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Showing posts from July, 2016

Naming Rights

Recently, my attention has been drawn to the issue of naming rights.On a college campus naming rights are often at issue when a new building is built.The question is whether someone will donate enough money to earn the right to have the building named after him or her.In most cases this is going to cost the person or couple millions of dollars.I have mixed feelings about this.In some cases it certainly is a way to honor someone.In other cases however I am not so happy that someone basically gives enough money to have his or her name go on a building.Clearly, it is a time-honored way to raise money.
Another place where names play a part on a college campus is with respect to endowed chairs.I have one myself.My position at the university was funded in a generous way by the couple for whom it is named and their friends.The interest from that pool of money pays my salary and other expenses.I am the lucky recipient of this largesse. I am not sure I can argue this is ok and naming a buildin…

Thank You

It is such a simple phrase: thank you.Two small words can say so much.In many cases they are a gift in return for a gift.As I began to think about this simple phrase, thank you, I realized again how important it is.Furthermore, I realize it is also a potential sacred experience.That was more than I ever imagined.
I have been saying thank you for decades.As I remember my youth, my parents and, especially my dad, were really insistent that I learn to say thank you.I am not sure what was behind his burn for me to learn and practice this habit.I wish I had asked him that question.For some reason it was very important to him.So I dutifully learned to say it.I internalized the act of saying thanks and it became a habit.In my mind I am pretty good at it. I would like to look at the phrase and the action from a couple perspectives.The first perspective knows that saying thank you is a social grace.I know my dad would say that is how we respond to people when they have given us something or ha…

Live Our Theology

I just finished a remarkable book.  Christopher Pramuk, a theologian who teaches at Xavier, wrote about the theology of Thomas Merton, my favorite monk of the last century.  Pramuk’s book is entitled, Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.  The book is not an easy go.  While it has the hallmarks of a doctoral dissertation, it is very articulate.  It is tough going because it brings in significant amounts of rather sophisticated theology.

Many people in the church would not know what the term, Sophia, means.  That is the Greek word for “wisdom.”  Sophia plays a role in both testaments of the Christian Bible.  In most cases the word would be translated “Wisdom.”  Even though I know Merton’s writings fairly well, Pramuk was able to lift out ideas and analyze them in fresh ways that I found exciting.  Part of the fascination, of course, is my own love of Merton.

He was a remarkable man and monk.  His life pilgrimage into faith is an intriguing story in itself.  Born in France to par…

Queen for a Day

In the mid 1950s there was a radio and tv show called “Queen for a Day.”  I don’t remember too much about it, but do recall the basic thrust.  It was part of that era’s fascination with game shows.  Often there was a pot of money or some other big prize to win.  That show usually had mostly women contestants and, I suspect, a bigger female audience.

The host of the show would begin by asking, “would you like to be queen for a day?”  Of course, the answer would be affirmative.  And then the host would interview the various contestants and at the end of the show the audience would vote one of them to be queen for a day.  I don’t recall many details. But it often was true the stories of the women contestants were sad and touching.

This reminds me of another show at the same time period, namely, The Millionaire.  In this show unsuspecting people were give a million dollars (a huge sum in 1950s currency) and see how a fortune changed lives for better or for worse.  That show had an amazin…

Serendipity Suffers

I read a fairly wide range of things throughout my day.  But one staple is the morning newspaper.  I am one of the old-fashioned people who like to have the physical newspaper in hand.  Every morning I make a trek to the store for a cup of coffee and the daily newspaper.  It is usually early in the morning, so it is quiet and, during much of the year, still dark.  It is a special time.

Sometime when I begin reading something, I think I might get an idea or be inspired for one of these inspirational pieces.  Other things I read, I have little expectation that something significant will appear.  For example, I like to begin reading the sports page.  I will even read an article about a game I may have seen the day before on tv!  Another thing I will do is read the whole paper.  Perhaps this stems from my early days when this was the way we were informed about our world.  Certainly, the internet has changed that and I am active on the web.  But I also am a throwback.

