The “Spiritual” Journey Within

100,000 miles of fibers!

An elderly friend of mine likes to loan me “spiritual” reading material.  Some of it is quite interesting but I don’t find it as fascinating as he does.  I respect him and enjoy speaking with him but his curiosity about spiritual matters tends toward the dramatic and new age.

He gave me a copy of a woman’s story.  In her twenties she had a “collision with the infinite” catching a bus in Paris.  As I read her story I immediately thought: I hope she gets a brain scan.  Seriously.  I’ve lost several friends to brain tumors and this woman’s story sounded right away like a tumor.  Sure enough, I turned the page and learned she had died 12 years later of a brain tumor.

This story brought out some anger.  Anger that this was presented as an “amazing spiritual experience of the infinite.”  I was troubled that these stories are passed around to vulnerable people (like my elderly friend) to draw them into the drama and wish for the “bliss” associated with these incredible (unbelievable) tales of “another consciousness.”  One friend of my wife “battled” her cancer by traveling the world, spending thousands of dollars on “spiritual healing” and died, leaving her husband alone.  He lost their house.


I’ve just been reading the National Geographic magazine on human brain research.  Now THAT’s fascinating!  I see that there are 100,000 miles of fibers (white matter) connecting the regions of the brain.  100,000 miles. . .of fibers. . .in the brain. . .in my brain. . .in yours.  Powerful; delicate; sensitive; relatively unknown; undiscovered wilderness; a place of pilgrimage; right inside each of us.


I’m not saying every so-called “spiritual” experience is a matter for brain science, but I have a strong suspicion that most of what passes for “spiritual events” or “encounters with the divine” has more to do with what wonderous things are happening close by. . .VERY close indeed.

Secular Without Hate

Muslims protecting Christians in Egypt

Some “seculars” are anti-faith, anti-religious.  I understand some of their anger, but I cannot stand with them in their continual fight against religion and people of faith.  So when I read that members of a mosque are afraid after vandalism and hate messages left in their books, I’m bothered, because I’m anti something. . .anti-fear and discrimination in any form.

Anti-Muslim Messages (Seattle Times)

That this is happening in a town where, as a young person, I used to attend a “house church” that was “heavy into the Bible” makes it more concerning.  When I hear these things I sense right away that “Bible Teachers” are teaching hateful things in the name of their God of Love.  I place the blame for hate speech and attacks on different religions square on the pious heads of those who put ideas into the heads of young people who think they’re following Jesus when they’re really following ignorant, hateful teachers hiding behind their big shiny bibles.

So, on behalf of those of us who are Secular without Hate, I hope good people of faith as well as good people of no faith come out to support the mosque and protect them from fear.  We could hope that Good People in that community, standing together with their Muslim neighbors, will show the people who have been taught that the Bible is a Box that holds the Sword of Faith  are wrong and the rest of us won’t stand for their terrorizing for God.

Hiking in the Chapel

The Chaplain and his brother have been sauntering in the Secular Sanctuary of the Sierras.

It’s an annual pilgrimage for what we used to call Heretics Anonymous.

Simply a saunter into the Natural Temple. . .naturally.

Bald Eagles welcomed us into the highlands.

Essential R&R sabbatical for anyone in human (or nonhuman) service, I would say.

Here are a few photos of our walk out into the wild awe and wonder.






Sports Chaplains

Another Approach
The Real Good News without a Winner

It may take Olympic-size ignorance and arrogance to turn international sports and goodwill into your own version of the Faith Olympics where We Won! (souls) is your only goal.

Sport Chaplains Bring the Gospel to Sochi

As a Chaplain I find this so disappointing.

When I was an Evangelical in my youth, I was on a mission.  I desperately needed to preach the Good News to every living thing.  If I didn’t tell the Gospel Story to everyone everywhere then God would be disappointed in me and they would go to Hell and God would be very sad to have to torture them for Eternity (we know how very sad torturers are when they torture!).  What was my faith but “sharing the message of Christ”?  Virtually nothing.  I was a Bible-Believer and the “Word” told me to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).  I was a modern day Paul, who defended himself before King Agrippa with the words, “I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening might become such as I am” (Acts 26).  It was clear:  The whole world MUST become Christian (MY kind of Christian).  

