Sunday, May 31, 2015


Did anyone not notice that David Letterman has quit?

The king of late night's celebration of his retirement seemed to go on for weeks, although the extent of his fame, success and influence probably deserved as much.

However, near the end of  Letterman's final show, I was touched when he recognized his wife and son sitting in the audience. And then, with great affection, he said to them:

   "Thank you for being my family...nothing else really matters."

What does really matter?
It is an existential question that no one can answer for us -- we must answer for our self.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


A retired journalist, A. C. Snow, writes a commentary column which appears every Sunday in The News and Observer. This past Sunday (May 24, 2015) he wrote :

   At the beach on Sunday morning, my wife drove up to the nearby...Methodist Church.
   I remained at the condo to watch the ocean, one of God's greatest sermons delivered during his six-day work week...
   Upon returning from church, my wife said...a member of the congregation said that he had gotten up that morning feeling dispirited and sad. But when he arrived at church, a friend presented him with a pie, and he already felt cheered by the thoughtful gesture.
   I started to ask her what kind of pie but hesitated, anticipating her frequent answer  to such trivia questions, "I don't know. But why does it matter?"

                                             WHY DOES IT MATTER?

I believe that is a question that should be asked regarding many religious arguments.

A good example is the subject of baptism.

Most conservative Baptist congregations practice and require what is known as "believer's baptism" by immersion.;  consequently they do not recognize baptism by sprinkling or pouring, much less infant baptism. This has generated centuries of religious arguments, and is doing so again as a Baptist minister has recently performed an infant baptism in his church.

The tragedy to me is that this is such a controversy.

Raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church, and baptized by immersion in 1961, I long ago came to the conclusion that the mode of baptism does not matter to G-d. [Though it can matter to us in very important ways, I don't believe that it matters to G-d whether or not we are even baptized in the first place.]

When I was a Chaplain resident at Virginia Baptist Hospital, I performed a number of infant baptisms; in most cases, a relative newborn that was not going to live, and in one case, a dead baby.
I never felt I was doing anything that affected G-d's care for that new life, but I felt I was sharing G-d's love for that tragic new life, and helping to provide comfort and support to the parents.

I will never forget getting called into the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit one Saturday afternoon.
With no hope for survival, the parents and staff had decided to remove life support from their newborn premie, but the parents requested  baptism be done first. As I performed the rite, I can still recall the site of tears in the eyes of everyone present, including the staff nurses and attending physician. Afterward, I felt that I had been an instrument of grace in the midst of one of life's most tragic circumstances--which mattered to me, and to all those who were present. But did the fact that this baby was baptized before death  matter to G-d? I can't believe that it did. But it mattered to the parents, and that was enough for me.

How can I support my position?

Jesus said, "Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man."
I believe the same is true for baptism.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Oprah's Super Sunday program recently featured Sister Joan Chittister (who I love!)

As they discussed women's role in the church, Sister Joan made the point that Jesus did not have any problem with women, as they were part of his "band."

She noted that women walked with him in the streets--when women were not allowed to do that.

She then proclaimed in no uncertain terms: "Jesus was a feminist!"
{Joan then went on to observe the genesis of the problem:}

"But all of a sudden when the churches get institutionalized, guess who's in charge?"

And Oprah chimed in : "men!"

I believe that exchange points to the main reason why I came to see myself as spiritual but not religious (SBNR.)

By their nature, religions are institutional.
And I acknowledge  that in many ways, institutions are a necessary evil.
But institutions do not have a heart (which is why they can ride roughshod over individuals.)
And to promote order, they develop a structure to identify who's in charge.

Consequently, most religions have some sort of clerical hierarchy, such as the Roman system with the pope, cardinals, bishops, etc.

But spirituality is an individual, personal must take responsibility for yourself, because you are in charge.

As Woody Guthrie observed in his song "Lonesome Valley"  back in 1963, no one can walk the lonesome valley for you--"you gotta walk it by yourself."

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I recently watched a recorded episode of Super Soul Sunday in which Oprah interviewed the spiritual teacher Adyashanti...which changed my opinion of him.

About 10 years ago, a friend at Yogaville had given me two of his books (I don't remember the titles) but I just couldn't get into them., and I dismissed him. However, his chat with Oprah pulled me in, and I look forward to giving him another chance. In particular, their discussion of his book, Falling Into Grace, was quite fascinating.

But I am writing to emphasize a statement that was made in the program:
Adyashanti's spirituality cannot be labeled.

I believe this is true for all of us.

Just as a  definition of "spirituality" cannot be nailed down, neither can anyone's spirituality.

We can choose to follow a certain religion, and subscribe to its dogma , creeds and objective  teachings, but the way we interpret and process those concepts into our own spiritual practices and experience will always be unique.

Can religion be shared?
Perhaps to a large extent -- yes.
But then, again, look at all the religious conflict.
And not just within modern day Islam:  look at my former tribe -- the Baptists, with dozens and dozens of varieties, often still in conflict.

Perhaps religion and spirituality should be compared to sharing a meal.
We can sit at the same table and eat the same food.
But the way that food gets processed depends on our individual digestive process.
Are there spiritual equivalents to lactose intolerant? Gluten free? Diabetic?

