All are Spiritual Beings

Sunday Morning Musings:  I have been pondering the idea of illness and its relationship with religious beliefs and spirituality.  Too often I think that we forget the basic differences between considering oneself to be religious and calling oneself spiritual.   It is very main stream now that many (increasing by the day, it seems) are not willing to belong to a special religious organization.  Thus we have seen the rise in the people belonging to the group that has been named SNBR – Spiritual But Not Religious.  I like to think of myself as belonging to this group even though I choose to express my religious beliefs within a community of faith that encourages my spirituality.

Any discussion involving spirituality and religion would cover a great deal of territory but in this week’s musings I want to focus on a couple of positives and negatives of both spirituality and religion. My purposes for doing this are two-fold.  Firstly, I don’t think many of us really give a great deal of thought to either our spirituality or religious beliefs until such a time as a “crisis” occurs.  By crisis, I mean a major change in our lives such as a major illness or even death.

When we are confronted by any condition that we do not consider normal or appropriate, we may feel as if it is something we don’t deserve, we may fall back on old religious beliefs.   Rabbi Harold Kushner discovered these feelings which ended up as his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  A very devout Jewish rabbi, Kushner had a son die at an early age and had to deal with his “traditional” religious views.  This view was that he must have been a bad person for his son to die.  As the title of his book indicates he came to a different conclusion.  He did not find God as one who gives good to the good and bad to the bad.

I think sometimes that the teachings of the institutional church have been flawed in some ways and many still have these teachings stuck in their heads.  Not wanting to be without some sense of “the other” we describe ourselves as spiritual especially when our world view doesn’t hold with the view presented by the church.  Yet sometimes we can go too far. As someone said recently, at times we tend to throw out the baby with the bath water.

The other point I want to make is that our spiritual lives don’t get as much attention as they should.  We tend to need a crisis before we think too much about life in all its aspects.  That is to say, if we spent as much time focusing on our spiritual lives as we do our physical and even mental well-being the crisis might not be so extreme.  Despite being spiritual beings, we shy away from talking about “life’s big questions” until it is forced upon us.

It is my belief that we are all spiritual beings and that we will often experience a spiritual distress and may not even know it as such.  We may have ruled out religion as part of our lives, but that doesn’t mean we need to be concerned about loving and being loved, about having lived with a purpose for life that has offered compassion to others.  We all need to be more spiritual, even if we don’t want to share in the trappings of organized religion, for whatever reason.

Role Model in all Ways

Sometimes writing something that relates to a specific date or special day can make the words less universal but today I will take that risk and talk about Fathers’ Day – never quite sure where that apostrophe is supposed to go.

I once was told that you can never know for sure what kind of father you have been until you see your children with their own kids.  Even though I have often wondered what that saying might fully mean, I think it is true even if it may mean differences between the ways we have parented.  In my own case I feel that my children may fortunately be the complete opposite to me.  I spent too much time working and not enough time with them.  My vocation also meant that our weekends were not a work-free time and when they were off school for the weekend, I was gearing up to work harder.  Whether this is true of other clergy families, I don’t know (hope not) but I do know that Sundays are no longer for church and church alone. There is more and more or maybe less and less “family time” spent attending worship.  Families have so many other options and the weekend is a time for families to be together.  Maybe it is a good time to re-think Sunday.

I am not complaining about my choices – they were (are) what has been.  I could blame “God” for having called me to ministry, but it was my choice how I spent time required to do the work.  So that is all the more reason I am very proud my children make the choices they do.   Life does not function on the “Groundhog Day” rule in reality.  There are no “do-over’s” hoping that next time we get it right (at least not in this lifetime – but that discussion is for another musings).

So now when I see pictures of sons with their fathers, I have a twinge of guilt, a great deal of admiration and a strong hope that my sons will be the very best fathers they can be for their children.   I thought that I would share some suggestions about being a good father:

Teach your children to be caring and loving, not just to their own family but everyone.

Don’t be afraid to talk with them about life in all it aspects – the joys and sorrows.

Play together what your children choose to play – if that means becoming a princess drinking tea – go for it.

Let them make mistakes, just as you made mistakes and then talk about them with your children.

Let them get dirty and jump in puddles if that is what they want to do.

Laugh and cry with them over skinned knees and bruised hearts.

Happy Fathers’ Day to all dads and those who have been like dads.

Questions without answers

Sunday Morning Musings:  Last posting I mentioned an adage that I prefer to use: my questions require my answers.   I have to admit that a big caution is always attached.  There is no doubt in my mind that certain dangers can accompany this idea.  At first glance answering one’s own questions can create a sense of narcissism – it doesn’t matter what other people think – I have my own answers.

