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A Different Noah

The most famous Noah surely is the biblical Noah.  Noah is the biblical figure we meet in the early chapters of Genesis.  Because of the rampant sin around the world, God is ready to deal with the problem.  For some reason Noah found favor in God’s sight.  So Noah becomes the first savior of the world.  Most folks know the story about God telling Noah to build the ark.  Doubtlessly, this is one of the earliest stories we learn if we attended Sunday School.  I have seen countless little kids make some kind of ark.  Some of them do not look trustworthy on the high seas.  But Noah and his kin survive.  We know the story of the dove returning with the olive leaf, which is the sign that Noah can disembark from the ark and begin normal life.

In my lifetime Noah has not been a popular name.  I have only known a very few.  Growing up in school I don’t think I knew one kid named Noah.  When I lived in Indiana, I had an older friend named Noah.  That Noah would not have been one God would have c…

A Look at Belonging

I was looking at a recent journal for alums, which came from one of the institutions I attended.  This one was from Harvard Divinity School.  The Seminary was a very good next step for me when I was finished with my undergraduate degree.  Clearly it has world-class resources---more resources than I ever had have since being there.  One of the most amazing resources was the group of people with whom I associated.  Being an Indiana farm boy, that experience at Harvard was a growing, stretching time.  It helped me become the person I am. 

When I look at a journal from my alma mater---whether it be undergraduate or graduate institutions---I have some interest about what’s going on and what kind of work is being done.  Of course, it has been so long since I was in school, all the actors are different.  Some of them I know because I have met them along the way, but most of the faculty and staff are not people I know.  A person who fits this category is the Dean of Harvard’s Divinity School,…

Revisiting Noah Story

One of the people I regularly follow is Richard Rohr.  Rohr is a Franciscan brother who is an ordained Catholic priest.  He heads up an Institute for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.  I use some of his books in classes I teach and I like to read the inspirational things he produces.  I have met Rohr, but cannot claim any relationship.  But I have a relationship with his ideas and his spiritual encouragement that comes through his writings. 

A recent reflection by Rohr on the familiar biblical story of Noah is one such piece I found very interesting.  I know all too well how hard it is to take a familiar story, like the story of Noah, and help folks get a new angle and appreciation for the familiar story.  Like most people, when I hear that someone is going to take a story like this, I say in my mind, “oh, I know everything about that story and I know how to interpret it.”  So I half read or listen and find I have a self-fulfilling prophecy: I learn nothing new!  And I am n…

Practice to Grow

I am always delighted to meet someone who has been spiritual for decades.  Perhaps it is because I spend a great deal of my time with younger folks.  Even if a college-age student has been religious for quite a while, that still pales in comparison with an eighty or ninety-year old person who has “been at it” for decades.  Most college-age students simply have not lived long enough to experience the serious ups and downs of life.  On the other hand, if you have lived eighty years, chances are you have seen a great deal.

I am intrigued to know how the old-timers manage to hang in there with their spiritual practices.  What sustains them over the years?  In my own Quaker tradition we talk about “dry places.”  These are the times of the life of the spirit when nothing seems to be happening.  We may spend time in prayer, but there seems to be no connection.  We may meditate regularly, but to no real avail.  We practice, but our spirits are so dry, there is no growth.

I long to know God’s …

A Beautiful Day

Yesterday was one of those days.  I woke up and was already feeling alive.  I went outside to get a cup of coffee and the newspaper and could tell the weather was going to be splendid.  It was one of those early autumn days…cool in the morning, but you knew as the day wore on, it would become pleasantly warm.  It was a beautiful day.  And the best part was that I had an awareness of this and was thankful.

I am afraid there have been many beautiful days and I was so unaware that I missed it.  I know there have been many beautiful days and I was upset and could not be thankful.  I am sure there have been countless beautiful days and I was so busy that I completely missed the opportunity to notice it and to be thankful.

Yesterday was one of those days.  I was busy, but I was able to be aware and to give thanks.  It was a beautiful day and I took steps to enjoy it.  Given my schedule, I was able to be outside on numerous occasions.  I know that everyone does not have the kind of situation…

Present Time Living

I read newspapers every day, but I do not always read them thinking I will be inspired by something that I can, then, use in writing one of these inspirational reflections.  But recently, I was inspired by a piece I read in an online newspaper.  It was a piece entitled, “The Problem of ‘Living in the Present.’”  The author is Keiran Setiya, whom I did not know, but learned is a Professor of Philosophy at MIT.  MIT is perhaps the most elite American university for science and technology, so I figure anyone teaching philosophy there has to be good, too.  I was not disappointed.

Fairly soon in my reading of the article, I began to figure out where Setiya was going.  Setiya is certainly not again living in the present moment, as so many self-help folks enjoin us to do.  But Setiya is more nuanced in what living in the present moment means.  I find this detail a welcomed way to think about it and, therefore, share it with you.  Setiya plays with the reader a bit by acknowledging many of us …

Key to Life

As I have mentioned so many times, when serendipity comes my way, I am delighted.  I always feel so lucky when serendipity hits.  I feel good when I recognize that serendipity has just graced my life.  Sometimes I wonder how many times I miss something that is serendipitous, just because I failed to notice it?

