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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 242016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 6/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway
Examining Our Vision
(Part 6 of 9)

 

Types of Prayer
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Thomas Moore captures the understanding of what prayer is for many of us:

All the classical things that have been said about prayer are true—petition, praise, adoration, communion, conversation. But one’s notion of God and divinity has to be sufficiently empty, and its mystery sufficiently accounted for, or else prayer becomes exploitation of the divine. Prayer only makes sense in the paradoxical presence of both human pain and desire on the one hand, and divine infinitude on the other.*
Man Praying

Image by Irene Furr

Petition, praise, adoration, communion, and conversation. These are the “classical things that have been said about prayer”. To these I would add confession, penance, and forgiveness. These are the things that most of us have been taught about prayer in Sunday school and church, if in fact we have been taught anything at all. For most of us these are the things that come to mind when we are asked the question, “What is prayer?” They are the things that we think about when we are called to build a relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God. They are the very essence of the traditional answers to the question, “Why do we pray?” As Moore points out they are all valid. They are all a central part of what prayer is all about. It is beyond the scope of this reflection to explore each of these types of prayer individually. The question for us here is how we approach these essential aspects of prayer.

Almost all of these types of prayer are most often seen as different types of verbal or discursive prayer. Even when we think of communion and conversation we still think of these practices as us speaking to God—as us “saying our prayers”. This verbal discursive prayer is the approach I have encountered almost exclusively in the churches I have attended over the years. These “classical approaches to prayer are all valid and profound types of prayer, but taken by themselves they are not enough.

As I have written elsewhere:

There are literally thousands of spiritual practices [prayer practices] available. As I have looked at this vast array of different exercises, I have found that most of the consonant practices are variations of six primary practices. These practices include centering, reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and action. Taken as a whole these practices are part of a monastic teaching known as Lectio Divina or “divine reading”.

Again, it is beyond the scope of this reflection to explore each of these types of prayer individually. Some would not refer to some of these practices as prayer at all, yet that would serve to ignore the whole Christian contemplative tradition, as practiced by many spiritual masters, saints, and monks throughout Christian history. It would also serve to ignore the profound prayer experiences of many sincere contemplative Christians, including myself. That said we should also note that the forth practice in the lectio divina model is “prayer” which is essentially verbal or discursive prayer. The critical point here is that our understanding of what prayer is should include all of these different aspects of prayer. Yes, prayer includes us approaching God through verbal prayer. Yes, prayer includes us opening ourselves to God through contemplative prayer.

Richard Sitting

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Taken together these prayer practices can change our lives in profound ways–if we are open to that growth.
We need a broad understanding of what prayer is and what it can be for us. We should not settle for just verbal prayer or just contemplative prayer. Individually they are not enough. We should not settle for just the approach to prayer we learned from our parents or from Sunday School and Church. It is not enough either.

Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to develop a “prayer of our own” that works for us personally. Each of us, as part of our prayer practice, needs to sincerely try different approaches to prayer and observe what works for us when we pray. We need to make appropriate adjustments in our regular practice until we find what really works for us. This process of observing what happens to us when we pray and making adjustments needs to be an ongoing part of our overall prayer practice. We will deal more with this issue in a later reflection.

As an introvert I have personally identified most strongly with contemplative prayer, and it has dramatically changed my life. When I was working, what worked for me was about forty-five minutes “early in the morning, long before dawn”. I would sit in my favorite chair in front of an alter I created, read a couple of psalms to center myself, read a passage from Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict, and then sit in silent contemplation for about twenty minutes. Now that I am retired I have adjusted that schedule to include longer periods of time, and often more than one “time apart” a day. I have also added some quiet walks, especially in the evenings, to my practice, and I have used many different readings. These ongoing adjustments are the result of my ongoing effort to pay attention to what happened to me during these times ap. art, and to continue to make my time apart more and more “a prayer of my own”. If you take this effort to develop a prayer of your own really seriously it can change your life as well.

Question for Reflection

  1.  What is your prayer life like today? In what specific ways do you feel called to deepen your prayer life?

____________

* Moore, Thomas, Meditations:  On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life, (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994), p. 69.

