God Thoughts


February 3, 2018

A reflection: God Thoughts

Historic Observations: Some days it seems so very long ago; but I clearly remember the event. Yuri Gagarin, who died 50 years ago on (my birthday) March 27, 1968, was a Soviet cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev quickly announced to the Central Committee of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party that “Gagarin flew into space but didn’t see any god there.” Khrushchev had a big laugh about that.

It was also in 1961 that French Protestant theologian, Gabriel Vahanian’s historic book God is Dead: The Culture of our Post-Christian Era was published. Vahanian (1927-2012) argued that the “death of God” happened when God was turned into just a cultural artifact and modern culture had lost a sense of the sacred. He argued for a transformation of a post-Christian and a post-modern culture. Vahanian – contrary to what some said later — was a true believer.

In many ways, Vahanian was echoing what Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) had expressed in his Letters and Papers from Prison. During his year and a half confinement in the Berlin Tegel military prison, Bonhoeffer questioned the role of Christianity and the church in a “world come of age,” where human beings had lost a sense of a metaphysical God. He pondered the meaning of a “religionless Christianity.” In a note dated November 21, 1943, He wrote “My fear and distrust of ‘religiosity’ have become greater than ever.” “Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’” he wrote “do not in the least act up to it and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’” Bonhoeffer of course was reacting to all the “good Christians” who supported Adolf Hitler’s National Socialism agenda.

Sometimes, people learn from the past very slowly. Quite often today, I fear that God, for many people, has been turned into “just a cultural artifact.” Our political leaders love to say “God bless you”; but they say it the same way the check-out person at the supermarket says “Have a good day.” Is there really any belief behind it? Too many contemporary “believers” speak and behave in ungodly ways. I can understand why young people, and more and more older people, are “nones,” interested in spirituality but not religion. Like Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christians”? They want nothing to do with institutionalized religion. They see, for instance, very little that is Christian in the words and behavior of Washington DC’s top political leader. They see his close advisors promoting a bizarre and distorted version of the Gospels. Was Jesus really very white, very racist, very xenophobic, and very sexist?

Yet, nevertheless, I believe God is still traveling with us on our journey. But I ask how do we best think of God today? What words? What imagery? Certainly, the old Hebrew and early Christian cosmology, with God enthroned in the heavens is past history. Khrushchev said Gagarin did not see God in space; but Nikita was blinded by his own Communist ideology.

How do we see today?

Earth and the Cosmos Today: On my desk, is a Christmas present from my son: a petrified sand dollar. Like his dad, he is fascinated by historic phenomena and objects. This one (not his dad) is one hundred and fifty million years old. When my little sand dollar was a living creature, crawling across the seabed, our earth was in its Jurassic period; and our earth’s supercontinent Pangaea began to break apart. That left two landmasses, a northern mass containing what we know as North America, Europe, and Asia and a southern mass containing South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and India. During the early Jurassic, North America separated from Africa and South America and moved northward, but it was still connected to Europe. In the late Jurassic period, the North Atlantic began to appear between Europe and North America. Fascinating.

Rubbing my fingers over this old but now nicely polished fossil, the thought struck me: As it crawled around in a greatly changing earth, God was there with it. And when the continents separated and gave form to today’s earth configuration, the Spirit of God was there in and above the raging waters and shifting earth.

Our knowledge of the earth and the cosmos have grown considerably since the Book of Genesis was composed – a long process combining traditions dating from between the 10th and 5th centuries BCE. He have now learned that our earth is about 4.5 billion years old and that our solar system itself is only one among a vast number of others. In the bigger picture, our sun is just a star like many others. Our earth is like a speck in our Milky Way Galaxy that contains over 200 billion stars, and enough dust and gas to make billions more. And the expansion and evolution continue, and God is there at the heart of all of it. Fascinating. There are in the greater universe thousands of billions and billions of planets such as our earth. In the very beginning, God was there. God was here. God is still here. God is still there. Here and out there, and beyond…. How does one describe this God? Who is God in an immense and ever-evolving cosmos? Who is God for an ever-evolving humanity? I no longer understand God as “transcendent” because I experience God as right here with us – at the heart of Reality — not above us and out there.

The philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965), whom I greatly respected, stressed that God is best understood as “the ground of Being-Itself.” No part of Reality is alien to God; and, Tillich stressed that God is both personal and transpersonal. In faith experiences, Tillich stressed again, we encounter God. The central component of Tillich’s concept of faith was that faith is “ecstatic.” “The ecstatic character of faith” Tillich wrote “does not exclude its rational character although it is not identical with it, and it includes non-rational strivings without being identical with them. ‘Ecstasy’ means ‘standing outside of oneself’ – without ceasing to be oneself.” I liked Tillich and enjoyed being able to attend one of his lectures in my younger days. But enough about that.

Faith Experiences: Through meditation and contemplation we can stand outside ourselves without ceasing to be ourselves. Here, as I mentioned last week, art and music have an essential mediative role. People can and do experience the ground of Being-itself perhaps without being able to adequately express what they experience. I mean a kind of contemplative intimate experience leading to an inner stillness. In the old days we called this an experience of grace.

Perhaps we can only speak about these faith experiences with poetry and symbol. Just as we can only express our love for another person in poetic and symbolic language….And we contemporary people need trustworthy spiritual guides to protect us from religious charlatans. Jan Walgrave (1911-1986), one of my truly beloved old Louvain professors told me, shortly before he died, that if we had good courses in spirituality we would not have to have any courses in moral theology.

Yes, as some of my friends suggest, I think it might be possible to explain faith experiences in terms of brain states; but this explanation becomes inadequate, if one has had even a small faith experience. I am writing about contemplative experiences, where one feels and understands that all life makes sense in a way it didn’t before. The questions we wrestle with about life, death, suffering, evil, and God’s love. Those things begin to melt away…….We are not alone in the universe nor alone at home in our corner of the city. Even if we don’t know how to put it into words, the Reality is there.

Some of the problems and horror stories in the news will still be with us. We are strengthened, however, to be prophetic in words and actions. We will not just endure but can and will flourish because the God who watched over my sand dollar is very much alive and journeying with us today. One of my favorite Paul Tillich books is The Courage to Be (1952).

– Jack

jadleuven@gmail.com

I Am Not A Robot


27 January 2018

“Artificial intelligence and robots will kill many jobs,” was Jack Ma’s Davos World Economic Forum prediction this week. Ma is CEO of the Chinese online sales giant Alibaba. Indeed, artificial intelligence and the use of robots to not only interact with, but also manipulate human beings and even replace them raises all kinds of questions.

“Technology should always give people new opportunities, not remove them,” Ma said. Nevertheless, at the end of November 2017 a new report released by McKinsey & Company indicated that by 2030 as many as 800 million workers worldwide will probably be replaced by robots. In economies like the U.S. and Germany, the study found that up to one-third of the 2030 workforce will need to learn new skills and find new work.

While the impact of robots and automation may be scary to some, Bill Gates, in a Wall Street Journal interview (March 26, 2017) said the issue is nothing to panic about. According to Gates, anyone with skills in science, engineering and economics will always be in demand. This of course raises all kinds of questions about education.

In his Davos presentation, Jack Ma also raised questions about education; and I find myself resonating with him.

I have no doubts that the pace of robotization and the evolution of artificial intelligence will accelerate each year. Human survival Ma stressed, however, will be guaranteed if we shift our educational focus from education as handing on information to education as human development. The same shift in focus, I would emphasize, is needed in the church as well. For years I have stressed that we should not have “religious education” in our parishes and schools but “Christian formation and development programs.”

We need to focus less on doctrines and fidelity to doctrinal prescriptions and more on Christian behavior. Healthy doctrine springs from healthy behavior, as the old saying stresses: “orthopraxy leads to orthodoxy.” Jesus in the New Testament is not a dogmatic theologian. He is a pastoral guide, who stresses a new pattern for living. Examples abound. My favorite is still the story of the Good Samaritan, which could also be called (with a special ring for today) “the parable of the despised foreigner.”

You remember the story: a traveler is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead along the road. First a priest comes by and sees him, ignores him, and moves on. Then a Levite comes by (Levites assisted the priests in Jewish temple worship.); but he too avoids the injured man and moves on. Finally, a Samaritan happens to come along. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man. The point of the story, Jesus says is “who is my neighbor?”

Very concretely, if we shift our educational focus from primarily passing on information to a full program of human formation, what would that entail?

Here I can only point to the main formational elements.