This time serendipity came in the form of a John Lennon quotation.  I like John Lennon and the Beatles, but I was never a huge fan.  The quotation from Lennon did not even come from some music.  Instead it came rather innocently in some regular mailings that I receive.  Often I do not even read those things.  For whatever reason, this time I read it and Lennon’s words leaped out at me.  I am thankful.

I also am curious, so I did some research.  It seems that it is pretty dubious that Lennon ever said the words I am about to quote.  But I don’t care.  It is not important to me that they be from him…or anyone else famous.  I also find some folks online don’t like the sentiment in …

Works of Mercy

Probably one of the most quotable figures on the face of the earth is the Pope, Francis.  Partly this is because there are so many Roman Catholics in the world.  And another part is the fact that many non-Catholics---like me---want to know what the Pope is thinking and how he articulates that.  I suppose a third reason why the Pope speaks and folks listen is because the Pope inevitably plays a political role in the world simply because he is Pope.  There is no other comparable religious figure on earth.

I routinely read a Catholic periodical online just to stay abreast of what the Pope is up to and what the Catholic Church is thinking about.  Part of the online journal is usually a quotation or two from Pope Francis.  Recently I saw one of these that focused on mercy and would like to share it and then comment on it.

It is a bit lengthy, but it is worth sharing as a whole.  “We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the s…

Seasons of My River

I have a little river that flows right by my back deck at my house.  Even with my baseball days long gone, I could still easily sit in my chair and throw a baseball and hit the river.  It is that close.  I like having that little river.  In fact, most days I am not even sure it is a river.  Much of the time, it is hardly more than a creek.

I am not even sure why I call it “my” little river.  I don’t own any deed to the river.  I don’t even think it is on my property.  More than likely, it marks the boundary of what is “mine.”  Even to use possessive language about land strikes me as a bit odd.  Of course, I know about laws, property rights, deeds, etc.  And of course, I really don’t want someone coming into ”my house” in the middle of the night to claim some space.  I understand why I have locks on my doors.

And yet, a big part of me thinks all the property---all the land, creeks, rivers, mountains and everything else---is really God’s.  For me to be part of nature is a gift.  It is a…

Internal Pawnshop

I have been reading a book by one of my favorite monks, Thomas Merton.  As many would know, Merton has been around in my life for quite some time, even though he died in 1968.  I never met Merton, although I feel like I know him.  He wrote quite prolifically before his untimely death in his early 50s.  One book I had never read is The Sign of Jonas.

In this book Merton used the Old Testament prophet, Jonah, as a kind of alter ego.  Many of you will know Jonah as that prophet whom God chose to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Babylonian empire.  Instead of obeying God, Jonah took off in the opposite direction!  He climbed aboard a ship, which soon ran into bad weather.  Feeling like he was to blame, Jonah was tossed into the sea, upon which he was swallowed by a giant fish.  Symbolically, he keeps getting farther away from and deeper from God.  This is an interesting comparison for Merton to be making.

I don’t want to focus on any particular content from the book.  Instead I was struc…

Grace and Love

Grace and love are two key concepts for Christianity and many other major religions as well.  I can say that I am for both concepts.  I want both to be involved in my living---indeed, my daily living.  I am sure I have experienced both.  I hope I have given both to people.  That certainly would be my desire.  I suspect that authentic life and meaning are impossible without both love and grace.  And yet, many folks probably would be hard-pressed to come up with good definitions of both words and an explanation of how they work together.

That was my mindset as I was re-reading Gerald May’s book, The Awakened Heart.  I have read the book before and parts of it I have read many times.  It is one of those books I always know will give me help and challenge me, too.  I value all of May’s books and appreciate how much help he was to so many of us in the “spirituality business.”  May was a psychiatrist and long-time associated with Shalem, the spirituality institute in DC.  He died in 2005.

As …

Awaiting Labor Day

We anticipate another Labor Day for yet another year.  As holidays go, it is one of the least important for me.  Maybe it is because I grew up on a dairy farm, so Labor Day was pointless; we still milked the cows twice that day just like any other day!  But clearly, it is special in many ways for many people.  And I am always intrigued by the history of a special day.

Labor Day was declared a national holiday in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland.  The traditional day of celebration apparently was chosen by some unions in New York.  Since I have spent some time abroad, I know the traditional global day of celebrating labor is May 1.  Sometimes these international days of celebration can lead to political protest and disruptions.  It seems President Cleveland was concerned about that, so he wanted to avoid that May date.  So the first Monday in September was a safer alternative.

