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Showing posts from March, 2017

Venue for Human Goodness

Sometimes the inspiration for these pieces comes from very traditional and predictable sources.  I read a great deal in spiritual literature, so that obviously is a marvelous resource.  I try to follow the lectionary of the Benedictine monastic community, so I know that is always a resource for readings from the Psalms and other biblical references.  I try to watch as my days unfold for those obvious or, even, subtle revelations of inspiring moments.  I find if I stay aware, a lot happens that hints at profundity.

Today’s inspiration came from a predictable place.  I regularly read a number of periodicals online.  In the old days we would have called them magazines!  But I don’t receive magazines in the mail any more.  A few regularly come on the internet and it is there I find some inspiration.  As I was reading last night, my eyes caught an intriguing title.  The title reads, “7 ways I find human goodness in pickup basketball.”  I immediately knew I would read this one.  I began to t…

Lunch With a Friend

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. That is not breathtaking news. There was no special occasion. There was no news that we were dying to tell each other. When the lunch was finished, I was not profoundly moved, had no penetrating insight, or strong resolve to go out and save the world. It was just a lunch. I had soup, not sushi.

The lunch was perfectly ordinary, just like the soup. There were no sushi qualities to it. I associate sushi with something extraordinary---something special and unusual. I like sushi, but it is not an ordinary lunch fare for me. Most of the time, I am just a soup kind of guy. And so is my friend. And so was our lunch.

Economically it was a loss. I bought both lunches! It would have been cheaper to go to lunch by myself. I smile as I type this because I know when we go to lunch again (when, not if), he will pay for the lunch. And I know that day it will feel like a gift that he gave me---a free lunch! He probably felt that way yesterday; I gave him a gift.

I…

A Visit to the Buddhist Temple

One of the very best things that happened to me when I went to college decades ago was the fact I began to broaden my experience.  When you grow up on a farm in rural Indiana, as I did, your world is pretty small.  Of course, at the time I did not realize how provincial I was.  I assumed the entire world was just like my little world!

In that world there were a lot of Quakers around the place.  And in that tiny world there were many Quakers.  What I did not realize was that particular place in Indiana was where Quakers migrated to before the Civil War in order to avoid the slavery issues.  Fortunately, Quakers were ahead of their times on that issue.  But in college I began to get the sense Quakers were a pretty small group.  This was true.  Compared to Baptists, Catholics and a host of other Christian traditions, we were pretty small fish.

In college I began to get a taste of the religious world beyond Christians.  This was totally new for me.  Having Jewish friends was the first step …

Desire for Peace

That phrase, “desire for peace,” resonated with me as I was reading the first sentence of an article about peace. It appeared in a new journal series I am reading to figure out whether it would be a useful addition to some of my teaching. By and large, I have not found the articles very helpful, so I admit that I may not have been reading some new stuff with much expectation of good results. And I recognize that may not be a very good approach to new reading material or, perhaps, to life.

Not only was the phrase a good one, but also the entire first sentence was arresting. The sentence reads, “The desire for peace is a holy longing.” I realized I had stopped after reading that sentence and re-read it. That was my clue that something had resonated. Usually I read along fairly quickly. I am confident we can read, take in information and not be affected by what we are learning. Reading the phrase inside this sentence was different.

I read it, but I am not sure I to…

Agonized Uncertainty

I find interesting and, often, good news in a variety of places.  I am a regular reader of newspapers and magazines.  Recently, I ran across an intriguing editorial in one of this nation’s premier newspapers.  The article was entitled, “After Great Pain, Where is God?”  You can probably see why I was immediately drawn to read this short piece.  It was authored by Peter Wehner, Senior Fellow at Ethics and Public Policy Center.

I was not aware of Wehner, but guessed that this Center was some kind of Washington think tank.  Indeed, it is.  The website basically tells me it is a conservative religiously and politically think tank devoted as the website says to “applying Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”  This fit the tone and direction of Wehner’s thought, which I very much appreciated.  It gave me some nice ways to think about classical problems and I share this here.

The title I chose for this inspirational reflection steals a couple words from one of…

Mystery of Truth

The phrase, mystery of truth, is found in the last line of a recent article by David Brooks, one of my favorite commentators on the life and times of our world.  While I don’t always find myself in agreement with Brooks, I find him to be a trenchant observer of human nature and behavior.  He writes clearly and with tremendous insight.  Often he frames things in a way that gives us a new, clear way to think about a problem and come up with plausible solutions.  I think about him as an intellectual helpmate.         

