Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Friends Writing Good Books: N.S. Xavier

Promoting Wholeness and Wellness in Print and Film

Dr. N.S. Xavier is a unique person who for many years has focused upon religious understanding, psychological well-being, and spiritual wholeness. He has practiced psychiatry in Birmingham, Alabama for over 30 years. Wisdom and spirituality play a significant role in his practice, and he has been steadily writing for a number of years. 

His first book, The Two Faces of Religion, outlines very effectively the the nature of healthy vs. unhealthy religion. His second book, The Holy Region: A Wonder of  World Religions in Harmony, is a book about the Kerala region in India where people of different faiths have learned to live together in peace. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience: Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness is his latest.

Dr. Xavier's latest endeavor is the production of a remarkable documentary, The World's Most Enlightening Region. With this documentary, he takes us to the region of Kerala that he wrote about in his second book. This fascinating film brings the wisdom of all three of his books together as he tours an ancient region where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together in harmony, even sharing in some of their celebrations.  (To see the actual documentary on YouTube, go here)

 Celebrating the Examined Life (a book review)

I should note that the following review first appeared in Christian Ethics Today as a review of Fulfilling Heart & Soul: Meeting Psychological and Spiritual Needs with Conscience. The present work is a modified and expanded version of the earlier work. 

Fulfillment Using Real Conscience
Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness
By N.S. Xavier, M.D.
AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN   276 p

The unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates famously stated.  Dr. N. S. Xavier has a remedy. He has given us a delightful book which can serve as a primer for healthy examination leading to a full and meaningful life. I had an “aha moment” right from the beginning as I read the introduction of Fulfillment Using Real Conscience: Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness.  The author explains the difference between conscience and the superego. The conscience uses reason, fairness, and compassion in guiding the individual toward right thinking and right actions. The superego, on the other hand, is that inner guide that is shaped by family and society. There are times when the superego may actually be in conflict with the conscience if it arises from an unhealthy family or social system. Racism and fanaticism are two examples of unhealthy prompts from a superego shaped by unhealthy societal and religions traits.

Legalism vs. Compassion

The illumination continues with the opening chapter where Dr. Xavier demonstrates how Jesus helped others to get past their superego to make use of their conscience. In the case where some men brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus demanding that she be stoned, Jesus was able to calmly diffuse the situation to allow the men to cease from their unthinking legalistic reaction. He showed them how to use their conscience to bring fairness to the situation.

Dr. N. S. Xavier is from India and has practiced psychiatry in Birmingham for over 30 years. He writes from a deep understanding of religion and spirituality and presents a well-articulated view of healthy psychology. In Fulfillment Using Real Conscience, he draws upon examples from literature, various religious traditions, and historical figures as well as from his own experiences as a psychiatrist to illustrate healthy ways of meeting needs and finding fulfillment. We can gain insight from the likes of Lao-tze, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Boris Pasternak, Albert Camus, Jesus and the Buddha as we learn how to stop self-defeating habits and move toward a healthy identity.  There is also an intriguing story of the ancient king Asoka who reassessed his life and legacy.  King Asoka was able to transform himself and his society to one of equity and fairness by embracing Buddhism and its principles. 

A Practical Guide for Living

Writing with humor and clarity, the author provides us with a practical guide for using the conscience in making right choices and enjoying the healthy pleasures of life. We are given psychological insight that is accessible to the layperson in matters ranging from self-esteem, relationships, and sexuality to freedom and identity. Stick-on tabs may come in handy to mark particularly useful pages. There is a page that lists ways to improve self-esteem and another that lists traits of self-actualizing people. One chapter has a table that compares healthy guilt vs. unhealthy guilt and another table contrasts authentic individuality with egocentrism and dependency.  We are reminded also of the benefits of pleasure and the healthiness of laughter. For those interested in spiritual practice, an appendix includes introductory information on meditation and centering prayer.

There is advice in the book for integrating past experiences in beneficial ways rather than being trapped in unhealthy cycles. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience provides means for achieving forgiveness and reconciliation as well as methods for finding hope. The author consistently demonstrates how conscience can raise self-esteem in cases where the superego may be causing unhealthy guilt. Of course, professional help is recommended for anyone with issues or problems that are beyond the scope of self-examination.

For the Modern Spiritual Pilgrim

In the search for deeper meaning, there is guidance for those in religious traditions as well as for those who are more secular in their orientation. The modern spiritual pilgrim will find affirmation in the concept of using conscience to integrate scientific knowledge with spiritual life. Whether we are religious or secular in our orientation, we can live lives of superficiality or we can find a deeper purpose. Self-examination and conscience can help us to remove some of the spiritual and psychological defenses that often keep us from living at a deeper level.