There are typical associations with Labor Day.  When I was a kid, schools did not begin until after Labor Da…

Busyness is Not the Goal

In a recent class discussion, the topic of being busy came up and all heads seemed to nod.  At least on a college campus everyone I know would claim to be busy.  My fellow faculty colleagues certainly see themselves as very busy people.  And no doubt, the students are sure they are quite busy.  But it is not confined to these two groups.  Staff will let you know how busy they are.  And colleges are not alone.  I do some work for a large global company in my city and I am sure most of the folks there feel like they are very busy.  And so it was that I began to think about busyness.

When I think about how I talk about being busy or ponder other people describing their busyness, two things seem to me to be at stake.  Mind you, this is not a scientific study, but it is my impression and my judgment of what is going on.  In this first place, I think the claim that “I am so busy” is often a claim rooted in my ego.  It is as if busyness is an issue of identity.  To be busy is to be important …

Divine Protection

Recently it dawned on me that my spiritual discipline is a great deal like my physical discipline.  I am sure that is not novel, but I also am sure I never thought about it quite like that.  Being active physically has been important to me for as long as I can remember.  I am lucky in the sense that it has always been something I wanted to do, rather than felt like I had to do it.  Perhaps growing up on a farm helped the process.  I cannot remember when I did not go outside to work or to play.  On the farm there was a great deal of work.  But there also was a fair amount of play.  Both are healthy.

In due time sports became very important to me.  I certainly was no star, but I played with gusto.  I had fun and was active.  I continue to play long after my eligible years in school were finished.  Being physically active was a way of life for me.  It was not a matter of virtue.  I did it because I wanted to do it; it was fun.

Spiritual discipline has not always been a part of my life.  …

In Praise of Excellence

One of the surprising and wonderful gifts I have been recently given is a book.  That I was given a book may not be too surprising.  But this was a particular and special book.  A friend gave it to me.  I had not asked for the book, nor even hinted that I might want it.  And I certainly would not have thought about getting a signed copy from the author.  The book is by Jim Tressel, the famous Ohio State football coach and now president of Youngstown State University.  The book is entitled, The Winner’s Manual.

Tressel won a national championship in 2002 at Ohio State and multiple championships in his stint as coach at Youngstown State.  Tressel is a good friend of one of my friends.  And it was through her that I came to have a copy of the book.  Since I am a sports junkie of sorts, it was a gift I appreciated---although I probably would not have thought to buy a copy for myself.  I have not sat down to read the book from beginning to end.  But I do enjoy browsing through it and gleam…

Home and Away

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

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

There are intentional things peop…

Imagination to Be Free

Much of the time I get material from the things I read.  But sometimes I hear interesting things.  Such was the case yesterday.  I was with a group of people whom I very much like.  They are gracious.  They are warm and quite hospitable.  I like to sit back and watch them do what seems very natural.  I long ago concluded that people who live in the Spirit do what comes natural to the Spirit.

I think people of the Spirit naturally begin to focus on others, rather than themselves.  People of the Spirit know the first thing you do is to welcome the other.  They do this even if the “other” is stranger.  I am sure they see a stranger who has not yet become a friend.  That is a neat way of looking at the world.  It certainly is a way of peace making.

It is a way that begins in trust and hopes for the best.  Some would call this naïve.  The bolder critics would call it stupid!  It is naïve and stupid if defending our own ego is the most important thing.  We all know the world’s perspective t…

New Beginnings

I find myself at a place of new beginnings.  It occurs to me there are two kinds of beginnings.  One kind of beginning is the kind that happens for the very first time.  Often it is unique.  Nothing like it has happened before and, perhaps, never will happen again.  It is easy to think about my own beginning as a human being.  As far as I know, I have not existed before the day I was born.  And as far as I know, I will not exist again (in this form) after I die.  So I believe my being born is unique…it is one of a kind.  I know you, too, were born.  It might be like mine, but it is uniquely you.

The other kind of beginning might properly be called a “new” beginning.  This is the kind of beginning, which has happened before.  It is cyclical, that is, it has beginnings that come in cycles.  I am standing at the headwaters of a new academic year.  The first days of classes loom very near.  Already meetings are taking place to get ready for things.  I have begun new academic years many ti…

The Case for Moderation

David Brooks, the well-known columnist, has written an interesting piece on moderation and an argument in favor of moderates.  As usual, Brooks offers trenchant insight into the nature of things and offers what I consider to be sound advice how to make things better.  His column is descriptively worded: “What Moderates Believe.”  On the surface it is an essay on politics, which is true.  But as I thought about it, it also has further implications than politics.  In some ways I also believe it works when applied to religion and spirituality.  I would like to take that step with his ideas.

There are no secrets to what Brooks is doing, but the key to his ideas---and that which appeals to me---is his use of time-honored ideas like the classical virtues.  To use the virtues works both in politics and religion.  Since I have done a great deal with the virtues, it seemed obvious and natural to me.  Let me focus on three aspects of the argument Brooks is making.

The first instance I cite has to…