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Showing posts from December, 2017

Another Year

I am not sure how old I was when it dawned on me (or someone told me) that Christmas and the New Year did not come at exactly the same time everywhere in the world.I am not sure how I felt when I learned the kids in Europe had opened their presents six hours before I did.And for sure, I do not think I could quite grasp the fact that Chinese kids had done their New Year’s party at noon my time.And by the time I watch an old year go out and welcomed a new one, the Chinese had just had their lunch!

Now I know fully that all this is due to the fact that our earth is round.It is a big ball.And it takes the ball twenty-four hours to spin around one time.I know this in my head, but honestly I have had very few experiences to convince me the earth is round!It still looks flat, except when you get in the mountains.But there is nothing even with the mountains that would tell us the earth is round.I don’t doubt the scientists, but I do have to take it on faith. 
What really intrigues me is the w…

A Deeper Understanding of Thanks

I remember so many times when I was growing up in rural Indiana, one of my parents (or even grandparents) would ask, “Did you thank him?”  They drilled into my head that I owed someone a word of thanks if I were given something or if I were told something special.  I suspect that I did not fully appreciate what they were doing for me.

I am sure they were teaching me this lesson long before I could register what they actually were doing.  I know with my own kids and, now with grandkids, I am watching that age-old lesson being taught.  No doubt, the kids are too young really to grasp why saying “thanks” is all that important.  I know when I was young I was just happy to get a gift.  I am sure I was driven by pure self-interest.  In a one or two-year old, that is normal and fine.

But learning to say “thanks” is an early lesson in self-transcendence.  That is a big word, which simply means, you are not the only one in the world!  What’s more, the world does not revolve around you and your…

Devout, Doubt and Out

Recently I read a great opening line and now cannot even remember where it was.  But I do remember the gist of the line.  I think the line was used about Roman Catholics, but it really applies to all traditions and, certainly all denominations.  The author said there were three kinds of believers: the devout, those who doubt and those on their way out!  I certainly know some Quakers who fit all three categories.  I am confident I can come up with names of Catholic friends in all three.  And clearly in Judaism and, likely, every other major group, there is membership in all categories.

I suppose in our now secular age, we could add a fourth category, namely, those who were never in.  But they really don’t count, since they are not wrestling with the issues of faith, belief, membership, etc.  Or if they are wrestling with it, it is not in the context of the church or synagogue.  So I will set this fourth group aside.  I am interested in the other three.

Personally, I can only identify w…

Risking Surprise

Good ideas often are embedded in stories.  This reminds me of a line in my new book which goes something like, “stories inspire, facts convince.”  Of course, this is why people like to hear stories.  And it is why so much family history is buried in stories.  We go to family reunions to listen to and to tell stories.  Stories give us a narration of our identity and the communities to which we belong.  And sometimes it is from stories---from listening to others---that I get good ideas for this inspirational piece.

Sometimes we get to listen first-hand to someone telling the story.  At other times the stories come to us in written form.  This is one of the best arguments for history.  History is the stories we tell ourselves from our past that continues to inform and define our present.  Sometimes stories come from the present, but we simply were not there to hear them.  We do this all the time, but we don’t think about it.  One of the ways I get contemporary stories is simply reading th…

Value and Misplaced Value

Recently I heard a homily (sermon) that provoked my thinking.  The speaker was talking about Americans’ obsession with shopping.  I relaxed, thinking that the sermon would not apply to me.  I hate shopping!  The thought of going to a mall, simply to walk around and “window shop” seems as insane to me as jumping off a tall ladder.  When I have to go shopping---and I mean, “have” to go---I know what I want.  I go directly to whatever it is, buy it and leave as expeditiously as possible.

But the speaker soon brought me into his web of indictment.  It was very clever, because I did not see the theme of the homily to be indictment.  I know he would shudder that I introduced a legal term, like indictment.  He is actually very non-judgmental.  And of course, indictment is a direct accusation meant to head directly to judgment.  So let me say, I was spiritually indicted.

