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."