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Showing posts from October, 2017

Learning to be Responsive

A recent discussion in class remind me of a distinction I learned a long time ago.  I learned there is a distinction between being responsive and being reactive.  This is a fairly simple distinction, but it is a huge learning to implement.  And I do believe it was a spiritual growth issue for me.  Perhaps it is not spiritual for everyone else, but it was for me.  Being part of that class discussion reminded me that I have not fully incorporated the learning in my life.  At times I still find myself reacting inappropriately. 

The class context for the discussion had to do with emotions.  Many folks do emotions really well.  Some of us don’t do emotions well at all.  And of course, there is the big group of people in the middle.  Sometimes we mess up our emotional life and sometimes we do fairly well.  Probably I am in the big middle group.  But I am old enough to have joined the good people by now.  But I am a work in progress.

It is easy to understand the folks who react to things.  Th…

The Happiness Trap

I thought about the happiness trap as I was reading an editorial in an online newspaper.  I am aware that happiness is a big thing.  I am confident if you asked the college students I teach what their goal might be, a quick answer would be they want to be happy.  I concur.  I want to be happy, too.  I suppose any sane person would rather be happy than sad.  Happiness is a basic human desire.  The real question is how do we become happy?

The editorial I read approached this latter question in a helpful fashion, which leads me to want to share some of the insights.  Finally, for me the insights lead to some spiritual reflections.  The editorial is by Ruth Whippman.  She writes a piece entitled, “Happiness is Other People.”  This title gives away her answer, but let’s follow her argument in order to appreciate more fully that happiness is other people.

I admit I never heard of her.  So I did a quick search and found out she is a British journalist who came to this country to live in Califo…

Preparing for the Sacred

I am not sure Quakers are always prepared to talk about the sacred.  But I do think Quakers are taught fairly well to be prepared to engage the sacred.  Let me explain and elaborate the difference.  I suspect in the process of explaining and elaborating, some of you who grew up in other traditions or, perhaps, no tradition at all will find some resonance in my own experience.

First of all, I define the sacred as the Presence of God or the Holy One.  Sacred simply means the place or space of the Divinity.  In the history of religions the sacred might be a place, like a cathedral, a grove in the forest or some other shrine.  The sacred can be the object of pilgrimages.  Sometimes the sacred has been the place of healing, as well as revelation.  The sacred is opposite of the profane---which literally means “outside the temple.”

I personally like the language of “Presence.”  The sacred is the place or space where you encounter the Presence.  Often I think the Catholic Church and other tra…

Play Your Hand –Live Your Life

There is an old saying that says something like, “You have to play the hand dealt you.”  Obviously this uses a figure of speech drawn from the world of playing cards.  It could be poker or some other card game.  In card games there typically is only one winner.  The winner is normally determined by some element of skill and luck.  The skill part is obvious.  If you know the rules of poker and if you have years of experience, you are more likely to win than a novice at the game.  On the other hand, if the novice is really lucky in the cards dealt, he or she will be very hard to beat---regardless of skill.

An Ace is an Ace regardless of skill.  Two Aces beat one Ace every time!  I have not played cards for years, perhaps even decades.  When I was small, I remember my parents playing cards.  And during my growing up years, I played some cards.  That probably was more prevalent in the pre-technology days.  Most folks I know today would rather be on their cell phone checking Twitter or pla…

Taking Care of Our World

Recently I received a copy of a periodical in which I have an article.  It is always humbling when I see something in print that I wrote.  When I was taking those writing classes in high school, it never occurred to me that someday I would see my ideas in print.  I simply would have thought the writing was merely homework that was due.  In most cases I considered it a pain to write, edit and receive some kind of grade.  I didn’t think someone else might be helped by what I thought.

The journal which came in the mail is a British publication put out by the Jesuits.  I figure that is enough for a little laugh---a Quaker publishing in a Jesuit British magazine.  It certainly is not going to be widely read.  While I feel good about what I said, it will not change the world.  In some ways I am honored to be included in a publication that is not an obvious one for me, given my background. 

And so it was that I opened the journal and found my article.  They made it look good.  The editors add…

Careers, Vocations and Calling

Recently I spent some time with a group of students in the process of discussing various careers.  Part of what was at stake was helping them think about this before they graduate.  Too often a college student thinks that a particular major leads to a special job.  Sometimes this is true.  But more often than not, there is no direct corollary between our major in college and the careers we wind up pursuing.

I am certainly not against a student choosing a major in college.  As a matter of fact, most colleges require that major to graduate.  What I do want to question is the assumption that certain majors lead to certain careers.  It is more involved than that.  And perhaps there are times when luck has a role to play.  What did happen in the discussion provoked me to start thinking about the whole phenomenon.