His recent article is entitled, “The Benedict Option.”  The article was replete with an image of St. Benedict, a picture I immediately recognized and to which I was drawn.  I know a fair amount about this founding father of Benedictine monasticism.  Benedict was an Italian Catholic living in sixth century post-Roman Empire Europe.  When I was in school, this was referred to as the “Dark Ages.”  Although this is not a very useful description today, it does convey the times w…

Penny Wise

Recently I was writing a blog with a couple of my friends.  The blog had more to do with business than spirituality.  I am always amused by how much work I do within a business context, but then remember that business is nothing more than people.  In fact, I am in the “people business,” so any context is a possibility for my involvement.  The basic point of our work was not to be stupid.  That seems simple enough!

I was editing some of what my co-author had written.  Suddenly, I knew the perfect saying to edit into the text.  But in the moment, I could not cite the phrase.  I stepped out to ask my secretary, but she could not come up with the phrase.  She is quite a bit younger than I am, which made me wonder whether younger generations use the phrase?  We all know languages evolve, which means some terms and phrases drop out of daily usage and new things creep into daily language. 

For some reason, the word “flesh” was floating in my mind as part of the slogan.  It turns out this was …

Defining Religion

Often I am the one pushing students to define things.  Defining something is necessary to learn and understand it.  When I think about how I expanded my vocabulary through high school and college, as well as through graduate studies, it mostly was learning how to define words.  Regardless of which major folks choose to do in college, typically there is a specific vocabulary that goes with it.  In physics and religion and all the other majors, you have to learn certain basic words.  In my case it was even helpful to learn Greek and Latin because they helped me sharpen my vocabulary.

I realized how important this was as I moved from the church context to the university context.  As I grew up in the church, hearing religious words was normal.  However, seldom did anyone asked me to define something.  My learning was quite passive.  Of course, I usually had some kind of vague notion of what a word or concept meant, but if you had asked me to define it, nothing clear would have come out of…

Buddhists Helping Christians

I am grateful for the opportunity to read books authored by non-Christians.  I don’t know whether I read any person who was not a Christian before I went to college.  Perhaps I did, but I was not aware of it if I did.  In college I began my pilgrimage with a few non-Christians.  I can remember very well the first Jewish theologian.  I bumped into some other spiritual folks who were not Christians.  And then I went to graduate school.

Ironically, I received two kinds of education in graduate school.  The obvious one was the classes and degrees that I paid money to have.  I appreciate that.  The other kind of education was provided by my living context.  When I moved to a new city to do graduate education, I rented the top floor of a house very near the graduate school of theology.  Since my house was on a corner, I had two neighbors on either side.  On one side was the Hillel House, the campus Jewish ministry outreach.  The other side was the Center for the Study of World Religion.

That …

Need for Courage

I have begun to receive a new journal of spirituality. I thought it could be quite helpful, but it turns out to be mediocre at best. Now that may seem like an odd comment on spirituality. After all, how does one determine that a spirituality is “good” or “bad” or just mediocre? Either I do not know or I know it would take an entire book to answer that question. Since I have no interest in writing that book, let me simply say that my judgment is doubtlessly subjective.

And I would hasten to add, I do not think the spirituality represented in the journal is mediocre. In fact, I am not sure spiritualities can be good, bad or mediocre. I think they can be more or less meaningful to a variety of people. I actually said I thought the journal was mediocre. And I feel like there is some basis for that kind of judgment. A journal could be good or bad based on things like writing style, cogency of argument, perceptive development of ideas, etc. I find this new journal fairly mediocre because it…

The Hope of Community

People who know me know that I have a love of community. But I am also quite aware of how superficial and shallow “community language” can be. Anyone can pronounce that any group is a community. I know that it is a slippery word. I don’t know too many people who are against community, but I suspect many of us don’t quite know exactly what community is nor how it is developed and sustained. Sometimes I am not sure myself.