The only problem was, there were billions who already had faith; maybe not MY faith, but they had faith.  And there were billions more who were fine without faith.  Hell was filling up fast!  If only I could be sent to the Olympics!

Thank Goodness I grew out of this adolescent stage.  I met others, learned from experience, and eventually became a Chaplain.  Over 25 years among women and men with a thousand different stories, with a thousand different world views, I learned that a Chaplain is not a preacher but a student. . .of life, of the good and the tragic and the wonderful.  Yes, a teacher and counselor and person of service.  But mostly a person of active compassion, interfaith collaboration, welcoming diversity and enjoying the spectrum of humanity.  In my experience, this is the “winner” when it comes to really helping other people who are People, not “Souls.”

My hope is that some of these “Sport Chaplains” will come to see and understand that their “gospel” is not good news to everyone and it is simply irrelevant to most people in the world.  I hope they are taught by many people there at the Olympics in Sochi– volunteers, visitors and athletes–and learn that diverse people getting along and enjoying the Good News of Athletic Competition is much, much better than an Americanized Gospel of Competition.

Faith is not a sport, life is not a sport, and, sometimes I cheer on the other guy/gal/country. . .something I learned coaching the (special) Olympics.

Voice from Africa

ethiopian children

A young freethinking friend of mine in Ethiopia writes to say,  

“I am now with some study to present my topic on the Divine Version of Nature especially Birds to persons from related organizations.

To your point  many of our people have mainly the eyes of what nature has to them for consumption [rather] than its Divine Version and Eternal Beauty that it radiates to Human Soul. It is not surprising to face people like in U.S not heard about Muir or Burroughs in this  century when humanity has laid its root with only what we own in a material  manner.

I am now moving privately for my day to day needs though not satisfied in such scopes .

It is my hope and dream to attend your class of especially Muir and Burroughs here in Addis Or there in your home land in a collective mood with related soul mates.”

“The eyes of what nature has [for their] consumption.”

“Humanity has laid its root with only what we own.”

“Moving privately for my day to day needs.”

Powerful words.  Especially needed for American ears, I would say.

He’s referring to my email to him about a class I’m teaching on John Muir and John Burroughs.  My friend gives presentations to governmental agencies about the birds of his beloved homeland (I was happy to send him a pair of binoculars last year).

So, I helped him see a little better.  But he helped me see much, much better.

And hear.

The voices out there on the edges. . .

Simple, Secular, Scientific Sage

Muir and Burroughs
Muir and Burroughs

John Burroughs, the naturalistic philosopher and very popular Nature writer a century ago, could be considered one Secular Chaplain (alongside his friends Walt Whitman and John Muir).

Here’s one reason I continue to appreciate JB’s simple wisdom:

“Amid the decay of creeds, love of nature has high religious value. . . .  It has made [us] contented and at home wherever [we] are in nature—in the house not made with hands.  This house is [our] church, and the rocks and the hills are the altars, and the creed is written in the leaves of the trees and in the flowers of the field and in the sands of the shore.  A new creed every day and new preachers, and holy days all the week through.  Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance.  Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth.  There are no heretics in Nature’s church; all are believers, all are communicants.  The beauty of natural religion is that you have it all the time. . . .  The crickets chirp it, the birds sing it, the breezes chant it, the thunder proclaims it, the streams murmur it. . . .  Its incense rises from the plowed fields, it is on the morning breeze, it is in the forest breath and in the spray of the wave. . . .  It is not even a faith; it is a love, an enthusiasm, a consecration to natural truth.”

from “The Faith of a Naturalist,” Accepting the Universe (1920)

Starbucks Spirituality

The African Redeemed Church of God (BBC) is coming. . .no, they’re here!

