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Showing posts from May, 2016

The God Who Is…

It is probably not surprising that my mind and reflections are focused on the weekend spent with a group of friends in a Trappist monastery nestled in the hills of Kentucky.  It is also not surprising to know my friends are what make the whole adventure worth the effort.  And there was some effort.  A long drive, some thunder and lightening, etc. is not what one relishes!  But I can imagine the monks say, “God provides liberally!”  Some God!

It was not the rain, even though I have seen the monastery in rainy weather and even in snow. The weather does not bother the monks.  It is part of life---part of God’s creation.  But most of all in that kind of setting, weather revels---the monastery is set in a lovely natural area.

It reveals there is a nature in which we all live, move, and have our being…and seldom pay much attention.  Most of the time, we hop in cars, windows tightly protecting us from the elements, noise, and “otherness” of our world, and ride away.  Somehow being in a mona…

Memorial Day: Re-Membering

Memorial Day---or better, yet, Memorial Day weekend---is a complex holiday.  That does not make it anything less than other major holidays; it is just different.  It seems that the federal holiday has its origins right after the Civil War.  It was an opportunity to remember those Union soldiers who had died in that cause.  Gradually, the “remembering” expanded to include all the men and women who had died in the service of their country.
Earlier it often was called Decoration Day.  I heard this term most of the time when I was growing up in rural Indiana.  I understood it as the time when the old people went to the cemeteries to “decorate” with flowers the graves of their family and friends.  I knew it had some military association, but by my lifetime, the holiday again had expanded to include everyone who had already passed away.  But it was more complex than that.
For many people Memorial Day celebrates the beginning of summer.  That association with summer helps if it hits 90 degr…

Education and Transformation

I once heard Richard Rohr, one of my favorite contemporary speakers and writers on spirituality, utter a significant line.  He said, “Don’t confuse education with transformation.”  That was one of those moments when I gasped and thought, “Exactly!”  Let me detail that “exactly.”  I do that as one who has been in education for much of my career and care deeply about education.  So the last thing I would say is that I am against education.  To the contrary, education is crucial in this generation and for every successive generation.

I also think there is a real need for education in religious and spiritual circles.  Frequently, I cringe at the ignorance and sometimes stupidity otherwise smart women and men utter in the name of religion.  Of course, I recognize at one point we all start out in ignorance.  We all were little babies!  Once I did not know anything.  But I have learned some things.  In religion, however, learning is tricky.  Not all learning is equal.

I want to put spiritual…

Legacy

Even to think about, much less write about, legacy betrays my age.  No sixteen year-old is thinking about legacy.  They probably don’t even know what the word means.  Legacy means to get something from someone.  Typically, it means some kind of inheritance.  It can be used to talk about what people left to you when they died or when whatever they were doing is finished.  Legacy means, on the other side of the coin, what we leave behind when it is all over or when we die.

It tends to be part of the discussion when people talk about making wills.  The lawyer will ask to whom the property will go?  Are you going to give it all to the kids or share some with churches, colleges, etc.?  Of course, if you are dirt poor, this discussion never happens.  Poverty is your financial legacy.

Fortunately, the idea of legacy pertains to things other than money and property.  In fact, I would argue the more important legacies have little or nothing to do with economic worth.  Legacies have to do with …

The Power of Three Letters

The English alphabet contains 26 letters.  Virtually all English words are made up of some combination of these letters. Most of the time when we are speaking or, even, reading, we give no thought to this.  But if we slow down to think about it, human language---English or any other language---is fascinating.  It is amazing to think that we now operate with a set number of letters.  And that a vast array of words is made of various combinations of letters.

At least one English word comes from a single letter. When I self-identify, I use a single letter, “I,” and we all know I mean “me.”  In Greek it takes three letters, “ego,” and in German it takes three, “ich.”  At the other end, we know there are some English words that require many letters.  There was one long word most of us kids learned that I think may have been 28 letters, but I never bothered to check!

I have been thinking about three letter words.  I have no idea how many three- letter words there are in the English language…

From View to Review

One of the things I routinely do is review new books for a publishing house dedicating to making these reviews available to the reading public.  Of course, I am not the only reviewer.  In fact, I have no clue how many reviewers there are.  I review new religion books.  And of course, I only do certain kinds of books.  I am willing to review books that deal with the New Testament, the history of Christianity and contemporary spirituality.  I am not an expert in Buddhist studies or Islamic philosophy, so even the books I review have a narrower range than you might expect.

It is something I have done for a long time now.  It does take time to read a book and then think about it long enough to write a cogent review that might help some reader decide whether they want to buy that book.  I take seriously the charge I have been given.  If I write a lousy review on some book, the author of that book is going to suffer on book sales.  In many cases I don’t know the author, but I am influencin…

The Yearning Spirit

As I try to do every day, this morning I turned to the lectionary reading for some reflection time.  The lectionary is a daily selection of Biblical readings.  It is constructed around the day monks live.  So there are readings for morning and a series of other times throughout the day, culminating with some that monks do before retiring for the night.  I certainly do not do all of them

Given the way my day typically is structured, I more likely look at the morning readings or the evening ones.  Every session has some readings from the Psalms.  I appreciate this since in my growing up years---even in the Quaker context---we were seldom exposed to the Psalms.  Like many I memorized Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd…”  Beyond that, I would not have known there are 150 Psalms and would not have much of an idea what is to be found there.