So it was that I sett…

Loveable Losers

The title for this inspirational piece must seem a little strange.  Why write about losers?  I would agree that winning seems preferable.  I done both in my life and I do prefer winning.  It is more fun.  I got the title from the two words embedded in the middle of a quaint article.  It is in one of the online resources I routinely read simply because there is usually interesting stuff there.  I was not disappointed.

The resource is actually a national Catholic magazine that I read online.  So you can imagine that I was a little surprised when I read the headline, “What I learned about life playing center for the Cubs.”  The Chicago Cubs, I wondered.  Indeed, as the first sentence revealed.  The author, Michael Leach, says, “When I was a kid in the 1950s, all I wanted to be was center fielder for the Chicago Cubs.”  I was right---it was about the Cubs!  But I did not recognize Leach’s name, even though we have to be approximately the same age.  I don’t know all major league baseball p…

Present and Future

An unlikely source of spiritual inspiration, we might assume, would be alumni magazines.  My immediate family of four has access to quite a few of them, since the four of us hold multiple degrees from various institutions of higher education.  The range is from smaller, college-related institutions to larger public research institutions.  Of course, there is a great deal of commonality to these magazines.  And there also are significant particularities because no institution is just like another.

I was reading a recent edition of a magazine and landed on the column written by the president.  I am sure it was the title that caught my attention: “An Invincible Spirit.”  I like Harvard’s President, Drew Faust, although I have never met her.  By training she is an historian.  So I was not too surprised to find the article made use of some history.  But the content was a surprise.

The article gave considerable attention to Harvard’s decision to reinstate ROTC.  Harvard had discontinued ROT…

Happy to Serve

Richard Rohr is one of my favorite authors.  The Franciscan heads us a Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque.  I have met him a couple times, but cannot call him a friend.  I have used his books in my classes and students generally find his thinking to be challenging and rewarding.  Since he is about my age, I know we have shared similar time frameworks, even though we have negotiated those from different perspectives.  I read him regularly.

Recently he posted a piece that had an initial line that riveted me.  Rohr said, “The only happy people I have ever met are those who have found some way to serve.”  I almost laughed out loud, not because I thought it was funny, so much as I found it such a bold statement.  I certainly know many people who have served and who are happy.  But I was not sure the bold statement from Rohr was fully accurate in my experience.  Sure, I thought, there must be some people who serve and who are sad?  And surely, there are happy people who have…

Mercy of Obligation

In a busy day which involved interaction with a few, separate friends of mine, it hit me that I am obligated in some interesting ways.  I never thought about obligation in the fashion I would like to lay out in this reflective piece.  Normally, I don’t think much about obligations.  I would confess it is not even a word that I like that much.  Maybe that stems from my Quaker suspicion of authority.  Too often, authorities put us under obligation.  Erroneously perhaps, I have tended to equate obligation with orders from somebody!

I welcome a chance to think afresh about obligation.  And when I attach the word, mercy, with obligation, it really does take on a different hue.  No longer does obligation suggest rules, orders and unwilling obedience.  With mercy attached to it, obligation becomes invitational and hopeful.  I realize not only do I oblige; I do it willingly and happily.

When I think about the word, obligation, it is easy to see the relational aspect.  If I am obligated to you…

A Culture of Caring

I pay much more attention to the theme of culture than I used to.This signifies that I recognize how important culture is.Of course, culture has always been important, but I did not recognize how important it is.Culture is important for high performing teams.And clearly, the reverse is also true.Culture is important for low performing teams.
Culture is not inherently a spiritual issue.But it can and does become involved in the spiritual dimension when that dimension is present.There is a huge amount of scholarship about culture.It is a concern in various departments on a college campus---sociology, business, history and so on.But I am not interested in the scholarly, formal definitions of culture.I prefer to use a simple definition. Culture is how people think, feel, and act alone and when they are together.Groups of all kinds have culture; it is impossible not to have a culture.Teams, churches, businesses, sororities, etc. all have some kind of culture. However, most of us live in a …

Morning of Expectations

Many of us like typologies or stereotypes, as we often call them.  For example, some of us claim to be introverts and others clearly are extroverts.  I belong to the former introvert category.  Of course, most of us have a touch of both within ourselves.  But one tends to be the dominant type.  Being an introvert means that most of us need some time by ourselves to recharge our batteries.  I know that I need some regular time alone.  I like being with people, but at some point I look for some solitude.  Extroverts are different.  Being with people charges their batteries.

