Search This Blog

Friday, December 1, 2017

What do an official statement and a popcorn fart have in common?

Organizations of all types love to issue official statements in response to events, decisions, changes of any kind, and - of course - the return of the Shamrock Shake at McDonald's. If you've never been part of a group tasked with producing such a statement, you really aren't missing much. What would seem like a simple project often becomes a major undertaking. Wordsmiths abound, feelings get hurt, and blood is nearly spilled over crucial matters such as syntax and comma placement. Sometimes even a news conference is called to release the pompous proclamation. Then it's over.

Much like a popcorn fart, official statements begin with a great deal of stink, but after a couple of days most people forget about them. The reason they forget is because, like the aforementioned flatus, there isn't much substance to these statements.

As far as I know, no leader of a nation ever changed policy because of an official statement release. No person committing heinous crimes was ever reformed by such a statement. It is true, however, that many fish have been wrapped in such statements. If you want to change the world, an official statement isn't going to do it.  Change is going to begin in your own neighborhood, by getting out and meeting people. Every day spent churning out official statements is a waste of time.

Pass the popcorn!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Book Review:Together: Community as a Means of Grace by Larry Duggins

Larry Duggins has written a short but insightful book about different forms of community that are springing up in struggling Methodist churches across the country, largely through the efforts of the Missional Wisdom Foundation within that denomination. There aren't any suggestions in the book that you won't have heard of before, but there are interesting combinations of community being formed in these churches.

The promo material for the book mentions the author's "ecumenical Wesleyan perspective." To be honest, I'm not sure what that phrase means. I do know that the author spends quite a bit of time describing the many ways in which Wesleyans parse grace, which I found rather tedious - and which I doubt would have much relevance in ecumenical settings. Perhaps the phrase means that Wesleyans of every camp would share his perspective. If so, that's not the biggest audience in the world.

Duggins also spends quite a bit of time establishing the biblical argument for Trinity, at times stretching the evidence in my opinion. His point is that since God exists in community, community is a worthwhile endeavor for the church. Regardless of one's position on the Trinity, I believe that community as a positive in the church - and society - is a given. My point here is that while the first twenty-five to thirty percent of the book seems not to make progress toward a discussion of community, it is worth persevering. Also, while you may not find splitting grace like a hair in a forensics lab, your understanding of grace ultimately won't change the value of the author's discussion of community. This is a good read!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Speakeasy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Review: A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz

I just finished reading John Pavlovitz' new book, A Bigger Table. You may have seen John's blog posts in you Facebook feed. I know he has been a breath of fresh air for me.

A Bigger Table, as the title suggests, is about John's vision for a Church that is a much more diverse and inclusive place. He has conducted experiments in building "bigger table" communities, and to his credit he really seems to want inclusivity and diversity. It's easy to talk about diversity, but many of us have encounter some pretty small notions of diversity. The diversity John argues for is an across the spectrum diversity, not just theological but political, economic, social, and even has an interfaith quality to it. He asks us all to drop our preconceptions, and rightly points out that conservatives, moderates, and progressives all need to work on diversity issues. The book correctly identifies the primary task of building diversity as one of listening. What we need to do is start by hearing one another and feeling what it is like to be heard. I suspect that will change a lot of people's experience of the table.

While I believe John has laid a good foundation, it seems to me that the people who undertake this task will need to understand that transformation rarely happens over night. Our leaders need to be in the battle for the long haul, but I believe the rewards will be well worth it!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Speakeasy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Shrink to Fit Spirituality

It's a selection on your printer software that you probably have never used. It allows you to shrink a
document or a picture so that it will fit on a conventional sheet of paper. Sometimes it is a huge help. Maybe you have an image that is just slightly larger than a sheet of printer paper but don't have access to larger paper. Shrink to fit is just what you need. Of course, there are limits to its usefulness. Shrinking text too much limits its legibility, and shrinking an image too much changes its character. There is a reason I have a full sized 16x20 portrait of myself over our bed rather than a 4x6 snapshot, after all.

Even though most of us probably haven't had to use that feature on our computer very often, there are two very important areas of life where the concept comes up and in which we have two quite different reactions. One is spirituality, the other is problems solving and coping skills.

When it comes to spirituality, we love to shrink to fit - and our spiritual institutions, for the most part, encourage that perspective. They define God, define the holy, draw a circle around the infinite, excise all mystery by attempting to reduce it to doctrine and dogma, and include and exclude on the basis of whether or not that person's experience of the transcendent fits into their neat little boxes. In recent years the majority of people have discovered that shrink to fit spirituality leaves them with little more than a tight pair of underpants, which may seem at first glance to be quite attractive but in the end leave us with little feeling in our legs. The God proposed is too small, and no longer inspires because a small God is easily overwhelmed. We need to be willing to admit we don't know, that life is a journey in need of traveling, not overcoming. It isn't at all tidy, but it is the truth of what we have.

