About Me

Friday, April 29, 2016

Complexities and Troubles

Everyone who has kids or even grandchildren knows there are teachable moments when they are the teacher and you are the student.  Sometimes you are a willing student.  And other times you did not want to be a student at all!  I recently had one of the former moments.  I was not looking for it, but I was taught and was fine with it.  I was not unwilling.

To set the scene, you have to imagine a room half full of boxes.  A house project led to the accumulation of many boxes.  Of course, a scene like this is irresistible to any young soul.  My granddaughter was sucked right into the middle of the boxes.  You can use them as forts or a maze.  Some of them were so big you get into it and seemingly be lost to the world---or, at least, a parent.  Quite a bit of time went by in the wonderful world of box land.  Then she was finished and wanted to escape.

At one point, a young voice plaintively appealed for outside advice.  She asked a simple question.  “How do I get through this crap?”  The room was no longer filled with boxes.  They had become a problem.  They had been re-labeled as crap!  They were not entertaining any more.  They had become obstacles and the issue now was how to surmount the problem?

My granddaughter’s life had gone through a metamorphosis.  The boxes that had lured her into the space now turned out to be complex.  Added to this, they had become nothing but trouble.  The only question was how to deal with these complexities and troubles?  She realized fairly quickly that she needed help.  So she made the appeal.  And with good parents around, help came fairly quickly and her troubles were over.  That could have been the end of the story.

In some ways it was the end of the story.  But in my mind the story also took a different form.  I realized that it could serve as a metaphor for life.  Most of our lives have their ups and downs.  As we go through life, we go into “rooms” that can be like phases of life.  Sometimes the rooms have things that lure us to settle in and play.  The “boxes” can be any number of things.  Remember, it is just a metaphor.

There come times, however, when the room---when a particular phase of life---changes on us.  The phase of life may come to be nothing but complexity and trouble.  We can sometimes feel trapped.  We are certainly not having any fun.  We would opt out, if we could only figure out how to do it.  Sometimes it is ignorance that stops us.  Sometimes we are impotent---we don’t have the power to change things. 

I have been in these kinds of situations.  They can be of our own making.  I have done a few of those.  We get into trouble and then we can’t get out---at least, we can’t get out of trouble on our own.  We need help.  Sometimes our complexities and troubles come to us and we did nothing to cause or provoke it.  Again, we need help. 

I would like to think about this metaphor in a spiritual sense.  Life does put us into troubles and complexities.  These always have a spiritual side.  As I reflect back on my own life, two such periods come to mind that I can share.  One came at that transitional time when I went to college.  The other one came more at mid-life.

Dutifully, I went to college.  At some point during that initial year, I realized I actually did not know who I was or where I was headed.  College made no sense.  So I finally mustered up enough courage to leave and go back home.  Of course, that solved no problem, but it did give me time and a context to think about things.  And to learn to pray.  An older friend came into my life and became a spiritual mentor.  He solved no complexity and did not get me out of trouble.  But he helped me learn how to have faith at a deeper level and to grow into the person I was to become.  I went back to college and then some!  He helped me get out of a room of “boxes.”

The second time I will share came when I was diagnosed with cancer.  My girls were still young---one in diapers.  I did not feel particularly unlucky or that God owed me something better.  People get sick at all ages.  And my theology would say God does not give us bad things to test us.  Once again, I cried out for help and God came in the form of many friends and family.

Physically, I survived and have thrived for decades now.  For that I am grateful.  But even more grateful am I for all those folks who were there for me.  They would have been just as graceful and helpful had my fate been different.  Life or death---they would have been friends of the Spirit.  They helped me at a time when I really wanted to ask, “How do I get through this crap?”

We do not live in a perfect world.  We may enter phases of life that deliver obstacles and troubles and we ask, “How do I get through this crap?”  Very often, it is someone else who comes to our aid.  Often, it is a community.  Always I think it is the Holy One.  It is my experience that this Holy One typically uses others.  And I am always grateful.   

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Nice Day

I don’t know anyone who hates a nice day.  At the most obvious level, a nice day usually refers to the weather.  Typically, it is warm and sunshiny.  In the part of the country I live, nice days can happen in the spring---at least the first nice days we identify.  Certainly there are many nice days in the summer.  And by summer standards, many of those “nice days” we claimed in the spring would not be true.  In the spring a nice day is likely declared if it reaches the 50-degree mark.  In the summer that might well be a lousy day!
           
Fall weather if often the favorite season for many folks.  Fall days sometimes are not as hot as the summer folks just survived.  And fall inevitably brings the colors that everyone enjoys.  I think people may enjoy the nice days of fall because we know we are sitting ducks for the impending weather that winter brings.  I am pretty aware of weather.  I attribute this to growing up on a farm, but I am not at all sure there is any correlation.
           
I do know growing up on a farm I learned to read the skies.  This was long before the Weather Channel and radar and all the technologies of our current age.  I might have caught some weather forecast on the early morning radio or read some newspaper projection, but I figured I had as much chance being right as those prognosticators.  I spent much of every day in the outside.  I was exposed to the weather and I learned to take whatever it was.  Of course, this did not mean if it were raining, I had to stand in the rain.
           
All this relates to my work now as a college professor.  I have not forgotten weather.  I am still pretty in tune with it.  My early morning walk to get coffee gives me a chance to sense how cold it is, the humidity, whether there are clouds, a full moon, etc.  I quickly know the direction from which the wind blows and what that usually portends.  Weather is like a hobby now.  It rarely affects what I do.  Classes are not cancelled if it rains! 
           
But rain does affect how students feel about things.  Crummy weather brings out the grumpiness in students and my colleagues alike.  Cold snowy weather compounds the growling.  Strong winds are a curse to hairstyles and umbrellas.  But somehow we march on.  And then comes a nice day.  If we are lucky, there is a string of nice days.  The grumpiness subsides.  I never heard anyone curse a nice day!
           
There is one predictable for nice days.  Students will arrive in the classroom and immediately and in unison beg, “Can we go outside today?”  Of course, they just came in from being outside and will go back outside when the class is finished.  What they mean, of course, is they want the class to meet outside.  The implication is they could finally enjoy the class if it were held outside!  I guess that makes class and bad weather a double whammy!
           
My usual response is not very satisfactory.  I tell them if we were to go outside, we would not mess that up by having class! That does not mean we could not have the class outside.  Everything we talk about in a class discussion could happen out there.  I am aware, many fewer notes would be taken.  I don’t use PowerPoint, so that would not be sacrificed.  So why do I care where we have class?
           