** Southworth, Richard N. Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enougn, (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), p. 53..


Purchase Choosing Authenticity


Other Posts in this Reflection:

What Is Prayer Anyway?  View…
Seeking a Deeper Understanding

Prayer Is Not Magic View..
It Is No A ToDo List for God

Prayer Is A Relationship View…
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

The Foundation of Prayer View…
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

Types of Prayer (This Post)
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Praying Without Ceasing  View…
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? View…
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…

 

Feb 042016
 

This post is the first in a coming series entitled The Work of The Spiritual Journey. In future posts in this series we will go into more detail on what I have come to call “The Practice”— the prayer practices that have changed my life.  Click here to see other posts in this series.


 

The Work of the Spiritual Journey

The Practice

Richard’s Story

Windmill

Painting and Photo by Winnie Southworth

The Quest

Please, try to remember.
You looked at me and you called me by another name.
Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Once you found a girl and called her Dulcinea.
When you spoke the name an angel seemed to whisper,
Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Won’t you please bring back the dream of Dulcinea?
Won’t you bring me back to that moment of shining glory?
Of Dulcinea, Dulcinea.
Perhaps, perhaps it was not a dream.
You spoke of a dream, and about the quest.
The Quest.
The words, tell me, tell me the words.
But they are your own words.
Try to remember.

From The Man of LaMancha

I remember the event like it was yesterday, even though it was over twenty years ago. I was sitting at the dinner table with my family. I have no idea what we were talking about, but something made me extremely angry, until finally I picked up my dinner plate and threw it across the room against the wall breaking it and scattering the pieces and the food all across the floor and the wall. Luckily I did not hit anyone, but it was a wakeup call for me. I knew then I had to do something about my anger.

Psychology

I began meeting with a psychologist shortly after that. After two years of therapy I was sitting with my therapist, and I was tired and frustrated with the process. I told her that over the time I had been meeting with her I had learned a lot about where my anger came from and about how to manage that anger so it did not spill over onto my family and others nearly as much. But, I told her, the anger was still there, and it seemed to me that, in a way, continually having to manage that anger actually added to the depth and power of the anger rather than reducing it. I asked her if I would ever get to the place where that anger would subside. Her answer actually shocked me. “No”, she said, “the best you can hope for is to be able to manage the anger better.” My daughter, who is also a clinical psychologist, assured me that this was not the case. Good therapy, she insisted, should really reduce the anger. I get that on some level, but at the time the words of my therapist, confirmed by my own experience, made my daughter’s denial seem hollow. The fact was still true—after two years of therapy I was still living with that anger. It was still driving the way I experienced and lived my life, albeit mitigated externally by my improved ability to manage it. Therapy was not enough. I quit therapy shortly after this discussion.

Christianity

Interestingly my experience with Christianity followed much the same pattern. Over the years I was in and out of multiple churches, in multiple denominations. Over that time I talked with a number of ministers, church leaders, fellow church members, and even a couple of spiritual directors. None of them seemed to even understand what my struggle was all about.

I was discussing this with the pastor at one of the churches I attended, and finally, out of frustration I blurted out, “Mr. D, you have answers to questions that are not even questions for me, and you have absolutely no answers to the questions I do have.” What I took from that discussion and others like it was essentially the same message I got from my therapist. I was exhorted to manage my anger—my sin, but I should not expect it to dissipate. Unlike with my therapist, my church experience did not offer any real guidance on how to even manage the anger except to say that I should pray, whatever that meant. The message I got was that it really didn’t matter much anyway. If I gave my life to Jesus I would be forgiven and “saved” in the next life. In some of the messages there was a kind of magical option where God would just reach down and transform me, but that never actually happened, and that, I was told, was because my faith was not strong enough. NEVER, in any of the churches I attended or the people in those churches I talked with, was I offered spiritual practices—prayer practices—that might begin to heal that anger. The truth is that, like managing my anger, my church experience over the years has ultimately contributed to my frustration and anger a great deal more than it has ever helped to heal it, but that is a story for another time. It suffices here to say that it was not enough.

