Tuesday, May 31, 2016

No Need for Trash Talk--But Let'sTalk!

Do you ever talk about religion with people outside of your family?  It's a provocative question, and recently was posed in a survey conducted by the Pew Research Group.  Here's what they discovered.  18% of American adults discuss religion at least once a week.  15% discuss it one or twice a month.  18% discuss it several times a year.  33% seldom discuss religion.  And 16% said they never discuss it with non-family members.  (www.pewforum.org)
So where do you fit along that spectrum?  The same survey indicated that a majority of folks would not try to change the mind of a person whose religious views were different from their own, but a significant portion of mainline Protestants (70%) said they would seek to understand the other person's point of view.  An admirable position to be sure  But there's a catch.  First you need to talk!

I know many folks were told as they were growing up that it is impolite to discuss religion or politics in public.  (In response to that admonition  I once heard someone ask, "So what's left?")   Certainly in my life, some of the most interesting discussions I've had over the years are about religion (and for that matter politics as well!)  To prohibit religious conversation seems to imply it can't be done without rancor.  And, unfortunately, that is often true.  But it doesn't have to be.  For if we never talk about religion, how can we ever hope to understand another person's point of view if it differs from our own?

Throughout my career I have been advocate for interfaith dialogue--and I will continue to urge just such conversations.  I not only learn much about others in such conversations, just as importantly, they help me to hone and understand my own beliefs.  Such conversations help me to grow in my own faith.  What a gift!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rewilding the Way: A Review

Near the end of C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe one of the characters, Mr. Beaver, describes Aslan, the lion who many see as a Christ figure.  "He doesn't like being tied down . . . . He's wild, you know.  Not like a tame lion."  I couldn't help but think of that line as I began reading Todd Wynward's challenging book Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God.  Like the characters in Narnia, it is so tempting for us to try and control God with our creeds and understandings, but God is greater than that.  Indeed, as a seminary professor once reminded me, if you could control God, than God wouldn't be God--you would be.

Wynward's book addresses a wide array of issues confronting the church in this day and age.  Some of them, like trying to tame God, aren't at all new.  But others, like our increasing distance from the natural world, are unique to our era.  Indeed, environmental concerns are laced throughout this book filled with wisdom. 

Wynward begins by positing that there is a third way to approach life as a Christian.  Not the way of absolute renunciation (of the world and the things of the world), not "unexamined affluence"(20) but rather the Way of Jesus.  "God," he writes, "has always desired for us to be conspirators in God's dream, collaborators in redemption.  What is this God project?  heaven on earth.  From the beginning, God has dreamed of an ideal society, something Jesus called 'the kingdom of God':  human community embodying covenanted right relationship with each other and all creation."  (22-23)

Throughout the book, Wynward offers powerful examples of folks who are trying to do just that.  And, adding integrity to his words, he discusses some of his own efforts, and those of his family, to live by this Third Way as they live in an intentional community built largely around the task of providing wilderness based education in New Mexico.

Well read, Wynward often refers to a wide range of authors including Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, Joanna Macy and G. K. Chesterton. At one point he even quotes the poet Walt Whitman:  "'Now I see the secret of making the best person,'" Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass, "'it is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.'"  (80)  A poetic summation of much of Wynward's approach to life itself!

The heart of the book, appropriately, is found in the middle section, called "Seven Paths to Wild Your Way."  Here Wynward offers up seven chapters devoted to presenting and illustrating seven basic principles.  Among them are "Steer by Inner Authority," Rely upon Radical grace," Embody Enoughness," and "Trust in the Spirit."  

Wynward freely admits to his own limitations.  Speaking about his work in Taos, he writes:  "We're inconsistent and distracted with other concerns, but we often find ourselves growing food together, raising goats together, educating our children together, wandering the mountains together, resisting empire together."  (265)  But for all his humility, Wynward really does have some important things to say about how we might better live as those who seek to follow Jesus, as those who realize our God is a wild and untamed God.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A New House--and a Reminder

My wife Linda and I recently bought a house.  It is the first time our primary residence has been a home that we actually owned in over twenty-five years.  Since coming to Sanibel we have lived in rentals, and before that we lived in parsonages for over eighteen years. 

You forget, as you are caught up in the excitement of buying a house, just how much responsibility comes with being a homeowner.  Especially when you live, as we do, in a community bound together by a Home Owners Association (HOA).  It's not a gated community, but it is circumscribed, and each of the one-hundred and sixty-four households are protected by certain agreements we have made together.  The document that binds us all together is called a covenant.  And the rules run from what color you can paint your house, to how often you can rent it out in any given year.  The result of such an agreement is a very lovely, well-maintained community.  But it isn't without its struggles.  There are sometimes, I am told, contentious times as the community-elected board of directors attempts to enforce the covenant.'

As I've thought about our HOA, I realize it is a bit of the nation in miniature.  To be a citizen of this (or any) nation, means to buy into the rules that govern it.  That doesn't mean the rules can't be changed.  They can, by majority vote.  And they are subject to interpretation by the various governing bodies and courts.  But in the end, having a functioning, effective nation depends on full participation by its citizens.  And the nation's covenant, is the Constitution.

And so too, I realize as I'm writing this, the church.  For the church to be a lovely, well-maintained, functioning, effective community, all its members must participate.  And, so
we too have a covenant.

None of this is especially profound.  Its a rather simple set of analogies, but every once in a while we need to be reminded:  communities and nations and churches are the result of individuals working in concert for the common good. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Learning from the Past

For two or three years now I have been undertaking what I call my "Presidential Project."  In essence, I am reading a biography of each of our Presidents in chronological order.  With my other reading (I always have a novel going, a professionally related work of non-fiction and something for my soul--not to mention the occasional book I am reading in order to review it for Speakeasy) I have been averaging a presidential biography every other month or so.  Sometimes I get bogged down, if the subject or the author's treatment is a drag ( Thomas Reeves' Chester A. Arthur comes to mind!) and it takes much longer.  And occasionally a shorter one is a breeze. 

Currently I am reading A. Scott Berg's brilliant Wilson.  It is a beautifully written volume, full of wonderful details about our 28th President, Thomas Woodrow Wilson.  Berg has a good grasp on the historical context, and provides many salient details which help to explain Wilson's very complex personality.  He even shares how and why he was known as Woodrow instead of Thomas.  (You'll have to read the book for yourself to find out the details.)

Wilson, the son of a Presbyterian preacher, was a very moral man.   His decisions were often rooted in his deeply held Christian beliefs.  He was a regular churchgoer and read the Bible most every day.  As I have been reading about his life and work, however, I have been rather troubled that this man, who I really admire in so many ways, was also, for all intents and purposes, a segregationist.  Having grown up in the South in the period of time following the Civil War, he seems to have soaked up the surrounding cultural norm that surrounded him in his early days.

Now, I am not here to judge Wilson.  I think his many, many of his positions and actions were quite laudable.  Would that modern politicians be as thoughtful as he was!  But his story raises the question, how do we deal with such glaring flaws in the lives of those people of the past we have come to admire?  Do you write them off as unacceptable people?  Do we discount everything else they did because of such inconsistency?  Or do we honestly acknowledge the flaws, while still celebrating the good things they did, the positive contributions they made?  Clearly, I think the later approach is more useful.  And frankly, more humane.  After all, isn't that the way we want others to treat us?  As a human being, I have some real shortcomings.  But I pray people don't simply see me for may failings!  I hope they are willing to see me as a man struggling to live a life of faith and integrity.  Not as a hypocrite.  I imagine you wish for the same for yourself.

History always has much to teach us.  About our world, about ourselves.  Might we be willing to learn!