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Jul 172017
 

I read an interesting guest post on Pathoes.com  written by Darrell Lackey and I agree with him whole heartedly.

Detail from “The Cleansing of the Temple” by Raimondi | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | CC0 1.0

Lackey starts out with an interesting quote from Tony Campolo:

Sociologist Tony Campolo has been known, when speaking to Christian audiences, to begin by saying something like this:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact I just said “shit” than you are that 30,000 kids died last night.

When citing this, I have had people prove his very point by responding something to the effect of, “Yeah, I get it, but I still wish he would make his point some other way…” Ummm, that is his point. His point, in my opinion, isn’t really about the children (although it is, obviously); his point is that we (Christians) get upset over the wrong things. Our moral sense of outrage is often misdirected.

Read the rest of the post:

 

 

Yes many Christians participate in ministries that address some of these problems, but here is the point of the article for me.  As Lackey  points out:

Yes, you can be upset at those other aspects (rightly or wrongly). The point, however, is that those aspects pale in insignificance when placed alongside the deeper and much more important moral failing noted—the failing that should really upset us…

I have to add one additional example: Christians, you are all fired up about believing all of the right things ABOUT Jesus–that he was God, that he died for your sins, etc.   Why aren’t you also all fired up about BECOMING like Jesus–about personally living the way Jesus taught and the way Jesus actually lived his life–about actually BEING like Jesus?  It has always seemed to me that believing the right things ABOUT  Jesus “pale(s) in insignificance when placed alongside the deeper and much more important” call to actually BEING like Jesus.

I challenge you to add your thoughts and comments below.



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May 012017
 

My image of Westboro Baptist Church has always been negative, and that is an understatement.  When someone sent me the link to this Ted Talk, it sat in my inbox for a long time.  I could not bring myself to click on it.  I could not convince myself that anything good could come from there.  But I trusted the person who sent it to me, so I finally did click on the link.  After listening to it I immediately thought of posting it here on Turning Around because the message was a powerful one.   But again, it sat on my To Do list for a very long time.  Did I really want to be associated in any way with Westboro Baptist Church?

But here it is.  It is here because in the end there is something very important, something even spiritual, for us to learn about how we interact with people whose beliefs are different from ours.  It applies, not only in reference to blatant cases like people from Westboro Baptist Church.  It applies also to our interactions with people in our own churches who do not believe as we do.  It applies to our political discourse today as well.  There is much for us to learn from Megan Roper’s experience. I encourage you to take the time to listen!  I encourage you to add your comments below following her advice.

 
At the end of this presentation Roper points to four practices that can facilitate difficult conversations:

  1. Don’t assume bad intent!
  2. Ask questions!
  3. Stay calm!
  4. Make the argument!

We could all benefit from turning those principles into personal values and applying those values, especially in our religious and political discussions, but really in most of our daily conversations with family, friends, and others.  How might that change our relationships?  What if, like her future husband, we applied those principles even when, or especially when, others were not so kind?  What if we applied those values because they were our values, in spite of the actions and reactions of others?

Feb 132017
 

In this excellent Ted Talk, Sharon Brous, a Jewish Rabbi and mother talks about the problems of both Religious Extremism and Religious Routinism and challenges those of us who claim to be religious to deal with both.  She makes the point that we have become so used to the violence of Religious Extremism that we hardly even react to it, much less make an effort to do anything about it.  But she also makes the point that Religious Routinism has also become so common it is accepted as the norm in many religious institutions.  She encourages both our religious institutions and each of us to address both of these very serious problems.  She acknowledges that religion is a serious part of both problems and challenges religion to become a real part of the solution.

Brous points to four principles that all religions should be promoting:  Wakefulness, Hope, Mightiness,  Inter-connectedness.  Her take on these four principles is insightful and powerful.

I have to admit that this talk is one of the best “sermons” I have heard in a very long time.  Her discussion of “Routinism” perfectly describes my own experience of Religion in general and Christianity in specific.  Nobody has expressed my experience even close to that powerfully.  It moved me almost to tears, which almost never happens.

Listen, Reflect, Enjoy

 

 

I challenge each of you to add your own thoughts and comments to this post below!

