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Open System – New Life

Sometimes I think I have this thing for monks and nuns!  I realize with all that’s going on in our world, that statement could get me in trouble!  Minimally, it sounds fishy.  But I mean it.  I am not sure exactly when it was that I met my first monk or nun.  I know it was not growing up through high school.  We barely had any Catholics in the rural area that I called home.  So it would be college time, at least.

There is not doubt my religious world expanded significantly in my college days.  I went to college in the south, so suddenly there were many Baptists in my life!  I also began to make friends with Episcopalians, Catholics and all their cousins who could teach this Quaker boy a thing or two about liturgy.  I made friends with Jews and knowingly made friends with Muslims.  My world was getting much bigger.

But I don’t remember meeting a monk or a nun.  However, I do remember reading about monks and, in fact, began reading some monks who wrote some important stuff in the early …

Hope and Memory

One of the benefits of having to prepare for new presentations is the chance to do new reading and thinking.  Of course, at this stage of the game, I do have some things that are true to me.  Those things are central to the way I see myself and my world.  It does not mean they are universally true, but they are true for me.  And I think they are true for many other people. I like to share these.  And I also like to keep reading and thinking to see how my own truths can be confirmed or challenged.  And I like to find new things that make sense and fit into the way I look at things.

Recently, I had the challenge of helping a group of church leaders think about the future---not only their own personal future, but the future of their congregations and organizations.  Sometimes this exercise is called strategic planning or long-range planning.  I am ok with this, but when it comes to spiritual organizations, it is not fully adequate.  I think God has a desire for each of us as individuals a…

On Listening

Although I have not mentioned it for a while, I continue to follow the lectionary.  This helps me with my own form of spiritual discipline.  Simply put, the lectionary is a series of readings picked out for each day.  I follow the lectionary I know Benedictine monks follow.  They observe multiple times daily when they worship.  During these periods, some Biblical material will be used.  At every one of these, some selection from one of the Psalms will be used.  Since I did not grow up using the Psalms, this continues to be part of my ongoing spiritual formation. 

The Psalms are not all fun.  Many of them talk about hard things in life.  They deal with people who have gone off the rails in terms of their faith.  Often the emotions being dealt with in particular Psalms are raw.  The God portrayed in the Psalms is not a God who is always easy going and dispensing happiness all the time.  This God is a demanding God who wants people to stay faithful to the covenant: I will be your God if…

Oddities of Faith

Folks who know me know that I am someone who acknowledges an appreciation for the writings of the late monk, Thomas Merton.  Even though Merton died in 1968, he has had a formative role in my spiritual faith and life.  I never met him, although I know a few people who knew Merton.  Part of the intrigue of Merton is his own pilgrimage from no faith to a life of faith. 

Had you known the early Merton---from his birth in 1915 through university years in the 1930s, you would never has guessed his life would take him where it did.  He became famous as a monk---an odd thing in itself.  Paradoxically, you could say he left the world only to have the world find him.  From an out of the way monastery in the hinterlands of Kentucky, Merton became a global spokesperson on a number of key issues in the 1950s and ‘60s.  For people like me, his words still have a relevance more than half a century later. 

Probably no one would have guessed a kind of cottage industry would emerge around Merton.  By …

Pentecost: the Church’s Birthday

Yesterday was the Christian Church’s birthday.  Maybe “birthday” is not a good descriptor, but it gives you the idea.  Pentecost is a Greek word meaning “fifty.”  Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter.  Since Easter was so late this year in the calendar, Pentecost also has come late.

Pentecost commemorates the post-Easter gift of the Holy Spirit on the early Christian disciples.  Essentially, the New Testament texts for this major Christian day are Acts 2 and John 20.  The gift of the Spirit is about the only thing the two texts have in common.  The more well known of the two biblical texts is Acts.  In that account the disciples are gathered in an Upper Room and the Spirit comes upon the believers like a fire and they speak in a variety of tongues (languages).

