Rethinking religion

Today’s edition of The Guardian had a lead article about how the religious right is fueling the decline of religion in America. I think that’s true but it goes deeper than that. While observing the Easter Vigil on Saturday night and listening to the readings from Genesis about how God created the world in seven days I was struck by how out of touch these readings are with what we know from modern science. I love the vigil service and always have because there is something very mystical and wonderful about it. Nonetheless, how can the church and Christendom in general still cling to a world view that clearly ancient.

Last fall I took a course at a local Christian college via Zoom. The focus of the course was on science and the Bible. The professor did a good job of not interjecting his own thinking and inviting our own nevertheless many of my classmates clung to the traditional interpretation of the creation story. This winter I took another online course where read about the creation story from an indigenous people in North America. I actually liked their story better as it envisioned the creator of the world as more feminine. That creation story is viewed as primitive in Christian circles while the biblical creation story is viewed as inerrant as it comes from the Bible. Mythologized history can be beautiful as the story of Genesis is and so too the story of Skywoman falling to earth.

Just this week I read, This is How it Always is, and was struck by our primitive and savage reactions to people who identify as LGBTQ+. There are some who identify as Christians in this country that continue to persecute and condemn on the basis of their religious beliefs. These folks seek to impose this narrow world view on the rest of us. While reading the book I was shocked to learn that forty-percent of those folks who identify as transgender commit suicide. How can anyone who calls themselves pro-life countenance this tragedy.

It’s not surprising then that millennials are leaving or disregarding religion and choosing to follow their own hearts. one of my favorite quotes from Karl Rahner is, “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.” Mystics follow their hearts. They’re not bogged down by dogma. I don’t see creative force of universe as exclusive. God or if you will the higher power created everything and everyone. I try to respect all creation even that which I cannot understand. Considering a different creation story based on quantum physics and a continually expanding evolution of consciousness hasn’t stifled my belief in God. On the contrary these thoughts have encouraged me to consider the evolution of consciousness and the continued evolution of the creative force that spawns it.

Vote to confirm Xavier

Yesterday I received an email from a sibling urging me to pray that Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services be defeated because he’s pro-choice. My correspondent wrote of course that he’s pro-abortion which is not true. I’m tired of these either/or evangelicals who are merely pro-birth and not truly pro-life. Life is both/and and much more complex than the binary choices these folks espouse. I pray everyday for an end to bigotry and hatred based on skin color, sexual orientation, religion or no religion at all. I hope Xavier Becerra is confirmed and that he leads us to better health and human services.

The wisdom to know the difference

Earlier today I saw a post that rang true. In 2008 we elected a black man to be president of the United States. The specter of a black man as the leader of the free world was so terrible to those who are intent on white supremacy that they spent eight years attempting to discredit him. Equally terrifying to these folks is that people of color will soon be the predominant group in the United States.

In many areas of the country that is already the case. The United States was founded by white men who slaughtered indigenous people, enslaved Africans and kept women subjugated while using religion to justify it. There has been an evolution of consciousness since the 1790’s. We stopped slaughtering indigenous people in the nineteenth century although we put them on ghettos we call reservations. We ended chattel slavery in 1863 and passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868. We followed that with Jim Crow and one hundred more years of terror for people of color. Nonetheless consciousness continued to evolve. We passed landmark civil rights and voting rights in the 1960’s.

All of this progress has been countered with reactionary movements which live on to this day. Consciousness will continue to evolve despite the efforts of some to put the genie back in the bottle. I may not live to see the change but eventually our democracy will evolve to the land of the free.

On January 20 2021 a woman of color will be sworn in as Vice President of the United States. We’re long overdue for a women at the top and especially a woman of color. This fact is what mostly animates the angry white men in our halls of government. They’re actually frightened that America is living out the promise of our ideals.

Democracy isn’t easy. It never was nor will it be.

I am not a free agent

God among His other functions must be a tireless activity working towards an end. Everything He calls into being works toward that end, I myself with the rest. I am not a purposeless bit of jetsam flung out on the ocean of time to be tossed about helplessly. God couldn’t so will an existence. It would not be in keeping with His economy to have any entity wasted. As Our Lord puts it, the sparrow cannot fall without Him; without Him the lilies are not decked; the knowledge possessed by His infinite intelligence is so minute that the very hairs of the head are numbered. My life, my work, myself—all are as much a necessary part of His design as the thread the weaver weaves into the pattern in a carpet. In other words, I am not a free agent. I am His agent. Not only am I responsible to him, but He is responsible for me. His responsibility for me will be seen as soon as I give up being responsible for myself.”

