Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"A Christian can realize himself called by God to periods of silence, reflection, meditation, and 'listening'. We are perhaps too talkative, too activistic, in our conception of the Christian life. Our service of God and of the Church does not consists only in talking and doing. It can also
Consist in periods of silence, listening, waiting. Perhaps it is very important, in our era of violence and unrest, to rediscover meditation, silent inner unitive prayer, and creative Christian silence."

--Thomas Merton, On Christian Contemplation

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

-Howard Thurman

Friday, December 22, 2017

“By means of all created things, without exception,
The Divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us.
We imagine it as distant and inaccessible.
In fact, we live steeped in its burning layers.”

-- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The True Christmas Story

Although it's a little bit cheesy, and was produced by Focus on the Family several years ago, I still think this video by Ray Vander Laan about The True Christmas Story is terrific (and very applicable to the current state of things).

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Look closely...

 Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Happy Holidays

Here's why I, as a Christian, intentionally say "Happy Holidays"...

We no longer live in a provincial land where one culture or religion dominates and dictates. The reality is that the world is becoming more diverse and mixed and multicultural. That's a beautiful thing; not a reason to retreat into monocultural ghettos. The more I learn about other faiths and other cultures the more I appreciate them as well as my own as pieces of a wonderful mosaic of human aspiration. 

My neighbors come from various Asian backgrounds, are African-American, are Middle Eastern, originate from south of the border, emigrated from India, are Native American, and some--like me--are descended from European immigrants. We're all in this together.
So I respect their holy days and appreciate when they respect mine.

Here are some of the holy days, in addition to the various Christian ones, that occur in December and January:

Ashura (Sunni Muslim)
Bodhi Day (Buddhist)
Pancha Ganapati (Hindu)
Saturnalia (Pagan)
Yule (Scandinavian/Pagan)
Winter Solstice (Pagan)
Hanukkah (Jewish)
Kwanzaa (African-American)
Guru Gobindh Singh’s Birthday (Sikh)
Lunar New Year (Asian)
Eid Milad UnNabi (Islam)
Sadeh (Zoroastrian/Persian)
Chahar Shanbeth Suri (Zoroastrian/Persian)
Gantan Sai/Shogatu (Shinto)
Magahi (Sikh)
Makar Sankranti (Hindu)


"A consciousness grows in silence that allows recognition and response to the deepest spiritual truths.  For this reason meditation strengthens whatever genuine religious beliefs the meditator already has.  Clarifying one’s intention in meditation determines the course of the journey.  Christians approach self-emptying with the aim of saying with St. Paul, ‘It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’  Buddhists sit with the intention of encountering the Buddha nature that is at one with the cosmos.  Both can find in their personal encounter with silence a spiritual renewal at the heart of their human experience."

--Patricia Hart Clifford, Sitting Still: An Encounter with Christian Zen

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Modern Western psychology began with William James just over a century ago. I can’t help remembering the remark made by Stephen Kosslyn, then chair of the psychology department at Harvard, at the Mind and Life meeting on 'Investigating the Mind,” which took place at MIT in 2003. He started his presentation by saying, “I want to begin with a declaration of humility in the face of the sheer amount of data that the contemplatives are bringing to modern psychology.'”

Neuroscience Has a Lot To Learn from Buddhism: A scientist and a monk compare notes on meditation, therapy, and their effects on the brain

Saturday, December 16, 2017

"The Buddha was very practical, and he realized that attachment to ideas is a serious problem in spiritual work.  He said not to believe anything that anyone tells you, no matter on what authority, including what he himself said.  If a spiritual teaching attracts you, try it out.  See what you get from its practice, what fruits it bears in your life....  Buddhists see faith as willingness to invest in spiritual practice, as confidence in value seen, not as opinions held....  Faith increasingly develops by being confirmed over and again in the fruits of practice."