A Prayer Of My Own

I ultimately quit looking for answers in church too, though I continued to attend with my wife from time to time. A short time later I began a period of self-study of the spiritual literature I had discovered as a part of my academic studies. From that self-study I began experimenting with various spiritual practices. Those books led me to other material, and over a couple of years I developed a personal practice that worked for me, and the turmoil and anger really did begin to dissipate. It is precisely here that I began to develop a real “prayer of my own”. Though that prayer has it very roots in the depths of the Christian tradition it was neither taught nor supported in any of the many churches I attended. If it was mentioned at all it was criticized as some kind of heresy. That said, it was just these practices that, over time, changed my life dramatically in ways that neither therapy nor my church experience ever even began to touch. That growth and transformation, or what the monastics call “conversion of heart” continues. My wife, both of my daughters, some of my supervisors, and several of my friends have all told me in different ways that I have changed more than anyone they have known. I attribute that “conversion” entirely to my spiritual practice—to my prayer practice.

Richard

Photo by Winnie Southworth

As that process of self-study continues I recently read Thomas Moore’s book, A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World*. While I would not have had the words to describe it then, I realize now that it was during this time that I actually began to develop “a religion of [my] own”. Moore’s book essentially served to legitimize my struggle and gave me the language to understand it and talk about it. Unfortunately at the time I could only see it as a criticism of and a rebellion against contemporary Christianity. I cannot help but wonder what that struggle to develop my own prayer practice would have been like if I had found the teaching and the support for that part of my journey in even one of the churches I attended. As we will see, this struggle to develop “a religion of one’s own”, will permeate my rethinking of prayer in all of my writing. We will be encouraged to reach beyond the contemporary view of prayer and to think about what prayer really means for each of us personally. What is envisioned here is a “turning around”—a conversion of heart that can transform our lives.

Prayer Practices

All that said, sadly at the time, neither my therapist nor anyone in any of the many churches I attended over the years seemed to even know of these practices, even though they come to us from the very depths of the Christian tradition, and the roots of those practices can be seen clearly in Jesus’ life and teaching.

They also can be found in different forms in almost all major religious traditions. The prayer practices that are outlined here are not new—they are not “new age” as some conservative Christians have tried to claim. The practices come from deep within the Christian tradition. They can be found all thru the writings of the spiritual masters, the saints, the desert fathers and mothers, and the monastic tradition. My quest to connect with that Mysterious Other I call God, to continue my own growth, and to write and teach about the spiritual life begins precisely here. I want to make what I have discovered available to others in understandable language that is not buried in ancient texts. To the extent that I can, I want to be obedient to that quest.

My Quest

This series is about “turning around”. Like all of my writing and teaching, it is about transformation and that “conversion of heart” the monastics speak of so profoundly. In the end it is about prayer as “the work of the spiritual journey”. It is about prayer that includes “turning around” as part of that work. These prayer practices profoundly changed my life and continue to change my life. They can change yours as well if you are open and obedient to them. Sharing that insight is the very essence of my quest.

Yet, at the same time, it seems ironic—maybe even hypocritical, for me to be writing about prayer. How can I presume to have anything useful to say about prayer? How can I presume to teach anyone about prayer? For most of my adult life I have openly criticized much of what has been said (and maybe more often, what has not been said) about prayer in the churches I have attended. As a result, until I began my search for “a prayer of my own” I spent very little time even thinking about prayer, much less actually praying. I pretty much ignored the subject entirely, and if I spoke of it at all it was mostly to offer some criticism of what the churches teach, or do not teach, about prayer. Yet here I sit, hands on the keyboard, typing the first paragraphs of just such a series.

This is a series that I must write if I am to be true and authentic to who I am and who I feel God is calling me to be. My quest grows out of this long process of criticism, study, practice, and growth. Maybe it is my initial struggle with prayer as it was presented to me in the churches I attended, combined with my own struggle, study, practice, and experience that will give these reflections a quality of legitimacy they might otherwise lack. That is my sincere hope. That is my quest. That is my prayer.