As with Adyashanti, my spirituality cannot be labelled, either.
It is a patchwork quilt, one of a kind.
I'll bet yours is too.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


I remained a Baptist as long as I did because of my understanding that the primary Baptist principle was the insistence that each individual had the right to interpret their own conscience.

As such, Baptists were traditionally opposed to the imposition of any creed, and viewed any statement of faith as tentative and non-binding.

That said, it has been a long time since I came across a statement of faith that spoke to me.

But I recently found one formulated by the Christ Church Presbyterian of Burlington, Vermont, back in 2006, that leaves me breathless. It is entitled Somewhere Beyond Belief: A Statement of Faith and I share it with the permission of their Session.

                 Somewhere Beyond Belief: A Statement of Faith

Somewhere beyond belief, our hearts know...
That God is the breath of love within us, between us,
  the intimate mystery beyond us, holding us,
  the Creator, our Creator.

  That God's Creation is essentially good, no matter how hidden
  that goodness may be.

Somewhere beyond belief, our hearts know...
That in Jesus we glimpse God and what God would have us be:
  loving extravagantly, demanding justice,
  fully present, welcoming to all,
  citizens in the Kingdom of God,
  here and now.

That Jesus is known in paradox,
  comforting and challenging,
  clear and confounding,
  historical, present today, and ahead of us,
  deeply personal and beyond our grasp,
  human and divine,
  peacemaker demanding justice, upsetting the old order.

Somewhere beyond belief, our hearts know...
That the heart of our community is around and on the communion table,
  the table where everyone belongs, where everyone is welcome,
  where we see the Christ in each other,
  where we are filled up and poured out,
  where we gain strength for the journey.

That we are called to help create God's New Realm in this world
  collectively and individually, led by the Spirit,
  to love it into existence,
  to announce that it is already here,
  to inspire, to help others see it,
  to be Christ's body and to do God's work.

Somewhere beyond belief, our hearts know...
That the journey is long, that the journey is good,
  that answers lead to questions, deeper and deeper,
  that God's grace carries us
  now and forever...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Christian denominations are zombies!

Actually, I felt compelled to realize that denominations were dead over 20 years ago.

On a practical level, denominational labels are essentially meaningless.

On a cultural level, there are more differences within denominations than without...views on homosexuality and gay marriage are a good example. And doctrinal distinctions about modes of baptism and communion are outdated and irrelevant to most people. Indeed, denominations represent non-issues  to our contemporary society, which is the prime reason they are the walking dead! (Personally, I had felt the denominations would be dead and buried long before now,  but "survivors" have not figured out how to divide up the assets.)

In 1998, when I left the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virgina, to escape the Southern Baptist "wars" and moved to Bennington Vermont, I joined a Congregational (UCC) church. After learning of my history, a "northern" (American) Baptist minister asked me, "What side were you on?" Without thinking, I responded, "I always thought I was on Jesus' side!"

Returning to Virginia in 2003, I participated in a Presbyterian church, and when we relocated to Raleigh in 2010, I embraced my liberal side and joined a Unitarian Universalist fellowship to celebrate their theological openness. But I soon learned that most members were neither "Unitarian" nor "Universalist."

More and more, I became disaffected with all denominational labels and came to embrace the SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) position by default. And that led me to see myself as a "NONE" -- what the religious sociologists call those who claim no religious affiliation. But living with those labels of SBNR and NONE was just as frustrating to me as the denominational labels.

As I have continued on my spiritual journey, I have become drawn to those who are promoting what is known as "interspirtuality" -- such as Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Interspirituality recognizes that we all see things from our own unique perspective, and can learn from each other, without feeling the need to convert. In discussions with Janice (my life partner) we have come to choose the label "SOME" to describe ourselves, as we feel drawn to parts of many different spiritual traditions, but do not feel the necessity of embracing any in particular. We can identify with "SOME" of this one (e.g. Judaism) and "SOME" of thatone (e.g. Zen.) And I have come to ralize that this is exactly what I was doing when I started this blog, "Patchwork Quilt Spirituality." Yes, I "cherry-pick" SOME of what I want to accept and ignore the rest -- but isn't that what most of us do in reality?

I am not a NONE...I am a SOME!

PS: Janice has suggested that SOME could stand for "Sacred Oneness Manifests Everywhere.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


A brief conversation on a recent TV program caught my attention.

A middle aged lady was describing her tennis prowess as a young teenager.
She won enough chanpionships that by age 15 she considered turning pro.

Her friend then asked: "What happened?" and she simply responded: "Life! Life happened."

Enough said for those of us with much life experience..."life is what happens while you're making other plans!"

Transitions in our life happen constantly. We move from sunrise to sunset every day.

But sometimes a life change event can be so overwhelming that we feel devastated.

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr says a crisis "can be devastating. The crisis undoes you... it washes out your spiritual life. What you thought you knew about living the spiritual life no longer suffices for the life you are living."

Sooner or later, "life happens!" and we can feel lost.

Father Eugene Kennedy compared our life's journey to an ocen voyage. He said "our passage takes place on a pitching deck and sometimes the only thing we can do is hold on until the seas grow calm again."

The fact is that we all have times where we need help in "holding on" until our life reaches calmer seas.
And this is where the rubber meets the road for spirituality.