(1) A stress on human sentiments of care, concern, and compassion for others. A focus on the human heart not just the brain. Jesus stressed love of neighbor as oneself. He didn’t say “just think nice thoughts about the other.”

(2) An openness to the deeper dimensions of our human experience. Call this a kind of meditative spirituality. Reality is much richer than many people realize.

(3) A stress on critical reflection and questioning of the information that bombards us day and night. Is everything relative and up for grabs? What does the search for truth mean the day?

(4) A stress on human values like fairness, trustworthiness, and honesty.

(5) A solid formation in music, art, and theatre as the most fundamental forms of human (and humanizing) expression.

We can use robots without becoming robots….and so we must.

Take care.

– Jack

jadleuven@gmail.com

Going, Going, Gone???


20 January 2018

On January 10th, the London-based The Economist published an article on today’s teenagers. In general, the article noted that they are better behaved and less hedonistic than teenagers a few years ago; but they are also lonelier.

Today’s young people, The Economist report stresses, are indeed behaving and thinking differently from previous cohorts at the same age. The shifts can be seen in almost every rich country, from the USA to the Netherlands to South Korea. Some changes have been under way for many years, but have now accelerated.

On the positive side, teenagers are getting drunk less often. In Britain, for example, where a fifth of 16- to 24-year-olds do not drink at all, the number of pubs is closing by about 1,000 a year. Across Europe, teenagers are smoking less and drug use has diminished significantly; and, in the US as well, the decline in teenage opioid use is especially significant.

Teenagers are also having less sex. In 1991, by way of comparison, 54% of US teenagers, ages 14-18, reported they were sexually experienced; and 19% claimed to have had sex with at least four different partners. In 2015, however, those proportions were 41% and 12%. America’s teenage birth rate also dropped by two-thirds over the same period.

Teenagers of course are heavy internet users, thanks especially to smartphones. Teenagers are increasingly using social media as an alternative to face-to-face communication. In doing so, they miss opportunities for developing deep emotional connections with their friends, which are built on non-verbal cues as well as verbal ones.

Parental worries about teenagers texting and playing computer games too much have largely given way to worries about smartphones and social media. Today’s teenagers seem lonelier than in the past. Recent surveys, like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), show that the share of 15-year-olds who say they make friends easily at school has dropped in almost every country. Some Western countries are beginning to look like Japan and South Korea, which struggle with a more extreme kind of teenage social isolation in which young people become virtual hermits.

The Economist report is one of two articles about teenagers that I read this week. The second is a report, issued on January 17th by St. Mary’s Press and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA), about teenagers and church membership.

The USA national two-year study offers a look at why young people are leaving the Catholic Church as early as age 13. Seventy-four percent of the former Catholics interviewed said that they decided to leave the Church between the ages of 10 and 20. Most have no religious affiliation. The St. Mary’s Press / CARA report resonates with Pew Research Center findings that the “Nones” are a growing category in the United States. The CARA researchers cite a 2015 Pew study that the number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. increased by 19 million between 2007 and 2014.

The two-year study, titled Going, Going, Gone! The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, is based on a national survey and interviews with 214 former Catholics between the ages of 15 and 25. The study found that church disaffiliation is a process that happens over time for young people. Typically, it is prompted by a series of events or unresolved questions that simply begin to accumulate. Questions and more questions and no answers. Many disaffiliated teenagers believe in God and believe in what Jesus taught. They perceive organized religion, however, as having corrupted Jesus’ teachings. Many had trouble connecting their identity as a baptized member of the church to their concrete life experiences in the real world. They struggled to articulate why being Catholic matters, so they just drifted away from the church. They see many of the church’s dogmas and doctrines as nonsensical; and they believe they can probably live better lives without the baggage of religion.

According to St. Mary’s Press President and CEO, John Vitek: “It’s clear that church leaders will need to open their minds and their hearts in order to view disaffiliation not as a grave threat, but as a new reality in which the church’s evangelizing mission must function in wholly new ways,” Vitek continued: “Most young people still believe in God and want to be connected spiritually….A critical first step for the church is to provide a nonjudgmental place for young people to openly and honestly wrestle with their questions, struggles, and doubts about faith and religion. If we don’t, they will leave and find a place where they can.”

Well, I as I stressed last week, it is necessary and good to have questions and to be a critical thinker. But critical thinkers and questioners need alert and wise listeners. That is our contemporary challenge ……….