It is all a matter of attention and attentiveness.  I am pretty confident we cannot be attentive to more than one thing at a time.  We can be aware of more than one thing.  I can eat with a friend in a noisy restaurant.  I am aware of my friend and so much more.  But I am attentive to my friend.  The same goes with class.  For me it is either the material of the class or the nice day outside.  Both are important; the question is to what do I want to be attentive?  I figure a class lasts fifty minutes.  A nice day lasts---well a whole day.
           
A nice day is a gift of God, as I see it.  And in a way, my life, my brain and abilities are also gifts of God.  I don’t want to squander any of these gifts.  But some gifts require more effort.  Some gifts need to be developed.  That’s the difference.  Nice days are a pure gift.  Nothing I do develops the day.  I can’t concentrate and add a few degrees.  But my mind and that of the students can be cultivated and developed.  To do that effectively means staying inside.
           
But I always am willing to keep the surprise available.  Sometimes when I am met with the clamor to “go outside for class,” I reply that would be a waste of a nice day.  I suggest we throw aside the class for the day and actually go outside, be as attentive as we can and actually enjoy fully the gift of God.  Often this is harder than it sounds.  Many of us don’t even know how to do very well the nice days we are given.
           
Too often we are not really attentive.  I watch folks walking with minds focused on their cell phones in the midst of the nicest day we have had for weeks.  This leads to spiritual queries: if I am given a nice day, am I attentive enough actually to be aware appreciate it?  That is my spiritual work of the day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Complexities and Troubles

Everyone who has kids or even grandchildren knows there are teachable moments when they are the teacher and you are the student.  Sometimes you are a willing student.  And other times you did not want to be a student at all!  I recently had one of the former moments.  I was not looking for it, but I was taught and was fine with it.  I was not unwilling.

To set the scene, you have to imagine a room half full of boxes.  A house project led to the accumulation of many boxes.  Of course, a scene like this is irresistible to any young soul.  My granddaughter was sucked right into the middle of the boxes.  You can use them as forts or a maze.  Some of them were so big you get into it and seemingly be lost to the world---or, at least, a parent.  Quite a bit of time went by in the wonderful world of box land.  Then she was finished and wanted to escape.

At one point, a young voice plaintively appealed for outside advice.  She asked a simple question.  “How do I get through this crap?”  The room was no longer filled with boxes.  They had become a problem.  They had been re-labeled as crap!  They were not entertaining any more.  They had become obstacles and the issue now was how to surmount the problem?

My granddaughter’s life had gone through a metamorphosis.  The boxes that had lured her into the space now turned out to be complex.  Added to this, they had become nothing but trouble.  The only question was how to deal with these complexities and troubles?  She realized fairly quickly that she needed help.  So she made the appeal.  And with good parents around, help came fairly quickly and her troubles were over.  That could have been the end of the story.

In some ways it was the end of the story.  But in my mind the story also took a different form.  I realized that it could serve as a metaphor for life.  Most of our lives have their ups and downs.  As we go through life, we go into “rooms” that can be like phases of life.  Sometimes the rooms have things that lure us to settle in and play.  The “boxes” can be any number of things.  Remember, it is just a metaphor.

There come times, however, when the room---when a particular phase of life---changes on us.  The phase of life may come to be nothing but complexity and trouble.  We can sometimes feel trapped.  We are certainly not having any fun.  We would opt out, if we could only figure out how to do it.  Sometimes it is ignorance that stops us.  Sometimes we are impotent---we don’t have the power to change things. 

I have been in these kinds of situations.  They can be of our own making.  I have done a few of those.  We get into trouble and then we can’t get out---at least, we can’t get out of trouble on our own.  We need help.  Sometimes our complexities and troubles come to us and we did nothing to cause or provoke it.  Again, we need help. 

I would like to think about this metaphor in a spiritual sense.  Life does put us into troubles and complexities.  These always have a spiritual side.  As I reflect back on my own life, two such periods come to mind that I can share.  One came at that transitional time when I went to college.  The other one came more at mid-life.

Dutifully, I went to college.  At some point during that initial year, I realized I actually did not know who I was or where I was headed.  College made no sense.  So I finally mustered up enough courage to leave and go back home.  Of course, that solved no problem, but it did give me time and a context to think about things.  And to learn to pray.  An older friend came into my life and became a spiritual mentor.  He solved no complexity and did not get me out of trouble.  But he helped me learn how to have faith at a deeper level and to grow into the person I was to become.  I went back to college and then some!  He helped me get out of a room of “boxes.”

The second time I will share came when I was diagnosed with cancer.  My girls were still young---one in diapers.  I did not feel particularly unlucky or that God owed me something better.  People get sick at all ages.  And my theology would say God does not give us bad things to test us.  Once again, I cried out for help and God came in the form of many friends and family.

Physically, I survived and have thrived for decades now.  For that I am grateful.  But even more grateful am I for all those folks who were there for me.  They would have been just as graceful and helpful had my fate been different.  Life or death---they would have been friends of the Spirit.  They helped me at a time when I really wanted to ask, “How do I get through this crap?”

We do not live in a perfect world.  We may enter phases of life that deliver obstacles and troubles and we ask, “How do I get through this crap?”  Very often, it is someone else who comes to our aid.  Often, it is a community.  Always I think it is the Holy One.  It is my experience that this Holy One typically uses others.  And I am always grateful.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sitting on the Grass

The title of this inspirational piece might suggest connotations of college kids at a weekend party in the spring or summer doing drugs.  At least, we might suspect some marijuana to be part of the scene.  If we were to approach this lawn party, we would expect to get a whiff of a pungent order that would betray the common college drug.  But this suspicion would be wildly off the mark.  Perhaps it points out the perceptions and prejudices that still exist in our minds.
           
Rather let me take you to the truth of the scene.  It has to do with Spirit rather than spirits!  It has to do with a group of students whom I call friends.  I am fond of suggesting to college students that the word, colleague, must surely be related to the word, college.  Most faculty assume their fellow faculty are colleagues and I agree.  I value very much my faculty colleagues.  I appreciate the broad range of knowledge and expertise they bring to the table.  I am especially in awe of some colleagues in the sciences and the Conservatory of Music where I feel so inadequately informed or lacking talent. 
           
