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Archive for January, 2022

THINKING ABOUT ‘RELIGION’

During the past few years a number of long-standing churches closed their doors; these churches were asked to ‘merge’ with other congregations. The reasons for mainline churches to close are legion.  Recently I began to think about these ‘mergers’.  I held this question: What are, or might be, some of the reasons why these ‘mergers’ were necessary?  As I held this question I began to consider ‘Religion.’    

The root of ‘Religion’ is ‘religio’ – to rebind, to make whole.  Church closings do not re-bind, they fragment; they do not make whole, they shatter community – they divide its members.  What follows is some of what is emerging for me as I think about ‘Religion.’  By its nature what follows will be incomplete; the story is still unfolding.

Consider that contemporary religion asks little of us.  Oh, it is ready to offer, if not provide, comfort AND it lacks the courage (the heart) to challenge (We are our brothers’ keepers!).  Religion prides itself on offering edification, YET it demonstrates little courage (heart) to challenge and shatter our idols (possessions, money, distraction, noise, busyness, power over).  Religion struggles to replace de-humanization with humanizing love, compassion, caring, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation (don’t believe me…consider our ongoing struggle with immigration).  Religion as faith-trust, rooted in doubt, has been replaced with religion as dogma, surety and self-righteousness (pride, arrogance and hubris). 

Today’s religion involves neither risk nor challenge nor tension; it is rooted not in doubt which both challenges and nurtures faith, but in surety which nurtures self-righteousness.  Contemporary religion mirrors the self-righteous religion that Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad (to cite three examples) found so disturbing and that they had little tolerance for.   

Religion rooted in ‘religio’ requires faith and commitment.  Religion calls us to be ‘faithful’ not to be ‘effective.’  How many of us have defined ‘self-reliance’ as ‘faith’?  How many of us have renamed ‘shrewdness’ ‘wisdom’?  How many of us have embraced ‘relativism’ as our idol, our golden calf and in doing so announced that there is no ‘absolute truth’?  It is a bit ironic that the relativist’s ‘absolute truth’ is relativism! 

Religion is guided by the whisper of God’s Spirit.  Contemporary religion silences God’s whisper by its noise.  All of the great religions of the world have always embraced ‘silence.’  Because God’s Spirit comes to us in whispers silence is necessary.  Contemporary religion embraces noise – don’t believe me, try finding even brief moments of silence during a church service (traditionally the Quakers have provided us an antidote to noise and have provided space and time for God’s Spirit to whisper). 

Churches are closing because religion has become irrelevant.  When faith is replaced by creed; when worship is replaced by distraction; when religion involves ‘righteous authority’ more than compassion; when ‘Justice’ trumps rather than being balanced by ‘Mercy’ religion becomes meaningless for it no longer re-binds; it no longer makes whole. 

Consider that religion is a response to ‘ultimate questions.’  Contemporary religion no longer speaks ultimate questions and it no longer engages them.  Contemporary religion has replaced the ultimate questions with irrelevant ones; perhaps religion no longer knows what the ultimate questions are.  This might be a good starting place: ‘What are the ultimate questions that religion is called to address?’  By the by, Gentle Reader, consider that the most powerful and challenging questions emerge from ‘a place of not-knowing.’  

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WORDS, SILENCE & RESPONSIBILITY

Yesterday I was putting pen to paper with the intention of emerging a focus for today’s posting.  I started and stopped several times.  As I sat holding a number of potential topics it began to occur to me that there was a three piece quilt that might be woven together to make a whole.  What follows is a three piece quilt.  The pieces are Words, Silence & Responsibility.

I was thinking about the ‘voice we bring’.  We bring an external voice – words spoken to others (or words written to others) and we bring an internal voice – internal words.  If ‘words’ are truly my words they must be rooted in ‘Silence’ and ‘Responsibility.’  My external words must not merely be a response or reaction to another’s words.  My interior words must be more than an echo in response or reaction to the other’s words. 

Now as a child I am required to learn a language and I am required to learn how to use words.  All children learn to utter words that will evoke an affirmative response – ‘Say the Right Thing’ becomes a child’s mantra.  Once in a while a child will ‘Speak His/Her Own Mind’ and more often than not will quickly learn that ‘one’s own mind’ is not to be shared.  Children learn quickly to keep words to themselves – or they might share them with their favorite toy.  The compliant child conforms the rebellious child resists. 