— Jack

Personal e-mail: jadleuven@gmail.com

It started with questions….and the questions continue


12 January 2018

(Photo credit: Dave Miers)

Some years ago, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl wrote that life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, nor a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.

I agree with Frankl. The greatest task for any person is to explore the ultimate questions about the meaning of Reality, of our human experiences, and of our personal identities in a changing world.

Shortly after Christmas, a university friend asked me how I became interested in theology. In response I wrote a brief personal-experience article that will be published in a couple months. Today, as Another Voice begins a new year, I would like to share a bit of my story and also about my focus in 2018.

My story: In the late 1950s and early 1960s I was a rather conservative seminarian, studying at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. In September 1965 my bishop, to my great surprise, sent me to study theology at the famous Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. I would spend three years in Louvain (today we more properly use the Flemish name: “Leuven”). Then I left the seminary and continued studying theology at what was then known as the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. I was fascinated by the “Dutch” (he was really Belgian) theologian Edward Schillebeeckx who was a professor of theology in Nijmegen. (Interestingly, he did his early philosophical and theological studies in Louvain.)

For me, a very pious and somewhat fundamentalist young man, the journey from Detroit, Michigan to Leuven, Belgium was much more than a big geographic shift. It was personally very unsettling. My professors made me feel very uncomfortable. As I listened to them, I found myself asking theological questions about everything. Is there a God? Who or what is God? How do I know that my “religious experiences” are really experiences of Divinity? Who really was Jesus and who is he today? Was his birth truly the result of a virginal conception? Did he have brothers and sisters? Was his mother really always a virgin? Was the Resurrection a real event? How much of the New Testament is trustworthy? Is the Catholic Church the one true church? There were personal identity questions as well….a lot of them.

One day after class I confronted the professor, whose lectures were really turning my world upside down. I told him he was making me very uncomfortable, because I was now asking questions about everything from God and Jesus to ordained ministry, love, and celibacy. With a twinkle in his eyes and a warm smile he said: “then I am doing a good job as professor.” He told me he would not abandon me and we could talk any time….and he reminded me of the old saying, attributed to Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Thanks to my old Louvain professor, and many others, I grew up as a person. I grew up theologically. I grew up as a thinking person. I grew out of my Catholic fundamentalism; and I became a truly contemporary believer. A quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer suddenly spoke to me powerfully in a new way: “I’m still discovering, right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.” (I became an avid reader of the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis in April 1945.)

At the Catholic University of Leuven, I consciously confronted change – on many levels – and I was changed. Most important in my world of changes was learning how to be an historical-critical believer: anchored in biblical and theological sources and asking how they resonated with my own contemporary faith and life experiences. My understanding of Christian belief and morality changed as did (necessarily) my understanding of humanity. I came to understand that change and development are essential elements in our human existence, ongoing life, and understanding. I came to understand that asking questions and searching for answers are essential elements in the human journey. I realized it is not wrong to ask questions. I realized yesterday’s answers are not always helpful responses for today’s questions. (Many years later I would (respectfully) tell a group of bishops meeting in Baltimore that they were very good at answering all the questions nobody was really asking anymore.)

This year, in Another Voice, I hope I can address the right questions and propose some thoughtful answers. When I can no longer do that, it will be time for me to unplug my computer.

Looking over the 2017 reader reactions to my blog, people have been generally positive, supportive, and appreciative. (The negative people just ignored me or unfriended me on Facebook.)

It does bother some people when, in their words, I become “less theological and more political.” With the current presidential administration I have done that periodically. I hear the criticism. I understand where it is coming from. Nevertheless, in today’s socio-cultural context I can only refer to the words of Bonhoeffer again:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

My best regards to all. I hope you will travel with me in the coming months.

-Jack

2018


A very happy New Year to my Another Voice Friends. I will return in a couple weeks. Just a reminder…..

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.”

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Many very kind regards to all. We best travel down this road of life hand in hand…

– Jack

The Journey of the Magi


25 December 2017

Once again I invite reflection on a poem written in 1927 by T. S. Eliot (1888–1965). Journey of the Magi is told from the point of view of one of the magi. It is a faith journey that expresses themes of alienation and a feeling of powerlessness in a changing world, but the Birth changes everything….

