The Businessman’s Faith

[businessmen] by David Drexler on FlickrOne year ago, I abandoned the nonprofit and academic world to become a freelance copywriter, a man whose goal was to help businesses share their stories with the world. I fancied myself something of an author-consultant, a skilled writer who could chart out the best alignment of speaker, message, and audience.

I told people I was a marketer, or that I wrote webpages, blogs, and email newsletters for businesses. Occasionally, I would tell them I “had my own business.” Which was true, though I had a hard time saying it.

My therapist likes to talk about the stories we tell ourselves, how those stories may lie dormant or operate unconsciously for a long time until some event evokes them, and then we find ourselves reacting to the story rather than the reality.

One of the grander stories for me had been the American Dream (and I’ve written in Good Letters about how I had to get over that one). Another grand story went something like this: Businesspeople are successful either because they know the right people, begin with the kind of money that puts them in the right place at the right time, or are willing to sell their souls for it. I don’t know the right people, have money to begin with, and am not willing to sell my soul. Therefore, I won’t be successful in business. [Read more…]

Nonviolence and the Virtue of Hope

It was nonviolence that initially brought me to my spiritual director, Fr. Bill Shannon.

I was a new Christian, baptized into the Catholic Church at Easter in 1983. The very next month, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference issued a pastoral letter called The Challenge of Peace. The context of the letter was the Cold War’s nuclear arms race.

What struck me most powerfully was Section 4, “The Value of Non-violence.” The section is an overview of nonviolence in Christian history. Revelatory for me was this sentence: “We believe work to develop non-violent means of fending off aggression and resolving conflict best reflects the call of Jesus both to love and to justice.”

I knew next to nothing about nonviolence at the time. But I earnestly began to study it, eager to follow the call of Jesus as my new bishops had articulated it.

At the same time, I was searching for a spiritual director. I went on a retreat led by a priest well known for spiritual direction. But he just didn’t “click” for me.

I’d heard that Fr. William Shannon had recently retired from teaching theology at a local college and was beginning to write about Thomas Merton and nonviolence. Oh, I thought, maybe our common interest in nonviolence could help us. A new friend of mine from my parish had been president of the college where Fr. Shannon had taught. I nervously asked her if she’d call him and ask if I could go to him for spiritual direction.

She did, and he said yes. Click.

[Read more…]

Do Atheists Dream of Pearly Gates?

even when I don’t believe
there is a place in me
inaccessible to unbelief
a patch of wild grace

—Anna Kamieńska

If humans are the only intelligent life in the universe, should we feel sad about that? Should we feel bereft, or disappointed?

That’s how David Kestenbaum describes his feelings on a recent This American Life.

“This would mean,” he tells Ira Glass, “there’s nobody out there that knows more than we do…. Like, what we know is it. What we are is it.”

Most people Kestenbaum speaks with during don’t understand him, but it seems obvious to me. He has invested the idea of aliens with transcendent value. The “world” for him is defined by the limits of human knowledge, and he seems to doubt that we can save ourselves. His hope, then, is that some other intelligence could show us the way.

Therefore, the thought that there may not be any such intelligence troubles him. It struck me as a version of atheist doubt. I mean, they must doubt, sometimes, right?

Doubt has been a part of my spiritual vocabulary for a long time, though not in the way most Christian magazine headlines mean it. [Read more…]

Alleluia for the Easter Season

I used to find Easter a letdown. Lent is so full of the self-improvement activities of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I typically add a midday prayer to my usual Morning and Evening Prayer. I decide what organizations I want to give alms to: a different one each week of Lent. And fasting: not from food (my health doesn’t allow for that), but from something I feel is keeping me from closeness to God. The past few years it has been fasting from judging others (or trying to).

Then comes Easter. The first week is always a joy, reading about Jesus’s various post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. But in my Catholic faith, the Easter season continues way beyond this: for a full fifty days, until Pentecost. Catholic practice doesn’t instruct me to do anything special during these fifty days. So instead of the fullness of God’s grace, I’ve felt this season to be an empty repetition of “Christ has risen.”

Until this year. I don’t know why… but this year, each day of the prolonged Easter season has filled me with grateful wonder. The Scripture selections in The Liturgy of the Hours, which I pray from, feel richly full. Each week there are passages from Romans:

The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is the word of faith which we preach) (10:8).

If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with him (6:8).

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also, through his Spirit dwelling in you (8:11).

Both in life and death we are the Lord’s (14:8). [Read more…]