As we age we begin to learn the value and importance of ‘Silence.’  We learn that ‘Silence is a Response!’  We learn the power of silence.  We learn that perhaps it is better to ‘keep our words to ourselves’ than to share them with the other(s).  When I think of the power of ‘Silence’ I often think of the Grand Inquisitor ranting while the ‘Silent One’ (Jesus) looks lovingly at the Grand Inquisitor.  This reflection often leads me to hold a crucial question that Robert K. Greenleaf asked: ‘When you speak, how will that improve on the silence?’ 

I am ‘Responsible’ for the voice (internal and external) that I bring to my world.  Together, ‘WE’ are responsible for the collective voice we bring to the world.  I am thinking of the Voices we need to bring in order for Democracy to be Democracy.  I-You-We must be educated so that we might truly bring a voice that is thought-full, reflective, critical (not criticism but critical thinking), and invitational (all voices are important). 

We must learn to seek to understand by creating space for a free exchange of ideas – especially seeking to understand those ideas that we find the most challenging to hear.  Democracy fails when we prefer to embrace the ideas and opinions of others without thinking critically about them or when we prefer to ignore or denigrate the ideas of others when we do not agree with them.  Now realistically I know that I cannot expect ALL citizens to be thought-full and silence-full and response-able.  Yet I also know that in order for Democracy to thrive, not just survive, that a ‘critical mass’ of citizens must be thought-full, silence-full and unconditionally response-able. 

Democracy requires ‘Words, Silence & Responsibility.’  Given this, Gentle Reader, how do you think ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ are doing? 

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REFLECTING ON ‘FREEDOM & LOVE’

A number of days ago, as I was settling in at my favorite coffee shop an employee stopped by my table and said, ‘I wish I had the freedom to do what I really want to do.’  A few minutes later another employee stopped by and said, ‘My love life stinks.’  So, during the following days I would reflect upon ‘Freedom and Love.’  Here is some of what emerged into my consciousness.

FREEDOM.  I thought about Socrates in prison and I recalled a statement Plato made about freedom.  I thought I had his words written down in my ‘little black book’ (you might remember, Gentle Reader, I do carry a little black book).  There it was.  Here is what Plato wrote: One cannot make a slave of a free person, for a free person is free even in prison.  Socrates was ‘free’ even in prison; which was perplexing to his friends.  So was Nelson Mandela, which was also perplexing to many.  So was Viktor Frankl who wrote so powerfully about this in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’  Then there was a great Rabbi who once stated: ‘If a person makes you go one mile, go two.’  One message here, it seems to me, is ‘You think you have made a slave out of me by putting a load on my shoulders – but you haven’t.’ 

Freedom, as these wise folks remind us, resides not in external circumstances, it resides in the heart.  When one truly understands this then no one can enslave you.  This kind of freedom also requires courage for it is motivated not by the intellect but by the ‘heart’ (the root of ‘courage’ is the Old French word: ‘cuer’ – ‘heart’). 

LOVE.  The great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke captures the essence of ‘love’ when he writes: ‘Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.’  What does it mean ‘to love another?’  My current response is this: To see another as he or she really is, not as I image them to be or not as I desire them to be.  Then I give them the response they deserve or need.  I cannot love what I cannot truly see. 

I am also aware that there are a number of things that hinder my seeing the other.  These include, but are not limited to my: projections, my labels, my prejudices, my deep assumptions, my values, my vices, my beliefs, and my stereotypes.  Truly ‘seeing’ another is one of the most challenging things for me to do.  ‘Seeing’ another requires that I am awake and aware, that I am open to and desire to understand the other, and that I am motivated by virtues like love, caring, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance.  It also requires that I am in the ‘now’ and not ruminating about the past or worrying or anticipating what the future might bring (regarding the other). 

How about you, Gentle Reader, what emerges for you as you sit and reflect upon ‘Freedom and Love’? 

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As you might remember, Gentle Reader, I consider myself to be a ‘Christian Ecumenist.’  That is, I am a follower of Christ and his example AND I seek to find ‘truth’ in all faith traditions, in all philosophical traditions and in all humanistic traditions.  So far I have found ‘truth’ in all I have sought to understand.  I have also been blessed to have had six significant spiritual guides (some call them ‘Spiritual Directors’ but my experience is that they have never ‘directed’ me, they have always guided me). 

Yesterday I was paging through one of my journals looking for a particular quotation and I came upon a quotation from one of my early spiritual guides.  Here is what I had written down: ‘Remember that meditating on and imitating the behavior of Christ will be of no help.  It is not a question of imitating Christ, it is a question of becoming what Christ was!’

