Skip to main content


Showing posts from August, 2017

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…

Not an Easy Life

I still love going into the classroom to teach younger students some of what I know.  Unlike Chemistry or some of the other sciences, what I know is not the same thing as a fact in science.  Of course, there are facts in the study of religion, but those may not be the facts that people assume.  For example, I do not think God is a fact in the world and my life.  God is a faith statement rather than a fact statement.  By that I mean, I know God by virtue of faith in an Entity or Being that is beyond me or any other particular individual.  Faith is more like trust than it is a fact. 

That does not mean God is any less real for me.  But I cannot prove to someone that God exists or that God loves me and others.  That is my experience, but I recognize I can be mistaken.  This means I cannot teach students the facts about God and expect them to sign on the divine bottom line.  Some may believe much like I do.  Others don’t believe it at all.  Our job in the classroom is not to try to convin…

New Way of Looking at Church

In my quest to continue growing in awareness of how scientists view our world, I read various things that describe the world scientifically.  If you are not in school or if you don’t read much, I fear that most of us still have a really old-fashioned way of looking at our world and understanding ourselves.  I suspect this describes far too many people who go to churches in our land. 

Recently, I read an interesting article in The Christian Century by Amy Plantinga Pauw.  Pauw teaches at the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.  Her article is entitled, “The Cosmic Church on Earth: A Wisdom Ecclesiology.”  I like the title, although I am aware many folks would not be too sure what it means.  In the first place her use of the word, wisdom, is a bit loaded, especially for people who don’t know the Christian Bible.  Wisdom is the word in the classical biblical language which is the feminine aspect of God.  In the New Testament wisdom is the female counterpart to the Word (Logos). 

In John’…

Inspiring Friendship

The concept of friendship has been an important one for quite a long time for me.  And I am sure the phenomenon of friendship has been important to me since I was in the first grade, at least, and probably even before then.  I have taught a few times a college class on spiritual friendship.  Every time I have done that, it has been a special occasion.  It seems that teaching a course on friendship creates a special opportunity for significant personal development among the students.  And fortunately, I am the beneficiary of that experience, too.

I have studied the idea of friendship, so I probably know more about the history, the philosophy and theology of friendship than most people know.  I have valued the way Aristotle talks about different kinds of friendships.  I appreciate the way Cicero, right before the time of Jesus, developed some profound ways of understanding how friendships are formed and how they should be lived.  Friendship came to be a very important idea in the histor…

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 …

No Music on Bad Days

Anyone who has lived a few years knows that there are times when life is not good.  There are times when things don’t go very well.  We are assaulted by things that are not to our liking.  We can be sick, disappointed, or denied.  We can watch others get what we thought was rightfully ours.  We can try so hard, get so close and still lose.  Some days life is just not much fun.

I also think this is true for the spiritual life.  Anyone who has been involved in the spiritual journey for any length of time knows all days are not equal.  It is not unusual for the early days of the spiritual pilgrimage to be pretty good.  Often there is that initial burst of enthusiasm.  Not surprisingly, God can seem to be right there in your corner.  The spiritual tradition calls these graces of God “consolations.”  Consolations are good.  In fact, there are a bit like spiritual goodies.

The truth of the matter is, however, we should not be thinking we are entitled to these spiritual goodies.  It is impor…

Papal Questions

Recently, I encountered a publication that is offering some quotations from Pope Francis.  I gather it is a quote-of-the-day sort of thing.  Since I very much like the current Pope, I have begun reading these with some interest.  I like the way he thinks about things.  Since his upbringing and background are very different from mine, he often looks at things in a fresh way for my perspective.

I would like to choose one quotation and work with it.  It happened to be the one at the front of a list, so there was nothing special in it that made me choose it.  But one of the things about discipline that seems true to me is we have to stick to it.  One of the buzz words today is persistence.  I believe persistence is probably little more than commitment plus discipline.  It is staying with a thing even if you might not want to do it some particular day.  Persistence is normally the key to any kind of success.

Pope Francis notes, "How often we say: 'I must change, I can't go on li…

Case for Interconnectivity

Sometimes I read something simply because of the person who wrote the piece.  It is typical for humans to have their preferences.  Some people like specific musical groups.  Others are drawn to particular artists.  I am a person who likes specific authors.  In fact, I have a number of favorite authors.  There are the obvious favorites like the late monk, Thomas Merton.  He is pretty famous, which means many people know him.  Another favorite of mine is Paul Knitter.  Knitter has just retired from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  He is a long-time professor and scholar who is not as famous as folks like Merton.  But he has had a long, distinguished career shaping the  ways young folks think about life and their world.

Knitter was one of the earlier people involved in the ecumenical and interfaith conversations.  When I say ecumenical, primarily I mean the interaction and dialogue among different Christian traditions.  When I am involved ecumenically, it means I take my own …

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 …

Nostalgia: For the Good Times

I certainly don’t want to mistake the New York Times or Fox News Network for the Gospel.  But there is good news in secular media---these two sources and many others.  I am delighted to read and appropriate good news wherever I can get it.  Some good news is inherently good.  It is good news for whoever finds it.  Other times, good news becomes good news when I am able to apply it to my situation.  One such example just happened for me.

I was reading the daily newspaper.  That is not novel.  I read about four newspapers daily---either in hard copy or online.  I like to be informed and I think I am basically curious---or nosy!  I like to know what’s going on, even though most of the time it probably does not affect my life in any significant way.  And so it was that I turned to an article about nostalgia.

It seemed like it could be interesting.  Anyone my age has experienced nostalgia---a memory, perhaps, longing for some piece or version of the past.  I began reading without much expect…

Thoughts on the Incarnation

I have finished reading the wonderful book by Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being.  As I have indicated, Delio is a Franciscan Sister.  That appeals to me, since I deeply appreciate Franciscan spirituality.  I have often told people, the Franciscans are the closest thing to Quakers one can find within the Roman Catholic Church.  I’ll save that comparison for another day.
The other thing I very much appreciate about Delio is the fact that she is a trained, knowledgeable scientist.  She knows what she is talking about when it comes to evolution, genetic development, etc.  Because of rapidity of scientific knowledge, I feel very uninformed, despite my attempts to read widely.  Delio does a great job of being knowledgeable scientifically and theologically.  It is like she is bilingual.  I am a theological monolingual
An area that she has helped me re-think some of my personal theology is the incarnation.The incarnation has been central to my own theology since graduate school days…