, you may be relatively unaware of Holy Week.For many it does not dawn on them until at least Thursday.And of course, in the secular world there is absolutely nothing special about Thursday.

But even in the secular world, Friday often assumes special connotations.It might be a holiday---a day off.It is at my University.So I suppose it is the one day Jews, Muslims, atheists, and other non-Christians are thankful for their Christian brothers and sisters!But for the Christian, Friday---Good Friday---is an interesting one.
I suspect that for many Christians Friday is simply skipped.They see Easter as very special and nothing else really matters.The resurrection is key for them.Why bother with anything less?Let’s skip sadness and depression and go straight for the joy and jub…

Holy Week

We find ourselves moving through what Christians know as Holy Week.It begins with Palm Sunday, which was last Sunday, and it culminates with Easter Sunday.On the way through the week we pass Good Friday, a mysterious Saturday between the crucifixion and, then, the resurrection of Jesus that Easter celebrates.It is a heavy-duty week for Christians.For other folks, it is just another week!

So for my Christian readers, I hope this week continues to have possibilities of being a “holy week” for you. It is worth thinking a bit about what holy week might mean.A number of things occur.One that occurs to me is that one ingredient necessary for it to be “holy” was that we need to take time.“Take Time to be Holy,” the classic hymn I remember singing when I was young, can become the theme song for the day.I am sure that holiness requires time.
Time is an interesting commodity.In the business world a commodity is anything that exists that people can sell.A commodity would be the same across the b…

A Living Experience

I have been re-reading some of Thomas Merton for an upcoming speaking engagement.I always find Merton to be thought provoking and quotable, even though he died in 1968.I always find the irony to be too much that a guy who took vows to live in a contemplative, rigorous monastery in the middle of Kentucky still has a tremendous relevancy to folks in the twenty-first century.I think the reason is Merton was so human.
It is easy to assume that someone who runs off to a monastery cannot be normal.And living in a monastery should be a guarantee that you never will be normal!I know I had that assumption.But when you meet monks, as I have done countless times, you usually come away thinking that those monkish guys or gals are actually pretty normal.What they are doing living the monastic life is not the run-of-the-mill kind of job.But when I think about it, guys and gals who drive racecars for a living or who are astronauts are not living normally as most of my friends. I love coming away fr…

A Mud Baby

Reading a chapter in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, was a good reminder of what I know.The chapter was entitled, “The Practice of Carrying Water.”The context of her chapter is a power outage.Taylor moves from the electricity outage to some rumination on the nature of work.She has a wonderful section on digging potatoes, which reminded me of my own childhood days on the farm when I also had to dig potatoes.
And then Taylor moved into talking about the early Genesis chapter that describes the creation of humans.This is a text I know well.I have read it many times and have used it as a basis for a number of different presentations.Even when you know something well, there is always a good chance you will think of new things when you re-visit the text. Taylor talks about trying to learn Hebrew.I also had little success with that language.I only learned enough to be able to dance around the edge of any meaningful engagement with the text of the Hebrew Bible.She confesse…

Meaning Tied to Worth

I am attracted to things that talk about meaning. Maybe that is because I feel like I have spent much of my life thinking about meaning and testing to see if, indeed, I thought I was living a meaningful life. I remember very well a period of life when I did not think I had any meaning or, at best, was not sure what that was. Those were the years right after high school and the early college years.

In my case much of school and high school was fine. Maybe it is revisionist history, but I recall those days with some fondness. I was an above average athlete, so that was a plus. I was bright enough, so that also was a plus. I am the oldest one in my family, so there was no sibling competition---no reputation to live up to or even live down. Life was ok.

Then I was off to college and began to experience a period of not knowing. I began to have a nagging sense that what I was aiming for was not really what I wanted to do. I began to accept that I was doing what others wanted me to do. And w…


Teaching for a long time has many blessings, but one I really appreciate is a chance to re-read a book that has been significant.Of course, there are many books that have made a difference in my life.I have often wondered how I would answer the question that is posed: if I were stranded on an island and could have only one book, what would I choose?
I am sure I would surprise and disappoint some people when I confess I know that book would not be the Bible.That does not mean the Bible is not important to me or that I have it memorized and don’t really need it.I know the Bible has formed me in crucial ways.As a Christian and Quaker, much of what I think is rooted in the Bible.But it would not be my choice. There are a few books by Quakers I might choose.I would seriously consider the one by Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion.That is a simple, inspiring book that would serve me well on the deserted island.I really like some of Gerald May’s books and would be happy to be “stuck” with …

Poignancy of the Path

In the classes I teach I try to engage with material that deals with real life.I figure if spirituality does not connect with life as most of us live it, then it is probably not worth doing.This is the reason I usually have a component of every class that asks the student to reflect on his or her experience.It varies among the classes, but I do intend for every class to have this experiential aspect.In other words, how does any particular reading or exercise have the potential to affect your real life?
I intend for the examinations and the papers also to hook into real life.Again, I am not sure I can justify asking the students to learn things if it somehow does not apply to real life---their real life.This is precisely what makes teaching fun for me.And it is what makes reading the things they write so fascinating.It is not hypothetical stuff.It is real life---their real life. Recently I read a paper that hit me---I was moved.It was not the happy-ever-after kind of paper. That would …

A Lesson of Love

There are periodicals I routinely read just to be informed about certain areas in my life.It is not just religion and spirituality issues that I want to be up to date.I also have wide-ranging interests because I know that a variety of interests make me a more interesting person.And if I have wide ranging interests, then I am likely to be more creative.All innovators know putting together things that are not necessarily linked produces new possibilities.

Over my life I have applied this principle, although for a long time I would not have known to call it innovative.Early in my studies, I wanted to wander beyond my own Quaker tradition.As I spent time with people who were not like me and read more widely in Christian history, I began to realize how narrow and provincial I was.I am not sure how it could have been any different.I grew up on a farm with people who were mostly like me.That was my “world.”Until you know there is difference, you define things, as you know them.
My earliest…

Talking Signs

When I go for a run, I often turn the run into a walk.Of course, that is a sign that I am getting older.But I don’t mind.I am still moving, and moving gives me a chance to see and enjoy life.I am thankful.I have become aware when I turn the run into a walk, I begin to notice more things.That is not surprising, since I am going more slowly with less effort expended.It is like having eyes than can focus on things.
I am not sure how it happened, but I began to notice the various signs along the way.There were the inevitable signs of the road.I saw stop signs, speed limit signs and signs that told me of impending road intersections. Of course, I have seen millions of these in my lifetime.Nothing I saw was novel.But what was new is that I began to ponder what I was seeing.And this led to a sense for the process of knowing. As I thought about it, I realized the signs were talking.Of course, there was no discernable sound.When I approached the stop sign, I heard no voice saying, “Stop please…