Monday, December 30, 2013


To love
               to love as Jesus did

to give to share to lend a hand to help someone

To love
               to love

to give of ourselves of all we have and all we are

To love
                to love from deep inside 

to love until we can no more and then to love
                                                                          to love
                                                                                       even some more

To love
                to love is to live
                                            to live

Not to love
                        to die

[first composed while in college ~ 1967]

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Thoughts about the uncertainty of life have led me to new questions about the traditional ideas about God (such as if God is God, then God must be omniscent, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc.)

But if I think outside the box, I can ask:
What if the "Creator" does not have a "master plan" and is making things up as "He" goes along?
What if God is simply improvising?

Is that the real issue behind "creationists" arguments about evolution?

It occurs to me that the Biblical story of Noah points to improvisation.

According to the account in Genesis, the Lord comes to regret having created mankind (Genesis 6:6) and decides to destroy 'His' creation. But Noah finds grace and is given instructions to build the ark and take just enough to start over. 

An unbiased reading of the story would seem to indicate that God made a mistake in creating mankind and had to improvise to correct the situation... So is God making this up as "He" goes along? This question may seem blasphemous to my former Sunday School teahers (or even some seminary professors) but it is a legitimate question. And perhaps a possible answer is that God is blindsided by the future as much as we are. 
At any rate, being blind-sided by the uncertainties of life forces us to improvise.

Maybe that's not so makes life quite an adventure!

When I was growing up, I heard in Sunday School that I was a sinner and would go to hell unless I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior, which I did (I wasn't stupid...I knew I didn't want to burn forever!) But at some point I got to thinking about heaven -- a place where we would live God forever and every day would be like Sunday. Actually I hated Sunday: because of all the "Sabbath" rules. it was the most boring day of the week! So thoughts of heaven made me cry!!
I don't want hell, but boredom can be its own hell.
The bumper sticker says: "WE PLAN. GOD LAUGHS!"

Maybe we should laugh at our plans too!

[PS: I'm making this up as I go along.]


According to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to fulfill more 'advanced' needs. These are usually pictured in a pyramid, with basic physiological needs (food water, sleep) at the bottom, followed by safety and security needs. Then come social and friendship needs, followed by self-esteem and success needs, with "self-actualization" at the top.

In practical terms, our desire to live and survive is paramount.

But if that is so, why do people commit suicide?

In my opinion, once our basic survival needs are met, we arrive at the questions of meaning and purpose.

My search for meaning began during my second year in college. I had transferred from a small college in my hometown to a large state university in another state. The loss of familiarity, and feeling overwhelmed and insignificant by the size of the student body, made me quite vulnerable. And the intellectual challenges of the academic world soon saw my old Sunday School answers and beliefs evaporate as my new questions expanded. What if there is no God? What if death means the end of my existence? Why live if it all comes to nothing? Why not end it now?

My own suicidal thoughts and search for meaning led me to realize that the love and friendships in my life had mattered to me, whether or not  I ceased to exist at death. So I made a choice and decided that life was worth living...I chose life.

A few years ago, I was watching a TV program where a priest made the following comment:
"We don't find meaning in life...we make meaning."

We can study the world's great philosophers, adopt various spiritual disciplines of the world's great religious traditions, and/or find our personal guru. But in the end, we must decide for our self and choose our own path.  No one can live our life for us.

How then shall we live?
No one's answers really matter but our own, and it is only through working out our own spirituality that we
make our way.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Do not miss Rami Shapiro's blogs, "Happy Sukkot" (9/19/2013) and "The New Covenant" (10/20/2103) at


"Life is what happens while you are making other plans."

My birthday is on January 10. My brother's is on December 1.
This is why I remember the following experience.

Back when I was a pastor, one of my church members with cancer was dying in the hospital. Her daughter called me on December 1 and requested that I come to the hospital ASAP -- the Oncologist had just told the family that their mother could not last through the day. After standing vigil with the family for some time,
I told the daughter that I needed to leave, and explained that in my experience, it might be some time before death would occur.

Long story short, the daughter called me while I was having my birthday breakfast to inform me that her mother had died...40 days after the doctor's prediction!