So reading the lectionary regularly has afforded me the opportunity to be with the Psalms on a consistent basis.  I still feel like I don’t know them w…

An Uncommon Life

Rather casually I opened the website to a weekly periodical I read.  It is one of those things I read just because I want to know what is going on in that particular world of religion.  I never go to it knowing what is in it.  And I scan almost all the titles and, then, read a few of them.  It is one of the things I enjoy doing.  I am not doing it for any special end.

And so it was this time when I opened it.  Almost immediately, my eyes were drawn to a photo.  I was taken aback because I recognized one of the two men in the photo.  It is not someone I know real well, so I had to read the caption below the photo to be sure.  And it was the guy I know.  It was Michael McGregor.  I would not expect anyone reading this to know whom Michael McGregor is.

I met Michael at a conference on the monk, Thomas Merton, about whom I write so much.  Even though Merton died a half century ago, his writings still have a significant influence around the world---literally in all corners of our globe.  …

Learning from the Jesuits

There are sophisticated ways of putting it, but in simpler terms we are formed and influenced by those with whom we hang out.  Our friends form us into who we are.  I suspect that most people use the term, friendship, too loosely these days.  Some claim to have more than five hundred Facebook friends!  That’s ok; I don’t want to engage that issue.

What I do want to suggest, however, is not all my friends---and perhaps, your friends, too---are living.  I have quite a few friends who are only friends to me because of their books that I read and cherish.  Some of these friends are very old.  Actually, some of them pre-date Jesus himself!  But they influence me and have formed me into the person I am today.

That does not discount the formation I experienced at the hands of my parents and grandparents.  It does not belittle the incredible formation of early grade school teachers and professors in my graduate program.  I will always be grateful for the many friends I had along the way---tho…

Godspell as Transformative Experience

There are a few journals and things I routinely read.  They inform me of things happening that I probably would not know about until much later.  And they touch on subjects I likely would have said have no interest for me and I get interested!  They alert me to things that I want to pursue---perhaps a book to read or a person to meet.  These things are like regular friends to me.

One of the pieces I read on a regular basis is the National Catholic Reporter.  I know its reputation as a liberal Catholic periodical, but that does not bother me.  I am not reading it for the particular political perspective.  I read it because it helps me stay in touch with people and things in the Catholic world.  The Catholic world is personally interesting to me.  And I figure, any group with over one billion people is worth charting.  I keep up with China and India, too!

Recently, I was drawn to an article entitled, “Author traces lives touched by ‘Godspell,’” by Retta Blaney.  I never heard of Blaney …

Pentecost: the Church’s Birthday

Yesterday was the Christian Church’s birthday.  Maybe “birthday” is not a good descriptor, but it gives you the idea.  Pentecost is a Greek word meaning “fifty.”  Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter.  Since Easter was so late this year in the calendar, Pentecost also has come late.

Pentecost commemorates the post-Easter gift of the Holy Spirit on the early Christian disciples.  Essentially, the New Testament texts for this major Christian day are Acts 2 and John 20.  The gift of the Spirit is about the only thing the two texts have in common.  The more well known of the two biblical texts is Acts.  In that account the disciples are gathered in an Upper Room and the Spirit comes upon the believers like a fire and they speak in a variety of tongues (languages).

The Holy Spirit is the key to their beginning ministry in the world, just as it was for Jesus.  In one sense, the presence of the Spirit on one’s life is a way of understanding God to be present in one’s life.  With this Divi…

Crucible of the Spirit

I try to make sure I spend a little time each day outside.  It was easy when I was growing up on a farm.  Much of that life was spent outside.  In those days even the time on the tractor was outside---exposed to nature.  I know that is probably not good, given the health issues.  I can appreciate modern tractors and combines with their cabs, radios, etc.  As a boy, I leaned to “read nature.”

I learned things like prevailing winds and the clouds that would bring rain and clouds that did not.  I learned to smell the rain and deal with the snow.  I appreciated the seasons.  In an odd way I liked learning from the tough times that nature could deliver---wet springs, dry summers, cold winters.  Extreme and excess can teach us a great deal.  Life is easy when things are going well and there are no hardships. 

As life unfolded for me, I chose things that kept me inside much of the time.  That continues even to this day.  There are rare occasions that call for me to do my profession outside…

Affirmation

I recently received a very nice and extended thank you for a seminar I had led.  I am not sure it is fair to say I taught it, although I suspect that is what many folks who attended would have said.  I suspect that is what they would say because I am a college professor and when we show up, the assumption is made that we’ll teach something.  I don’t have trouble with that, although I don’t agree with it.  I think it is better to say I helped people learn some things that day.