For one who espouses to be a follower of Christ it is not a matter of ‘doing’ but a matter of ‘becoming’ and this ‘becoming’ is followed by ‘doing.’  For me, this simple idea changes everything.  ‘Becoming’ is more than ‘shifting’ or even ‘changing.’  ‘Becoming’ requires ‘transformation.’  A ‘transformation’ is a ‘fundamental change in character or structure.’ 

Christ is clear about this ‘Becoming.’  Each ‘Becoming’ entails an ‘invitation’ (Christ is not coercive – I find it interesting and disturbing that so many espoused Christians use coercion rather than invitation); each ‘Becoming’ also involves a personal challenge.

So, as a reminder to those of us who espouse to be followers of Christ, here are a few of the ‘Becoming’ invitations and challenges (in no particular order):

  • Become as the little children (this one stops many of us in our tracks).
  • Become poor in spirit (we can easily fool ourselves into believing we are becoming poor in spirit).
  • Become poor (give what you have to the poor; being rich is a block to eternal life).  Now, the ante has been raised. 
  • Become merciful (this is the balancing polarity to the justice that so many good Christians demand).
  • Become a peacemaker (no small feat for any of us); this require us to ‘turn the other cheek.’ 
  • Become compassionate, forgiving and offer healing (an ‘eye for an eye’ is not the norm or the goal).
  • Become a servant, first (in our culture we crave to be leaders first).
  • Become one who loses his/her life for Christ’s sake (how many of us trust in and believe in Christ and Christ’s message to really embrace this one). 

Well, Gentle Reader, this is enough…for me anyway, if not for you.  I remember saying to another of my spiritual guides that ‘this is too hard.’  I can see her smiling the smile of the wise and responding: ‘It is indeed hard; but it is not TOO hard – it depends upon what you believe and it depends upon whom you are choosing to become.’ 

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THE CHALLENGE: TO WAKE UP!

Yesterday morning, Gentle Reader, I had a challenge when it came to waking up.  Later on as I was driving to one of my favorite coffee shops I was thinking about ‘waking up.’  During the past fifty-seven years I have met many folks who are asleep.  They live each day asleep.  Once in a while they wake up and then quickly go back to sleep.  What does this mean, ‘to be asleep’? 

Consider, Gentle Reader that there are some indicators that one is asleep.  Here are a few.

One ruminates about the past.  This is one of my personal favorites.  One replays the past over and over, year after year.  One relives one’s mistakes or failures.  One refuses to forgive – forgive one’s self and/or forgive the other(s).  One relishes wounds given by others – it feels so good to feel bad.  One rues opportunities not taken – ‘If only. . .’ is a favorite mantra.  One nurtures past envies and jealousies as they relive how successfully the others have been – ‘That could’ve been me. . .’ is another favorite mantra. 

One anticipates the future.  The ‘future’ is the focus.  At 8am one is thinking about what to have for lunch.  On Monday morning one is thinking about the coming weekend.  On 1 November one is thinking about Christmas.  ‘When I retire then. . .’ is a common mantra.  One, it seems, is always in the ‘planning mode’ and the ‘planning mood.’ 

One does not. .  .  One does not experience, much less savor, much less appreciate, the ‘present,’ the ‘now,’ or ‘this moment.’  One is not awake and therefore is not aware of ‘now.’  Test this out, if you will.  Ask a person: ‘What are you feeling right now?’  My experience is that folks will first respond with what they are thinking; it will take some time for a person to access and name their feelings (if they can name them at all).  Ask a person: ‘What are the aches, pains, and/or physical discomforts you are experiencing right now?’  Some are so out of ‘tune’ with their own body that it will take them some minutes before they can reply.  Ask a person: ‘What do you notice about your surroundings right now?’  If you watch their eyes you will notice a ‘waking up’ occurring as they begin to scan their surroundings; as they become awake and aware to the ‘now.’ 

One is distracted.  We live in a culture that values distraction.  We are constantly distracted visually and auditorily.  We are surrounded by noise and our internal noise whelms us over.  We cannot sit in silence/quiet for more than a minute or two.  Try sitting in silence for 15 minutes and you will soon see how much internal noise you create. 

We all have the ability to ‘wake up’ and no one can make us ‘wake up’ and remain awake.  Once we choose to ‘wake up’ we then might choose to develop our capacity to stay awake.  This requires us to be intentional and purpose-full.  It also requires us to embrace a number of ‘disciplines’ that will serve us well as we seek to build our capacity to be awake and aware.  Here are three disciplines to consider: Reflection, Meditation, and Listening. 

I must conclude now as I have to think about what I will have for dinner (it is already past 6:20am). 

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