The Holy Spirit is the key to their beginning ministry in the world, just as it was for Jesus.  In one sense, the presence of the Spirit on one’s life is a way of understanding God to be present in one’s life.  With this Divin…

Happy Hour

Recently I went to a local restaurant, sports bar place with some friends.  It was late afternoon and the plan was to spend a little time together after work and in a different setting than the one in which we normally interact.  I enjoy these opportunities to be with some folks I like, but some of whom I barely know.  I especially appreciate the chance to get to know some people who work at the same place I do, but whom I never have the chance to see. 

I am always amazed to walk into one of these gatherings and see some faces and have no clue who they might be.  It’s a humbling experience, since I usually think I know most people who work at my institution.  Wrong!  I like the fact that getting to know and spend some time with people is the reason we are getting together.  Where we do it is not that important.  But I know food and drink often make the occasion more pleasant, so I am happy to participate.

When we go to this kind of place, it is usually Happy Hour.  For the most part,…

God's Will

In a couple months I have agreed to do a teaching series that I am excited about, but not ready to do.  I have agreed to compare some different Christian spiritualities.  The challenge is to talk about some things about which I don’t know too much.  The delight is the work I will do in order to be prepared.  For me it is a learning time.  I hope I am a model of the life-long learner we talk about with our college students.  I am not sure it means much to them at their age, but it means something to me.

In the first instance I want to do some comparisons between my own Quaker spirituality and Ignatian spirituality.  Ignatian spirituality is that tradition linked to Ignatius of Loyola, the sixteenth century Spanish Catholic priest and creative genius.  Ignatius founded the religious order known as the Society of Jesus---better known as the Jesuits.  The Jesuits are remarkably well-educated who have been teachers and mission workers all over the world.  Interestingly, the Jesuits are obed…

Don’t Forget to Shake Hands

I was challenged when I read a recent reflection by Pope Francis.  His reflections were on an experience of greeting a group of teens.  His experience was not surprising.  Of course, the teens were extremely delighted to have a chance to be with the Pope, if only briefly.  Since they were all Catholic teens, it was even more special.  Some typical things happened.

The Pope stated, “They were all there waiting for me.”  Obviously, this was to be expected.  The Pope’s next observation is not surprising, but it is a bit funny.  He noted, “When I arrived, they made noise, as young people do.”  Since I have never met the Pope---this one or any one before him---I am not sure what I would do.  I suppose I probably would be quiet, but I need to be careful and not assume this means I show more respect.  I am confident the teens were showing respect in their own way---noisier to be sure.  Francis’ next observation goes to the crux of the issue.  He notices that “I went to greet them and only a …

Amazing Possessions

I was sitting in my chair at home and mindlessly looking around.  Sometimes I have the television on and, while that focuses me, I am not sure it gives me much for my attention.  It is like eating cotton candy at a county fair.  The fluffy stuff looks good and sometimes even smells inviting.  But then you take a big bite of it and suddenly there is almost nothing in your mouth.  What seemed like so much turns out to be so little!

I am not one for many possessions.  Quakers have a thing for simplicity.  That always made sense to me.  As a middle-class American, I know I cannot claim to be that simple.  But as Americans go, I probably do live more simply than many.  It always seemed to me that simplicity is a good corollary to poverty.  I appreciate how the monks and friars, like the Franciscans, take vows to that end.  Most of us “normal people” won’t take a vow of poverty.  But most of us can live with less stuff than we actually have.  That does include me, too.  So I work on simplif…

Emotion of Love

It is probably true that every sane person in the world has thought about love.  There likely has been more written about love than almost any other topic.  However, this does not mean it is a worn-out topic or of any lesser value.  It is perhaps the most important word in the world.  Everyone I know has a sense of what loves means, wants some of it and hopes to live forever with love. 