My life's companion Janice and I were married in 1972, and decided to start a family in 1974. Instead of getting pregnant, in 1975,she was informed that she had myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder she has coped with since. Another long story short, she discovered she was pregnant in 1994--22 years later!
Our son Quincy was born that year on November 3--a joy unspeakable. And yet, his life almost ended at age 2, and he was diagnosed with Asperger's in 2009. Uncertainty is now an unavoidable daily companion, but his story is for another time.


I have written the above to preface my reaction to a report I just read in the quarterly newsletter of Hospice of Virginia (my last employer) concerning an article entitled "Uncertainty -- The Other Side of Prognosis" from the New England Journal of Medicine (6/27/2013.)

The article was quoted as follows: "In many respects, the primary communication task of clinicians is the management of uncertainty...By normalizing uncertainty and attending to the affective response to living in the face of an uncertain future, we may help our patients and their families enjoy the time they have now."

I love academic jargon!! (For those with Asperger's, that is sarcasm.)
That quote reminds me of an old beer commercial:
"You only go around once in life, so grab all the gusto you can."

As humans, there is only one certainty we all face: some day we will die.

How then do we live? That is a question that only our own spirituality can answer.
(To be continued...)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


     I just finished reading a friend's sermon entitled, "Let It Be."  His introduction recounts the story of how Paul McCartney came to write this famous Beatle's song. I had assumed the song's reference to Mother Mary was to the mother of Jesus, but this Mary was Paul's mother. She had appeared to him in a dream during a time in his life when he was very distraught, and had told him, "Let it be." Paul felt she gave him this message: 

     "Be gentle, don't fight things, just try to go with the flow and it will all work out."

     A part of me resonates with this message, yet another part of me resists it. 

     It reminds me of the "Serenity" prayer:

Lord, help me to change what I can; accept what I can't; and give me the wisdom to know the difference.

     Rather than feel serenity when I hear this prayer, I often feel somewhat distressed, as the wisdom to know the difference is exactly what I often don't have.

     My first full-time ministerial assignment in 1971 was to a church that had a racial policy in writing that stated: "No member of the Negroe (sic) race shall be admitted for attendance or membership." I openly opposed that policy and worked to encourage those who wanted to change it. (It was abolished in 1975.) I'm glad I did not just "let it be." 

     Unfortunately, there have been many other occasions when I should have looked at a situation and said "Let it be" but did my chagrin!

     Back in the 80's when I first began working as a professional counselor, I did a lot of research about the various 'schools' of psychotherapy (over 500 back then) and what seemed to work. The concensus was that the relationship between the therapist and the client was the essential therapeutic ingredient. So much for all the theories if that relationship of trust could not be established! 

     At any rate, in my work with clients, I found I was often able to build the relationship, but my difficulty came at a critical tipping point: how long do I "let it be" and continue to listen, nurture and support the client--and when do I confront their faulty thinking and behavior? The answer is far more art (intuitive) than science.

     Actually, this dilemma pervades most issues in our life. As Kenny Rogers sang in The Gambler:

     "You've got to know when to hold'em;
          know when to fold'em;
               know when to walk away,
                    and know when to run."

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


"What is self-nurturing spirituality?" Alice D.Domar asks this question and gives the following answer:

It is "One in which our search for meaning and purpose is consciously woven into our daily lives..."

The quote is from her book with Henry Dreher, which is entitled:
SELF NURTURE: Learning to Care for Yourself as Effectively as You Care for Everyone Else.

Their concept of self-nurturing spirituality is "one in which we come to terms with our religious backgrounds, ferreting out, as best we can, our own core beliefs about God or spirit." And then, most significantly, they observe that self-nurturing spirituality is "One in which we are, finally, beholden only to ourselves when it comes to our ultimate decisions about faith and how we practice it it." (Quotes from pages 261-262.)

This points to a pivotal difference between religion and spirituality: religion is based upon external and communal authority; spirituality is existential and rooted in one's own experience.

And that is why I like the concept of "Patchwork Quilt Spirituality." I pick and choose what to believe according to what has meaning and substance for me--the "truth" that resonates within me. I know that some systematic theologians and scientifically-minded academic types will object and and protest that we can't cherry-pick what we believe. But in my experience, ultimately we all do...we just don't admit it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I came across a note to myself  that back in 2003, I had written the following to a friend whose husband was dying with cancer;

The older I get, the less I understand. But one thing I know:


I have found a story that echoes the same truth.