Another, less scientific typology is the morning vs. night person.  Again, I feel very clear that I am naturally a morning person.  Maybe that is due, in part, to growing up on a farm---a dairy farm no less.  But I have always favored the morning hours.  Even when I don’t have to get up early, it is difficult for me to stay in bed.  Once I wake up, I am ready to hit the floor and get going.  Of course, the other end …

Spiritual Truths

No one ever makes it to adulthood alone.  For many of us, our first shapers were our parents.  And then, there were teachers, friends and sometimes even a few enemies.  A number of times I have been through an exercise to recall important, formative members of my past.  It is an easy list to pull out of my memory.  Because I am getting older, many of the names on my list are now dead.  But that does not mean their influence necessarily stopped.

Some of the people who have had a formative role in my life are people I never met.  Again, some of them are deceased.  In fact, some have been dead for centuries.  I think of people like the Apostle Paul, Augustine, and the Buddha.  Others died much more recently.  Here I think of people like Thomas Merton, my favorite monk, and Thomas Kelly, one of my favorite Quakers whom I never met.  Their writings played a key role in my spiritual development.

And then, there are the people who have influenced me and who still are living.  Because they s…

A Listening Ear

Some things in life are so simple, it is easy to overlook their importance.Most of these simple things nearly everyone knows, but not everyone does them.I am sure that is why when someone does a simple thing, it can seem so profound. They are usually free of cost and make a situation better and, often, more pleasant.Recently, I experienced one of these simple things.In this case I happened to be on the doing end of the action.
I call this simple thing offering a listening ear.Obviously, that is not a profound description.Nearly everyone can hear.Most of us don’t think this is special.Unaware we pronounce hearing cannot be special if everyone does it.At one level, this is true.Except for the person who is deaf, hearing is no big deal.We hear all sorts of things every day of our lives.In fact, hearing is so present in life, we give it no thought. However, spiritual sages through the ages know there is a difference between hearing and listening.Listening presupposes that we hear, but lis…

The Living God

In some recent reading I ran across a reference and quotation from one of my teachers in graduate school.Just seeing his name made me smile.Raimon Panikkar was an intriguing guy for an Indiana farm boy to encounter.His class was an amazing experience, but he may have taught me even more by being himself.Panikkar was born in 1918 in Barcelona, Spain.His father was from India and was Hindu.Panikkar’s mother was a Spanish Catholic from Catalonia.Obviously, he was quickly into the interfaith movement!And this he began teaching me, even when I did not have that language.

He looked like his Indian father.He was a small man with a graceful presence that calmed every room I saw him walk into.He had a charming smile that would have disarmed any malcontent.But it was his brilliance that I found arresting.That is not to say he was strong and arrogant.To the contrary, he was entirely humble and simple.He had doctorate degrees in science and theology.He was an ordained Catholic priest.
For a few y…

God in Here

I appreciate how stories are good teachers---sometimes, the best teachers.Stories usually are understandable and when they make a point, it is clear and memorable.I thought about this as I was recently reading a piece by Richard Rohr, one of my favorite writers on spirituality.Rohr’s story comes from a time when he was spending a little time at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trapppist monastery where Thomas Merton lived.
Rohr talks about his encounter with a recluse.As Rohr explains, a recluse is a “hermit’s hermit.”A recluse is a monk who has been given permission to move outside the monastery itself.Often in this stage the monk is called a hermit.Toward the end of his life, Merton was given permission to become a hermit. Merton built a small hermitage about a mile from the monastery at Gethsemani.I have visited the hermitage and easily can imagine living there.It is more than ample space for one person.It was this hermitage which Rohr was visiting.The thing about becoming a hermit is…