At one level, we can rightly ask whether any more words about love need to be written---including these words!  But at another level because love is so important, we need to keep thinking about it and cultivating more of it in our world.  This happens to be my approach.  I think many of our problems in the world can be traced back to lack of love or a warped sense of what love is.

I feel lucky to be able to teach what I teach, because often the texts that I read talk about love.  There certainly are a variety of ways to discuss love.  One way that most people would agree with, see love as an emotion.  I…

Vision Statement

I am not sure about you, but I am aware that I get ideas and have no sense of why that idea popped into my head.  That does not mean everything I think is profound.  Some stuff that pops into my head is crazy.  Some of it is random, irrelevant or even stupid.  But sometimes some good stuff pops into my mind.  An idea like that is analogous to someone walking up and handing you a $20 bill.  I can imagine that person saying, “Here ya go, $20 just for thinking!”

Most of the time, these ideas come and go.  I don’t pay enough attention, so I know I have missed some very good ideas.  Of course, the bad ones should be forgotten.  And I should just laugh at the stupid ones and forget them, too.  When I talk about the good ones coming into my mind, I am not talking about the ideas that come when we are in that half-sleep, half-awake state.  I have in mind more the kind of ideas that come when we are in the shower or doing something that seems totally unrelated to getting a good idea.

Recently, a…

Steep Ourselves in Story

I have just read an article by my friend, Cassidy Hall.  She was reporting on a recent peacemaking conference held in Toronto.  I was intrigued by the article and the conference for more reasons than simply the report by a friend of mine.  My own Quaker tradition has always been associated with other so-called “peace churches.”  I grew up hearing about our testimony against war and violence.  Although Quakers recognize we cannot require individuals to adhere to this testimony, the group is clear this is the stand Jesus took and for which the Christian Bible argues. 

My own commitment to this testimony was tested in the Vietnam War.  During this time, I experienced first-hand the dilemma of knowing my own tradition and the peer pressure of fighting for one’s country.  So often, peacemaking seems to be a choice between faith and nationalism.  Perhaps that is an unfair characterization, but that can be discussed later.  What I want to do now is see what the folks in Toronto were saying.

T…

More on Daniel Berrigan

At the time of his fairly recent death, I wrote an inspirational piece on Daniel Berrigan.  Certainly most middle-aged and older Catholics knew about Daniel Berrigan.  And anyone else who was aware of the work for peace and justice were familiar with him.  Law enforcement officers in various places knew Berrigan because they hauled him off to jail a few times!  Berrigan was a modern-day prophet, which means his life and witness were a real challenge for me. 

Whenever I am confronted by a person like Berrigan, I feel like my own faith pilgrimage has been fairly lightweight.  Most of us know, it is far too easy to be a Christian---or Jew for that matter---in our contemporary American culture.  In fact, these days it does not matter much whether you are a person of faith or not.  It is no longer a big deal.  But for Daniel Berrigan, it was a big deal. 

Berrigan was ninety-four when he died.  He was born in 192---a baby of the “Roarin’Twenties!”  He lived his early adult years during WW I…

Trust the River

My colleagues and I often find ourselves complaining about having to grade papers.  Of course, that is not a fair critique of our work.  After all, we are the ones who asked for it!  But I never hear us complaining about what we asked for.  It is as if the students got together and decided to do some work in order for us to complain.  I don’t discount the amount of time it takes to offer good feedback to students.  Theoretically, that is why we are doing it. 

I never forget that people before me did it for me.  Not for a minute do I think all the things asked of students are worthy.  I do believe some examinations are pretty silly.  Sure, any faculty can force students to learn things for a short period of time.  But I wonder if that is real learning.  Especially in an era when we can find almost all the information we want online.  When I was in college, “google” was not a word.  I never “googled” anything.  It gets very easy.  I can be driving and ask Siri and she immediately comes …

Live in the Spirit

Yesterday I went to Mass at a Catholic Church.  I went for a variety of reasons, but the reasons don’t matter.  It is a Church to which I occasionally go, so I feel pretty at home when I walk in the doors.  It has been a while since I was last there.  I was surprised and grateful for the many folks who came to me and told me how delighted I was to be with them again.  I take this as a true sign of their hospitality, rather than a backhanded way of saying, “Where have you been!”

