Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Great End in Religious Instruction

I am Star Island this week where I am the theme speaker for Lifespan Religious Education week. My daughter and I are having a wonderful experience!

I structured my talks around my adapted version of William Ellery Channing's The Great End in Religious Instruction. Here is my adaptation. More from this week when I am off the Island.

The great end in religious instruction is to stir up the minds of all of us - our children, youth, young adults, adults and elders.

To journey together as we look inquiringly and steadily with our own eyes and strive to see what others see.

It is to inspire a fervent love of truth.

To touch inward springs.

To prepare all of us for impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to our decision.

To quicken and strengthen the power of thought.

To awaken the conscience, the moral discernment.

In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul, to excite and cherish the spiritual life.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Taking Responsiblity for Ourselves

What does it mean to take responsibility?  In the media we hear a lot about people not taking personal responsibility or corporations who fail to take responsibility.  Certainly, many people and corporations often fail to take appropriate responsibility.  I struggle with this too, however, as I think we have lost an essential paradox and that we equate "taking responsibility" with "being blamed."  For example, during this economic crisis there has been a lot of "blaming" people for getting into mortgages that they couldn't afford or living above their means and then a message that we shouldn't "bail" people out but they should "take personal responsibility."  This however does not capture the complexity of the situation.  For most people, their economic problems are not solely in their hands - it is a mix of some poor decisions, pressure from outside forces and a whole society whose economic system is set up to have people consume more and more for the benefit of a very few.

Yet this blog is not a blog about our economy and my point here is that when I hear "personal responsibility" or you are responsible for your whole life then I get a bit nervous.  For I am absolutely opposed to the theology of the The Secret which claims that we are personally responsible for everything that happens to us and that if we just surround ourselves with the right energy and thoughts we can manifest our desires (avoiding suffering).  The flip side being of course is that you are also responsible for all the bad things that happen to you including things like genocide or abuse.  Again life is not that simple - we live in an interconnected universe - a world in which there are a number of people living their lives whose actions and decisions that impact ours.

So last night I was once again reading James Hollis Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life.  Here is what he says about taking responsibility for ourselves. "Growing up means that we take spiritual responsibility for ourselves.  No other can define our values, become our authority or protect us from necessary choices.  Until we take this responsibility ourselves, we are asking others to be a shelter for our homeless soul." (123) I want to add to this some James Luther Adams "We are fatefully caught in history, both as individuals and members of a group, and we are also able to be creative in history." (The Essential James Luther Adams, 65)

So go back to the idea of re-learning paradox  we need to both learn to take responsibility for our lives while understanding that we are not in control of all that will happen to us.  We can, do and must make choices in our lives, while understanding that it will not always work out the way we hoped, or even for the best; and that while we are busy making choices, others are too and their choices will impact us.  So can we learn to take responsibility without taking all the blame?

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Maybe I should add Celtic spirituality to the list of things this blog is about for I am particularly drawn to the Celtic spiritual path.  I have long considered myself pagan but also found myself uncomfortable with the broad scope of traditions and cultures that neo-paganism draws from..sometimes without stating the source or cultural roots.  What concerned me was the notion of inappropriate cultural appropriation.  I wanted a spiritual path that felt authentic to me, to who I am in the world, a white, educated, queer woman with Irish, Portuguese, a bit of German and a bit of Welsh roots who is a 3rd generation American from my paternal great-grandfather (he immigrated from the Azores, Portugal) and many more generations from the rest of my family.  So I found myself wanting to combine my desire to understand my Irish roots more deeply with a pagan path...hence the Celtic Spiritual path.

One of the books that I have read and I am now re-reading is Frank MacEowen's book The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers and Seekers.  I was re-reading his chapter on longing last night and he talks about a longing for homeland that many people of Celtic ancestry experience. He writes, "Many of these people who report a deep longing for the homeland, a longing for the ways of our ancestors, have never been to Ireland, Scotland, Wales or other parts of the Celtic world. Yet something very ancient, very deep and almost mournful exists for many modern Celtic descendants whose families have been separated from their ancestral lands by several generations." (54)  I would put myself in this category.  I do not know much about my Irish roots, my family didn't really stress our Irish heritage (I don't think corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day counts!)  I really hope to learn more about Irish ancestry and roots and to visit Ireland.  Also this path, this Celtic spiritual path speaks to me for it allows me to hold the best of my Catholic background and my Unitarian Universalism.

