America’s Unfaithful Faithful

A recent study by the Pew Forum documents the growing "spiritual mobility" of Americans: more and more Americans are abandoning the religious affiliation of their upbringing and taking on a new religious or spiritual identity (or non-identity). Read an article about this study here.My friend who alerted me to this fascinating study notes, "What it says to me is that people are seeking something behind church doors that they aren't finding." I'd agree with that, but I also think it speaks to … [Read more...]

Random Saturday afternoon thoughts about the existence of angels

When William Blake was a little boy, he saw an angel in a tree. On his deathbed, he sang songs with all the angels that were surrounding him.Like most people, I don't have angel-vision anywhere near what Blake enjoyed. I'm the kind of person who occasionally sees someone or something out of the corner of my eye, and then I turn and whatever it was is gone. If it was ever there at all.This most vividly happened a few years back when I visited a holy well near Clonmel in Ireland. I saw a woman … [Read more...]

The Stake and the Soil

This thought occurred to me this morning:So often, we approach religion as if it were a stake being used to hold up a plant in the garden. You and I and everyone else are the poor unruly plants, in need of the strong sturdy stake to provide firm, unyielding, inflexible (and completely external) "support." This support helps the plant grow, but it also restricts the plant movement. "Conservatives" are those who think the loss of freedom is worth the chance to grow straight and tall, while … [Read more...]

I John 4:18

There is no need to be afraid. — Matthew 10:31 Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid. — Matthew 14:27 Stand up, do not be afraid. — Matthew 17:7 Do not be afraid; only have faith. — Mark 5:36 Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. — John 14:27Yes, that's Jesus talking. And when he wasn't encouraging people to be fearless, others — even his critics — were acknowledging that he himself was afraid of no one, "because human rank means nothing to you" (Mark 12:14).If there's one thing I'm attra … [Read more...]

The Prosperity Mongers

I spoke with an editor of a large faith-oriented website yesterday; I had pitched a couple of ideas to this site and hadn't had any luck getting a contract. We talked about how most of their readers were looking for breezy, self-help articles. He mentioned Joel Osteen more than once.When I think about folks like Joel Osteen or Rhonda Byrne (author of The Secret), I have deeply ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, no one can argue with the worldly success of such things as the Law of … [Read more...]

Everytime you look at me I just keep laughing

I'm always saddened when I meet religious people who seem bitter, angry, frightened, or otherwise unhappy.It takes many forms: a piety that doesn't know how to smile... thinly-veiled hostility toward people seen as different, just because they're different... anxiety about "getting it right," whether "it" means believing correctly, behaving correctly, performing rituals correctly, or voting correctly... fear of the devil, which unfolds into a generalized fear of the "other," particularly other … [Read more...]

Mystics and Contemplatives

The ever-perceptive Phil Foster asks in a recent comment on this blog: Is there a difference between a mystic and a contemplative type? I’m certainly the latter but not the former. Phil, I think your second sentence in this quotation goes a long way toward answering the question. A "mystic" as I see it, is one who has been ushered into the mysteries — and it is God who does the ushering. So, while on one level we are all mystics (as William McNamara puts it in his book Earthy Mysticism, "A mys … [Read more...]