Too often, the assumption is made that if I teach something, someone has learned it.  Of course, sometimes that is true.  I am sure I have taught many people---students mostly---many things over the decades.  I am also convinced that many times I taught things to people and they did not learn anything.  It was a good thing for me to realize that just because I taught something did not necessarily mean it was learned.  And surely, if grades mean anything, not everybody learns the same thing.  I have had students wh…

Sleep

If you were to ask students about me, I am confident one thing they would tell you is I like words.  And they would be correct.  I have been fascinated by words---probably since I began speaking.  Even though I have learned a few languages, I have never studied in an academic philosophical way the nature of language.  Maybe some day I will do that.  In the meantime, I continue my fascination with words and, by extension, with phrases and sentences. 

Of course, part of the early fascination with words was the discovery that there were different languages.  Although I was pretty provincial, early on I was aware there were some people who spoke “a strange language.”  There was a stream of annual migrant workers who came through my part of Indiana in the middle of the summer.  They would pick tomatoes before moving on north to Michigan for the fruit season.  Sadly, I was isolated from these folks, but I was exposed enough to know they normally did not speak English.  And if they did, they…

Enough

Not all words are created equal.  Some words don’t do too much in a sentence.  Other words are profound and some are even magical.  For example, if you tell someone you love them, that becomes a momentous declaration that can literally change their lives.  One word---love---can transform someone and have a lasting effect for fifty or more years.  It would be hard to overestimate how much has been written over the centuries about this word.

I think of another word.  I have often been intrigued by the word “enough.”  It certainly does not have the impact or fame of the word, love.  But it is an important word.  And it has spiritual connotations, which we will soon note.  The word, enough, has a wide range of references.  It pertains to many areas of our lives.

Oddly, when folks who have enough rarely think about the word.  In almost every category I fit into that group of folks.  When you are fortunate or, even, lucky, you don’t even have to think about it.  And too often, you don’t even…

Eco Crisis

I am fascinated by titles.  Book titles and titles for articles play a significant role.  They are revelations of what the reader might find if they were to read the book or article.  Sometimes I find titles are quite accurate.  They deliver what they promised.  Other times, I feel like titles are misleading.  They could be a kind of marketing---luring the reader to buy the book, but inside the book I find disappointing material.  Coming up with titles for my own books and articles is not easy.  Perhaps that is why I appreciate titles so much.

Recently, I saw a title that linked the eco crisis to an ego crisis.  I thought that was brilliant!  Immediately, I was drawn to read the text.  I assumed, correctly, that the phrase, eco crisis, referred to what more normally is discussed as the global warming problem.  I know there have been many debates about the reality of the climate challenge ahead of us this century.  I admit that I am persuaded by the scientists who point to the evidence …

Creation and Incarnation

There are some writers who are so clear in what they say, we always come away edified.  One such writer for me is Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest who directs a Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have read a number of Rohr’s books and use a couple in my classes.  However, I have only heard him speak one time.  That was a series of three lectures and they were quite instructive.

One line he used at that time I still remember.  Rohr said, “The incarnation happened at the Big Bang!  Jesus just personalized the incarnation.”  When he said that, immediately I wrote it down, which is why I can recall it today.  At the time I also remember how much that one-liner resonated with me.  It resonated in my gut as a true feeling.  And it resonated in my head as a good expression of the theology I would espouse.  Let me unpack the one-liner.

The first thing to be noticed is how the one-liner ties together the twin ideas of creation and incarnation.  For those who m…

Friends On Earth

Recently I had a speaking opportunity with an organization I have known for decades.  It is a Quaker group that gathers annually.  Typically, there are a couple speakers and that was the role to which I had been invited.  Earlier in my career, this was a group I would have visited every year they gather.  On most of those occasions, I would not have been the speaker, but I did get to know many of the folks.

Of course, over time many of the ones I would have known have moved or died.  And over time many new faces have moved into the area or simply have joined that Quaker gang.  So there were more faces I did not know that I could claim I knew.  That is a good thing!  But I also was more than happy to be back where some old friendships were rekindled, if only for a short period of time.  It led me to think about friendship, one of my favorite themes.

I have thought a great deal about friendship and have read much over the years.  And anyone my age clearly has had many friends.  Unfortu…

Relief

Recently some things were happening that nobody would put in the “fun” category. I did not feel particularly oppressed nor unfortunate. Everyone I know has days and even periods of time when things don’t go as well as we would want. In fact, some times are down right difficult. Life is not perfect---whatever perfect might mean. Think of the metaphors we use for life. “Life is a roller coaster” is a good place to start!

“Life has its ups and downs” is what I heard from my earliest days on the farm. Occasionally, I heard people use a baseball metaphor. Life was like being in the batter’s box. That is an interesting image, since successful baseball hitters fail seven out of ten times! Frequently I would hear someone say, “that was a curve ball.” I played enough baseball to know hitting a curve ball is not easy. In fact that lack of being able to hit the curve probably is what ended my baseball career!

I have thought a great deal about life. Being on a spiritual journey means by definition …