Aug 132016
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Sep 112015
 
Photo by Winnie Southworth

Photo by Winnie Southworth

I have a small alter on the dresser in my bedroom.  The purpose of the alter is to remind me of my intent to listen to that still small voice where that Mysterious Other I call God speaks to me and gives me guidance, strength, and courage, and to be obedient to that voice as I go through the events of my day.  Each time I walk past that alter I make it a point to take just a second or two to center myself and to be present to myself, to check in with that still small voice, and to my current thoughts, emotions, and impulses.  Essentially I check to see if I am currently being obedient to that leading. Among the items on that alter is a bible that is currently open to the first page of the Gospel of Mark.  As part of that process I often just run my hand across the pages of the bible.

On one level this practice seems a bit hypocritical.  I seldom actually read scripture, and I haven’t for years.  As I reflected on this situation recently I realized that while the traditional approach to scripture I have been exposed to through Sunday school and church over the years does not speak to me at all.  In fact it turns me off.  Sometimes when someone is trying to push that approach on me it makes me downright defensive, and sometimes even angry.  It offers me “an opportunity to practice”, to center myself and let go of the judgements that are behind the defensive reaction, and have compassion for the other person.  Sometimes that effort is successful and sometimes not.

I know that there are other ways of reading and understanding scripture.  Periodically I have picked up the Bible with the intent of reading it again from that other perspective, but each time I do it either boors me or makes me frustrated or angry.  I simply cannot get past all of my negative reactions to the traditional teaching that has been drilled in me over the years in order to see anything new.

Yet at some deeper level scripture still speaks to me, even without reading it.  I still include it on my alter, and I still run my hand across it to center myself.  I have a very strong sense that there is something much deeper there if only I could let go of the traditional teaching and connect with it.  I know that, but in the end it still doesn’t work.

Jacob Needleman points to my own dilemma when he says:

…in my own academic work as a professor of philosophy and religion I had begun to perceive things in the Bible that I had never dreamed were there. I was beginning to understand that everything I had seen in the Eastern teachings was also contained in Judaism and Christianity, although the language of the Bible was practically impossible to penetrate, because it had become so encrusted with familiar associations.”*

For me the language of the bible really is “practically impossible to penetrate, because it [has] become so encrusted with familiar associations” (read traditional associations).  I sense that I need to get passed those “familiar associations” so that I can connect with that deeper meaning that I know is there and that leads me to keep that bible on my alter and run my hand over it as I pass by during my day.  I know that but so far I have not been able to actually do it.

In an effort to be obedient to that calling I have started reading the book Reading The Bible Again for the First Time:  Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally by Marcus J. Borg.

Much like Needleman Borg captures my issue:

“The key word in the title of this book—Reading the Bible Again for the First Time—is “again.” It points to my central claim. Over the past century an older way of reading the Bible has ceased to be persuasive for millions of people, and thus one of the most imperative needs in our time is a way of reading the Bible anew.”**

I honestly don’t remember that “older way of reading the bible” was ever persuasive to me.  A critical issue for me is captured in the subtitle of the book: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally.  When I reflect on my own struggle with the bible over the years it is clear to me that this is at the heart of my issue.  I very much want to take the Bible seriously, yet I do believe it is counter productive to take it literally.  We will see if Borg’s approach can take me past my deep seated resistances.

I Believe

I believe that the bible is a book about people and about how they understood and related to God in their own time and in their own culture.  It is not a book about God.  I do not believe it was somehow dictated by God.  I believe it was written by fallible human beings, and it should not be taken literally.  In our efforts through traditional bible study to interpret scripture literally we often miss the real point, and what is worse, we do a great deal of harm in the process trying to live that “truth” and force it on other people.  Some times we fight among ourselves, and sometimes we fight wars over those meanings.  I believe that many of the stories in the bible are metaphoric and have much deeper meanings when those metaphors are penetrated and understood.  I believe that there is much in scripture which is simply lost to us today, and we need to be open and accepting to that mystery.  I look forward to whatever insights Borg’s book can offer.

