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Showing posts from 2018

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…

New World Community

There are some writers I will rush to read even if I have no idea what they are going to give focus.  One of these is Ilio Delio, a Franciscan Sister who teaches theology at Villanova University in Philadelphia.  I have never met her, although I very much want to do so.  As often happens, I “met” her through some friends who do know her.  

Delio writes on science and religion in some creative ways.  She is a good scientist who is also clearly a woman of faith.  Since I am not very conversant with modern science, I rely on someone like her to help me make sense of faith in our contemporary world.  In this world we too often are tempted to hold on to an old-fashioned faith that makes no sense in our scientific environment or we ditch religion altogether as old-fashioned and so much rubbish, as the British say.  I would like to stay in the middle ground---a person of faith and a scientific believer.

I spotted Delio’s recent article that was entitled, “Politics, Teilhard, and the world’…

Two Streams

I try to read widely so I have more exposure to a variety of things.  I figure if I am passive, not much good will come my way.  And certainly new things are much less likely to find their way into my brain.  I read newspapers, periodicals and these days, blogs and other social media.  Regardless of how I might feel about the new forms of social media, that is the way of the world and I know I need to do it to stay in touch.

One of the regular places I go to find good, new things is Krista Tippett’s online presence called “On Being.”  She has enlisted a number of authors to reflect on numerous aspects of spirituality and the spiritual life.  Some of them---like Parker Palmer---I know and others I may not have any knowledge who they are.  But this is a good way to make new media friends, even if they don’t ever become personal friends.

One of my new media friends is Omid Safi, who is the Director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center.  He shared a recent blog entitled, “Justice is Love, E…

Lure of Life

There are some old friends to whom I like to return from time to time.  Some of my old friends are books.  Some of these books were written centuries ago, so obviously I personally know the author.  One such book is the Confessions by Augustine---or St. Augustine as he rightly is called.  He wrote this magnificent theological autobiography in the late fourth century.  People of faith have been reading it for more than a thousand years.

Other friends are living people.  One such friend is Alan Jones.  I have many of Jones’ books, but the one that still speaks most powerfully to me is his book, Soul Making.  Alan was a seminary professor when I first met him.  Although born in England, he had already come to this country and was teaching at the Episcopal seminary in New York when we had initial contact.  From there he went to San Francisco where he became Dean of the Cathedral in that city by the bay.

I loved the title of soul making and, I’m sure, that is what initially led me to buy…

When Dreams Die

If we have even a little awareness, we realize we don’t live in paradise. Only two people ever did and they blew it!  And now the rest of us are living East of Eden, as John Steinbeck put it.  In fact that big book of his is a wonderful literary narrative of what life outside of paradise is really like.  I know I have enough awareness to realize my life is not paradise and no one I know has paradise life either.

I know how to talk about paradise—at least from a biblical perspective. I have studied the text of the first two chapters of Genesis enough to know what it means and the story it is meant to convey.  I have spent enough time with the third chapter of Genesis to have a sense of what Adam and Even were up to when their relationship with God went south.  Without going into any details, let simply say God had a dream for Adam, Eve and all their descendants—right down to you and me. But the dream ended badly.

Of course, there still are good things happening in life.  My own life …

Bigger Heart

Richard Rohr, one of my favorite contemporary writers on spirituality, spoke at a recent gathering of folks to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton’s, death.  Regular readers of my inspirational reflections know that I like and often quote Merton.  I agree with Rohr and many others that Merton still has a relevancy to our world today.  And I find that much of what Rohr talks about resonates with Merton’s spirituality.

Rohr is a Franciscan, who runs a Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque.  I want to share some of his reflections because I think they are pertinent to the concerns of contemporary Christians and seekers. 

Heidi Schlumpf captures some of Rohr’s thoughts in a recent article entitled, “Rohr: Church needs an ‘awakening of the soul.’”  I like how she opens her piece.  “Unless Christians rediscover the ‘bigger heart’ and ‘bigger mind’ of the mystical and contemplative tradition, the church will be unable to make positive change in …

Some Thoughts From a Friend

Recently, I had occasion to speak to a group of people who had asked me to talk about Thomas Merton, the monk from last century whom I very much like.  I don’t like Merton because he and I were friends.  I never met him.  I was still in school when he died in 1968 on a speaking engagement in Bangkok, Thailand.  His death was a shock, since he was only 58 years old.  I remember reading about his untimely death, but I had not read too much of him yet, so I was not unduly affected.

It was in the 80s that I began to read fairly extensively in Merton and other writers on spirituality.  The non-Catholic world was discovering that way of talking about religious experience.  As a Quaker, I had always known experience is key.  For us theology also is important, but theology follows experience.  For sure, one can talk about theology without believing any of it.  It is quite possible for an atheist to be a theological expert.  He or she, however, won’t believe any of it is true.