I thought about my own life.  It is obvious to anyone who looks at me that I am at the end of my career!  My next career move likely is called retirement!  When I look at my worki…

Our World and Our Chances

The picture accompanying the article in a piece I just read both lured me to look closely and heightened some fear in me.  The picture looked like a blazing inferno.  It clearly was a mighty fire or conflagration of some kind.  The reds, oranges and yellows dominated the picture.  It obviously looked hotter than hell!  I read the caption below the blazing image to confirm it was a forest fire being blown out of control.  Fear is the appropriate response to such a sight.  Just looking at the image is intimidating.  To be in the actual presence of such a fire would be even more scary.  And to have to cope with the reality of the fire descending on me or my property would be devastating.

The article was entitled, “Beneath a smooth surface, a bubbling of fear and instability.”  The author, Amy Morris-Young, is someone I have before encountered.  I like the way she thinks about spirituality and translates it into her daily life.  She offers a kind of realistic hope to me and, no doubt, oth…

Practical Spirituality: Do Good

Sometimes I may not be fair to religion when I separate it from spirituality. To me they are quite related, but are not the same. I am certainly not against religion. After all, I tell people I teach it! However, I also find that I am more at home in the arena of spirituality---the spiritual. This is not the place for an extended essay defining both and arguing why I think they are not the same.

Suffice it to say, religion for me (and most folks I know) is first and foremost in some doctrines. For example, people are quick to tell me they do believe in God---or don’t believe in God. Obviously for those who believe, there often is more they believe in, and it may well be the case that their beliefs inform their actions. Spirituality for me is first and foremost experience. I know this can sound wishy-washy. But spirituality is about experience of the Holy One. This usually has implications for actions in our lives.

So it is that I am intrigued by what I believe or what my experience mi…

Paying Forward

I had not really thought much about it until my friend mentioned it in his remarks to me and some of my younger student friends. He is a pretty “big person” in our part of the world. He is a name of national prominence. I feel fortunate to have a good relationship with him. Apart from a good friendship, I don’t get any special things from him. The best thing is his willingness to take time to speak to my student friends.

The “it” he mentioned was in the phrase, “paying it forward.” There he was in front of us saying the real reason he was spending time with us was to “pay it forward.” It was appropriate. He did not have to do this. He wasn’t going to get anything personally from doing it. In fact, we could actually be seen as a pain in the neck for him! But he wanted to pay it forward.

Most of us know what this means. Usually it comes out of recognition that somebody or, even, a few others did things for us when we were younger. It could have been opportunities for something we might …

An Attractive Community

Regular followers of my inspirational reflections know I like how David Brooks thinks and writes.  Brooks routinely writes pieces that appear in the New York Times and other venues.  I don’t always agree with Brooks’ politics, but I do value his clarity and his ability to develop analytical thinking that helps me think more clearly.  Like a good teacher, I can say that Brooks helps me get clear what I think!

I don’t comment on every editorial he writes, but I do read every one.  I like his range of reading.  He has put me on to books I never would have known about, much less read.  Recently, he has thought a great deal about ethics, virtues and the like.  This resonates with my own work.  I value his take on contemporary politics and what a mess that world is.  But he does not just complain; he offers alternatives and solutions.  As far as I know, he is not now nor ever does he intend to run for public office.  I hope he doesn’t because that would blunt his effectiveness as a critic---…

Healing in the Clouds

I first saw this editorial in the New York Times though a tweet a friend of mine sent.  Maybe that is the best thing about Twitter.  It gives me a chance to see things I otherwise would miss.  This tweet referenced an editorial that I was delighted to read and caused memories and some pondering.  The article was entitled, “In Costa Rica, Loss in the Clouds.”  It was written by Joseph Heithaus, whom I did not know.  But I now know he is a professor of English at DePauw University in Indiana.

Because my friend who sent the tweet is an active Quaker, I am sure that is why I first took notice.  But I also realized it was about Costa Rica, which I have visited and very much vow to return some day.  As I started to read the editorial, I did not know how engaged I would be.  As I began to read, I noticed the place from which the author was writing was Monteverde.  I have been to Monteverde, along with my daughter, and I was eager to dive into the editorial.

Heithaus began ominously: “At the en…

Spiritual Optimism

I enjoy following what Pope Francis is doing.  Being Pope means he always has an audience and whatever he says is noted and usually made available.  Of course, I can’t imagine living in that kind of spotlight.  Surely, he has down time and time alone, but that is not newsworthy.  He must always be alert to where he is and what he is saying.  Lately he has been giving some speeches on hope.  Since that is one of the classical virtues about which I have written, I take note.  I always want to be in a learning mode.

In that recent speech on hope, Francis is quoted to say, “Christians are never pessimistic, resigned or weak, thinking life is an unstoppable train careening out of control.”  That is a bold statement and one, I’m sure, some folks would claim is not right or not realistic.  It is worth unpacking this and taking a closer look at what he is affirming.