You see, the real point was not actually about shopping.  The real point was about value.  The real point was about the thi…

Culture of Care

The title for this inspirational piece came from a sentence in an article I read about Julian of Norwich.  I have long been an admirer of Julian, the fourteenth century English mystic and writer on spirituality.  I may well have been in graduate school before I ever encountered Julian.  But I liked her on my first read.  Reading her was both a comfort and a challenge.  She was a comfort because when you read her, you have the feeling she knows God and knows the kinds of things God wants humans to know about all sorts of spiritual things.  I found Julian a challenge, however, in that she offers insights to God which I had never heard before and, therefore, was not sure how to deal with them. 

We do not actually know Julian’s real name.  The name by which we know her was taken from the church in Norwich, England to which she became attached.  She actually made a home in a small cell that was attached to the church itself.  She became a kind of spiritual counselor who attracted folks fro…

Resurrection

If you pay attention to the title of this inspirational piece, you might think I wrote this at the Easter season.  It is appropriate for that time, but it is not Easter.  Instead I am writing in response to an article I recently read.  Now I will have to confess, the whole Easter message---including resurrection---is tricky.  And that is compounded by the early church’s Hellenistic context.  What that means is early Christian theology emerged in a world that spoke Greek and Latin and whose way of understanding reality was informed by the variety of Greek philosophical schools, primarily Platonic and Stoic.

Of course, any of us who think---whether it is first-century Christian believers or twenty-first century ones---have to think in some particular way of looking at the world.  While the Platonic worldview has not disappeared, it now shares the stage with others.  The other important thing is to recognize that most of us are not even aware of our way of looking at our world.  It seems …

Spiritual Pilgrimage as Life Process

There are some books I have which I enjoy having the chance to read again and again.  One of these books for me is a volume first published in the 1980s, namely, Will and Spirit, by Gerald G. May.  It is a book I use when I teach the class, Contemplative Spirituality.  Perhaps it is understandable when I share May’s subtitle for that book: A Contemplative Psychology.  May was a psychiatrist who founded and was affiliated with a Spirituality center in Washington, DC, called Shalem.  I valued highly his various books and his work.

As a psychiatrist, May knew the physiological and emotional components of spirituality, which my own education did not give focus.  The good news is one does not have to be in school or a classroom to learn.  In fact, most of us had incredible learning experiences long before we went to school.  It was simply called childhood!  And so I eagerly bought Will and Spirit many years ago and devoured it.  It was so important for me that I figured out how to use it i…

Notes Played

I am one of those dinosaurs who still reads physical newspapers.  It is an old habit I will probably never give up---at least until they actually quit printing newspapers.  I like to get my early cup of coffee and read the paper.  I certainly am not against technology.  In fact, I regularly read two or three other papers online---a couple foreign papers, which I would never buy.  My kids make fun of me; they would never buy a “real paper.”

No doubt, this reflects the time in which I grew up.  Being from a rural area, the news came from two sources: newspapers and the radio.  I actually spent a few years of my early life without television.  Now that seems preposterous, but at the time, it was normal.  As I reflect on this, I realize I probably trusted newspapers the way the younger generation trusts the internet.  My students tend to assume whatever they find on Google has to be true. 

Another thing I realize is my tendency to read everything in the newspaper.  Of course, some things a…

Advent as Preparation

When I was a youth, I had no clue how provincial I was.  The good news is I would not even have known what that word meant!  So it did not matter that I was provincial.  Basically, to be provincial means you are a citizen of the province.  In my case my province was rural Indiana and an identity as a Quaker.  Rural Indiana is not unlike other rural areas in this country.  It meant hard work, independence and a limited outlook.  That was my little world.

Paradoxically, there were quite a few Quakers in the little world in which I lived, so I figured the world was full of Quakers.  This illusion was perpetuated because I know there were “a bunch of Quakers” in Kenya, so I figure all of Africa must be crawling with Quakers.  All of this turned out not to be true.  Education did some wonderful things to me.