A very sincere thank you to my readers who have been supportive in word and gesture. Every good wish for Christmas and the New Year. In 2018, may we all be strong, encouraging, and faith-filled in our human journeys.

I will be away from my computer for a few days and will return after Epiphany.

Warmest regards, Jack.

Journey Of The Magi by T.S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Disturbances


December 17, 2017

I was in a bit of a hurry, pushing my shopping cart down the aisle of a local grocery store, looking for a bag of pasta and some tomato sauce. Behind me, somebody yelled “professor”! I turned around and there was one of my former students, a brilliant young fellow, who completed his doctorate three years ago.

With a big, happy smile, the young man told me he was in town for a couple days, that he got married a year ago; and that now he and his wife were expecting a baby. “A little boy,” he proudly said. “We expect him to arrive on Christmas and will name him ‘Christian’.” I congratulated him.

Then my ‘student’ became a bit serious. “I have my doctorate, a great wife, and soon a little son,” he said. “Now” he continued “I have to focus on a big question.” I asked if he was looking for a job, needed a good recommendation, or was going to buy a house. “No,” he replied. “I really need to go looking for God — for that ‘taste of the Transcendent’ you often talked about in class. There is still a terrible emptiness in my life…..”

The most important part of our life journey, as I mentioned last week, is God-discovery along the way. A great many people today, like my student, whether religious or not, are hungry for a God-experience. Hungry and thirsting for spirituality. That demands a special kind of openness and a clearing away of the roadblocks that dull our sensitivities and block our vision.

In contemporary life there are two great, but related, existential disturbances: noise pollution and hyperactive busyness. They block our openness to the Sacred, yet we have become so accustomed to them that we take them as simply a normal part of life……

Visiting friends recently, the noise pollution really hit me. The radio was on and loud. The television was replaying a football game with yelling fans. One person was talking on his cellphone; and their neighbor was mowing his yard (last time before the snow) at full throttle. I laughed and said “oh for the days of peace and quiet.” No one heard me of course.

Ubiquitous noise works insidiously. It raises our blood pressure and heart rate. It contributes to anxiety, stress, and nervousness. It closes our minds to contemplative experiences.

Along with noise, hyperactive busyness characterizes much of contemporary life. Here of course cellphones are the great disrupters. People are made to feel guilty if they are not rushing from place to place, working on projects at home, multitasking, and constantly connecting via texting, Twitter, FaceTime, and Facebook. If the power goes off, life becomes suddenly strange and disconnected.

The re-discovery of spirituality — and the survival of art, music, philosophy and theology — requires long and regular moments of tranquility. Reflective contemplative moments. We need to control our noise pollution, clear our schedules for more free time, and reduce our cyber connectedness. The more receptive, contemplative, and inwardly quiet we become, the more open and attentive we become to the deeper vibrations in Reality.

Then we resonate as well with a recent reflection from Richard Rohr:

“The purifying goal of mysticism and contemplative prayer is nothing less than divine union—union with what is, with the moment, with yourself, with the divine, which means with everything…..We came from God and we will return to God. Everything in-between is a school toward conscious loving….God is your deepest desiring. But it takes a long time to allow, believe, trust, and enjoy such a wonderful possibility. We move toward union by desiring union….So just pray for the desire to desire union. Then the actions will take care of themselves.”

My favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, summed it up this way:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

*********

Throughout the month of December, I am asking my readers to consider a donation to keep Another Voice on the Internet. Another Voice is a free service. Nevertheless, the old fellow who writes and keeps it going has computer upgrades and maintenance expenses, and website and monthly Internet provider costs.

If you would like to contribute, kindly send a US dollar check, made out to John Dick, and send to: Dr. J.A. Dick, Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium.

If you would like to contribute in euros, through international bank transfer, here is the information you need: BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV, Warandeberg 3, 1000 Brussels Account name: John Dick Account number: 230-0392360-15

SWIFT CODE (BIC): GEBABEBB IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

For my part, I promise to keep thinking, researching, and writing.

Thank you for helping me to keep Another Voice speaking!

Travel Advisory


December 10, 2017

The older we get, the more we realize that we are travelers. In our life journeys we move not just from day to day, but from place to place, and from event to event. There are grand discoveries, routine daily chores, great joys and great disappointments. Throughout the whole journey, as we hear so often these days, God travels with us.