I also like to think of college students as colleagues.  Perhaps not all college students are colleagues of mine---not yet anyway.  When I use the term, colleague, I like to think they are friends of mine.  I see colleague to suggest some kind of personal relationship with someone.  And so I use it of college students, too.  The ones who choose to do a class with me become known to me.  They cannot sit in the room for a semester and remain unknown.  They may begin as a college student, but they become a colleague.
           
Recently, I was teaching a class called Spiritual Disciplines.  That may not be a typical college class---even for a Religion Department.  But it is one that I very much enjoy.  Part of the requirement---the main part as far as I am concerned---is a requirement to develop a regular spiritual practice of discipline.  I offer a range of disciplines, so no one is stuck with prayer unless they want to do it.
           
The other thing that happens is they do significant group work.  And then for one day during the semester, a group involves the rest of us in a spiritual experience.  And so it was that we were led to the grassy area on campus.  As I sat down on the grass, I had to laugh.  I am supposed to be in charge and I have no clue what we are going to do!  But I was not worried.  These friends of mine have become colleagues as the semester’s weeks unfolded.  I trusted them as colleagues.  More than likely, they know things I don’t know. 
           
Carefully and thoughtfully we were guided into a time of meditation.  When I think of the range of spiritual disciplines, I know meditation is not my strength.  I know a fair amount about it.  I could probably lecture on it.  But that does not make me an expert.  Besides, I don’t think the point of meditating is to become an expert.  The purpose of meditation is something else---being mindful, connecting with God, etc.  I was up for this.  So I sat.
           
I closed my eyes because I trusted.  I did not have any urge to be in control or stay in control.  And in the process I was doing one of the things spiritual discipline teaches.  Many of the disciplines are designed to move me beyond my ego’s need to be in control.  At least for me, spiritual disciplines help me routinely focus on God, connect with God and live in a meaningful relationship with the One who is an endless Source of love and grace.  On my own I am more likely to make a mess of life rather than be a miracle.
           
As I sat in the grass, I noticed my body relaxing.  I was not particularly stressed, but I also was not as connected to myself, to others and to my world as I might want.  And had I not meditated, I never would have known that.  As my body relaxed, my spirit began to emerge into fuller awareness.  I felt love erupting from within.  I did not have to open my eyes to look at the people around me.  I already knew them.  I knew what they looked like.  They were my colleagues.
           
I don’t know how long I sat in the grass.  I did not have to look at my watch.  I knew my colleagues were sensitive to the situation.  We would be taken care of.  Care and love do those kinds of things.  I smile as I think about all the times that gang and I talked about love and care and all that “book stuff.”  I am confident they could write a decent essay about love.  But I am more sure they know about love and that they love me.
           
Sitting in the grass was just one small part of my day.  If someone were to have observed it, I am sure it was unimpressive.  But I don’t think the spiritual journey is necessarily designed for being impressive.  Spiritual disciplines are not taken on to become spiritually spectacular.  The spiritual journey for most of us is a quiet, deep walk into a meaningful life with God and others.
           
Sitting in the grass with my colleagues turned out to be a laboratory of the Spirit.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Blessings Upon Blessings

I have just finished the last chapter of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World.  It has been a rewarding book and the last chapter is a fitting conclusion.  The chapter’s title reveals its focus: “The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings.”  I very much like the fact she uses the plural, blessings.  While blessing may happen one at a time, there is no doubt in my mind everyone is multiply blessed.  And I join Taylor in feeling called to be one who blesses, too. 
           
I appreciate the epigraph Taylor uses in the beginning of the chapter.  An epigraph is something written that underscores something central to the chapter.  Often an epigraph is a quotation that an author uses to begin her own thoughts.  The epigraph Taylor chooses for this chapter is drawn from the Talmud, the Jewish collection of commentary on the Torah or the Hebrew Bible.  Probably most Christians know nothing about the Talmud.
           
The epigraph (quotation in this case) says, “It is forbidden to taste of the pleasures of this world without a blessing.”  I appreciate the wisdom of the Jewish sages.  In this context the commentator is not saying we cannot have the pleasures of the world.  No, that is ok.  But you can’t have the pleasures without giving a blessing.  That makes sense to me and seems fair.  After all, so many of the pleasures of the world are gifts; I did nothing to create or deserve the pleasure.
           
If you are not sure, think of the last beautiful day.  You did nothing to create it.  I am not sure what basis you offer if you think you deserve it.  Think about the sunshine on your face or the warm breeze blowing gently on your skin.  Look into the blue sky.  For me even the color blue, which I see in the sky is a gift.  These are all pleasures, which are free to you and me.  All that makes sense is to offer a blessing for the gift of this day.  And for me, this means offering the blessing to God who is the Giver of such gifts. 
           
I like that Taylor is sufficiently aware of the Jewish tradition, she can share that knowledge with us.  She talks about how meaningful the Jewish tradition of brakoth has been for her.  Again, it is noteworthy the Hebrew, brakoth, is plural.  The singular is brakha is a “blessing prayer.”  These are the prayers to be offered for beautiful days and even days that are not splendidly beautiful---the rainy, snowy, cloudy days.
           
Taylor talks about learning the Ha-Motzi---blessing prayer for bread---when she went to seminary.  While she cites the one-liner in Hebrew before translating it, I’ll just share the English.  The blessing prayer is this: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  I realize how easy it is to type those words.  It is even easier to read them.  In fact most people can read that sentence in about twenty seconds.
           
So we can read it, understand it and dismiss it by paying no attention.  What Taylor calls us to do is pay attention and, then, practice it.  That’s why I like her book.  It is a good reminder to do what I say I really want to do.  So I return to the blessing prayer for bread.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe.  Can I take twenty seconds to utter these words---or at least think the thought---before eating my toast in the morning?  Is it ok to say a similar version over my yogurt?
           
What I like about this blessing prayer is its versatility.  The first half of the sentence remains the same.  I am always addressing God---the blessed God, King of the Universe.  The second half of the prayer changes, depending on whatever it is that we are thankful for.  It might be the day itself.  It might be for my friend, my health, and the list can go on.  I think the details may not matter.  What does matter is my awareness is cultivated.
           
This reminds me of the famous one-liner of Socrates, uttered long before the birth of Jesus.  That wise philosopher said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  Socrates meant by this that we should not live life solely going through the motions.  We ought to be aware, pay attention and reflect---think about life and the meaning in life.  It seems to me this is close to what the Talmud affirms.
           