The group had …

Celebrating Thomas Merton’s Life

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, has been dead for fifty years.  The occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his death brought numerous pieces in magazines, newspapers and other media to recognize his life and memory.  Actually, it is fairly remarkable that anyone is remembered fifty years after passing.  We often hear folks talk about their legacy, but honestly the legacy of most of us is fairly short and not at all profound.  Merton is an exception.

At least for me he is an exception.  And in his own way, Merton was exceptional.  I am confident he is still remembered fifty years after his untimely death at a Christian-Buddhist monastic interreligious conference in Thailand is because he is still relevant.  I would admit that most people in this country would not have a clue who Merton is.  That probably is even true for folks within his own Roman Catholic tribe.  And yet, there are still countless people, not only in this country, but globally, w…

Salvation of the Human World

I was recently reading and ran across the name of Vaclav Havel and some of his writings.  Young folks today would not know about him.  Even I have to recognize it has been a long time since he was a factor in the news.  I was surprised, however, to learn that he died in 2011.  I thought it was longer ago.  I remember being impressed with him---both as a writer and as a politician/leader. 

He first came on the scene in my mind when I read about his involvement in the anti-communist movement in the 1970s and 80s.  He served multiple stints in prison because of his opposition.  In my mind he was a principled person who was standing up for the rights of his fellow citizens.  He played a key role in what was called the “Velvet Revolution,” which toppled Communism in 1989.  He then served as President of Czechoslovakia.  After Slovakia left the alliance with the Czech Republic, Havel served as President of that Republic.

I share this background in order that we might understand the one-line …

Let it Snow!

I arose early this morning---long before the first glimmer of light appeared in the eastern sky.  With my first step out the door, I was aware of how cold it was again going to be today.  I could feel it on my exposed cheeks and the sound of the snow’s crunch underfoot told me that sub 32-degree weather still engulfed us.

Having a hot cup of coffee and sitting inside a warm room means all is well---for me.  But I know that people will complain about the cold weather, and the snow will be condemned as a nuisance or a problem.

As I think about this negative view of the winter months, I wonder what would happen if we looked at the snow as this season’s blessing from nature.  The snow is white---for centuries this has been the religious color of purity.  Let us look at the snow as God’s natural way of purifying this part of the world.  I want to be able to see my “white world” this day and appreciate the beauty of its purity.

It is so true of our world and those of us who …

Extending Ourselves

It is not unusual in theology classes to talk about self-transcendence or, for that matter, God’s transcendence.  If we are talking about God, transcendence typically describes as the belief that somehow God is above or beyond our world.  Of course, these ideas of “above” or “beyond” are indeed descriptive.  They might be metaphorical or poetic ways of saying that God is “more” than the world.  These days I prefer the language of universe to world.  In my mind universe encompasses a bigger cosmology.  We know there are many universes in our galaxy and the many other galaxies. 

When we use the language of transcending ourselves, it is similar to God.  Self-transcendence is a good way to talk about being more than self-absorbed or operating purely out of self-interest.  I would be kidding myself if I deny that some element of self-interest is in play in much of my life.  And I believe it is the same with most people, if not all.  Self-interest does not necessarily mean a bad thing.  But…

A Living Experience

I have been re-reading some of Thomas Merton for an upcoming speaking engagement.  I always find Merton to be thought provoking and quotable, even though he died in 1968.  I always find the irony to be too much that a guy who took vows to live in a contemplative, rigorous monastery in the middle of Kentucky still has a tremendous relevancy to folks in the twenty-first century.  I think the reason is Merton was so human.

It is easy to assume that someone who runs off to a monastery cannot be normal.  And living in a monastery should be a guarantee that you never will be normal!  I know I had that assumption.  But when you meet monks, as I have done countless times, you usually come away thinking that those monkish guys or gals are actually pretty normal.  What they are doing living the monastic life is not the run-of-the-mill kind of job.  But when I think about it, guys and gals who drive racecars for a living or who are astronauts are not living normally as most of my friends. 

I l…

Controversy Revisited

The title of this inspirational piece, “Controversy Revisited, came to mind when I saw a recent headline.  The headline read, “Thomas Altizer, 91, Proponent of ‘God is Dead’ Theology, Dies.”  Anyone who is my age and has studied religion and theology certainly knows the name of Thomas Altizer.  My only surprise was the fact he was still alive.  When I first heard about him, I assumed he was probably older than he apparently was.  He was born in 1927 and obviously lived to a ripe old age. 