After finally beating his grandmother at Monopoly, she used the game to teach her grandson a lesson about life.

At the end of the game, she reminded him that everything he had won and accumulated...all the "cash" and properties...went back in the box at the end of the game.

Whatever we achieve and accumulate in life does not go with us when we die.

The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager   (by Ken Blanchard and Margret McBride) ends the story with this thought:
"...when life is over, everything goes back in the box. The only thing you get to keep is your soul. That's where you store who you loved and who loved you." (p. 93)


Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I have known for years how much our mindsets shape all of our perceptions.

But the word "mindset"struck me in a new way this morning.

To have a MIND-SET is to actually have your MIND SET...i.e, CLOSED!

Institutions by their very nature foster a certain mindset, are protective of the status quo, and do not nurture innovation. Their "corporate culture" tends to be SET.

Back in the 60's some of us seminarians envisaged multi-media worship services.
It is 2013, and worship services have changed very little, with the exception that many of the larger churches have "big screens"; but they are mainly used to project the words of hymns, scripture verses, and to enlarge the image of the "performers" (singers and the preacher!) ...the same old format with a magnifying glass!

Our society and culture is now changing at warp speed.
And denominations and the old ways of doing church are as obsolete as the pony express.


Have you heard of "Zombie churches?"

The writer Carol Howard Merritt had a recent post (6/18/13) in the Christian Century in which she discussed the issue of zombie churches--congregations that are 'dead' but have enough endowment to keep the doors open.

I would submit that, even more than individual churches, it is the denominational structures that are dead.
The fact is that the doctrinal differences between denominations have become far less significant than the ethical and cultural differences within the denominational memberships; for example, the preferred mode of baptism is a far less divisive issue than views about gay marriage.

When we moved back to Virginia in 2003, I decided to avoid the local Baptist churches and attended a small Presbyterian church. There I became active in a small Sunday School class of Baby Boomers. The variety of denominational backgrounds was rich and varied, including one who was a former student for the priesthood. I was particularly intrigued by the open attitude of a former Catholic who said she was still disturbed by the nuns who taught her not to bite down on the "host," lest she cause it to bleed. There was only one in this class who seemed wed to the denominational "line."

Yes, this was a group of Boomers who were "searchers." And it was the discussions in this class that demonstrated to me how meaningless the denominational labels have become.

I believe denominations are dead but don't know it ("zombies") for two main reasons: history and wealth.
Those involved in the denominations are invested in the history and identity of that particular denomination.
And they want to hold onto the use and control of that denomination's assets.

I remained a "Baptist" for so long because I held to the historic principle that each person had the right to interpret their own conscience (which most baptists no longer practice), and I felt my long term history as a Baptist gave me a stronger voice among other Baptists (it did not!)

I have not given up on denominations easily. When we moved to Vermont in 1998, I joined a United Church of Christ ("God is still speaking") congregation, and when we moved to Raleigh in 2010, we joined a Unitarian Universalist (not sure there is a god who can speak) congregation.

I no longer have any desire to participate in any denomination, and I no longer choose to identify with any organized religion, so by default I would be considered a "None."

PS: However, as the great Syracuse University educator Sol Gordon pointed out: "To label is to disable."


Monday, July 22, 2013


As a child, like most, I had a natural inclination to ask questions.

However, I soon learned that my fundamentalist church discouraged questions -- particularly about God and the Bible. I was even led to believe that to question anything in the Bible or about God was blasphemous and the work of the devil.

Ironically, I now believe that the ultimate blasphemy is to tell a child that they should not ask questions...about God, the Bible, or whatever.

The freedictionary on-line defines blasphemy as:

"a. A contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity.
b. The act of claiming for oneself the attributes and rights of God."

What is more sacred than a child?
Who is anyone to tell a child that they should not ask that question.

To tell a child to stop asking questions is actually an attempt to kill their imagination.

Interestingly, if you believe like the fundamentalist that the Bible is literally true and infallible, you believe that Genesis teaches that humanity was created in the image of God. My Hebrew in seminary over 40 years ago was never very good, and I can't even recite the Hebrew alphabet from memory, so it is for others to debate the actual meaning of the orginal text. But I like to believe that humanity is a product of God's imagination. And if that is so, what could be more sacred about our own life than our imagination?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


The most primitive part of our brain, referred to as the reptilian or "lizard" brain, is our protector. It is constantly seeking our survival by evaluating our environment for threats. It is fear-based and the source of our stress response--commonly called the "fight-or-flight" response.