I do want to be aware today---be aware of myself, my life, my gifts and all that comes my way.  I want to be thankful.  I want to cultivate gratitude.  I don’t need a Hebrew word to do that.  I don’t even have to use a fancy phrase like, “blessing prayer.”  What I will need to do is somehow reflect---to know and appreciate that I have been gifted.  And I want to bless---to express that gratitude and thanksgiving. 
           
And I want to live with that deep awareness throughout the day.  I want to be able to use blessing in the plural---blessings.  I can do this because I am sure there will be multiple opportunities.  Life will come to be blessings upon blessings.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Contemplation as Power to Look

For the last few years I have had a special interest in the theme of contemplation.  In fact, I recognize I probably have been interested in it for quite a long time, but never used that word for the experience I saw other people have and wanted it for myself.  As is often the case, I realized that my own Quaker tradition actually “talked about” contemplation and the contemplative experience, although they never used that word.

Essentially, I talk about contemplation both as an experience and as a way of living.  For a few years I have been teaching a class entitled, “Contemplative Spirituality.”  When I see students on the first day of classes, I tell them the requirement is that they become a contemplative.  Of course, they have no clue what that means.  But most of them are up for the challenge.  And that is a huge step.  I am pretty sure no one will be a contemplative if he or she does not want to become one.  So they key question here is to learn what being a contemplative really means.

While there are many people who could offer a definition, I would like to share one from a wise old Quaker teacher and minister whom I personally knew.  Douglas Steere was a long-time professor of philosophy at Haverford College in the Philadelphia area.  He was an amazing guy.  In fact, he was an official observer at Vatican II in the early 60s.  I loved hearing stories about that transformative council that has affected Roman Catholicism ever since.

I am sure I was attracted to him as a person and mentor because he was a deeply committed Quaker, yet was so ecumenically open and engaging.  In fact, he was one of the pioneers of the ecumenical movement that gathered steam in the 60s and 70s, which impacted my own life when I was in graduate school.  So Steere was a Quaker, but had studied the Catholic mystics and contemplatives, so he could help me and other non-Catholics learn about that world and translate it into our own traditions.

In a little essay Steere shares this definition of contemplation.  “We, too, might find some help in defining contemplation if we put it in terms of a sustained scrutiny for meaning.  If we use the metaphor of the eye, contemplation could be described as the power to look steadily, continuously, calmly, attentively, and searchingly at something.  Thomas Aquinas paraphrases this nicely in calling contemplation, ‘A simple, unimpeded and penetrating gaze on truth.”

The first thing I like about Steere’s definition is the way he claims that it is “a sustained scrutiny for meaning.”  One of the ways I actually define spirituality is that it is a quest for meaning.  Spirituality is one way humans make meaning.  Steere adds depth in the way he expresses it.  It is not only a scrutiny for meaning, but also a sustained scrutiny.  I am absolutely convinced this is a key for contemplation.  The contemplative life is not simply the occasional visit to church or a random reading of some kind of religion book.

Scrutiny is the opposite of a casual look.  Scrutiny is a careful examination.  It is, in Steere’s word, a sustained examination or careful attention to the issue of God and God’s dealing with us.  In my own words a sustained scrutiny for meaning is close paying attention to what’s happening and what it means for us in our particular lives.  It is spiritually having someone routinely tell me, “pay attention.”  That surely means we cannot be living superficially---inattentively---and be contemplatives.

In his definition Steere moves on to use the metaphor of the eye to explain what he wants to do.  Effectively, he is saying contemplation is like having a special eye.  That contemplative eye has the power “to look steadily, continuously, calmly, attentively and searchingly at something.”  I love this string of adverbs used by Steere---steadily, continuously, calmly, attentively, searchingly.  These adverbs give us a good sense for the process of contemplation in action in our lives.  The contemplative life is not superficial, nor is it sporadic and haphazard.  It is sustained.

Steere says contemplation is this look “at something.”  I suppose my definition would simply have said look at God or at God’s work in us.  This is where Steere introduces Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian, into the definition.  St. Thomas simply calls contemplation this sustained gaze on truth.  I am fine with this way of putting it, although I still prefer talking about a look or gaze upon the Holy One and the work of the Spirit in our lives.

In my own way of seeing things, the contemplative life is an attentive life in the Presence of the Divine One.  This presupposes our desire for this kind of life to happen.  It means we have to be aware of ourselves and aware of what God is doing within and with us.  In my experience almost all of this happens in the ordinariness of our life.  It is not some supercharged experience that leaves us breathless.  Generally it is not ecstatic.  It is a way of life lived in the Spirit and acting spiritually.

In short we become co-laborers in the spiritual work of God in the world.  We are ordinary people doing extraordinary work.  That’s what I am trying to do.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Importance

Someone recently thanked me for being important in her life.  I appreciate the gratitude and, even more, appreciated the opportunity to think about importance.  Perhaps this is an issue of spiritual immaturity, but that’s probably where I am anyway.  I always hope to find things to ponder that might lead to some growth and a bit more maturity.  As I thought about the gal who thanked me, I would have agreed with her that in her mind I was important to her.  She was right.  I didn’t do that in order to be who I am.  But I was glad to help someone.

As indicated, the spiritually mature person probably never thinks about being important.  That is not their goal.  However, all truly mature spiritual people undoubtedly are important---perhaps in many ways.  But it would not register nor really matter, if they were to come to know it.  For those of us less saintly, perhaps it is a good exercise to think about importance.

Maybe our earlier ego development needs some sense that we are important.  Of course, I only have my own experience.  And I am not a psychologist, so I don’t know the official psychological perspectives on the matter. I do assume that having some sense of one’s importance is a healthy thing.  And probably even healthier is the capacity to recognize that others are important.  Let’s unpack that a little.

I cannot remember my own infancy, but I have watched my two girls and now some grandchildren.  And I have seen a ton of babies throughout the years.  There is little doubt in my mind that for a little one, parents are important.  Furthermore, in most cases I observe, typically the mother winds up being more important much of the time.  Of course, there are all sorts of exceptions that anyone can cite.  I know if you ask my youngest grandkid who is the most important person in the world, God would not qualify!  Mom wins---hands down.

That does not always change.  It is not surprising to me to watch some college students still relate to their mothers as if she were still the most important person in the world.  I know I have introduced a tricky issue into the equation: there is important and, then, there is the issue of most important.  Somehow the idea of importance can become competitive or hierarchical.

