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Showing posts from June, 2017

The Cleaning Lady’s Name

The routine and predictable do not surprise us.  The serendipitous always is a surprise.  I like the word, serendipity, because it normally is a good surprise.  If we were to hear a doctor tell us we have cancer, that would not be serendipity---but it is surprising bad news.  I recently had a serendipitous moment.  A good friend of mine said she had a book for me.  While I did not expect something like this from her, it still was not that unusual.   Soon I was handed a book.  I looked at it and recognized it immediately when I saw the title, The Winners Manual.  I had heard about it, but I am not sure I had actually seen it.  The book is by Jim Tressel.  For the people around my university, this is a well-known and even famous name.  All the coaches here have the book.  And I now have it.  I now have an autographed copy, which even has a personal note to me.  Some would consider me incredibly lucky.  I am grateful.  I am grateful to two people.  I thank Jim and I really appreciate my f…

Host and Guest

Hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin.  I was first clued in to this fact when I learned Latin.  The Latin word, hospes, gives us the English words, hospital, hospice and related words.  In its Latin form, it can be translated “host,’ “guest” or “stranger.”  That is why I can say that hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin.  The Latin coin is hospes.  Let’s look at each side of the coin.

Probably most of us learn about being a guest before we learn about hosting.  I have early childhood memories of going with my dad into the town in early mornings.  For a kid growing up on the farm, this was a big deal.  Since I was the oldest kid, there could be an entire day when I would see no one except my two parents.  That was not bad.  But it was more fun to go to town and see some of my dad’s friends.

Often we would stop at the local drugstore, which was really the epicenter of human interaction on an early morning in that small town.  There the guys would…

Growth in Holiness

When I was younger, I never would have used the title of this inspirational piece.  I did not like the word, holiness.  Of course, I really did not know what it meant.  I associated the word with some of the churches in my small town that seemed too far “out there” for me.  Again, if you had asked me to explain myself, I would not know how to do it.  I had two ideas from that tradition. 

The first and probably better idea came from a couple of my school friends who actually went to a church that emphasized holiness.  I inferred from them whatever thoughts I had about their church.  When I was a kid, the most impressive (or depressive) thing was the fact that my two friends, who were both guys, could not play basketball.  It was not because they could not play; I saw them play on the school ground at recess.  They were not great, but they could hold their own.  They could not play because when you played on the team, you had to wear shorts.  It never occurred to me that some church wou…

Goodbye Friend

A good friend of mine has recently died.  He happens to be English, so I have not seen him for some time.  He moved back to England.  Distance does not diminish friendship; it just makes it more difficult to spend one-on-one time in person.  We’ll call my friend, John.  I have known John for nearly four decades.  He was a fellow Quaker.  We had some things like that in common.  And there was much about him that was quite different than me.

I learned that John was an avid sports fan.  As a former athlete and sports fan, this appealed to me.  Very early in my time in England, John posed a question.  “Do you want to go with me to a football match?”  Affirmatively, I replied.  And so it was that I saw my first English Premier League soccer match.  It was at Aston Villa, one of the three Birmingham “major league” teams, as we would call them.

And so began my soccer----football education---in English.  I learned that the game was played on the pitch, not the field.  My education happened not …

Agnosticism in Our Hearts

Titles intrigue and, sometimes, inspire me.  Maybe it is because I have written some books and numerous articles and had to come up with titles for all of them.  Some titles are merely descriptive; they tell you what the contents are.  Other titles go for more of a marketing angle.  They are designed to encourage you to buy the book or read the article.  While this kind of title may be catchy and intriguing, you may not be altogether sure what the contents will be. 
So it was that I landed on a title of a little article in an online publication I routinely read.  The title reads: “Friends from seminary days gather at Redemptorist center to bury friend’s ashes.”  I was immediately hooked; I had to begin reading it.  Maybe some of it is because of my age.  I have done countless funerals and have buried some of my own family members and friends.  I have my own stories and wanted to know this story.  I wonder whether in my younger, just-beginning-days whether I would have been intrigued an…

Waiting

A theme that is part of the Quaker vocabulary, with which I grew up, is the idea of waiting.  I am sure to most people, the idea of waiting for anything seems pretty boring.  Of course, we do have to wait for things in life, but generally we don’t like it.  I wonder if American culture has not been a race to get faster?  There are many examples that suggest this is true.

So much of the world I inhabit seems to be on a quest to get faster.  The evolution of the internet is a great example.  I was aware of computers coming to be a factor in our world, but did not personally get involved in computers till the mid-1980s.  Of course, that was before the internet had been invented.  In those days all my mail came through the mail!  I finally made my peace with computers and, of course, now can’t imagine not having one.

Then the internet was invented---in the 90s, I think---and at some point my mail started coming through electronically---appropriately labeled, “email.”  Now if I get a real, …

A Quiet Soul

The evening prayer in my lectionary last night had a selection from a very short Psalm near the end of the Psalter.  Because I don’t live with the Psalms with the same depth as my monk friends, I still feel like I have often encountered a particular Psalm for the very first time.  I know I have read Psalm 131 before, but it felt like I had engaged it for the very first time.