However, what I mean is not that simple. By suggesting that we each hold our own answers is that first of all we must truly search all around us for answers.  We seek the expertise and wisdom of others.  In our searching we have to have a reasoned and a discerned response.  I try to get my wise ideas into a concise form (like a creed is to a fuller statement of faith). One adage I quote for our Spirit Café gatherings is:  “each of us is wise, but together we are wiser”.   I am also sure that the same idea is true in the court room where lawyers often work on the premise that one should never ask a question to which one doesn’t already know the answer. Lawyers don’t simply make up the answers, they do their research first, and the same is true of anyone seeking answers – do the homework.

Another caution, although not to be feared, is the sense that asking questions can make one feel vulnerable.  Having to admit to someone else that we don’t know something can create the feeling that we are less than we appear or want others to think of us.  Many years ago when I was training to become an elementary school teacher one of my wise professors told the class of perspective teachers that when a student asked for help it didn’t mean the teacher should act as if he or she knew everything.  Rather it was more important to suggest that they could search together.  Vulnerability was not a negative virtue but a normal one.

It seems as if I am stringing together a lot of adages here.   And so I am. But the idea is that when we are searching for answers to important questions, we need to find our own answers.  If I want to know more about the one I call God, or what the Bible says, I can and should seek advice from others, but in the end I have the responsibility to “think” for myself.  That means that I have don’t any right to tell others they are wrong, nor does it mean that just because someone tells me believe what I am told and all will be okay.  Each of us is on a journey of discovery as we travel through life.  We should never stop seeking.

Another adage I like to use is the one that says “if I have all the answers, then I have not asked all the questions”.   There is no limit to our questions.  Sometimes the answers will not necessarily be what we had expected, but that is okay.  Hopefully, the questions we ask will leave us with a sense of wonder and mystery leading to more questions (and more answers).   It is important for us all when to be reminded often of the words of Bertrand Russell who said:  “In all affairs, it is a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”.

No one has all the answers.  But that doesn’t mean we stop asking the questions knowing that it is okay to accept the fact that no all questions need to be answered.


Keep Growing into the Mystery

Sunday Morning Musings:  A number of years ago I was part of a group of like aged men and women who met weekly for “therapy”.  It was a tremendous help for me at a time in my life when things seemed pretty bleak.  I still use many of the skills I learned.  One comment in particular that has stuck with me is the facilitator telling us that we could not say: “I don’t know”.   Rather than saying we didn’t know something we were to say: “I haven’t told myself yet”.  Of course, I thought that was just playing with words, but now I know better.

Like many (most?) people I often used the excuse of not knowing something to avoid having to deal with the situation – usually feelings.  When asked why I was upset or angry, I would often respond, “I don’t know!” rather than take the time and make the effort to really try to understand.  I have also learned over the years that “my questions” need “my answers”.  Yet too often we look for and hope that someone else will tell us.

I have found this also true in faith related matters as well (not that faith isn’t a part of all of life).  When it comes to understanding the spiritual elements of our lives, it seems better and easier to have someone just give us the answers. Even in the more liberal denominations catechisms were taught which asked a question and then proceeded to offer the “correct” answer for the believer. The down side of allowing this to happen, and we have accepted this fact for centuries, is that we don’t grow.

Just as it is hoped that we will develop physically, mentally, and emotionally, we should also grow spiritually.  Sadly, our spiritual growth has been stunted or even halted at a very early age.  The likes of James Fowler and John Westerhoff in the studying of spiritual development have found that just like the other areas of life (physical, mental, emotional), we all need to grow spiritually.  If we don’t continue to develop in any of these areas, we never reach our optimum potential.

Let me explain with a concrete example.  Many “religious” people believe what they are told to believe (usually by the authority of the church or the Bible), but that can become problematic.  Many people have “left the church” because they can no longer agree with what they have been taught.  How often have you heard someone say, “I would feel like a hypocrite if I went to church”; “Too bad the church doesn’t practise what it preaches” to state just a couple? Too often rather than disagree it is easier just to walk away.

Recently, I was reading about a woman who called herself a staunch atheist.  Then she felt herself changing and began to refer to herself as an agnostic until some asked her why she was sitting on the fence. My guess is that “she hadn’t told herself” yet.  Rather than actually thinking for herself she chose not to give it any thought until she was challenged and allowed herself to explore her own faith.

Today, many describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR’s according recent studies).  I too put myself into that category.  I am not an atheist even though I don’t believe in the God that is often defined by many churches.  I am not an agnostic even though I can’t know all there is to know about God.  But I do believe that there is something else involved in our living. As I have grown older I have learned to live with the mystery.  I have told myself that it is not a matter of saying I don’t know, because I do know. And what I know is that I need to keep reminding myself that it is okay to continue seeking and living as part of this mystery.