If I am honest, there usually are stages in my life where I could have told you who was the most important person in my life.  Early on it may have been my mother.  As a young boy, I think it would have been my father, since he and I spent so much quality time together on the farm.  At some point, I am confident some of my peers took over the number one slot.  This often is articulated as “my best friend.”  I laugh because some I know claim to have three or four “best friends.”  Grammatically, you can only have one!

For many of us adolescence comes and priorities begin to shift.  We may see our “best friend” become someone of the opposite sex.  There is no comparison to the puppy love stage!  In the fullness of puppy love one never feels more alive or more engaged.  There is no doubt who is number one---the most important.  In fact, nearly everyone else drops off the face of the earth!  We all know it does not last.  But in the middle of it, life does not get better!

I have seen myself go through progression.  If we get married, probably at some stage the spouse is the most important.  He or she displaces parent, siblings and others.  If and when we have kids of our own, it is not unusual that our children push our spouse down the importance ladder.  And then you come to my place.  I am very confident I am not the most important person in anyone’s life.  And that is exactly as it should be.  I am fine with that.  But it does not mean I want to be unimportant.  That is where it becomes a spiritual issue with me.

Spiritually I think it is quite fine to want to be important.  If we are dealing with the spiritual perspective, then our ego is not an issue.  Ego is a psychological issue.  Spiritually speaking, we want to be important, because that means we matter.  I would hate that I would live my entire life and not matter.  I don’t need to matter in any financial or egotistical way.  I don’t need wealth, fame or any other worldly accouterment.

Spiritually it does not matter that I am the “most important,” but I would like to be important.  And I would like to be important simply for whom I am—not something I have done or achieved.  That’s when I began to realize a significant truth: I am important!  I am important in God’s eyes.  God values me.  I am worth something and worthy.  The good news is my worth does not make you or anyone else less worthy.  It is not a competition.

In fact, I would argue that the nature of God is such that I can actually be to God the “most important” one.  And from your perspective, you can too.  God’s unfathomable depth, love and mercy make every one of us “the most important one.”  When I grasp the truth of this, I can relax.  I’ve got it made!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lure of Life

There are some old friends to whom I like to return from time to time.  Some of my old friends are books.  Some of these books were written centuries ago, so obviously I personally know the author.  One such book is the Confessions by Augustine---or St. Augustine as he rightly is called.  He wrote this magnificent theological autobiography in the late fourth century.  People of faith have been reading it for more than a thousand years.
           
Other friends are living people.  One such friend is Alan Jones.  I have many of Jones’ books, but the one that still speaks most powerfully to me is his book, Soul Making.  Alan was a seminary professor when I first met him.  Although born in England, he had already come to this country and was teaching at the Episcopal seminary in New York when we had initial contact.  From there he went to San Francisco where he became Dean of the Cathedral in that city by the bay.
           
I loved the title of soul making and, I’m sure, that is what initially led me to buy it.  While it is a great title, I knew it was more than a title of a book.  Soul making is a process by which all of us are made human.  For Jones and me soul making is inevitably a spiritual process, as well as psychological.  Surely many people become human without any nod toward spirituality, but Jones and I would contend we are not fully human until we are also spiritual.
           
I had occasion recently to read again the last chapter of that book.  I’ll share some thoughts from a paragraph that remind me how significant God and the spiritual is for my understanding of how souls are made.  The first sentence I share demonstrates both the serious nature of the work of making souls and shows the touch of humor that I always find when talking to or reading Jones.  He says, “The dominant lure of life is towards the ‘We’ and we may thank God for our neuroses in that they are, at least, signs that are cracks and crevices in the egocentric shell we build around us.” (187)
           
I like to think that life has a lure.  In fact there probably are multiple lures in our lives.  There are lures of family, jobs, etc.  That why we often feel pulled in different directions.  Sometimes we are in tension between what we want to do and what others want us to do.  So when Jones talks about a “dominant” lure, that makes sense to me.  I am not sure most of us know the dominant lure.  Perhaps the dominant lure is whatever we want it to be.  But I would agree with Jones that the dominate lure is that which comes from God.  Every other lure is secondary, even if it is important.
           
Jones is correct when he acknowledges the dominant lure of life is plural---toward the “We,” as he calls it.  This simply means that life finally is communal---it is about community.  Life is not some lonely existence passing from birth to our inevitable death.  Authentic life is always life together.  This may not make too much sense in our individualistic, autonomous lives most of us live. 
           
Jones is at his orneriest best when he opines that our neuroses are signs that real life---the life of the “We”---is trying to break through.  He sees the egoistic self we build as we go through life actually can be the problem.  The ego is “me.”  It is my life, my agenda, my---everything.  When the “We” becomes only a concern for me, then I am in trouble and may not even know it.  It is too easy to move from ego to egocentric---from me to being totally me-centered.  If we live this kind of egocentric life, then we are in some way being crazy---neurotic.
           
Jones comes in again when he says, “That is why our falling apart can be a sign of God’s work in us.  It is the beginning of the process of benign disintegration…the ‘We’ is the real frame of our life.  Rightly, he says, our egocentric life will need to disintegrate---the ego has to cease being in center or whole of our lives.  He continues, to refuse disintegration “means entering into a terrible place of lostness, where the ego is all there is.  This is hell: the ego is mistaken in the belief that it is the fount and origin of everything…
           
This seems so true for me, which is why I share it.  I do believe if we stay with our egocentric agenda, we ultimately will be in a terrible place of lostness.  If we are egocentric, there is no real room for God or anyone else, except that they serve our sorry soul.  There is no compassion, no understanding.  Egocentricism works well when we are strong, healthy and independent.  But when things go south, we find we need and desire others---God and friends.
           
The essence of soul work is to recognize this earlier in our lives and doing the “soul work” to grow into healing, healthy places.  We can ask ourselves whether we are living an egocentric life or are we cultivating a “We” perspective?  It does not mean you have to be a failure or a wimp to be spiritual.  But it does mean you are not god.  Even if you see yourself as god, no one else does. 
           
Soul work means I recognize the God who is and know that I am a beloved child of God.  And I am part of the beloved community---the “We” of God’s children.  And I am glad.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Prayer as Gratitude

I have just finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s chapter on prayer in her book, An Altar in the World.  I really like this book and the group I am using the book with likes it, too.  Most of us in the group commented that we thought her chapter on prayer was written for each one of us.  All that means is somehow her experience with prayer resonated deeply with many of us.  For many different traditions prayer is something you are “supposed to do,” but many of us feel like we have been utter failures. 
           