____________
*Needleman, Jacob, Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery.  (Pinguin Publishing Group, 2003) Chapter 1, Paragraph 4.  iBooks Edition. https://itun.es/us/hyyvv.l

** Borg, Marcus J., Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally, (Harper Collins eBooks, 2009), Chapter 1, Paragraph 1. (iBooks Edition. https://itun.es/us/EFNFv.l)


 

Jul 122015
 
Look for your own.  Do not do what someone else could do as well as you.  Do not say or write what someone else could say or write as well as you.  Care for nothing in yourself but what you feel exists nowhere else, and out of yourself create impatiently, or patiently the most irreplacable of beings.*
Andre Gide

A number of years ago my daughter gave me a framed copy of this quote for my birthday.  It hangs on the wall next to the closet in my bedroom where I can see it every day when I am dressing, at least when I am paying attention.  It speaks to something very deep in me.  I long to become that irreplaceable of beings, or at least to be able to see myself growing in that direction.  I ponder that sometimes, especially when I write. Recently as I was reading Thomas Moore’s A Religion of One’s Own,** I realized that the Gide quote should apply to my religion as well.  To “create impatiently or patiently the most irreplaceable of beings”, required that my religion should be just as personal and should exist “nowhere else”.  Just following traditional beliefs and practices is not enough.  The truth is that I cannot follow that traditional approach authentically anyway.  This calling to become an “irreplaceable of beings” and to develop a religion of one’s own ultimately applies to each one of us, and it applies to each of our approach to our religion.

My relationship with organized religion has been a classic approach avoidance conflict.  On one hand I have always had a very strong sense of calling to religion and to spirituality.  I somehow believed this calling could only be answered through traditional religion–in my case through traditional Christianity–and specifically through a church.  Yet what I found in the many churches I attended never really connected with that calling or the way I experienced and lived my life. It never seemed to relate to my personal spiritual journey in any meaningful way.  I know that it works for some people, but try as I might I could not accept the current version of Christianity as I found it in the churches I attended.  It simply was never near enough, It always left me cold and feeling like an outsider, so eventually I would leave.  I could not see any other option, and yet the calling kept me searching.***

ReflectingOnLife

Photo by Brian Hill Sensai at Rivercity Aikido

The spiritual journey is often a very deliberate and a very slow process.  Sometimes real spiritual growth can only be seen in retrospect, by looking back, sometimes over many years.  But, sometimes that seemingly plodding journey is interrupted by what some have called “waking up”.  Some event in our life causes us to see our life radically differently and to “turn around” and head in a new direction.   For me, reading Thomas Moore’s book was just such a life changing event.  This book will definitely go on my short list of the most important books I have read on this journey.  Other books have been important, and I know that they helped bring me to where I am.    Like the few other books on my list of favorites this book is changing my whole approach to my spiritual journey in general and to my relationship to organized religion in specific.  As Moore put it:  “I was born with the themes of this book buried like seeds in my heart.” ****

Maybe the greatest insight is the realization that I am not somehow required by that Mysterious Other I call God to accept what I have found in any of the churches I attended, or in any particular tradition for the matter.  I think I knew that in a deep place inside of me, but I simply could not let myself live it or even acknowledge it.  This book gave me permission to let go of the demand that I conform to the beliefs and practices of contemporary Christianity and actually develop “A Religion of My Own”. It allowed me to “wake up” and head in a new direction.

I cannot tell you how important this realization is for me.  In many ways I already had a religion of my own, but admitting this to others—being open about it—is a kind of “coming out” for me.  It requires me to rethink just about everything I know and believe.  It will require me to be clear about what I really do know and believe, and about a spiritual practice of my own, without the baggage of trying to conform to some religious tradition, or maybe even more importantly, without always just reacting negatively to the more traditional approach.  There is a freedom in that which goes deeper than I have ever experienced before.  I can really listen to that still small voice inside of me and move toward becoming the person I am called to be.

There needs to be a caution here.  Two of my best friends, one a Baptist minister and one a Catholic priest, have separately cautioned me about going it alone.  Moore speaks to that in his book as well.  I understand their concerns.  The examples of people who have gone it alone on the spiritual journey and gone astray are legion.  Staying grounded is even more critical when developing “a religion of one’s own”.  Yet it is also crucial not to just follow the herd.  I plan to take that balance very seriously as I follow this call.  More about this in future posts.