-- Mary Jo Meadow, Kevin Culligan and Daniel Chowning, Christian Insight Meditation: Following in the Footsteps of John of the Cross

Friday, December 15, 2017

"Contemplation is the way out of the great self-centered psychodrama. When interior silence is discovered, compassion flows. If we deepen our inner silence, our compassion for others is deepened. We cannot pass through the doorways of silence without becoming part of God’s embrace of all humanity in its suffering and joy. Silence is living, dynamic, and liberating. The practice of silence nourishes vigilance, self-knowledge, letting go, and the compassionate embrace of all whom we would otherwise be quick to condemn. Gradually we realize that whatever it is in us that sees the mind games we play is itself free of all such mind games and is utterly silent, pure, vast, and free. When we realize we are the awareness and not the drama unfolding in our awareness our lives are freer, simpler, more compassionate."

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"I have had a great deal of work in interreligious dialogue and often talk with people who say they used to be Christian but are now practicing Buddhism. Very often they say, 'Oh, only now through my practicing of Buddhism I have discovered the spiritual riches that were in my former Christian tradition.' To me it doesn’t make any difference what label you put on it, as long as one discovers the spiritual riches and lives a deep spiritual life, but why did they not discover it in the first place? First of course, familiarity breeds contempt. That is to a certain extent true, but it’s also a fact that the Catholic tradition and also a good many Protestant denominations put too little emphasis on the meditative, the contemplative mystic aspects. But they are there. They are at the very heart of every tradition."

-- Brother David Steindl-Rast
The Gospel of Gratitude According to Brother David Steindl-Rast

“God is that reality whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
-- Blaise Pascal, 17th century mathematician, physicist, theologian

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Ethical integrity requires both the intelligence to understand the present situation as the fruition of former choices, and the courage to engage with it as the arena for the creation of what is to come. It empowers us to embrace the ambiguity of a present that is simultaneously tied to an irrevocable past and free for an undetermined future. Ethical integrity is not moral certainty. A priori certainty about right and wrong is at odds with a changing and unreliable world, where the future lies open, waiting to be born from choices and acts. Such certainty may be consoling and strengthening, but it can blunt awareness of the uniqueness of each ethical moment. When we are faced with the unprecedented and unrepeateable complexities of this moment, the question is not 'What is the right thing to do?' but 'What is the compassionate thing to do?' This question can be approached with integrity but not with certainty. In accepting that every action is a risk, integrity embraces the fallibility that certainty disdainfully eschews."

--Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs

Monday, December 11, 2017

"There are three integral factors in Buddhist meditation—morality, concentration, and wisdom.  These three factors grow together as your practice deepens.  Each one influences the other, so you cultivate the three of them at once, not separately.  When you have the wisdom to truly understand a situation, compassion toward all parties involved is automatic, and compassion means that you automatically restrain yourself from any thought, word, or deed that might harm yourself or others; thus, your behavior is automatically moral.  It is only when you don’t understand things deeply that you create problems."

-- Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On Fundamentalism

I spent about twenty years as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian.  As a fundamentalist evangelical Christian I was conditioned to view other religions as tragically wrong--demonic even.  I was also conditioned to view other forms of Christianity as flawed at best and false at worst.  Only our religion, interpreted in our particular way, was right and true.

It occurs to me that, here in America, this fundamentalism has jumped (like a virus jumps from one species to another) from religion to politics.  81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump and continue to support him.  In Alabama, Roy Moore still enjoys the support of a majority of white evangelicals.  This current "jump" of fundamentalism from religion into politics happened because of decades of cultural conditioning going back to the days of the Moral Majority and then onward through the influence of Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, etc.  

Throughout human history religion and politics have tended to be mixed in unholy and repressive concoctions--the pairing of the priesthood and the king, each validating the other.  The jump of fundamentalism here in the U.S. from religion to politics is nothing new, it's more like an inoculation (the separation of church and state) that is ineffective for a certain percentage of the population.  

And so, just as religious fundamentalists only read their approved texts which will reinforce their beliefs, political fundamentalists only consume their approved information sources which will reinforce their views.  All else is "fake news"--the equivalent of heresy, false teaching.