I resonated with Taylor when she penned the first line of the chapter.  “I know that a chapter on prayer belongs in this book, but I dread writing it.”  Some of her best humor comes out in the chapter.  She continues, “I am a failure at prayer.  When people ask me about my prayer life, I feel like a bulimic must feel when people ask about her favorite dish.  My mind starts scrambling for ways to hide my problem.”
           
It is not long before Taylor turns to one of my favorite resources, David Stendl-Rast.  She claims Stendl-Rast summarizes the essence of prayer in two words: “Wake up!”  That’s not bad.  This is a pretty good summary of what prayer is about.  While many of us learn words to set prayers, there is usually a nagging feeling that prayer is not the words.  The words are trying to get at prayer, but they often feel inadequate.  We all know that words can be cheap.  In fact, we live in a culture that tends to cheapen even big, important words.  Love is a great example.  People love everything from God to pizza!
           
So if prayer is deeper than words, how do we get at it?  If it is not words, then how do we pray?  It is not as if words never matter, but surely it is true that there is a level of prayer that is beyond and deeper than words.  How do we get there?
           
It is at this point that Taylor talks about the field trips she has taken with students.  I smile because I have done this so many times.  She talks about going to the monastery, the mosque and the synagogue.  This can get students into worship contexts that are strange to them.  They confront prayer in different forms and in different articulations (which is more than simply a foreign language). At one point she talks about silence.  And that grabbed my attention.
           
I am so used to silence, I don’t think I fully appreciate how someone experiences it---someone not used to it.  Listen to how Taylor describes the experience for her students.  Taylor describes taking her students to a Vedanta Center.  Vedanta is a form of Hinduism, which focuses on knowledge.  I am sure most of Taylor’s students were wandering a foreign land for them.  Taylor says, “we join the Swami in a few simple verses and then we sit quietly on cushions for close to an hour, focusing all of our attention on listening to God instead of trying to get God to listen to us.” (185) 
           
She continues by noting that is the longest most of them have ever been quiet.  That much silence can be unnerving to many folks.  Indeed, since it is such a long time, Taylor notes, it “means that it is also the first time some of us have found the entrance to the vast wilderness inside…They had no idea there was so much space inside of them.”  I have seen this happen to countless numbers of students.  I like the idea that there may be a vast wilderness inside each of us.  That resonates with me and, I believe, is probably true for most of us.
           
That also leads to Taylor’s other comment that we have a great deal of space inside us.  Again, I doubt that many folks live with this kind of awareness.  To think that I have so much space and that much of it may be wilderness may intimidate some.  However, I see it as a huge potential.  The wilderness is often wild.  But it can be tamed---or at least fashioned so that it lets you know that part of God that is not part of a theme-park spirituality.
           
The wilderness does not have to have monsters.  It simply means you have not explored it yet; you don’t know it yet.  More than likely it has treasures in store for you.  It is the land to travel through on your way to where God will want you to be.  It is a spiritual training camp or boot camp!
           
Silence is a good practice to pair with solitude.  If you can make it a discipline, then you can get to know that vast space within.  It suggests a more expansive way of experiencing God.  It is the place and space where the routine and normal are sidelined for novelty, freshness and spontaneity.  Remember, it was in the wilderness that God made the covenant with the people of God---the Jews and the Christians. 
           
Silence is the doorway into that world.  Go there often.  Be not afraid.  While you may not choose to live most of your life there, make friends with it and visit often.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hosted by a Monk

I recently was able to travel to Washington, DC for a speaking engagement.  I always enjoy a chance to visit our nation’s capital.  Every time I get within sight of the city, I get anxious to see the monuments that I know well.  Usually the first sight on the urban horizon is the Washington Monument.  As anyone knows who has been to DC, there are no skyscrapers.  The Washington Monument appears as a slender, white-yellowish structure reaching to the sky.  For me it is the signature piece of architecture in the city.
           
As I get within the city itself, I like to head to the Mall where the Monument stands.  Memories from my own life cascade through my mind.  No one my age can forget the marches of the 1960s that occurred on the Mall in DC.  There were countless anti-war rallies against our involvement in Vietnam.  Those were complex days.  We all knew friends who were soldiers in that far-away Asian country.  The deserved our support, regardless of how we felt about the war.
           
And no one can forget the famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered that August day in 1963.  Martin Luther King, Jr combined the witness again war and racism.  Those were my college years and life seemed complex.  It was.  Being in DC in those days was a good reminder of the nation’s past.  I could hear MLK, Jr.  And it was easy to link him and his words to the sixteenth president of the nation, Abraham Lincoln.  The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite one in DC.
           
That Memorial moves me every time I visit it.  While it is not a sacred site in the church-sense, it still has a kind of sacred feel every time I walk in to see it up close.  Anyone who has stood there looking at the figure of Lincoln cannot avoid those eyes.  They seem to look straight to my soul and ask if I am doing my part to make this land and this world better?  For me it is not simply a historical memorial site.
           
As I drove through the city on my recent visit, I did drive past the Lincoln Memorial.  I did not stop to visit, but I have been there so many times, I experienced the effects of a visit nevertheless.  And I drove on past the Washington Memorial and felt the gratitude for my good fortune to live in this country.  With that privilege, I believe, comes responsibility.
           
This trip through the city was not a tourist trek.  I was headed to the Benedictine monastery on the far northeast side of the city.  I had visited the monastery once before, but I never spent much time there.  I looked forward to spending a little more time there.  When I go to a Benedictine monastery, I both know what to expect and I expect to be surprised. 
           
I arrived shortly before noon.  Since they were expecting me, the woman at the reception desk said she would take me to my room.  I was at the monastery to speak to a gathering later in the afternoon and had planned to spend the night there.  As we walked down the hallway, we encountered Brother Isaiah, who was ready to take me to the second-floor room reserved for me.  But I interrupted his plans when I asked if there were a noon worship occasion.
           
He informed me Midday Prayers would start in 5 minutes.  I asked if we could first go there?  I could get to my room later.  So he and I twirled around and headed for the Chapel.  Someone new to the Benedictine monastery would not know that I already was experiencing a full dose of hospitality.  I knew Brother Isaiah was following the Rule of St. Benedict in receiving me and welcoming me into the community.  I know the sixth century Rule fairly well.  Chapter 53 of that Rule states, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ…”  Brother Isaiah had received me as if I were Jesus himself.  That’s powerful.
           