My friend and Catholic priest, Fr. J. Patrick Foley put it this way in the forward to my first book:

Richard Southworth is such a man: restless, searching, unsatisfied. His hunger for transcendence – which for the believer is ultimately a hunger for God – has driven him into, and out of, churches, various religious organizations, and activities, leaving him frustrated but still searching. Having been his friend, occasional fellow-traveler, and frequent sounding board for almost thirty years, I have often thought that this search possesses him more than he possesses it – and that very quality is proof enough of its authenticity. “The hound of heaven,” to borrow Francis Thompson’s image, pursues us all, whether we recognize it or not. Wisdom is found in that recognition, and in the desire and willingness to remove whatever obstacles stand in the way of such a pursuit.
Fr. J. Patrick Foley
 ____________
* Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality In A Secular World (New York: Gotham Books, 2014).
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:

Oct 262014
 

Thomas Moore is one of my favorite authors.  I have read several of his books.  In this article on The Huffington Post  Moore reflects on the need in our modern world for Secular Theologians.

The secular theologian might be well versed in the traditional theologies of the world, those associated with the great religious and spiritual traditions, and also able to carry the discoveries and explanations of science further into the realm of mystery, feeding our need for wonder and making us into people aware of the invisible.

Theologians of the past, or those connected to one of the religions, can also unveil the holy in the everyday, but often their vision bends to their own agendas, and they worry more about maintaining orthodoxy and promoting their particular ideology than revealing the holy everywhere. Theology sometimes becomes more about an institution than the holiness of human life and the world.

Thomas Moore

I have always struggled with both the theologies coming out of religious traditions and the more secular approach to understanding the world. Moore’s concept of the secular theologian offers us a a way of seeing the sacred in the secular. It bridges the gap between religious theology and secularism. I would like to see all of my writing and teaching as coming from the perspective of one of those “secular theologians”–seeking to play a small part in “revealing the holy everywhere”.

Read, Reflect, Enjoy!

http://www.huffingtonpast.com

Aug 232014
 

Recently I was going through some old files and came across the following piece I wrote back in the 1970’s.  The quote is presented unedited.

Someday I would like to talk to Jesus of Nazareth.

I want to ask him if he is angry about the way his life has been portrayed.  I am!

I want to ask him if he was really God, or what seems more wondrous, a spirit filled man struggling with life.

I want to ask him if he died for my sins, or what seems more wondrous, because he tried to live life fully.

I want to ask Jesus if the God he knows was some kind of sadistic tyrant who required blood sacrifices, or what seems more wondrous, a consonant spirit who speaks in our heart, and calls us forth. Mine is!

I want to ask Jesus if he was celibate or what seems more wondrous, a passionate sexual being who made gentle and lusty love with a woman he loved.

Someday I would like to talk to Mary the mother of Jesus.

I want to ask her if she is angry about the way her life has been portrayed.  I am!

I want to ask her if her son Jesus was really conceived by the Holy Spirit, or what seems more wondrous, by a wild night of passion with her husband.

I would still like to have that conversation.  All of the questions are still valid.

Jul 082014
 

When Lesley Hazleton* was writing a biography of Muhammad, she was struck by something: The night he received the revelation of the Koran, according to early accounts, his first reaction was doubt, awe, even fear. And yet this experience became the bedrock of his belief. Hazleton calls for a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith — and an end to fundamentalism of all kinds.**

For most of my adult life I have had an ingrained aversion to the word faith.  It always seemed to me that “having faith” attempted to get me to believe what I could not possibly know.  “Faith”, as I understood it from my church experience, also seemed rigid.  It did not allow room for new information.  It also seemed that the very things I was asked to have faith in, were themselves based on other principles that I could not know either.  I generally avoided the word like the plague.  In this Ted talk Hazleton puts it all in perspective for me.  Doubt really is essential to faith.  “doubt, awe, even fear” really are the only mature response to an encounter with the Divine.  The dogmatic “faith” often taught and practiced in religion really is at the root of fundamentalism and even terrorism.

Listen, reflect, and enjoy!

Richard

____________

* Writer Lesley Hazleton is the author of ‘The First Muslim,’ a new look at the life of Muhammad. Full bio
** From Ted.com

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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