Sometimes Reason and Truth Slip Out

Something our Preacher-Politicians could do. . .
Something our Preacher-Politicians could do

Roger Cohen wrote this in today’s NYT:

Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member of the House, said something important this week: “In my view, the only anchors in public life are to dig deeply into the facts and consult broadly and then to say what you believe.”

His words were important for two reasons. First, they defied a prevalent political culture of ignoring inconvenient facts, consulting narrowly if at all, and never saying what you believe when it’s not what your constituency wants to hear. Second, his statement concerned Iran, an issue where fact-based reasoning on Capitol Hill and beyond tends to take second place to preposterous posturing. . . .”

Three. . .two. . .one. . .apply to all matters of FAITH in the public square.

Antarctica is a Godless Wasteland?

See?  No Deities in Sight
See? No Deities in Sight

Warning:  Obvious statement ahead!

We all know that reporters can exaggerate for dramatic effect.

Now that the last Catholic Priest is leaving Antarctica (a “mass” of ice!), we get this piece of. . .insight:

A protestant priest will still take a stint each summer at McMurdo, providing interdenominational services – so the base won’t be left a godless wasteland. Russia also has a priest installed in a church at its base on King George Islands, on the other side of the continent, and there are a handful of churches dotted around.

The best part of this story is the end, where the last priest, Father Doyle, reveals what is truly wonderful about that land:

But for him, it marks the end of a “wonderful adventure.”
“Going onto the ice and listening to the wind whistling around the icebergs, seeing the beautiful wind-sculpted ice,” he says of his favourite memories.
“Going in to the face of glaciers and crawling around the tunnels, seeing all the beautiful colours. The glaciers sing when you tap them you know, because the ice is under stress, so it rings like a bell.
“You think white is one colour, but white is a thousand colours when you get inside a glacier and it’s all around you.”

Yes, this is that “godless wasteland” that really needs churches, priests, faith and god.  Because, you know, it’s not enough just to have amazing grandeur and spectacular beauty.

Just add God.  Then it’s really special.

Symbols of Faith. . .and Beyond

Our world is filled with symbols of religion and faith.  Here are some of the most popular

(people will defend them, fight over them, divide communites and even kill or die for these):

religious symbols

So, I was wondering. . .

What if someone came along who said THIS was the symbol of their faith, or just their LIFE?:

Symbol of the Tree with multiracial human hands around it

Or maybe this?:

wooden hands

Or how about this?:

feeding people

It all reminds me of a poor and mentally ill woman on the street who once told me, with a mix of sadness and madness:

“Why do churches have all those crosses up on top of their roof?  Why don’t they have statues of God doing something like helping people”?

All I could do was shake my head, smile and wonder with her.

Why are so many religious symbols about death and suffering and unearthly things?  Or, simply, very meaningless, unless you’re an exceptionally special Insider and “member”?

Maybe George Carlin was right.  Here’s the best image:


Where Allah, Adonai and Jesus Go to School. . .

Which God has She been Taught to Pray to in her School?
Which God has she been taught to pray to in her School?  Who pays for her to pray?

This alarming article by a teacher in England should wake us up about “School Choice” and Vouchers and the whole homeschooling mess.

“Why Have I Never Taught a Jewish Child?”

The writer is a Headteacher who has taught for 35 years.

“In 2014 there were 6,848 state funded faith schools – about a third of the total and around a 3% increase in the last decade. Jewish and Muslim faith schools, a tiny minority of these, increased from 37 to 48 and from 7 to 18 respectively over the last 7 years. 1.8 million students are in faith schools. Most of these are Catholic or Church of England primary schools.
In 36 years in multi-cultural East London schools and a largely mono-cultural Hertfordshire town I have taught around 7,000 children aged 11-18. I have known many churchgoing Christian children, active Catholics, practising Hindus and Sikhs. Muslims studied alongside other faiths and we had small numbers of Baptists, Buddhists and at least 8 Jehovah Witnesses. But never a Jewish child.”

He makes a strong point at the end:

“I do worry when I see so many children waving the flag of Israel on a school website; we might all be expected to worry if Muslims were pictured with the Saudi flag enthusiastically paraded. We worry anyway if the English flag is given prominence.
We should live, work and study side by side in mutual respect of different traditions and cultures. We should celebrate and proclaim the characteristics that can bring us together. Let’s promote acceptance of others, both within the school community and in the wider world, incorporating values such as caring, kindness and charity. Study together in secular schools for a better world.”

That’s a hopeful, rational vision.  But that vision faces strong opposition from the Sectarian School Choice people who want all the rest of us to give them money to preach.

Are you as concerned as I am about this segregation of sectarian schools?

How do you feel about paying for kids to be “educated” this way?

(oh, and if you’re a supporter, how do you feel about giving your tax dollars to the OTHER sectarian school down the block?)

The History of Religion (thumbnail)

A Rule of Thumb?
A Rule of Thumb?

The Old Religions say. . .

“Give us money (plus power & authority) and we’ll tell you how Bad you are” (Sin based)

The New Religions say. . .

“Give us money (plus power & authority) and we’ll tell you how Good you are” (Self based)

Post-Religion Secular Naturalism says. . .

“Give money where it does the most Good” (since You have the power and authority to act reasonably and to think of more than your self or some other world)

{This is obviously an oversimplification, and surely open to discussion, yet. . .I find truth in this thumbnail sketch}

The End of Chaplaincy (as we know it)?

chaplain praying in hospital
How much is that prayer costing all of us?