As I often do, I compared two different translations of the Psalm.  The Jerusalem Bible begins by the Psalmist saying, “Lord, I do not puff myself up or stare about…”  The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) puts it similarly; “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high…”  In this case I prefer the first option.  It seems to warn against feeling pride when it comes to spiritual things. 

It makes me think of the old sports’ adage to “keep your eye on the ball!”  Perhaps if I were to put it spiritually, I would suggest that much of the spiritual journey is simply paying attention.  If I pay …

Celebration of Reformation

Writing a headline that calls for celebration of Reformation might cause some consternation.  This might especially be true if I capitalize “Reformation,” as I just did.  If I left the word, reformation, in lower case, it might appear I wanted merely to describe a process.  But Reformation suggests Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all the other reformers---some of who were radical.  In fact, my own Quaker tradition has its origins in the Radical Reformation, as my mentor, George Williams, helped me learn.
I capitalized the word, Reformation, because we have entered a season where this movement will be much discussed.  I have already been solicited to write an article for a British Jesuit journal, which plans on dealing with the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing the famous 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.  As I ponder this, I am aware of what feels like a thousand ways to approach the story. Many folks are tempted to read that historical period with a win-loss mentality.  I…

Encountering Heschel Again

I read a number of things daily online.  One of those is the New York Times.  I am not so careful that I read everything every day.  But I try to be consistent in following things.  Although there is the usual spate of daily news that is depressing, there are other occasions when I run across something that helps me get a grip on the depressing things.  I ran into on such article by George Yancy, philosopher professor at Emory University in Atlanta.  I have read some of his stuff before in a posting he calls “The Stone.” The article that caught my eye this time, Yancy entitles, “Is Your God Dead?”  I am old enough to remember the “God is Dead” movement in the 60s and wondered if that theological movement were being revived.  The answer is a flat “no.”  Instead, Yancey wonders if we---you and me---have lost our real God and only serve some idol of our own making?  It is a provocative question that I feel obligated to face.
Yancy is not talking about sophisticated theology, but practical …

Gift as Expression of Hospitality

I have recently returned from a conference.  That is not surprising to know an academic goes to a conference.  College professors go to conferences all the time.  I have done my fair share, but generally don’t go anymore.  It is not that I think conferences are unimportant.  But I do have the sense that in my own field of religion, conferences that are academic are not where I spend most of my time now.  The papers presented at such conferences tend to be too arcane to be of much use to me.  
Most of my time these days is spent in what I would call ministry within the academic community.  That does not mean I go around praying for people all the time.  I am not preaching sermons.  I am not trying to get students to become Christian or anything else.  I am trying to help them think about life---their own life and others.  I want to help them figure out how they will make sense of their lives.  Of course, many of us make sense of life through our own religious tradition or via spirituali…

Shelter Me, O God

Recently I was in a worship service where I noticed the music.  Now for many people that would not be surprising, but I am not very good with music.  I like it, but I don’t sing that well and I am not even sure I appreciate music in effective ways.  Perhaps some day when my working days are finished, I will take an appropriate music appreciation class and develop that ability.  I look forward to that.

As I sat in worship listening and, then, singing the music, I knew immediately the words were taken from the Psalms.  I certainly don’t know the Psalms like the monks who recite the whole Psalter every couple weeks.  I know I have read all 150 Psalms, but I don’t do it every two weeks.  And I certainly don’t keep going through the Psalter time after time after time. 

The refrain of the song we were singing went like this: “Shelter me, O God; hide me in the shadow of your wings, You alone are my hope.”  Interestingly the song sheet we were using did not reference the Psalm.  And I was no…

Defining Spirituality

From time to time, I return to something I have read years before.  I guess that is one good argument for a library!  In our technological culture I am sure there is less book buying than I did.  That is not a bad thing.  But I still do like to have a book to hold in my hand, to underline and place back on a shelf in the hope that some day in the future, I will again pull it off the shelf and re-read parts of it.

I did that just yesterday.  I am working on some guest lectures for the near future.  It is a topic that I have given some thought to, but have never actually lectured or spoken publically about this theme.  This is an odd place---a place where I have been many times.  The topic given to me to address is one that I am quite happy to do.  I have many, many thoughts, ideas, and half-baked suppositions running through my head.  On one hand, it feels like I know quite a bit and could stand up right now and speak for an hour on the topic.  On the other hand, realistically I know t…

Called by God

I have heard the language of “call” since I was fairly young.  It was not unusual to hear people in my religious tradition talk about people being “called into ministry.”  Although I knew sometimes God was the One who did the calling, I also suspected that God always was the One behind that call.  And if I am to be honest, I really hoped that God would never do that to me!

At the time I did not know anything about the Quaker tradition.  I did not know that Quakers think God calls everyone!  The question is not whether one is called; the question is to what is God calling us to do.  I realized I had a great deal to learn about this “calling business!”

Often it would be funny, if it were not pathetic.  I did not want any call on my life because I had bigger and better plans.  Talk about delusional!  Without ever saying it, I am sure I felt like I was better at planning my life’s outcomes than God.  I did not realize how shortsighted I was!  Thank goodness for some education and maturity…