Soon, we will again commemorate the biblical journey of Jesus’ parents to Bethlehem. Young people on the road. Their journey leading to the great revelation that would change the course of human history. Matthew’s infancy narrative also describes Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as refugees, fleeing into Egypt to escape the villainy of Herod the Great. Self-centered Herod launched colossal building projects. He ordered great buildings and walls and promised to make Judea Great. Focusing on Jerusalem, he expanded the Second Temple (“Herod’s Temple”) and even slaughtered children to eliminate any possible opposition. Every age has a Herod, determined to make things great, branding “accomplishments” with his own name.

And so for today, the Second Sunday of Advent, my travel advisory for contemporary Christians:

(1) Traveling with “them.” The fundamental reality for most travelers is that we travel with other people. It is easy then to make comparisons and to make judgments. Other travelers can make us feel uncomfortable and occasionally frightened. They do it to us; but we do it to them as well. In truth, however, we may dress strangely and speak in funny ways; but we all have human dignity, equality, and self-worth. We are not just “us” and “them.” We are brothers and sisters. If we travel with the Spirit of Christ, differences in gender, race, and nationality can never allow us to denigrate and condemn the other. Contrary to an old Catholic teaching about gays, for example, no one is innately disordered. God loves all. So should we. We need to welcome and accommodate them.

(2) Travel brings change. Life is not static. Change happens. We either make the best of things and move forward or we regress and die. Nostalgia can be fun for a short time, but do we really want to live in the past? An acquaintance, who is a US Catholic cardinal, told me some time ago how wonderful the 1950’s were and how much he misses those days. I chuckled and said he had a very selective memory. I said I remember the “good old days” as well. I remember having scarlet fever. I remember the petrifying fear of polio and learning that a couple kids in my school were in “iron lungs.” And I remember public drinking fountains marked “for whites only.”

We change and our understandings can and should change. Women are not inferior to men. Protestants do not adhere to a “false religion.” Some of our religious understandings and practices (perhaps) made sense in the Middle Ages but certainly are nonsensical today.

St. Francis Xavier was never in an airplane. He died on December 3, 1552. I read last week that a Catholic group in an effort to “revive the faith” is flying Xavier’s arm to various locations across Canada. The arm even gets a reserved seat on Air Canada. I think they should put the old bone in a box and leave it in baggage claim…..A far better way to revive people’s faith would be for Christians across Canada (and everywhere) to put their living arms around contemporary people who are fearful, depressed, or impoverished. More Christ-like than a fragile old bone.

(3) News travels fast. Yes, news travels fast. Yet not all the news is fit to print. A lot if it these days is phony and dishonest, especially when linked with regressive politics. This morning I read on Facebook that a blog called “Freedom Crossroads — America Love It Or Leave It” announced, with disdain, that former President Barack Obama’s oldest daughter was fired from an internship in Spain this summer. According to Freedom Crossroads, Malia had a “cushy internship” at the Spanish Embassy; but she was fired when she got caught smoking pot.

Another contemporary alternative fact. The truth is: Malia didn’t have an internship at a Spanish embassy this summer. She had an internship in New York City, before attending Harvard. When her internship finished very normally, she went on vacation with her family. No pot involved. Just a lot of nasty falsehood.

As we travel through time and cyberspace, we have an obligation to check facts, and to speak out about and protest those often self-righteous “Christians” who propagate falsehoods and plant seeds of destructive discord.

(4) Traveling with fear. Fear is a part of life. In our human journeys, I suspect most of us have had fearful days that threatened to destabilize or even destroy us. And, in our politically unstable times, new fears are on the horizon. We need to acknowledge our fears but continue the journey and face life with courage. We are not alone. As believers we know that, despite paralyzing problems, we are loved. Love energizes and strengthens. Over the years I have often thought about the thirty years old man from Nazareth, stumbling towards his death, with a cross-beam on his back. Freightened beyond belief…His courage, suffering, and death gives me the courage to continue my journey on difficult days. “Greater love no one has than to lay down one’s life for a friend….”

(5) On a God pilgrimage. We are traveling with God and to God. The most exciting part of our journey. There are of course threatening temptations along the way. The first is to think that God is only for US and only with US. God travels indeed with all kinds of believers and nonbelievers. God is at the heart of all life and all Reality. No group owns God. The second temptation, however, is to act as though we can indeed control God and, like some fundamentalist fanatics found in all religious, use God to condemn and destroy the people we just don’t like and want to condemn and destroy. The temptation to make God in one’s image and likeness.