— The Conquest of Fear by Basil King

I was in a meeting earlier today where I was reminded of this quote. “The Conquest of Fear” by Basil King was published nearly one hundred years ago but the wisdom distilled in its pages is timeless. King’s thoughts are very liberating and have been insightful in my life. I am grateful to the man who first shared this book with me over thirty-five years ago.

Remembering Theo

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the birth of our third grandchild. Theo Joseph was the light in an otherwise dark year that marked by the sudden death of his grandfather Joseph Driessler due to cancer. But then Theo died in his mother’s womb and the family was devastated. Seeing those you love ravaged with grief is not easy. I can remember joining the family members in the birthing room and looking at little Theo lying still in his crib wrapped in a blanket. His cherubic face will be with me as long as I live.

Remarkably Mandi and Devin have chosen to remember Theo Joseph in a number of unique ways. They joined other parents as members of the Star Legacy Foundation. They kept his footprints and and created a beautiful ornament of remembrance that hangs on their tree at Christmas. Loss of loved ones is never easy but rather than run from it they have embraced their loss and in the process have helped others to do the same.

In November 1963 my sister Mary Patricia was born. She lived only a couple of days. My Mom and Dad said she looked like me. We have no pictures nor other mementos of Mary’s time with us. A headstone marks her burial in the cemetery in a plot next to my father. A few weeks ago Devin asked me when Mary was born and I didn’t know. I called my sister who told me that Mary was born on November 15, 1963. Thanks to the example of Devin and Mandi I’ll be remembering Mary Patricia in a new way and especially on her birthday.

Yesterday Devin and Mandi had a family sledding and tubing event that marked the birth of Theo Joseph. Thanks for their wonderful example. Theo was truly a gift from God as his name implies and his memory will always be with us.

The Sheep and the Goats

Earlier today I came upon a quote from Matthew 25 which sums up the Jesus message.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

~Matthew 25:35

The Jesus message which is often overlooked is about relationships. Too often the emphasis is on his death on the cross. Many if not most Christians believe in the doctrine of ‘original sin.’ Jesus never talked about original sin in any of the Gospels nor is it mentioned per se in the New Testament. So much emphasis has been placed on original sin that the relationship message of Jesus is given short shrift. I recently participated in a class where the emphasis for many was on ‘the fall.’ You know the story I’m sure about how Eve gave Adam the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and then it was all down hill from there.

The idea that people are damned because Eve gave Adam an apple in a metaphorical allusion in a mythological explanation of the creation story was always something I questioned. Why would a supreme being create a cosmos that was flawed in such a manner to exclude that same creation from fulfillment. It doesn’t make any sense. Nearly twenty years ago I heard about the theology of John Duns Scotus and later St. Bonaventure both of whom were inspired by their seraphic father St. Francis that posited an alternative. In short the reason for the incarnation was to demonstrate the creator’s love for creation. Jesus never excludes anyone from the banquet. In fact the more sinful you are the more welcome you are at the banquet. He welcomed prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners. It was the church people who crucified him. His preaching was too scandalous for them. He upset the status quo with this radical message of relationship.

In Matthew 25 he articulates clearly that what you do for the least of your fellows is what earns you the reward of eternal life. Getting baptized, saying that you accept Jesus as your Lord and savior and then turning a blind eye to the injustices that surround us is not going to get you into the kingdom according to what is written in Matthew 25:31-46. That’s always been my favorite verse in the New Testament. The golden rule is the recipe for happiness in this life and the next.

Unpacking the myth

Today a friend of mine shared a poignant post from John Pavlovitz’ blog which was written last week. It is the Myth of Pro-Life Christianity. The author’s eloquence is spot on. I’ve pondered much of what he said for the past 9 months as I’ve watched Americans die in record numbers while the national leadership dawdled.

“We are currently losing several thousand people here every single day and likely will for the coming months.

In less than a single year, more than 300,000 Americans will have died.

That’s 75,000 “Benghazis” for which these same people flagellated themselves and clutched their pearls and engaged in wild public histrionics, because American lives were supposedly important to them.

That’s 100 “9/11 attacks,” for which nineteen years later, they still proudly brandish their #NeverForget bumper stickers and annual social media eulogies and America First bravado—because unnecessary death moves them, apparently.” – John Pavlovitz


They stood by and did nothing while the country has been ravished by a pandemic which they denied. They mocked and degraded scientists and healthcare professionals when they knew of the deadliness of the virus. They blamed China for their own incompetence and complicity. I never believed any of these turds were pro-life. It was just a punch line for them. They’re against abortion and that’s a good cause but they don’t have any idea what it means to be pro-life.