I am sure some people of faith would when the Pope says Christians “never” do something.  Never is an absolute word.  Obviously, i…

Something Special

One of my favorite authors, the late monk, Thomas Merton, had a great answer to the person who asked him what he wanted to be? Merton responded, “I want to be a saint.” The first time I read that line, I sat back with the exclamation, “Whoa!” That is an audacious aspiration. I can’t imagine telling someone I want to be a saint. Perhaps, the real reason I would never tell someone that I want to be a saint is the fact that I really don’t want to be a saint!

It is probably true that Merton and I don’t really mean the same thing when we say, “saint.” Since I did not grow up Roman Catholic, I never had anything to do with saints. Occasionally, the authors of the New Testament were called saints. Reference would be made to St. John or St. Paul. Since these guys wrote what we now call “Scripture,” there was no way I would have aspirations equal to them.

I think the only other saint I would have recognized was St Valentine. He was a great saint, as far as I was concerned. Of course, I knew no…

To Miss a Life

Sometimes all it takes is one sentence.  Sometimes all it takes is one sentence to be sufficient focus for an entire inspirational reflection.  In fact, some sentences contain so much richness, it takes more than one meditative setting to begin to digest everything in a few words.  Some writers seem to be directly and intuitively connected to the Holy One.  The words that pour forth from their pen are, as if, immediate revelation.  It is almost like the Divine Being Itself has grabbed the pen.

One writer I find like this is Walker Percy.  I have not read as much of him as I wish, but when I do, I am spiritually floored.  For example, in his novel, The Second Coming, we find this single sentence, which is actually a question.  “Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?”  This question arrests me.  It grabs me and won’t let go.  In many ways it is a rather simple question.  On the surface it is even a bit playful.  Immediately, I smile and almost …

Prudence: Archaic Idea?

I swore when I was a kid that if I ever got old, I would never talk about “when I was a kid!”  When I was a kid, I hated that kind of talk from my elders.  I did not care how far they had to walk to school.  It made no difference to me what the price of gas was or what the price of anything was.  I still believe in that commitment not to talk about the days when I was a kid. 

The only ones who might be remotely interested in the days when I was a kid are the other older people!  And many of them don’t want to hear about the days when I was a kid.  They prefer, instead, to talk about the days when they were a kid.  And I still don’t care!  To put it in context, most of the people I spend time with these days have lived more than half of their lives in this 21st century!  That blows my mind, but they don’t care.

It means I have to be careful when I am in the classroom or the Student Union and not use references that make no sense to them.  It does no good to talk about Kennedy or Reaga…

Insight: A Look Within

It was while I was reading a really interesting book that I had an insight.  The insight itself is not what I want to give focus.  Instead I became intrigued by the process of getting an insight.  What happened?  How did the process happen?  Was it a matter of luck or is there really something I could do to enhance my chances of getting insights?  Let’s pursue this idea, especially with respect to spiritual insight.

The word, insight, is fairly simple and straightforward.  It is a compound word, “in” and “sight.”  Literally it means to “see within” something.  It means looking “inside” something (it could even be a person).  In that sense we get an “inside look.”  But it also is a little trickier than this.

If we were standing outside a house and peered into a window, we would not say that we had “insight” into the house.  We merely would affirm that we had looked “inside.”  And if I open a drawer in my house, I would never say that I had “insight” when I looked inside.  I simply look…


I have been interested in the range of articles and opinions that have emerged in the last months and will be around for some years.  We are at the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, usually attributed to Martin Luther and other sixteenth century reforming figures.  I suspect various schools and churches approach this story from multiple directions.  I am sure there is not one agreed upon interpretation of Luther’s break from the Roman Catholic Church---or was it more like the Catholic Church kicking him out of the Church?  It depends.

I even have authored an article reflecting back on the five-hundred years since he nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door in 1517.  At that point, he was still a Catholic priest and university professor.  I think it is fair to say he had no idea he was about to precipitate anything other than a dialogue with church leaders.  Within four years he would be tossed out of the Church.

One of the most ironical things about Lut…

Praying to Celebrate Differences

I use various magazines and journals to keep me up to date on news that is worth knowing, but which I would probably miss knowing.  Through the process, you learn to trust certain venues and authors to tell you things you will want to know.  Some of them for me would be obvious, namely, Quaker periodicals to tell me about the Quaker world which is my own tradition.  But some of the things I read are a very different sort.  I routinely read periodicals and people who likely take a very different approach than I personally would.  I try to read people who think very differently than I do and have theological positions I personally don’t find speak to me.

This seems counter-cultural today.  I find so many people only watch news outlets that gives them the party line they hold.  Political liberals only watch MSNBC and, of course, conservatives only watch FOX news.  Too often, the same regimen holds for people who hold theological positions.  Part of me feels like it is a waste of time for …