Safe travels!

————-

Between now and Christmas, I am asking my readers to consider a donation to keep Another Voice on the Internet. Another Voice is a free service.

Nevertheless, the old fellow who writes and keeps it going has computer upgrades and maintenance expenses, and website and monthly Internet provider costs.

If you would like to contribute, kindly send a US dollar check, made out to John Dick, and send to: Dr. J.A. Dick, Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium.

If you would like to contribute in euros, through international bank transfer, here is the information you need: BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV, Warandeberg 3, 1000 Brussels

Account name: John Dick Account number: 230-0392360-15

SWIFT CODE (BIC): GEBABEBB

IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

For my part, I promise to keep thinking, researching, and writing.

Thank you for helping me to keep Another Voice speaking!

Advent I: PERSPECTIVE


1 December 2017

My reflection for the first Sunday of Advent is about PERSPECTIVE. Who we are, what we do, and who we become are so dependent on how we view and evaluate Reality.

Advent is traditionally about awaiting, and celebrating, the arrival of Jesus. In another perspective it is about what we believe and how we behave as followers of Jesus.

Yes. As we get into the “Holiday Season,” I am all for putting Christ back into Christmas. More importantly — when the message and spirit of Christ are absent in so much highly publicized contemporary “Christian” rhetoric and behavior — I would like to help put Christ back into Christianity. Too many religiously and politically influential people these days are re-writing the Gospel in their own image and likeness. When, for example, people like Franklin Graham and James Dobson proclaim that the current President of the United States was ordained by God. That is a very different perspective and terribly dysfunctional and deceptive.

And so this week end a poetic reflection on perspective.

The British poet, Brian Bilston, is a master at perspective.

Do we look at reality from top to bottom?

Or do we start at the bottom and go up?

Read his poem “Refugees” and please read to the end.

REFUGEES

They have no need of our help

So do not tell me

These haggard faces could belong to you or me

Should life have dealt a different hand

We need to see them for who they really are

Chancers and scroungers

Layabouts and loungers

With bombs up their sleeves

Cut-throats and thieves

They are not

Welcome here

We should make them

Go back to where they came from

They cannot

Share our food

Share our homes

Share our countries

Instead let us

Build a wall to keep them out

It is not okay to say

These are people just like us

A place should only belong to those who are born there

Do not be so stupid to think that

The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

+++++

Perhaps we can use Advent 2017 to check our own perspectives and our attitudes based on them……

Jack

Throughout the month of December, I am asking my readers to consider a donation to keep Another Voice on the Internet. Another Voice is a free service. Nevertheless, the old fellow who writes and keeps it going has computer upgrades and maintenance expenses, and website and monthly Internet provider costs.

If you would like to contribute, kindly send a US dollar check, made out to John Dick, and send to: Dr. J.A. Dick, Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium.

If you would like to contribute in euros, through international bank transfer, here is the information you need: BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV, Warandeberg 3, 1000 Brussels

Account name: John Dick Account number: 230-0392360-15

SWIFT CODE (BIC): GEBABEBB

IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

For my part, I promise to keep thinking, researching, and writing.

Thank you for helping me to keep Another Voice speaking!

Giving Tuesday


28 November 2017

Dear Friends of Another Voice,

We have now had Thanksgiving (US), Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.

Today is Giving Tuesday: a day when people are encouraged to donate to keep blogs and other services alive for another year.

From today until Christmas, I am asking my readers to consider a donation to keep Another Voice on the Internet. Another Voice is a free service. Nevertheless, the old fellow who writes and keeps it going has computer upgrades and maintenance expenses, and website and monthly Internet provider costs.

If you would like to contribute in dollars, kindly send a US dollars check, made out to John Dick, and send to:

Dr. J.A. Dick, Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium.

If you would like to contribute in euros, through international bank transfer, here is the information you need: BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV, Warandeberg 3, 1000 Brussels

Account name: John Dick

Account number: 230-0392360-15

SWIFT CODE (BIC): GEBABEBB

IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

For my part, I promise to keep thinking, researching, and writing.

Thank you for helping me to keep Another Voice speaking!

Jack