What really struck me about this section on longing is wondering if what I have been labeling regret is really soul's longing.  It is longing not just for a spiritual path that makes sense to me intellectually but one that is truly embodied.  It is a longing to be more fully embodied, less in my head.  I am good at living in my head, not so good in being touch with and living within my body.  It is about ritual, music, the senses..not just hearing and listening.  It is longing to let go of the ego's strict control and to lose myself in the experience of the moment; to let go of being self-conscious and wondering what others will think. Yet after a lifetime of learning to be in control, how do I learn to let-go?  Yet how do I not, since my soul's longing is for surrender and letting go of control.

MacEowen says this about Celtic spirituality and longing:  "Our focus becomes caring for the spirit: spirit of the clan, spirit of the hearth, spirit of the earth, spirit of the open heart, spirit of the purpose of our work, spirit of service and healing.  Ultimately it takes great courage to face the spirit of longing.  Longing is a powerful force, similair to hunger and need for warmth and shelter;..."(58)  This is what draws me to this path, beckons me and will not let me go.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Re-Learning to Hold Paradox

So I am actually reading multiple books at the same time and they are coming together in some interesting synchronicities.  I am reading James Hollis' Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, I am continuing to read Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach, I am also reading The Multi-Generational Congregation: Meeting the Leadership Challenge by Gil Rendle and for fun I am reading Blessed is the Busybody by Emilie Richards.

Palmer and Hollis, in particular, are really speaking to this place in my life.  Palmer talks about how we come into this world holding paradox; that children naturally hold paradox.  Our society and, in particular, our education systems require us to take things apart.  It is not that discrimination is not important and he gives the example of knowing the difference between hot and cold.  Yet we have become so schooled in the art of discrimination that we have forgotten how to hold paradox.  I think this is most clearly seen in our political life where nuance and paradox have no place and no voice.

Parker uses the image of a battery to talk about paradox.  He writes "We split paradoxes so reflexively that we do not understand the price we pay for our habit.  The poles of a paradox are like the poles of a battery: hold them together, and they generate the energy of life; pull them apart, and the current stops flowing." (67)

Here is where Parker meets Hollis: "The result is a world more complex and confusing than the one made simple by either-or-thought--but that simplicity is merely the dullness of death.  When we think things together, we reclaim the life force in the world, in our students, in ourselves." (69)

So in my own life how do I re-learn to hold paradox?  How do I learn to embrace of all my life, with all its contradictions to not make a judgement that it was all good or all bad, success or failure, but it is all those things? 

I was drawn into Unitarian Universalism because there is a paradox embrace of the paradox of universality and particularity..yet do we teach people how to put these paradoxes together?  Do we teach our adults, our children and our youth to re-learn how to hold paradox?  Do we teach ourselves and our members HOW to truly be a place of different beliefs and one faith?  For if Palmer is right that our whole society is driven toward pulling paradox apart, about teaching discrimination than it is not enough for us to say we are a place of different beliefs and one faith..we must learn to be a place of different beliefs and one faith.  I think we may have a ways to go as long as we continue to divide humanists and theists, Christians from Pagans, children from adults, young adults from adults, lifelong UU's from newer members, head from hearts and bodies. 

Palmer writes, "Paradoxical thinking requires that we embrace a view of the world in which opposites are joined, so that we can see the world clearly and see it whole." (69)

May it be so.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Becoming Fully Alive

So I have been reading James Hollis' book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of life: How to Finally Really Grow Up and it has been both helpful and frightening.  It certainly explains many of the feelings I have been working with regret; this feeling that somewhere along the way I made a wrong turn or that I have done it all wrong.  That is not true of course.  Yet what is it that keeps nagging at me?  What is it that is demanding my attention?  How can I truly own my life...all of it..even the parts I would rather forget?

Hollis talks about the story of Job and the gifts that suffering can bring, not in an idea of suffering as redemptive.  More the idea that we will suffer in this life, we will have loss and the question is what will we do with it.  He writes: "Once again, out of the experience of suffering, an invitation is found.  As our brother Job learned, our presumptive contracts are delusory efforts by the ego to be in control.  We learn that life is much riskier, more powerful, more mysterious than we had ever thought possible.  While we are rendered more uncomfortable by this discovery, it is a humbling that deepens spiritual possibility.  The world is more magical, less predictable, more autonomous, less controllable, more varied, less simple, more infinite, less knowable, more wonderfully troubling than we could have ever imagined being able to tolerate when we were young." (85)

I love this...I love this idea that life is more magical, more varied, more infinite and it is also terrifying.  I can nearly hear my ego screaming out "NOoooooooo....don't go there" and yet I must.