The regulars at the Church know I am a Quaker and, apparently, chooses to remain a Quaker.  I like that Catholic Church and love the folks who go there.  They have been welcoming to me from the first time I attended.  I usually sit in the back row when I go because I still feel a bit like an outsider.  I am quick to say they have never done anything to make me feel that way.  In fact, I suspect they would be a little disappointed to know that I feel a bit like an outsider.  As much as I know about the ritual of …

Helpful or Meddling

I have come to the conclusion there are multiple benefits from reading.  That is not a revolutionary thought and, certainly, not novel.  But that does not make it any less true.  In fact, it is always a relief to discover the truth of something that is true!  That may sound a bit weird, but think about how many people don’t know the truth of true things.  Indeed, I have even known folks who swore some true things were false.  So it is not as simple as we think!

In my case reading often delivers a few different dividends.  In the first place much of what I read is what I want to learn about.  For example, I have been invited to do a keynote speech on Servant Leadership.  I know some things about this concept, but I also know there is a history to the concept that goes back to the 60s.  If I want to know this history, then I will read about it.

However, in the process of reading, I hit upon ideas that are inherently interesting to me or which become useful in some way down the road.  Th…

Help

I realize as I was typing the one word title, “Help,” it would be even better if I could add a voice tone to the word.  How we say the word communicates much more than simply seeing it in print.  I can utter the word, help, with a tone of desperation and have people scurrying to my aid.  This must happen often in the emergency rooms in hospitals.  Or we have heard kids---often our own kids---scream for help.  Even using that verb, scream, gives our word, help, a great deal of urgency. 

On the other hand, I have often see signs in a window advertising, “help wanted.”  Or the sign might simply use a single word, help.  While this is an offer, there is no urgency.  I can read the sign with no particular urge to offer help. I don’t need a job or money, so there is little interest to help.  I shrug and hope they find someone who does want to help. 

The third thing I thought about was the sign you might see at other stores.  The sign might say, “help yourself.”  Oddly enough, this sign is…

The Humble Saint

If you pay attention to titles in these inspirational pieces, you might have some guesses who the “humble saint” might be.  Of course, I have made the attribution, so I obviously know whom I will name.  But if I saw it cold, the first guess I would make is St. Francis, the venerable saint of poverty, nature and the animals.  And that would have been so true.  But the person I have so named, “the humble saint,” in this piece is St. John the Baptist. 

John the Baptist actually has two saint days in the Catholic calendar.  Both his birth and his death are celebrated on separate days in June and August.  Only the parents of Jesus receive comparable honor in the Christian calendar.  John the Baptist has intrigued me for a long time---almost as long as I have studied religion.  In many ways, he is much easier to relate to than Jesus.  Let’s look a bit closer at the man and his role within the faith tradition.

The Gospel of Luke gives the most detail about John the Baptist.  The story of hi…

A Flower

I have a picture on the desktop of my computer, which I see every time I open it.  I frequently change the picture on my computer, so I am not sure how long this one will stay there.  Normally, I will rotate pictures of my grandkids, so they are “with me” even when they are not around.  I am sure all parents and grandparents understand this. Almost never do I have a picture of myself on my computer screen.  And if I do, it is a picture of me with someone else whom I consider significant in my life.  Of course, every picture is “worth a thousand words.”  And every picture has its own story. 

This picture currently on my screen is a group of students who were in a class I have just finished teaching.  Sometimes I think it is a misnomer to say I teach.  More often, I think it is better described as a group of us regularly got together and learned from each other and from some books.  I am not sure students often see that they can be teachers, too.  And most good faculty I know, are quite…