Middday Prayer last about twenty minutes.  Then Br. Isaiah led me to the Refectory (dining room) with the invitation that I could eat with the monks.  I had to smile.  I had barely been there a half hour and had worshipped and was now eating a splendid meal of salmon, etc.  Jesus would have been proud of his disciples!  I finished my meal and left to be by myself.
           
I realize almost no one who comes to DC knows about this monastery and wouldn’t care if they did know.  Most visitors are content with history---Washington, Lincoln, MLK, Jr and the rest.  The history is powerful and palpable.  But the monks are living it.  I realized they did not simply tell me some Jesus story.  They enacted it.  They welcomed me, shared with me, cared for me and made me feel as if I mattered.  I am sure this is what Jesus wants for every person on this earth.
           
The monks remind me I can do this, too.  I don’t have to be a monk to do it.  In fact, I can follow their lead as I am and where I am.  What if I were to receive every guest as if he or she were Christ?  If I did it and you did it, then the world would become a peaceful, loving place.  Hosted by a monk…to act like the monk. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Spiritual T Roads

I am assuming that most of us who have a driver’s license and have spent time behind the wheel know what a T road is.  I grew up in rural Indiana and it was not uncommon to be on a T road.  Pretty quickly you learn there are only two options---well at least two good ones!  I know I learned this lesson long before I was old enough to drive a car.  But then I also know I was driving tractors on the roads long before I was sixteen!  Now that I think about it, I am not sure anyone ever wondered if that were legal!

When I assume things, I always am prepared to be on guard that my assumptions may not be shared by all.  For example, I am not sure younger, urban drivers grow up learning about T roads.  Perhaps, they have never heard the phrase and have no clue what I mean.  So for their sake a T road is a road that dead-ends into a perpendicular road---forming a T, as it were.  When you are driving up the trunk of the “T,” you do dead end into the other road.  You have a choice to continue: go right or go left.

The nice thing about a “T” road is you are left with a choice.  You can continue; you can make progress.  Of course, you cannot keep going straight.  That road ends.  But you can make a turn and continue.  Obviously, that is why a “T” road is not the same thing as a dead end road.  I am sure we have all seen those signs along the way.  When you turn down one of these roads and get to the end, it is the end!  No further progress is possible.  Only going backwards is possible.

As I was walking one day, I realized that my spiritual journey has had both dead ends and spiritual “T” roads.  I was drawn to think about the spiritual “T” roads.  The first thing occurring to me is the fact that I almost never knew in the beginning that I was on a “T” road.  I laughed at this insight.  As I thought back, I don’t recall every seeing a sign at the beginning of a road that said, “T” road.  Of course, it always did at the end---right before the “T” road.  No doubt, the same thing holds true for spiritual “T” roads.  We usually are on one before we realize it is a “T” road.

Theoretically, this is not a problem.  It will not stop us.  It will change our course.  I think I can offer my own example of prayer.  I suspect this may resonate with a number of people.  In the beginning of my spiritual journey, prayer seemed rather easy and often fulfilling.  I was eager to do it and there was a satisfaction in doing it and some spiritual fruit from having done it.  I did not realize it, but I had entered a spiritual “T” road.  Maybe if I had read enough, I might have suspected this might be the case.  But I was na├»ve.

But that was ok.  I was on the journey and that was a very good thing.  There was spiritual movement and growth and that, too, was a very good thing.  Indeed, a spiritual journey is a journey.  It is not an event.  In most cases it is not a race and certainly not a sprint.  I had every reason to hope it would be a lifelong journey.  So I was not thinking about “T” roads and clearly not worried about it.

Normally, spiritual “T” roads don’t have signs as clearly as the ones that marked those rural Indiana roads.  And sometimes you cannot see a spiritual “T” road as clearly as you could see the approaching “T” option on the literal Indiana road.  My prayer life came to its “T” more gradually and slowly emerged into my consciousness.  At some point I realized much of the satisfaction had gone out of my prayer.  It felt like I was forcing it rather than embracing it.  What had once been fulfilling was leaving me less and less touched.  I had come to a “T.”

That meant I needed to find a different way to move ahead.  It did not mean the former prayer life was bad.  It was just the end---the end of the road.  It had brought me so far.  It was time to turn right or left.  It was time to find a different form of prayer.  Or it was time to find a different way of doing a similar kind of prayer.  There were a variety of very good options.

I realized, however, that many of us get stuck at the “T.”  It’s not as simple as driving a car, turning the wheel and giving it the gas again!  In that case the car is doing all the work.  In the case of prayer it seems like I am doing all the work.  I am sure God graces us, but usually God does not grace us automatically when we some to that spiritual “T.”  And I am not sure honking the horn is going to move God to start gracing.

God knows we have options and good possibilities.  Spiritual journeys require that we grow up and develop.  I suspect the spiritual “T” often hastens this developmental process.  Maybe spiritual journeys are a “go and grow” process!  For myself I know attitude has a great deal to do with it.  It is not a hardship.  It is not a dead end.  If I can be patient, I am thankful for the options and possibilities.  I can choose.  I can develop.  I can grow into the fullness of life that God has in store for me.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

When Dreams Die

If we have even a little awareness, we realize we don’t live in paradise. Only two people ever did and they blew it!  And now the rest of us are living East of Eden, as John Steinbeck put it.  In fact that big book of his is a wonderful literary narrative of what life outside of paradise is really like.  I know I have enough awareness to realize my life is not paradise and no one I know has paradise life either.
           
I know how to talk about paradise—at least from a biblical perspective. I have studied the text of the first two chapters of Genesis enough to know what it means and the story it is meant to convey.  I have spent enough time with the third chapter of Genesis to have a sense of what Adam and Even were up to when their relationship with God went south.  Without going into any details, let simply say God had a dream for Adam, Eve and all their descendants—right down to you and me. But the dream ended badly.
           
Of course, there still are good things happening in life.  My own life has had more than its share of good things and good fortune.  While I would not claim it is a dream, I have been more fortunate than most.  Having said that, however, does not mean there have not been pitfalls and bad breaks.  I have been down, but never out.  While my life has not been a dream, most of the time I have avoided hell.  But I know this is not true for others.
           
