Sunday, September 16, 2012


The question "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" has hit my radar several times recently.

It is a good, thought provoking question. But at this point in my life, I find it both amusing and annoying.

Back when I served at the community service agency, I had to develop 5-year plans. These were somewhat helpful, but more often futile depending on the way the political winds were blowing. Case in point, our state funding agency sponsored a workshop entitled, "Organizational Decline and Cut-back management."

Janice and I were married in 1972 and after 2 years, we 'decided' to start a family, and my plans to be like the Waltons on TV. In 1975, instead of pregnancy, Janice was given the diagnosis that she had myasthenia gravis, a neuro-muscular disorder. She was also told by an ob-gyn specialist that it was doubtful she could ever become pregnant.

In 1993, I scheduled my pastoral study leave to attend a summer class at Andover Newton Theological School, in hopes of later enrolling in their Doctor of Ministry program. However, on my way to Boston I received news that the steeple had fallen into our church.

In 1994, 20 years after or initial plans to start a family, Janice received the news that she was pregnant.
The call from the doctor's office came on April 1st...April Fools' Day!! Quincy was born on November 3, 1994--the joy of our lives, and our only child.

Fast forward to today: I am now 65 with a 17 year-old teenager who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome 3 years ago, and now seems to have a more severe, undiagnosed personality disorder. When an explosive crisis occurs, I'm not sure what will happen over the next 5 minutes! Somehow, we've all been able to survive, and I find myself grateful to have simply made it through the day.

Awhile ago, someone gave me a refrigerator magnet that says:


A big patch in my spirituality is covered with the word MYSTERY!?!

Friday, September 14, 2012


     "Human life is a struggle, isn't it?"

So begins the 7th chapter of the book of Job, as rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message. This verse caught my attention as I peaked ahead at tomorrow's reading for September 15 in The Daily Message  (his "Through the Bible in One Year" edition that I have somehow been able to keep up with.)

     It seems to me that the psychiatrist Scott Peck stated this truth from Job more softly when he began his best seller, The Road Less Travelled with the statement:
"Life is difficult."

     Perhaps the best way to make the point is to quote from the theme song for TV's "CHEERS":

"Making your way in the world today takes everything you got!"

     For me, this is where the rubber hits the road for spirituality. What helps someone when they are running on 'empty'? Actually, I think spirituality begins with the realization that life is not all "wine and roses." Indeed, historian Thomas Cahill observes that "the history of the world is written in blood."  So when the dark side of reality turns your world upside down, what gives you the strength to go on? 

     It is helpful to think about this definition from for the word "spirit":

"the vital principle or animating force within living beings"

     What cultivates that animating force in you? Your spirituality. And that's why I chose the title "Patchwork Quilt Spirituality."  Like a quilt that helps us make it through the night, if your spirituality is not comforting  in the face of life's struggles, it is of no practical use unless it works for you. And your spirituality doesn't have to be pretty or "systematic" -- a simple "patchwork" is good enough if it helps you survive life's alligators.

NOTE:  When I served as the Executive Director of a 7-county community services agency and worked in a 'political swamp', I had a poster that cheered me;

It's hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp...
when you're up to your ass in alligators. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Which Scriptures?

[NOTE: The following is from a letter I wrote to the editor of the Religious Herald, which was subsequently published in the October 16, 2008 edition. I was responding to a previous article (in the Oct.2 edition) that stated "The Scriptures are authoritative and do not change."]

     "The Scriptures are authoritative" begs the question, "Which Scriptures?" Aside from questions regarding the Scriptures of other religions, there are questions regarding the use of the Hebrew  or Christian Scriptures, as well as  the  "Scriptures" used  by the early church, which did not make it into the canon several centuries later. The fact that the canon was closed by a convention of church politicians probably deserves no more allegiance than I gave a resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention (which are necessarily non-binding) calling for a boycott of Disney.

     As for "The not change," I was raised in a church that advocated verbal plenary inspiration in their constitution, with the claim that the Scriptures were infallible "in the autographs." How nice, since no one has any knowledge of what became of these "autographs." And even if they do exist somewhere, since the meaning of words change over time, the reality is that the "Scriptures" change as well.

     "The Bible says!" is only useful to those wishing to impose uniformity and control.

     In my experience, most Baptists are good Baptists: they reserve the right to interpret their own conscience under God, which undergirds the forgotten principle that no Baptist can speak for another Baptist. For me, the ultimate reality is that a person of conscience can make no appeal to any outside source--not an infallible Pope in Rome nor an infallible paper pope bound by leather--but only to that inner voice of conviction: "Here I stand!"

[NOTE: Bold print added ti the original for emphasis in this blog.]

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why "Patchwork Quilt" Spirituality

I want to share why I use the term "patchwork quilt" to describe my spirituality.

First of all, I am a 'recovering' fundamentalist.
I was enrolled in the 'Cradle Roll' of my childhood Baptist church when I was 2 months old.
I grew up in Sunday School, Bible Club after school, and Vacation Bible School.
We were taught that the Bible was God's Word, and sang:
     "The B-I-B-L-E, yes that's the book for me.
      I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E."
I was told that to question anything in the Bible was the work of the devil.
In later years, I was taught the theory of 'verbal plenary inspiration,' i.e. the Bible is without error, infallible.

The positive side of that indoctrination was that I grew up with a sense of connection to the Creator who loved me, watched over me, and protected me...who comforted me like a warm, cozy quilt in winter.

However, by my second year in college, I could no longer ignore the Bible's factual errors (the earth is not flat) nor deny my questions, so I went through an atheistic period. Eventually I came to see that the Bible could be inspirational without being perfect. However, my loss of innocence created some holes in my spiritual quilt, and I still have times when I miss the assurance of those who believe the Bible "from cover to cover!" So, I am 'recovering' and putting patches on my spiritual quilt as I go.

Secondly, the 'theology' behind my spirituality has been inconsistent and continues to evolve.
By the time I graduated from seminary in 1971, I had studied 'systematic theology' enough to come to realize that "I did not understand all that I knew" (a phrase I later picked up from my mother-in law.)
Four decades later, I do not want to even try to sort out how many twists and turns my 'theology' has taken.
I like the statement that one should always do theology with a loose-leaf notebook, as my experience with life has taken many pages out.

In the third place, I accept that my spirituality has weak spots and broken places.
I have had dreams broken and beliefs shattered. Sometimes my spirituality has been so weak that I was fortunate to be able to grab onto anything that helped me make it through the day...and night. So my spirituality is like a patchwork quilt, with pieces that are loose or missing...and that is good enough!