Dr. Paul MacLean, a research psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health, originated the concept of the lizard brain with his Triune Brain theory which he proposed in 1973. He saw the structure of the human brain reflective of three evolutionary eras:

     * the Protoreptilian formation  (lizard brain)
     * the Paleomammalian formation (limbic system...feeling)
     * the Neomammalian formation (neo-cortex...thinking)

The November 2011 issue of Vanity Fair explained this theory in an article that highlighted the work of Dr. Peter Whybrow, a British neuroscientist at U.C.L.A. Noting that the human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, the article quoted Dr. Whybrow: "We've got the core of the average lizard."  The article explained that the brain core is wrapped around by a second layer which facilitates feeling and social interaction, followed by a third layer which enables memory and abstract thought. As Whybrow was quoted, "The only problem is our passions are still driven by the lizard core."

For those who subscribe to this triune theory, it is commonly understood that the reptilian and limbic brains have a far greater effect on the neo-cortex than vice versa. In practical terms, the heart always seem to win most any conflict with our head.

How does this relate to religion? My personal story provides a demonstration.

I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church, where I heard the "Gospel" message at a very early age.
I was told I was a sinner and deserved to be punished in hell (which God's righteous judgment required.
However, I was also told that God loved me and had arranged a way for me to escape that punishment, by allowing his perfect son Jesus to die on the cross and be punished in my place...


I needed to accept Jesus as my "Personal Savior" in order to be saved. If I didn't accept Jesus, I would be doomed to hell forever.

What do you think my lizard brain decided? Duh...I chose Jesus.

That "Gospel" message is what psychologists call a "double message."
God loves you...BUT!
The rational brain can see the problems with this message; its power lies in its appeal to the lizard brain.

So religion that is rooted in fear is "Lizard Brain Religion."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


While pastor of Lynchburg, Virginia's First Baptist Church, I was assigned authorship of the religion column for the September 5, 1992 edition  of The News and Advance.  I recently came across a copy of that article and thought it provided helpful background for what I've been chewing on in this blog.  It follows as printed:

                                                 ARE YOU RELIGIOUS?

     Let's do away with religion!"

     Who would make such a suggestion? Obviously -- one who is either a subversive revolutionary or mentally deranged. In either case, that person might become dangerous to society if they were taken seriously...and so it was that the authorities decided to silence a young rabbi by execution almost 2,000 years ago. 
     Yes, Jesus of Nazareth sought to free people from the bondage of religion -- for religion always tends to enslave people by imposing a system of thinking and acting (dogma and ritual) which is intended to invoke the divine blessing.
     Over in Buckingham County, there is a religious community, known as Yogaville, which tries to promote unity among all religions. Their motto is "Truth is one, paths are many." Indeed, there are many paths which which religions promote as the way to find God. And it is in this sense that Jesus sought to do away with religion -- for religion is the human enterprise which seeks to look fo God.
     In contrast to the religious approach, Jesus taught that God was looking for humanity, and announced, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:15) The good news is that you do not have to find the way to God; God has found the way to you! The good news would later be interpreted this way: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8).
     Religion assumes that God is remote and angry and must be appeased by some ritual and/or sacrifice; even worse, religion tends to promote the individual assumption that God is against you. In direct contrast, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the proclamation that God is for you because God loves you (John 3:16), even as the father loved his prodigal son. (See Luke 15: 11-32).
     Perhaps you are very religious and are doing your best to know God. That is certainly your privilege. But if religion turns you off, consider the prospect that God has visited humanity and offered a love that knows no limits through Jesus the Christ: "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." (Rev.3:20) You do not need to find your way to God; you simply need to respond to the love of God which is at your door.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


When I was in seminary over 40 years ago, I studied enough systematic theology to realize that I would never be a theologian.

Some years later I learned that Sam Keen, who had been a seminary professor early in his career, chose not to pursue theology when his first sabbatical came up. He knew that to be regarded as a theologian, he needed to study in Germany. But he chose, instead, to go to Esalen...probably another reason I respect his free spirit.