On the other hand, when it comes to coping skills and problem solving it seems we are loathe to shrink to fit. We look at the most complex issues of our lives, issues that took years to develop, and wonder why we can't address them in five minutes or less. Nobody asks why a one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle takes more than five minutes to put together, but we wonder why a ten-thousand piece problem from lived experience can't be solved overnight! Here is where we need to break things apart into a manageable size, addressing pieces of the challenge as we move to completing the task in front of us.

We need to use the shrink to print function judiciously. When we feel shrinking the issue distorts it, we need to allow it to remain full sized. When an issue is overwhelming at full size, we need to do some reduction so that we can proceed, adding more pieces as we are able. It isn't really difficult, but it can be quite challenging - but then, everything worthwhile is challenging.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Sex and the Spiritual Teacher

I confess, I have had enough. I have had enough of students and teachers of all spiritual stripes - but especially Buddhists - claiming that a teacher can still be a good teacher, still impart good information, even still be fully enlightened "in some areas," (which, it seems to me, is rather like being partly pregnant), even though they have sexually assaulted students.

Sorry, Charlie, it simply isn't possible. Nobody, not even one person, who is even the slightest bit enlightened, sexually assaults a student. I hasten to mention, though everyone should know by now. that even an unwanted touch is a sexual assault. When Zen Master Grabbalot gropes students in dokusan, he is sexually assaulting them and needs to be removed. It doesn't matter how "good" his teaching is. His most profound teaching (his actions) reveal him to be a predator. If his teaching stories seem good, it's because he has memorized them from other sources. He himself has no insight whatsoever. If he did, he wouldn't be raping his students.

Odd, isn't it, that nobody ever said of a pedophile Roman Catholic priest, "yes, but he said SUCH a good Mass!"Yet western Buddhists line up to defend teachers like Joshu Sasaki, Sogyal Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, and hosts of others. The same people cry out that they would never enter a Catholic Church again keep running right back to the Shambhala Center, founded by Trungpa Rinpoche and gobble up the teachings of this man who repeatedly assaulted his students. On the other hand, I guess if all else fails, Harvey Weinstein can still become a Zen Master. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017


  • Every great religious tradition contains truth, but none of them contain only truth or all truth.
  • Only ego, hubris, and fear would lead someone to claim their religion is completely true.
  • Every religion was made by human beings.
  • Looking into practices of other traditions does not constitute disloyalty to your own.
  • Refusal to consider another point of view isn't loyalty, it's voluntary ignorance.

Monday, September 4, 2017

At a Crossroad

To be completely honest, I find myself at a crossroad. In one direction there is what I want to call "Truncated Religion and Spirituality,: or "TRS." TRS is nothing more than the result of living in fear impacting the beliefs that people hold. That fear leads them to narrow their focus to those beliefs which reassure them to the exclusion of the full depth and richness of their religion. If they are afraid of other traditions, they will focus on those aspects of their own which are critical of outsiders to the exclusion of those teaching people to welcome the stranger and the outsider. If they are afraid of not having enough materials things, they will focus on passages promising wealth to the exclusion of those promoting charity. If they are afraid of change, they will see only those teachings that encourage them to preserve tradition. If the status quo isn't serving them well, they will look only to those teachings that encourage moving forward without delay. Under TRS, despite the fact that TRS nearly always claims undying loyalty to the tradition, much of the tradition is in fact discarded and the new, narrower vision is put forth as orthodox - despite the fact that it is almost completely heterodox.

In another direction is maintaining the status quo. While in other times that may have seemed a reasonable approach, the status quo is clearly decaying. In Christian circles, mainline religion has the equivalent of a sucking chest wound. While most official representatives occupy their time scurrying about criticizing new movements rather than looking to reform what isn't working in their own (the spiritual equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic), their members are scurrying out the door in an effort to escape before the ship capsizes. At this point band-aid therapy is ineffective, and nobody seems willing to sign consent for the major surgery required to patch up the wound.

I also reject the popular, but intellectually vacuous, opposite of the status quo: neo-atheism. I have yet to encounter a neo-atheist who addresses anything but fundamentalist forms of religion and belief. That they do so with an evangelistic zeal strikes me as the utmost in irony. Add to it their tendency to equate the Divine with one's imaginary friend - a kind of ad hominem against God, if you will - and I can't really take them seriously. One simply can't assert that deconstruction alone constitutes a belief system, because in the end it doesn't leave you with anything. Replacing spirituality with science really isn't an answer, because there are many phenomena that we can neither measure or observe - and those that we can are, in fact, changed by the fact that we observe them.

