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Showing posts from September, 2017

A Good Theologian

When someone wants to talk about theology and becoming a theologian, some people want to duck or run out of the room!  Of course, if you are going to be a Christian (or a Jew, Muslim, etc.) you will have some theology, whether you think about it or not.  A theologian is someone who thinks about what he or she believes.  Theologians strive to make what they believe have some coherence, consistency, etc.  For me personally, theology made a great deal of believing possible.

I will elaborate with some personal examples.  I came of age during the Vietnam era of the 1960s.  It was a tumultuous time.  I had dutifully gone to church as a young Quaker.  For the most part in those early years of mine, “going to church” was considered part of what it meant to be an American.  It would not be unusual to hear someone query, “did you go to church today?”  Most of the farmers in the area in which I lived did not work on Sunday, except to milk the cows and other essential duties.  Only the rarest of m…

Imagination and Illusion

I have long been fascinated by imagination.  We only have to spend a little time with kids to witness the power of imagination.  Even fairly young kids---toddlers---can imagine with the best of them.  Imagination is the formation of ideas and images, which are not present to us.  Imagination is, as the dictionary tells us, a creative ability.  Imagination is able to create worlds that don’t yet exist.  Imagination fosters alternative worlds.  Imagination is the key to the future.

If memory is the key to the past, imagination is the key to the future.  Memory often is quite a treasure.  Memory is the way we capture mentally those times, which have passed.  Memory preserves.  I have fond memories of some of my own childhood days.  I have quite fond memories of the times my two little girls were growing up, learning things and beginning to make lives of their own.  I am very thankful for the gift of memory.

And I am just as thankful for the gift of imagination.  By imagining we are able …

Titles: Trust, Tease or Toss?

I have always been fascinated with titles.  When you read that sentence, you probably think of book titles.  Certainly, most people would say that book titles are important.  I would not disagree.  But when you think about it further, there are many other kinds of titles. 

Since I have paid off my old car, I have the title to that.  It shows that I now own it.  The bank owns the title to most of our houses.  So apparently, a great deal of property comes with titles to show ownership.  But not all ownership is individual.  Some things are owned corporately.  The college where I teach is a private school, so that means there is ownership.  But it is owned corporately.  The appointed trustees, in fact, oversee their ownership responsibilities.  But no single person owns the campus or the buildings.  The same idea pertains to national parks.  All Americans, in effect, own Yosemite National Park.  Even though it is in California (and I don’t live in CA), you and I and all of us own it.


The Privilege of Possibility

The title of this inspirational piece dropped into my mind without warning.  I am not sure what I was thinking about, but there it was: the privilege of possibility.  Immediately, I like the sound of it.  I like packing together words that begin with the same letter.  Alliteration, it is called.  I am not sure when this attraction to alliteration began.  I do remember the first time a friend told me that’s what I was doing.  I had never before heard the word, alliteration.  But I liked it.

And so the phrase, “the privilege of possibility,” popped into my mind.  I don’t recall thinking about the phrase, so I am willing to accept it as an instant of revelation.  I think all of us get these moments of inspiration.  I suspect most of the time we pay no attention to them, so they are missed.  They simply disappear into the mist of our forgotten history.  Somehow this one stuck.  And now I get to ponder it and play around with it for a little bit.

I want to think it is spiritual in some way. …

Having Hope

I very much like Pope Francis.  Although I am not Roman Catholic, I feel like much of the time he speaks for me and for Christianity.  I am fine with that.  The phenomenon of denominationalism has significant limitations.  I am old enough to have felt like someone from my own denomination, i.e. Quakerism, needs to speak my truth.  Of course, that is provincial and narrow.  But that is how I grew up.  It seemed perfectly normal in my limited context.  However, some education and some travel chipped away at my narrowness.

I became interested in what Catholics were up to in the 1960s.  This was a tumultuous time. Vatican II was happening in the early 60s and then came the implementation of Vatican II reforms.  In some ways those reforms are still going on or, at least, being debated.  Part of my interest in Catholicism included being introduced to the world of monks.  As a Quaker, this was a part of the Christian Church about which I knew nothing. The more I learned about monasticism, the…

Oops Is Not a Good Word

Oops was the first word that came to my mind when I saw the picture.  Oops was an appropriate word to describe the scene of a little girl in her pajamas sitting on the floor that was strewn with Cheerios.  In her left hand was a relatively large glass that obviously used to be the container for the now-dispersed Cheerios.  What else can you say other than “oops” when all your Cheerios jump out of your glass and go a million directions on the floor?

Sadly the way our culture is evolving, it won’t be too long before “oops” will be replaced with a variety of swear words!  Oops is such a quaint, cute word.  I don’t know whether it is universal, but I hope it is.  I hope little Chinese kids and African kids say “oops” when their Cheerios spill.  It is so clear, so graphic.  Oops announces unambiguously that, “I just made a mess!”  I have said it many times.

The little girl in the pajamas was looking up at the camera as if she were saying, “Oops, it’s not my fault.”  In the end it might mat…

Innovation in Spiritual Things

In addition to being involved in the world of religion and spirituality, I also have been fairly involved in the world of innovation.  Much of this grew out of collegial work that I have done with a friend of mine.  I will admit that I never thought too much about innovation before he and I began doing some thinking and, then, some writing on the topic of innovation.  A couple things occurred to me in the process.

In the first place I realized that it did not matter too much whether I used the word, innovation.  In fact, I have been fairly innovative much of my life.  When I learned the meaning of the language of innovation and looked at my experience, I recognized there was a match.  Part of my misunderstanding was thinking that innovation was solely a business word.  I knew businesses needed to be innovative---especially in today’s climate.  And since I was not in business, the language of innovation did not apply to me.  I was wrong.

Secondly, I realized that innovation can be lear…

Four Kinds of Happiness

David Brooks is up to it again.  Regular readers of my inspirational reflections know I like the kinds of things Brooks offers.  Brooks is the kind of person with whom I would like to hang out with and talk about things.  I am sure his experience is quite different than mine, but we have come to focus on similar ideas.  In my language Brooks has been focused on the question, what’s the point of life?

In a recent editorial reflection entitled, “When Life Asks for Everything,” Brooks offers two kinds of models of human development.  Space does not allow me to pursue both, so I choose the one I am drawn to and the one Brooks prefers.  He calls this model the “Four Kinds of Happiness.”  When I read what Brooks proposed, it did not seem novel.  In fact, I think I have spent most of my adult life reading about and trying to choose this particular model of my human development.  I am a work in progress.  Few, if any people, on this path can feel like they have it made.  As my friend so often …

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…