Altizer burst on the scene in the 1960s, along with two or three other prominent teachers of theology.  Precisely, he gained national notoriety with the publication of the April 8, 1966 issue of the magazine, Time.  The front cover of that famous magazine posed the question, “Is God Dead?”  You can imagine the uproar that caused!  In the 1960s most Americans would have claimed to believe in God.  Certainly the 60s were a tumultuous time.  There was fervor on many fronts---feminism, civil rights, Viet…

I Have Found Happiness

George H.W. Bush recently died.  He was 94, so it is not a surprise.  In fact, most of us will be surprised if we live that long.  And he certainly was a distinguished public figure.  Like so many politicians, he was a mixed bag for many people.  But there is no doubt, he was always respected as a human being.  He served his country during WW II, so there was never a question about a commitment to service.  Even for those who would have disagreed with him politically, there was no question about his character or commitments to the country and its welfare.

He was a man of wealth.  Obviously, that gave him advantages which most humans are never afforded.  He managed to combine a couple key geographical parts of the country---New England and Texas---and take advantage of both.  In spite of his wealth, he was “homey” in a way.  He was a baseball guy.  Oddly enough, he served a Vice-President twice as long as President.  During the two terms of Reagan’s presidency, Bush was his Vice-Preside…

Questions

Teaching for a long time has many blessings, but one I really appreciate is a chance to re-read a book that has been significant.  Of course, there are many books that have made a difference in my life.  I have often wondered how I would answer the question that is posed: if I were stranded on an island and could have only one book, what would I choose?  

I am sure I would surprise and disappoint some people when I confess I know that book would not be the Bible.  That does not mean the Bible is not important to me or that I have it memorized and don’t really need it.  I know the Bible has formed me in crucial ways.  As a Christian and Quaker, much of what I think is rooted in the Bible.  But it would not be my choice.

There are a few books by Quakers I might choose.  I would seriously consider the one by Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion.  That is a simple, inspiring book that would serve me well on the deserted island.  I really like some of Gerald May’s books and would be hap…

The Potential of Holiness

I read quite a bit.  Sometimes my reading is very intentional, such as reading things for class the next day.  I expect it of students; so why not expect it of myself?  Other times I read things for no particular reason other than I am curious and am intrigued whether I might learn something.  It is like talking with someone---maybe even a stranger---with no real intention in mind except to be in conversation.

I have a few things I regularly read.  Many of us have newsletters or magazines from the colleges and universities we attended.  When one of mine arrives, I often turn to the class notes section to see if anyone I know is mentioned.  I am old enough to check out the obituaries!  There are other professional journals I read with regularity.  I think it is important for me to keep up with the latest issues in the field of study I chose.  I am not reading for some utilitarian purpose---looking for something I am sure I will use.  Sometimes I simply want to know for the sake of knowi…

Map of the Heart

When I stay at my daughter’s house, I am aware there is a rather large map on the wall by my bed.  I like sleeping right next to the entire world!  Obviously, I am old enough to have looked at maps a thousand times.  I have traveled enough to know where most major countries and places in the world can be found.  I know if you look at a map and locate China or Australia, you realize why it takes so many hours in a plane to get to those places.  Maps give us a sense of place.

I have liked maps since I was a kid.  Of course, I grew up in the pre-internet days, so maps were much more prevalent.  Nearly everyone I knew had a map or two in their cars.  I grew up in Indiana.  I knew all the big and little towns in the vicinity.  I was so provincial, I thought Indiana was a rather large place.  I guess it beats Rhode Island, but it is one of the smaller states.  And yet, there were so many places I could never locate until I checked the map.  Maps seemed necessary to know where you were at in…

Understanding Church

I was prompted by a recent article talking about the church to reflect on my understanding of what the church is and how does the church work in our contemporary world.  The article was specifically about the Roman Catholic Church.  Since there are over one billion Catholics in the world, this is a worthwhile thing to think about.  Quakers are so tiny---especially in the USA---we could almost be a decent size Catholic diocese!

I already know a few things that are referenced in the article.  I have read quite a bit of Christian history, so I know the fancy word for church is ecclesiology.  That is a compound Greek word made up of a noun and a preposition.  The noun (which is rooted in a verb) is the word, klesia, which means the “ones called.”  This is the word used in the New Testament to talk about the encounter Jesus had with various men and women.  For example, he approached a couple guys who were fishing and he invited them to “Follow me.”  This is a “calling” of the men to be disc…

A Big Enough Soul

David Brooks, New York Times writer, continues to write thoughtfully and in ways that challenge me to take what I know and find new ways to apply it.  Recently he wrote about trauma.  You would not think an article entitled, “Fighting the Spiritual Void,” would be dealing with the phenomenon of trauma.  But the key is to see trauma, in part, as a spiritual issue.  Most of us are educated to think trauma is a physical and psychological problem.  We think about soldiers traumatized by war and victims abused by others.  Sometimes we use the word rather loosely when we talk about being “traumatized” by someone or something.

So reading Brooks’ article helped me see it in a new way and to appreciate how much I have to bring to the table.  He begins his thoughts in a way that resonates with many of us.  “Wherever I go I seem to meet people who are either dealing with trauma or helping others dealing with trauma.”  There does seem to be a lot of trauma these days.  Like so many other things, w…