They just built a 10,000 seat auditorium outside of Dallas and they claim 720 churches across North America.

The pastor says he wants these speaking in tongues, healing and praising Pentecostal congregations to be as numerous as Starbucks.

Enoch Adejare Adeboye (carrying on the mission of “Pa”) 

Most members are African immigrants, but they want You and they want Me.

See “Mission From Africa” (New York Times)

One of their American pastors says,

“We are engaging the people to show them the true Gospel, making sure that people are being saved and people are making it to heaven.”

One of their websites says of their founder (“Pa”):

“Pa Akindayomi also had a vision of words that appeared to be written on a blackboard. The words were “The Redeemed Christian Church of God.” Amazingly, Pa Akindayomi who could not read or write was supernaturally able to write these words down. In this visitation, God also said to him that this church would go to the ends of the earth and that when the Lord Jesus Christ appeared in glory, He would meet the church.

The Lord then established a covenant with Pa Akindayomi, synonymous to the Abrahamic covenant in the Bible. Thus, the Redeemed Christian Church of God was born in 1952, destined by the Lord Himself to take the world for Him.”

“God is still doing marvelous deeds through The Redeemed Christian Church of God, worldwide. One of the well-known programs of the church is the Holy Ghost Service, an all night miracle service that holds on the first Friday of every month at the Redemption Camp [in] Lagos. . The average headcount of those who attend the Service is in millions.”

American (and English) evangelism is reaping the (whirlwind) reward of centuries converting the heathen-pagans on the “Dark Continent.”  People who learned to dress like us and talk like us and worship like us; who learned the True Way of the White Jesus and the Black Book.  Who are not just Christians but “Redeemed” Christians, not just a Church but the Church of God, and not just regular Christians but Holy Ghost Christians (the best and only kind).

Those who have been “saved” in other countries are now making America their mission field.  America needs saving now.  Here they come!  Starbucks, get ready!

Secular Prayers

Representing Every Citizen?
Representing Every Citizen?

I was alerted to this hopeful story on The Friendly Atheist

I still don’t know why elected officials in a “free” and secular nation, have to say prayers when they meet to do their work for all of us, theist or non-theist.  But, if they really, really feel they have to. . .

Arizona State Representative Juan Mendez delivered this “invocation” last year:

Carl Sagan once wrote, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution, for our democracy — and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona.

And now, another one, Rep. Ruben Gallego said this on the floor of the legislature:

The purpose of our opening prayer is to ask for something important. I’m asking that whichever God you pray to or whichever value system inspires you, let’s stay focused on beliefs we all share — like the idea that we should do for others what we want for ourselves.

There is a version of the Golden Rule in nearly all religions and secular traditions. They all say we should treat people like we want to be treated.

Hardworking Arizonans and their families want to be treated like their state government is here for them. They want to know we’re going to fight for them. That we’re here making Arizona a place of prosperity and opportunities. Let’s practice the Golden Rule today and get to work.

Ahh, isn’t it refreshing to hear the Voice of Reason and Common Sense spoken by Elected Leaders who understand the Constitution and the meaning of Free and Secular?


Note for further reflection:  I wonder. . .I wonder what would happen. . .I wonder if this could work, someday:

All legislative bodies (and branches of the military, prisons, etc) who desire an “Inspirational Thought for the Day,” call upon Secular Chaplains, women and men who are well-trained in various religious traditions (and well-connected to representatives of faith communities), sensitive to an array of belief systems, who will speak some inspiring words before sessions.  These same Chaplains, who have no agenda but encouraging “higher thinking,” civility, compassion, reasonable debate and wise decisions, could be available for counseling anyone and for presiding over inclusive gatherings as well as births and marriages and deaths.

I wonder if what we really need in a secular society that supports freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, is more Secular Chaplains?

Otherwise, our public institutions become little more than “mission fields” for sectarian preachers.

What do you think?