As you know, for some time now I have identified myself as Interspiritual. Our local community here in Milwaukee, the Compassionate Heart Interspiritual Community, celebrates the commonalities among the great religious traditions, what has been called perennial wisdom or the perennial tradition. Recently I came across another term to describe the journey of interspiritual people: Spiritual Independents. I like that quite a bit. Whatever you want to call it, it is my spiritual home. I no longer believe that any one tradition has a monopoly on Truth - nor do I believe any of the great traditions are bereft of Truth. That isn't to say they are all the same, but it is to say they all have value. I have learned that there are some things each tradition does very well, and others where they could use some improvement - and those things are different in each tradition. I have also learned that I no longer see any value in debating the relative merits of this or that path, or in the pissing contests that pass for theological debate in the west. The result is that, while I am happy to participate in an honest exchange of experiences and practices that respects the dignity of all participants, I am not interested in arguing (to paraphrase George Carlin) about whose version of god has a bigger penis.

Many of the groups within each tradition seem to see it as their primary duty to declare which other groups are not legitimate members of the tradition. What a waste of time! Our religion and spirituality exist to help us understand and live in our world. Getting caught up in all of these arguments is rather like going to a movie and leaving after the trailers. Don't forget to silence your cell phones, and the large popcorn has free refills!

To be sure, some people aren't ready for the kind of transition I am writing about, and others have moved beyond it to something else. As for me, this is where I am on my journey. Locally, Compassionate Heart Community will be hosting several opportunities over the coming months to learn more about being a spiritual independent. I will also be looking for ways you might join us virtually if you aren't in the local area. We will be working together to discover a path that allows us to grow with integrity. I hope you will join us!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville and the Shame and Blame Game

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville, I believe we have yet again seen the biggest reason we don't have change on significant social issues in America. The reason is that we are much more interested in playing the blame game than in working toward substantive change. The blame game is much easier than working for change, because it creates the illusion that we have done something when we haven't accomplished a thing. In that way, the blame game is a lot like and the other petition sites that try to tell us signing one of their petitions is a powerful action. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Our love affair with blame is directly related to our love affair with shame. Shame is a toxic alternative to guilt, which is healthy. Guilt says, I did something wrong. Shame says, I am wrong, defective in my very being. Shame is used, to our detriment, every day by parents, managers, and
friends to control and manipulate others, and unfortunately many of us buy into it. You can hear it in our self-talk when we say things like, "I'm so stupid," or "I'm such a jerk," or "I can get anything right," and a host of other statements wherein we express our belief that we are not enough. One of the possible, and frequent, results is that we carry our shame and constantly look for places to dump that shame by projecting it onto others - which brings me back to Charlottesville and people's reaction to it.

One of the best examples of the blame game in the aftermath of Charlottesville was the statement that "all white people are responsible for Charlottesville." This is what a liberal shame dump looks like. Unless you are willing to say that all people of color are responsible for the kid of color who robs a convenience store, you can't say that all white people are responsible for Charlottesville. This tactic is all about people trying to move past what has happened as quickly as they can rather than looking at the real causes of tragedy and working to change them.

The Buddha is said to have taught about a man shot with a poison arrow. He said that if you are shot with a poison arrow, it's not the time to ask who shot it, what kind of poison it is, or where the arrow was made. Instead, you pull it out. The blame game keeps us focused on the past and not looking to what comes next, what we should do now. I can guarantee that the solution to any problem lies in the present moment, not in the past. The blame game operates completely in the past and keeps us stuck there. It is important to know how a problem developed, but it is much more important to work to solve the problem. To be successful at problem solving, we need to move from shame to a healthier understanding of ourselves and our actions.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Adventures in Missing the Point

While I generally am a supporter of Pope Francis, his latest announcement regarding "a new path" to Sainthood is, in my opinion, indicative of how far removed religious hierarchy is from the lives of average, everyday people. Here is the new pathway:
According to Vatican Radio, the new category has five criteria:
  1. Candidates must have freely and voluntarily offered their lives in the face of “a certain and soon-to-come death.”
  2. There must be a “close relation” between the candidate’s offering their life and his or her “premature death.”
  3. The person must have lived closely in alignment with “Christian virtues” before and up until their death.
  4. They must have a “reputation for holiness,” especially after their death.
  5. The candidate must have a miracle attributed to their intercession.
I wonder if anyone outside the hierarchy really gives a rat's behind about this. It raises the question of whether a person becomes a true Saint because a religious institution recognizes them as such, or whether such recognition is largely an after the fact recognition - more of a formality than anything else. Does God sit in an office somewhere, rather frustrated because some people are named Saints that God knows were really schmucks, but now God has no choice because the Church makes decisions God is obligated to follow?
Are you as excited as I am? No? What if I told you this? According to Catholic News Service:

Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said the new category aims “to promote heroic Christian testimony, up to now without a specific process, precisely because it did not completely fit within the case of martyrdom or heroic virtues,”

I don't want to rain on anybody's parade. We all need examples to emulate, whether we are religious people, amateur athletes, or research scientists. On the other hand, I don't believe that this news that the Church has, in layman's terms, opened the doors to its Hall of Fame a bit wider will matter much to the poor, the hungry, the destitute, or the victims of oppression and/or violence. Nor do I believe anybody is going to read this news and decide that they really should lead a virtuous life and sacrifice it for another because there's a better chance they will get into the Hall of Fame for doing so now. It's just that I would like to see institutional religion stop wasting time and resources on decisions that really aren't impactful and concentrate instead on this it claims it exists to serve.

Besides, everybody knows that the Hall of Fame is a political institution. If it wasn't, Pete Rose would be in there.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Boycotts and Other Bad Ideas

Boycott Chinese businesses! Boycott countries with sweat shops! Don't eat at this restaurant because their political views aren't what I think they should be! Don't eat this or that because I don't!

Enough, already.

The truth is that when a nation imposes economic sanctions on another nation, only the poor are hurt. Rulers continue their same opulent lifestyle despite sanctions. Remember the years of economic sanctions on Iraq? Saddam Hussein didn't sell his palace to cut corners, he just made sure even less flowed to the average citizen. Similarly, Fidel Castro didn't go without during all the years of the U.S. trade embargo. Similarly, when we decide as a nation not to send medicine to other nations as some kind of punishment, the leader still gets antibiotics - but the poor people donxt.

The same is true of individual decisions we make. I fully support a free Tibet, but I recognize that it isn't going to happen because people decide not to buy Chinese goods (even if it was possible). I say that because Chinese leadership would not be effected by such a move, no matter how successful it was.

Here's the kicker: the fact the Chick-fil-a isn't on board with LGBT issues is (in America at least) within their rights. If I decide not to eat there because of that (and I don't eat there), I need to be aware that the person I am hurting the most is the minimum wage worker who, no matter how many showers she takes, smells like chicken. Why? That minimum wage worker who can't look a piece of chicken in the beak will be the first to lose her job. How many of those people will have to get hurt before the CEO feels an impact? I'm afraid a lot of them will become unemployed before the shareholders feel a pinch.

I'm not saying boycotts are always wrong. Boycotting Rush Limbaugh and similar idiots doesn't cause a lot of collateral damage. What I am saying is that we all need to make our own decisions to participate in boycotts or support economic sanctions. Choosing to opt out doesn't mean we don't care about the issues. It means that we have evaluated the broader impact of the suggested action and decided the ends don't justify the means in that particular case.

Many if not most of us are far too eager to attempt to compel others to do things rather than take the time needed to  convince them to do the same things. Force is alnost always faster, but it tends not to have a lasting effect and to create enemies in its wake. That more than offsets the gains made.

Friday, June 23, 2017

If it's worth doing...

Image result for lazy teenager mowing lawnThe old adage that "if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right"presupposes that the actor agrees that the thing is indeed worth doing. If the actor is a teenager, that's not a valid assumption. If you doubt that, come have a look at my lawn.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review: Out of the Depths by Kenneth E. Kovacs

This book was just okay for me, perhaps because I was hoping for more Jung and less Calvin. Then again, I'm neither Presbyterian nor particularly fond of Calvin. I am sure the author values Jung even as I wish he had written (or perhaps I should say preached, since this book is a collection of sermons) more explicitly about how Jung informs his Christian understanding. I'm also not convinced that everything a Jungian analyst says or does sheds light on Jung. In the end, if you love good Presbyterian preaching you will like this book. If you're looking for Jungian insights into the Christian walk, you will come away feeling shortchanged.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this book through Speakeasy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: Empire Baptized

Wes Howard-Brook has written an excellent book on what I might call the hijack of the message of Jesus by political interests. He chronicles the diversity of the earliest Church and the gradual erosion of that diversity by early Church leaders along with their motivations. We come to see that heresy often has less to do with the validity or error of belief than the service of power. The Church Fathers come to life as the complex, three-dimensional, and sometimes flawed human beings we all are. Highly recommended!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book through Speakeasy in exchange for an unbiased review.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It's been a while...

...since I last posted. I have been on a kind of involuntary pilgrimage, which I will write more about later. I have contemplated changing the name of this blog for some time, as what once seemed expansive now seems restrictive. I suppose every sort of label does that - effectively excludes somethings even as it attempts to be inclusive. For example, being a Buddhist-Christian could be taken to mean that I don't want anything to do with things neither Buddhist nor Christian, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Therefore, there will be some restructuring going on here, and I will be back with a post after that is done.