There is a strong element of authoritarianism and control in the fundamentalist church.  The lever used to apply that control is fear.  Fundamentalism, whether religious or political, is fear-based.  Terrible things will happen if you don't obey this teaching/support this candidate.

Fundamentalism offers the security of surety.  It also massages the ego.  One can rest snug and smug in the certainty of one's rectitude.

In the Christian fundamentalist world there is a strong current of anti-intellectualism.  Exposing oneself to various sources of information and interpretation is considered a danger.  One is told to stay within the guardrails of "sound teaching" or risk turning their faith into a shipwreck.  A pastor of a large fundamentalist church I used to attend often referred to seminary as "cemetery" and pastors who had graduate-level theological degrees were rare and suspicious.  This fear of intellectual curiosity seems to be a hallmark of all forms of religious fundamentalism, be it Christian, Islamic, etc.

Likewise, conservative political fundamentalist will rail against "elites"--college professors, journalists, intellectuals--and will happily participate in the dismantling of America's public-school and higher-education systems.

Lastly, I witnessed during my years as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian that we were often rubes for con artists.  Televangelists, faith-healers, self-proclaimed prophets, alternative medicines and dubious nutritional products (often sold via multi-level marketing pyramids), shadowy investment schemes, conspiracy theories, etc.  The flock was regularly fooled and fleeced, yet faithfully came back for more.

So too in the political realm.  Cynical pundits and politicians will stir up the base with rhetoric about "faith" and "values" and "religious protection" knowing that they'll get an impassioned response (including donations) and a minimum of questions about their own lack of conformity to this faith and these values.  Talking the talk is more important than walking the walk if you can talk the talk with a straight face and sufficient panache.

When I look back on my years as a fundamentalist Christian, one of the most glaring deficiencies I see is a lack of personal responsibility to discern.  Discernment was handed over to the authority.  Questioning authority (even though that authority was often self-proclaimed, uneducated, unqualified and lacking in integrity) was anathema and would result in swift censure or even ostracisation.  To call out errors and abuses on the part of leadership was to risk being labeled as rebellious or deceived or demonic.  The dissenter, we were told, was in danger of invoking God's wrath not just on themselves but on the community, and therefore must not be tolerated.  To be cast from the community of the righteous into the loneliness of the outer darkness was a thing to be feared.  

As it turns out, this outer darkness beyond the walls of the fundamentalist ghetto isn't dark at all.  There's plenty of light and good company here and a veritable universe of ideas to explore and consider, if one is willing to admit to not already having all the answers. 


Saturday, December 09, 2017

"We can most easily understand karma by how we understand other laws of cause and effect.  Each moment sets up the conditions of the next moment.  Such understanding supports all our science in the laws that govern matter, life and mind.  The law of karma works the same way.  Each moment of intentional action conditions or sets up the next moment in a chain of causes and effects governing choices.  Each moment of choice creates effects that produce the kind of mind and world we have in the next moment.  Every volitional choice always affects the mind.  Every choice bends our inclination ever so slightly in one direction or the other—thus choices form character.  Whenever we surrender to a discordant impulse, it becomes easier to surrender the next time.  Each helpful ‘no’ to unwholesome whims makes it easier to say ‘no’ again.  Choices always have this consequence.  How we handle choices conditions the next moment in the mind.  Inch by inch, we ‘grow’ ourselves in some direction."

--Mary Jo Meadow, Kevin Culligan and Daniel Chowning, Christian Insight Meditation: Following in the Footsteps of John of the Cross

Friday, December 08, 2017

Thursday, December 07, 2017

"Contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them.  To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit.  To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and lovingly.  It is a deeply revolutionary matter."

--Former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

“The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, and when death takes off the mask, they will know one another though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers.”

– William Penn, 17th century Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

“There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath different names: it is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no form of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity.”

– John Woolman, 18th century Quaker