I want to emphasize here that it is not necessary for us to leave or reject our current tradition in order to develop a religion of one’s own.  It is too much a part of us to do that.  The critical thing is for us to reflect seriously on our religious beliefs and practices and be clear in ourselves what we believe personally and what practices actually work for us.  We need to be true to that still small voice within where God speaks to us and gives us guidance and strength and courage.  More about this in future posts.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection,***** Brené Brown makes an important distinction between being yourself and fitting in. She points out that our efforts to fit in—to be accepted by others—all too often prevents us from really living an authentic life—from really being the person we are called to be, and in the end, from really connecting with others.  I know without a doubt that this has been a major issue in my relationship with the churches I have attended and the people in those churches.

Maybe the hardest part of this journey will be owning up to this new “Religion of My Own”.  It begins right here with this blog post.  The real test will be whether I can own up to it without being defensive the next time I show up at church gathering.  All of that said, developing this “religion of my own” is also exciting and challenging.  I look forward to this new stage in my journey.

Question for Reflection
Join the conversation.  Share your thoughts and experiences

  1. Are you consciously making your own choices about your religion or are you accepting blindly the beliefs and practices of your religious tradition?
  2. Are you rejecting those beliefs and practices just as blindly?
  3. Have you developed “a religion of one’s own” within or outside of your religious tradition?
  4. Do you feel called to develop a religion of your own?
____________
** Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), Title

*** For a more detailed account of my journey see the Introduction to my book, Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough.  For more information about the book visit my website at http://www.choosingauthenticity.com

**** Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), Preface, Line 1.

***** Brown, Brené, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, (Hazelden Publishing, 2010), Title

____________

Recommended Books:

Jun 282015
 
In this video President Jeb Bartlett from the television series The West Wing takes on a conservative talk show host who quotes scripture to support the claim that homosexuality is a sin. Someone once introduced me as having an “irreverent” sense of humor, but on the surface Bartlett’s rant is just plain funny to me.  On another level I suppose we would have to say that his attack on the woman in a public setting was at best rude and at worst downright humiliating.  And yet the point he makes is a good one and just maybe this may very well be the only way that some people might be able to hear his message without launching into some convoluted and seemingly ridiculous discussion.

My point here is not about homosexuality.  My point here is about what some would call proof texting scripture, and about taking scripture literally.  It is about quoting specific scripture passages, taken out of context, to prove a point you already believe in.  It is about asserting that the passage is a command from God while at the same time totally ignoring other “commands” in other nearby passages.  Bartlett hesitates to say anything several times, but in the end he just cannot let the assertion go unchallenged.

Neither can I.  I have heard these kinds of assertions for most of my adult life, and I find them to be intellectually unsound and blatantly insulting to my intelligence.  Bartlett is absolutely right.  If the one command is to be taken as “God’s word” today, then the other similar commands should be literally true today as well.  Yet who would argue that any of the examples Bartlett gives should be seen today as a command from God.

In the end this practice cheapens scripture and prevents us from exploring its deeper meaning.

Question for Reflection

Join the conversation.  Share your thoughts.

So what do you think?  Can we justify using scripture quotes that support our beliefs while at the same time ignoring other passages that we do not agree with?

Oct 122013
 

My wife and my daughter have told me repeatedly that I should be more open and honest about my own beliefs and understanding about Christianity.  While I have always been honest in my writing I have avoided certain controversial subjects for fear that some would be offended.  My daughter specifically suggested that I write a series entitled “What Christianity Gets Wrong”.  There is a real sense of freedom here–a sense of finally being really authentic about something that is very important to me.  I know that many of the points made in this video are things I have said in private again and again.  I know also that these issues have alienated me from the church for most of my adult life.

John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop from Newark, N.J., was interviewed by Keith Morrison on Dateline NBC on August 13, 2006.  In this interviews Spong makes a number of  excellent points about religion in general and Christianity in specific.  It is tempting for me to comment here on each of those points, because I personally think he is dead on with each of them. At some point I may very well do that, but here I think it is best to let Spong speak for himself.

 

Join the conversation!  I would love to hear your thoughts about any and all of the issues Spong raises, both positive and negative.

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