So when I wanted to revisit this topic, I turned to one of my old friends, Parker Palmer. My relationship with Parker goes a long way back. We share quite a bit of ideas and commitments, but he has become famous (and probably rich). I have achieved neither! Palmer has been thinking about and writing about community for a long time. He has been actively involved in thinking about this from the perspective of the educational world. But I don’t think it is that much different from the world of churches, temples and mosques.

Let me share a basic definition of community, a…

No Meaning to Express

What if the title of this inspirational essay were really true, namely, that there was no meaning to express. That would be sad! It would be sad because that is a key distinguishing feature of what a human does: make meaning. In fact, that is one way I like to talk about religion and spirituality; they are ways people make meaning. Of course, they are not the only ways. But they are key ways.

So if there were no meaning to express, then I would have serious questions about why we are living? If there is no point to life, then why go through the motions? Sure, there are some short-term pleasures. If we are lucky, nice things may happen to us along the way. But at some point, life usually brings some share of suffering and, then, death. Hopefully these are not the point in life!

I wandered into this reflection when I read parts of an old book that I had not thought about for years. The book is entitled, Behold the Spirit, by Alan Watts. It was published in 1947. I could not believe it w…

The Reality of Reality

We live in it at all times. It surrounds us, penetrates us and yet is probably separate from us. It is independent and dependent at the same time. It is mysterious and, yet, completely transparent and knowable. It’s reality.

Of course, there are different philosophical and theological perspectives on just what reality is. I am sure there must be scientific versions, as well. Psychologists might tell is reality is a matter of perspective. I suppose some extremists are confident there is no such thing as reality. Maybe I am in illusion, but it seems to me pretty clear there is such a thing a reality. The good news is, I do not intend to explore its philosophical and scientific roots. I am going to take reality for granted. For me, it is. Let’s think about the reality of reality.

What prompted these beginning thoughts was a random sentence in an article I was reading. The article was not very good, but it did have a great sentence from one of my favorite author…

When Life Gets Tough

Anybody who lives to adulthood knows that there are times when life gets tough. I suppose Adam and Eve had it made in Paradise, but they blew it and found out even then that happiness was not guaranteed! God had told them not to do one thing. Of course, they could not resist! So they grabbed the fruit, ate it, blamed the serpent and each other, and paid the price. They were kicked out of Paradise.

To quote the famous book title of John Steinbeck, East of Eden, that is precisely where they were condemned to live. And all of us know we live “East of Eden.” In that place---our place really---is the place of toil, pain, and often, unhappiness. I could ask for a better deal, but it won’t matter. We are no longer in Eden. We are in Cleveland or New York or London or Moscow. It does not matter where we are in the globe, because the whole globe is East of Eden.

I am not sure Eden was ever a real, literal place. Even if it were, it does not change my interpretation. More specifically, I am con…

Just Say No

The title of this inspirational message might seem like an advertisement for some kind of drug treatment program or a stop smoking campaign. Or perhaps more likely, it sounds like an early teenage admonition to refrain from sex. And indeed, it could be all of the above, since they are all legitimate and worthwhile campaigns.

I actually got the idea from the words of the late Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. I have quoted Merton enough that folks know how much I like him. Part of the appeal of Merton, I’m sure, is that part of his life overlapped my own life. Merton lived into the 1960s, which was the decade of so much of my own personal and spiritual formation. When Merton tragically died in Bangkok, Thailand in 1968, I was already in graduate school studying theology. Merton was the most unlikely person to have become a strict Catholic monk.

He had spent his early years living in France, England and the USA. He was a bright, curious young guy who had little sense of himself or his place…

Disenchanted Universe

One of the people I routinely turn to for my own inspiration is Richard Rohr.I have a number of his books and have enjoyed reading all of them.I suppose I have read enough of him that I can pretty much figure out where he is going.But I am fine with that.I have never thought the only reason to read is to learn new things.Of course, that is a good reason to read, but it is not the only reason. Most of us probably have favorite books.For many of us one of those books would be the Christian Bible.And even within that Bible, we might have our favorites.When I think about the gospels, I confess I prefer John’s Gospel.When I was growing up, I heard people say that John was the Quaker Gospel.I had no idea what this meant, but surely it suggested it should be my favorite.It is my favorite and maybe that is true because some older women in my Quaker meeting told me it was the Quaker Gospel.When I think about Rohr, my favorite book is the first one of his I read, namely, Everything Belongs. I’m n…