I pray everyday that our lack of national leadership won’t do anymore harm. I pray for the victims, families affected, medical professionals on the front lines.

Happy Birthday Dad

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’d be 94 today. Born December 3,1926 at his childhood home. He was the last of five children my grandmother had. She lost two of those children to still birth. Dad was nine year’s younger than his brother Wendell and six year’s younger than his sister Virginia. He was by all accounts spoiled as many “babies” of families are.

I’ve got pictures of him as a child living with my grandparents. Most of my recollections of Dad’s childhood as he saw it came from stories he shared with me as a young man growing up. We share the same first and last name and many of the same looks especially in adulthood. His stories nearly always painted a comic and tragic childhood that was marred at times by my grandparents squabbles.

Dad graduated high school in 1944 and enlisted in the US Navy. He went to recruit training at Great Lakes IL and later radio school in Chicago at a junior college that the government had taken over during World War II. Eventually he shipped out to naval base San Diego where he contracted rheumatic fever. That illness saved him from deployment to the Pacific fleet and perhaps harm from the war. He convalesced at a naval hospital in Corona CA and was eventually honorably discharged hone in 1946.

Like many returning GI’s he got a chance to enroll in college. He was admitted to the University of Buffalo Dental School eventually graduating in 1952. It was while he was a student there that he met my Mom who ate dinner at the same boardinghouse he lived at. They fell in love and were married in 1951. I came along fifteen months later followed by three siblings one of which died soon after birth.

We had a good life together marred at times by Dad’s bouts with depression. Back then very few people understood depression as they do today. Though undiagnosed I believe Dad was bipolar. When he was up he was great but when down he was miserable and violent at times. We all suffered but I think he suffered the worst as he was truly remorseful for his bouts. I know that he loved us very deeply though at times his behavior belied it.

Being most like him we frequently clashed especially as I grew older. At one point I moved away from the house for a week or more after one of the more violent outbursts. Relief came when I graduated high school and enrolled at college. Dad frequently demeaned me growing up. He told me that I would never rise to the professional ranks like he did. That’s quite damaging to the psyche of a younger person but now as a much older adult I can see that this was borne of his own severe insecurities. His frequent attacks on my integrity left me more determined than ever to excel.

Like him I got drafted and decided to join the US Navy where I served as a hospital corpsman eventually rising to the rank of third class petty officer in less than two years. I was named Command Sailor of the Quarter at one point thanks to the relentless drive for excellence and perfection. I got some leave after graduating from Hospital Corps school and had made no plans to visit my parents who were living on the west coast. I got a phone call from Dad begging me to visit and I’m glad I pocketed my pride and took the trip. I spent a week with Dad and Mom in northern California where they lived. It was the best week Dad and I had as adults. Then it was over and I was returning to the east coast and a new duty station. I can still remember that morning standing in the departure area of the Eureka airport. We embraced and he told me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was. I told him I loved him too and then turned and walked to the aircraft. I had a huge lump in my throat and tears welled in my eyes as I looked out the window of the plane toward Mom and Dad in the terminal.

Little did I realize then that would be the last time I saw him. He died after a short illness five months later. His life was cut short at forty-six. Time and therapy has healed the wounds and I forgave Dad long ago. I think of him often. I see him in our children. I walk by his childhood home often. Our children attended the same school he did and graduated from there too. Happy Birthday Dad!

Radical Equality

Today’s Gospel in Catholic churches everywhere is drawn from the Matthew 20: 1-16. It’s a familiar parable of the landowner who is hiring people to work in his vineyard. You’ve heard it many times I’m sure. The landowner goes out at 9:00 AM and hires folks to work and agrees to pay them a the usual daily wage. He went out again at noon and at three o’clock and hired more workers to for the usual daily wage. He hired more still at five o’clock. In the evening he summoned the foreman and told him to pay the workers beginning with the last and ending with the first. Each received the usual daily wage. Those who had been hired first began to grumble. They thought they deserved more because they had labored the entire day.

And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,‘These last ones worked only one hour,and you have made them equal to us,who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’He said to one of them in reply,‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money. Are you envious because I am generous?’Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:11-16

As I reflected on these word today I realized that in the Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus we see radical equality. There is no seniority, no frequent flyer miles. Everyone is compensated equally for their work. Some would call this socialism today but is it really? Imagine a world where such as this existed. Isn’t this what life should be like?