I learned much more about a much bigger world.  College in the South in a modest-sized city began my growth beyond a rural mentality.  The good news is that I did not have to give up w…

Beginning

One of the most enchanting books I have recently read is by David Whyte entitled, Consolations.  The subtitle is equally intriguing: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning.  Whyte is essentially a poet.  And this book focuses on a series of words.  Whyte deals with each word in a poetic way, even though it is prose.  His writing is fairly dense---as poetry often can be---but the read is worthwhile.  To understand him, you need to slow down and savor the word he is dealing with, but also his own descriptive, interpretive words.  He often chooses an ordinary word and uncovers some extraordinary meanings.

For example, a word I would like to give attention is the common word, “beginning.”  This is a word I have used countless times.  Most people would assume they know precisely what the word means.  But to read Whyte’s rendition of the word, beginning, is to be led into a much deeper, reflective place to discover the word has a profundity to it most of us never would have guessed.

T…

Light in the Darkness

The title for this inspirational piece could well come from Quaker spirituality.  Quakers have always been fond of the spiritual metaphor, light.  I suspect much of this fondness stems from the Quaker appreciation of the Fourth Gospel.  The author of that gospel, John, talks about Jesus as the “Light.”  Indeed, one of the chief functions of Jesus is to shine the light in the world.  The teaching and ministry of Jesus, hence, enlightens the people he contacted and touched.  Quakers went so far as to conclude every one of us has an “Inner Light.”  And I grew up hearing that we each had a “Light Within.”

However, this inspirational piece is not about Quakers.  It is about Catholics; indeed, it is about one Catholic in particular.  The focus is on Father Solanus Casey.  Until recently, I never heard of this Catholic priest.  But he has recently come into the news and I have been fascinated by him and his story.  Solanus Casey has just been beatified.  This is an official step along the way…

The Cosmic Christ

There have been many ways to talk about Jesus.  In fact, one of the special areas in theological studies is called Christology.  Christology basically focuses on how people talk about Jesus, particularly Jesus the Christ.  It is normal to hear it simply put as “Jesus Christ.”  This slightly alters the way I put it, namely, “Jesus the Christ.”  While my rendition doubtlessly will sound strange in most Christian ears, it probably comes closer to the way Jesus and the early disciples would have understood it.  But of course, I recognize when I say it this way, it sounds a trifle arrogant!

It certainly does not mean that “Jesus Christ” is wrong.  Surely it is not.  But at the same time, we need to be clear about what we are doing and what we are affirming.  Let’s put a couple simple affirmations on the table.  The first affirmation boldly assumes Jesus was a real guy---a human being.  We can leave off to the side right now whether he was a guy who ever sinned.  The second assumption affirm…

Advent Season

For those of us in the Christian tradition, we are in Advent Season.  Advent is a four-week lead-up to Christmas.  I must admit, I enjoyed learning about this stuff since Quakers are not very liturgical.  I am pretty confident I never heard about the “liturgical year” until my college days.  It was that time in college when I became aware of what so many who grow up in the Roman Catholic tradition, Episcopal and Lutheran traditions, take for granted.  Advent is the beginning of the Christmas season and matches, in some real way, Lent as the lead-up to the Easter season.

The primary theme of Advent is “preparation.”  People are supposed to begin the preparation for the coming of Christmas.  It is easy these days to see how bent-out-of-shape our preparation has become.  These days preparation is likely to mean the beginning stress of Christmas shopping, etc.  I already begin to sense the frenzy in some voices of those who talk about “taking all Saturday” to get the gifts that many feel o…

A Hidden Wholeness

My favorite dead monk, Thomas Merton, wrote so much that it is hard for my students to believe his productivity. Merton died in 1968 and had not yet reached his sixtieth birthday. Tragically executed in a bathtub in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had travelled to speak at an interreligious monastic conference, Merton’s death shocked the religious world. Partly because of the changing media in the mid-20th century, Merton became famous in his own time. Indeed, it seems ironic that someone would join a contemplative monastery in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky, taking a vow of silence, and then become famous because of all of his words!

But that’s Merton. He is such a fascinating guy because it is impossible to pigeonhole or stereotype him. In many ways his life is fraught with ironies and, sometimes, contradictions. Part of his appeal is the chance to watch him work out his own spiritual journey in fear and trembling, and yet with the confidence in a God and God’s grace that is reassuri…