At any rate, I recently came across one of his talks on You Tube in which he shares the following description:

"A theologian, or religious person, is like a blind person,
in a dark room,
looking for a black cat...
that isn't there...and finding."

Like all analogies, this one has its problems. But it reminds me that all discussions of spirituality need to begin with humility.

In that same talk, Sam also disparages those who would claim to be spiritual but not religious.

However, the SBNR concept still appeals to me:
I'm not very spiritual, but I want to be more congruent, grounded and centered;
I have no desire to be religious.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sittin' and Goin' Nowhere

It's been a good while since I posted anything.
I feel like I've been sitting, going nowhere.

I could blame my malaise on battle fatigue, coping with my only son who struggles with Asperger's and teenage hormones. But my dark night of the soul goes deeper.

Living in Raleigh and seeing all the self-absorbed churches seeking new members is depressing. For example, there are 11 Southern Baptist Churches within a 5-mile radius of where I am sitting.
I can relate to Robert Redford's character in the movie, "An Unfinished Life."

After his granddaughter is rude to the visiting sheriff, he makes it clear that she is to be respectful to anyone that comes to his door...unless it is someone trying to "sell their angle on God...there's no excuse for that s*#t."

Of course, I'm rather stuck with self-absorption myself, and the "world seems too much with us."

Sometimes, perhaps it's  good enough just to make it through the day.

Recently I heard a country song that pretty much describes how I've been feeling.
It's sung by Andie MacDowell during John Travolta's movie "Michael" with these lyrics:

I'm sittin' on the side of the road
     in the middle of nowhere
I don't know where I'm goin'
     But I hope I know it when I get there

Meanwhile, I hear the question of childhood:

Are we there yet?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Vatican is Blowing Smoke

The news networks are all focused on the Vatican today as they await the election of a new pope.

The waiting is focused on watching the specially installed chimney to see a white puff of smoke--the signal that a new pope has been elected.

I'm sure this ancient practice is an honored tradition, but it seems more than an anachronism in light of today's instant communications. (How many of the cardinals tweet?)

However, as an ex-Baptist who has always rejected the concept of the papacy in the first place, I am struck with the similarities between the college of cardinals process and our American political conventions.

At any rate, what amazes me the most is the unintended symbolism of the smoke.

Whoever is elected, the end result comes down to blowing smoke.
Any religion, whenever it seeks to step beyond its humanity and claim infallibility or other divine authority, is blowing smoke.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jesus Will Return and Set Everything Right

My blog has been empty for several months...for several reasons.

First, I have felt exhausted.
Coping with an Asperger's teenager has been an everyday struggle just to survive and for us to make it through the day.

Second, my faith is hanging by threads.
This dark night of the soul really sucks.

Finally, the horror of Newtown...words cannot convey...

Meanwhile, I have felt guilty, as the end of 2012 has come and 2013 begun...with me at age 65 and no words of wisdom to share! Does the ego ever give up??

Whatever...I must share that  this morning I read the following Advent Opinion on the Religious Herald website's Perspective section from Rev. Daniel E. Glaze (Pastor, First Baptist Church, Ahoskie, NC and posted 12/18/12 after the Newtown massacre):

"Joy comes from knowing that evil will not prevail for long. One day Jesus will return and set everything right."

Aha!! There is my problem. I want to believe that; I used to believe that; but I don't believe it any more!

Having just read the Bible through in 2012 with Eugene Peterson's The Message version, I have to conclude that Judaism was correct in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah: he did not fulfill the expectations described in the Hebrew scriptures. And the Christian scriptures pointing to a "Second Coming" of the Christ (Messiah) are attempts to offer hope and explain why Jesus did not fulfill the work of the Messiah the first time. Moreover,
Paul was clearly looking for Jesus to return any day, and John's Revelation was written to encourage those early Christians to hang in there TIL JESUS COMES! But for me, reading Revelation in The Message at the end of 2012 was just disgusting!!

So I have ended 2012 with no great wisdom, and the best I can do as I enter this new year is to raise questions:

How long will evil prevail?

What if the calvary (Jesus) is not coming?

Can everything be set right? What does that mean? How can Newtown be "set right?"

If it is to be, is it up to me?

[G-d help us!]

Meanwhile, there is still a part of me that believes "it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
(I just hope the flame from that candle does not burn out my last thread of faith!)