It seems with regularity people wander into my life who want to talk about their broken dreams.  Some even feel like they are living a nightmare.  And for all intents and purposes, they are.  I can even agree that some of them have been to hell and back.  And some seem actually to be lingering or are stuck in hell.  In my theology hell is not for eternity, but quite frankly any time spent there is bad news.  And so I try to help folks.
           
My good friend, even though she is relatively young, volunteers for hospice.  She is clear she has a ministry and has some gifts she is willing to share.  I know she has been a blessing to countless folks as they face their last days here on earth.  Working in hospice has the advantage of knowing the end is near and knowing you are not going to change the ending that death brings.  Hospice is not selling the dream of avoiding death and having life, as you knew it back again.
           
And so I have been thinking about dreams.  Typically, dreams are a good thing.  Dreams are about the future---normally a good, positive future.  No one sits around dreaming about getting cancer or going financially broke.  We might fear those things; we might have nightmares about them.  But we don’t dream about them.  We have dreams for good things, for better things, etc.  And those dreams are great. 
           
Usually dreams foster hopes.   And they energize us.  Dreams can make us eager.  We can have dreams with other folks involved.  Lovers dream of a life together.  Spiritual groups, like churches, can have dreams of what is in store for them and what they can do together.  In fact I have often found that I like being part of a group that has dreams even more than my own personal dreams.  It is so much fun to be part of a group that has big things going on.  Dream on…
             
As I think further into the matter, I do believe we can do some things to make our dreams more viable.  There are some things we can do that enhance the possibility that our dream (a future thing) can come to be true.  Dreams do come true.  Sometimes I can work hard on my dreams.  As a spiritual person, I can ask God to be part of my dream and to help actualize it.  Often other people can be drawn into the mix.  If we are lucky, we have many resources.  And that’s good!
           
Sadly, there are times when dreams die.  Because dreams are possibilities, they come with no guarantee.  Dreams foster hope, but our hope may be frustrated and, eventually, exhausted.  Dreams can die.  Sometimes dreams die, even if we did nothing to kill them off.  What can we do if and when our dreams die?   Is it all over?
           
This is precisely where faith comes in.  Faith is what gives rise to dreams and faith is still there if the dream dies.  The death of a dream is not death!  Dreams die, but we live.  This is the bottom line.  And the bottom line---our life---is where we cultivate faith and seek to make our faith stronger as we grow and develop.  The kind of faith I am talking about is faith in God.
           
If I have faith and a strong faith in God, then I am going to be well regardless.  My faith is the source appreciation of the present and my confidence in the future.  And my faith in God allows me to cherish my dreams when I have them.  And that faith preserves me when my dreams die.  Dreams die; faith never does.     

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Joy of Love

The title of this inspirational piece is the translation of the Latin title of Pope Francis’ latest pronouncements.  He issued Amoris Laetitia to address issues of family and related topics.  The apostolic exhortation, as the document is called, is the conclusion of a process that began a couple years ago.  Through the process there were two synods or meetings of Catholic leaders to consider these various topics.
           
I followed both of these synods somewhat closely, so much of the new apostolic exhortation is not new.  Some of the material was first published in one of the synod summaries after those historic meetings.  Of course, there was a great deal of discussion---agreeing and disagreeing with the Pope---during the synod process.  And now that the apostolic exhortation has appeared, that same range of response is evident.
           
I had read a fair amount of preliminary conversation about the upcoming release of the document before it had even been released.  So I felt conversant with what the issues would likely be.  What no one knew for sure is the positions the Pope would lay out in this document.  So when it finally arrived, I eagerly downloaded it so I could speed read through the whole document.  And then, I would slow down and work my way through the thing in order to get a real feeling for the issues and how they would be addressed by the Catholic Church.
           
When I logged on to get the thing, downloaded it and then opened it, I gasped a bit.  My copy was over 300 pages in length.  Of course, the text did not fit the whole page, so I figured if I re-formatted it, it would probably still be 150 or more pages.  It was not going to be a quick read.  And I will admit I am still working through it in a more painstaking fashion.  I want to be informed and I want to be able be conversant with the details when called upon to discuss it.
           
So I will share my impressions and my perspective on things.  Since it is such a big and significant document, I want to return to it from time to time with the hope that others can benefit from my reading and reflection.  My first impression is appreciation for what the Pope is saying.  Clearly, he is going to be criticized from many different angles.  But some things seem patently obvious as I read it.
           
My first impression is how invitational the tone of the document is.  While the Pope is still saying things and holding positions I would not hold, I find him inviting of all folks to engage the Spirit, who, I am confident, the Pope thinks is very much active in our world.  Of course, there are still some points in the document where it feels like we are being told what to do, nevertheless the tone of the exhortation is invitational.
           
A big reason this is true is due to the Pope wanting his clerical leaders and lay folks alike to be pastoral.  He resonates with my own tradition when it seems he is putting experience to the forefront.  For example, worship is not a bunch of ideas being celebrated on Sunday morning.  Worship is an experience of a living encounter with the God who created us and wants a great deal from us.  And worship is a communal experience where all of us are drawn together into a big family of God.  We are invited into this experience.
           
The next observation I had of the document was how inclusive it sought to be.  I know some may not feel this as strongly as I do, but I was impressed by the Pope’s sincere appeal to include folks who had previously been marginalized.  I feel confident he has a vision of the church that is more inclusive, more sensitive and more loving than many of the actual churches we all know.  I know the Pope is not changing some doctrine that many Catholics and others very much want.  But I also think he feels the church is bigger than doctrine.  He is making progress.  I agree the Catholic Church is not yet where I want to see it, but I am not a member of that church, so it is not my decision.
           
The final observation I have of the Pope’s hopes is the strong feeling that he wants to integrate the ones he includes and the ones he invites into the family of God.  He is pushing out further the borders and boundaries of the church.  He wants it to be bigger, wider, more understanding, more tolerant and then some.  He wants leaders to apply love rather than always the rule.  It seems to me he is leaving room for individual conscience.
           
I do not think for a moment the Pope simply chose randomly some kind of nice title for this apostolic exhortation.  I am confident the title was carefully selected.  The title is itself a powerful message and pointer to all he considers important: the joy of love.  The operative principle of joy in the life of the spiritual person is love.  In one sense the Pope joins the gospel writer, John, in positing only one rule: the rule of love. 
           
This is an apostolic exhortation.  Each of us---and all of us, Catholic and beyond---is enjoined to love and to love boldly.  Invite, include and integrate all those whom you love into the one big family of God.  That’s the call; now heed the call.