The National Secular Society (England) points out that the National Health Service pays out 23 million pounds (about $36 million dollars) annually for chaplaincies across the country.

This means that English taxpayers are footing the bill for religious services at “the equivalent cost of employing a 1000 new nurses.”  Let that sink in for a moment.

As a former Chaplain I must say, the criticisms make all kinds of sense.  Even some Chaplains get the issue:

Speaking on BBC radio, Rev. Paul Walker, leader of the chaplaincy team at Tees, Esk and Eear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said secularists had a “valid point with the decline in religious attendance” and admitted that the “vast majority” who called on his services as a chaplain were “not religious people”.
Rev’d Walker pointed out that chaplains were employed from “all religions” but said “when religious people come into hospital they tend to get their own support from their own vicars or ministers”. He said “when they’re not religious and suddenly feel the need of a chaplain, that’s when they call us”.

Those of us who have served as specifically Interfaith Chaplains see this problem all the time since most Chaplains indeed are NOT employed from all religions.  As the article states, most of the Chaplains in England are Anglican (as most are conservative Christian in the U.S.).

Is this the future of Chaplaincy?  Professionals, paid by their own groups, on-call for patients (or prisoners or military personnel) who specifically request their services?  Then, the rest of us will never find out that we’re paying for prayer, for “mission-work” or proselytizing or faith healing or any other kind of “spiritual service” in our public institutions.

This may make the most sense for relevant, non-intrusive Chaplaincy.

And please, let’s not have Doctors and Nurses “praying over” patients in a public hospital!  Medical care does not include a dose of sectarian “spiritual care.”

Time to Tell the Truth about Theology

Brew and Me
Brew and Me

My old friend “Josh” is retiring as a Pastor.  We used to work side by side when I was an Interfaith Chaplain and Josh always supported by work.  Our mutual admiration was encouraging, especially as I was exiting the Church (he and other friends were there to “celebrate” with me the day I gave up my ordination–good brew there too!).

I recently met with Josh at our favorite brewery for lunch and caught up on our lives.  As usual we shook our heads, laughed and told a few stories.  After telling me about a particularly nasty encounter with a parishioner, Josh said he drove away from the church that day with one main thought in mind:  “I just want to be a KIND person.”  What a great thought and intent.  We agreed, wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply practice kindness each day.  As he put it, “People might actually come back to the Church!”

Our conversation continued with our shared (liberal) critiques of the political circus in the country (a clown car stuffed with. . .you know, clowns–and some are dangerous clowns!).  At one point Josh said with a smile, “You and I don’t agree on Theology, but we sure agree on a lot of these things.”

Then I asked Josh, after all his years devoted to church leadership, as he’s leaving his many years as a pastor, what does the Future of the Church look like to him?  He shook his head, “That’s an important question.”  His answer was given with some sad wisdom:   “It will continue to decline; youth are less and less interested.  The Church needs to BE the church.”  I asked him what that meant.  He replied, to put into practice the “great commandment” from Jesus:  “Love God and love your neighbor.”  That’s it.  I smiled as I responded, “And maybe it doesn’t matter what people mean by ‘God.'”  He got my point.

We lifted our beers and agreed that a life of justice and kindness is the whole point.  No matter where we are with faith, if we’re just kind people and care about social justice, what does the rest really matter?

I really like this guy.  I continue to admire him.  I like how he thinks, and his great sense of humility and humor.  His wise intelligence.  He’s given most of his life to church work and he’s left with this powerfully simple lesson to pass on:  “I just want to be KIND–while always speaking out against injustice.”

Later, as I reflected on our brew-and-true time, it was even clearer to me:  Theology needs to go; it needs to die; it’s already dead (and please don’t resurrect it!).  It divides the world by inventing other worlds.  It distracts us from doing exactly the things we know we ought to be doing:  living kind lives.

So, let’s say goodbye to Theology.  Let’s tell the truth:  it’s not important.  All you Theologians out there:  Sorry, but time to put the old words we all know–really, we ALL know what they are–into flesh and blood; it’s time to live the words, to be just, loving, kind human beings.  No one needs faith for that, but if you have faith, fine.  Without the distraction of the “god-talk” we can work and live together side by side. . . like Josh and me.

And maybe even raise a brew now and then!

Thoreau–Simply Secular


One hundred and seventy years ago today. . .July 4, 1845, the wild and secular naturalist Henry Thoreau hired a moving truck to haul a massive pile of stuff into his mansion by Walden Pond in Concord, Mass.


A one-room cabin with a bed, a few chairs and a desk.

From there, the Concord saunterer planted and explored and penciled an inspiring part of the American story.

And, as this article says, he was a good model for De-Cluttering our lives.

When I de-cluttered a pile of quotes into my little “meditations” book.  I wrote:

“Thoreau’s intimacy with the world at his feet touched his hands, his head, his whole being and sunk in.  This is best illustrated by his delight in digging into the earth, literally and figuratively, turning over rich soil for reflection and introspection. . . .  because he knew he was made of that earth. . . .”


Henry still presents us with one good model of a Secular Chaplain. . .all the earth was a “sacred” place–heaven enough–for the simple life of the bearded bard by the pond.

Other than our annual reading of Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What To the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” (I highly recommend hearing James Earl Jones read it) my wife and I will be thinking of Henry today, as we honored him at his grave in Concord a few years ago.