Sigmund Freud gave us the concept of the superego. N.S. Xavier has liberated the conscience from the superego to give us method of examination for individual growth and societal development. He writes with a frankness and honesty not often seen in books on spirituality, and offers a practical application of spiritual values not always evident in self-help guides. We are shown how to better understand our own needs as well as others’ needs, and then how to go about meeting those needs in a healthy way. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience is a groundbreaking work of insight that will encourage the individual reader. It would also be a dynamic tool for small group study or for courses in counseling, ethics, or spirituality/religion.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Music: Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (André Rieu)

All are welcome, and everyone belongs! Sometimes Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is powerful because we are all "broken hallelujahs" celebrating life in the midst of joys as well as sorrows. Sometimes the song is powerful because we are all included, as André Rieu demonstrates here by including people with developmental disabilities in the orchestra. A beautiful sight in The Netherlands city of  Maastricht as all of the people in the audience join in as well, singing and swaying to the music.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Morning

Today's is a re-post from a four-part series of poems in 2014, "Paschal Triduum: A Personal Journey." "Easter Morning" was the third poem in the trilogy. To see the series from the beginning, go here.

< Holy Saturday

Paschal Triduum: A Personal Journey

Easter Morning

(A Song of John)

I can’t stay in there –
Not with all those bells ringing
And people singing.
I am sickened by mindless joy.

A walk along the beach will help.
There was no sleeping last night;
Things are cloudy and dim today –
Mist out upon the water
And fog in my mind.

There is a fire up ahead
Back from the shoreline.
Smoke rises beyond the knoll.
As I approach,
I see a man tending the fire.
Drawing nearer, I see who he is.
I saw him once before,
But later told myself it was a dream.
Now here he is again.
The fog in my head jolts for a second.

“Have some fish,”
The man says,
Taking some fresh catch off the fire.

“I can’t eat.”

“You need to eat,” the man urges.
“It will do your body good
     – maybe shake that fog out of your head.”

“I don’t know...”

“It will let you know you are not dreaming.”

I stop to take a small bite.
“So now they are calling you
The Luminous One,”
I say to my friend.

“Perhaps there is truth in that,”
He responds with a comforting smile.
“We all carry light.”

                                        ~ CK

*     *     *

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus…When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.” (John 21: 4, 9)

Photo: Kinnereth (Sea of Galilee), Israel
Credit: Zachi Evenor
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

< Holy Saturday


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday Haiku: First Sighting

spring sighting 
bee tending flower
heart tending soul


Photo by Tetra Images (Getty Images)


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Friends Writing Good Books: Taylor Field

Taylor Field
on the streets of New York
I met Taylor Field back in 1981 when we were both teaching at Hong Kong Baptist College (now Hong Kong Baptist University). He was in the Religion Department, and I was in the English Department. We were both in a two-year volunteer program called the Journeyman Program with the International Mission board of the SBC. Taylor took a very active role, both in the classroom and out, in guiding the young students as they prepared to launch out into their world to find meaningful careers.

Taylor has always been strong in academics as well as action. He came to Hong Kong after having received his master's degree from Princeton and having experience ministering in the inner city of New York. After leaving Hong Kong, he earned a Ph.D and went on to direct Graffiti Ministries in New York City's Lower East Side. His latest book, Upside Down Devotion, has a lot to do with action as well as contemplation. In fact, the subtitle of the book is, Extreme Action for a Remarkable God.

Here is the review I fist posted in June of 2014:

Taylor Field's Upside Down Devotion

Taylor Field has been ministering in New York City’s Lower East Side for almost 30 years at Graffiti Church. In his new book, Upside Down Devotion: Extreme Action for a Remarkable God, he brings a wealth of insight for anyone involved in any of the helping professions. This small volume is a delight to read, and in those pages, Taylor Field moves seamlessly back and forth from insights learned on the streets to insights from literary authors, philosophers, and biblical narratives. He handles the heart of a New Testament passage with just as much insight as he has for the heart of a marginalized person living on the streets. He speaks with straightforward wisdom that will be immediately accessible to readers from all walks of life.
Upside Down Devotion is not the first book authored by Taylor Field. He has written about his work in New York City in A Church Called Graffiti: Finding Grace on the Lower East Side (2001), and Mercy Streets: Seeing Grace on the Streets of New York (2003). Taylor Field has the education and the credentials to be a university professor or an uptown pastor, yet he has chosen to take his learning and his ministry to the inner city streets. In the interest of full disclosure, one reason I know about Taylor’s background and credentials is that we became friends back in 1981 when we were both teaching in Hong Kong. I came to know him as a man of great integrity and strong intellect as well as having a heart for service, and we have kept in touch through the years. It was indeed a pleasure to read this latest work of his and I was glad to be invited to review it.
Taylor Field brings a unique perspective to bear that measures success and effectiveness differently from what one usually sees in the many “how to” guides on the market today. It is from that vantage point of faith and ministry that he began his “Upside Down” series, beginning with Upside Down Leadership: Rethinking Influence and Success in 2012 and now with his latest, Upside Down Devotion. I would definitely put Upside Down Devotion on the list of inspirational books. It is one that those who are working with relief agencies, church ministries, or in social work will find inspiring and encouraging. It is also a book that will bring inspiration and enlightenment to anyone interested in deepening his or her own spiritual life. Taylor Field brings authenticity and balance to his presentation of spirituality and social outreach.
Drawing from the Old Testament prophets, Field shines a light on the true nature of worship and devotion. If a Sunday church service ever seems stale, boring, or out of touch to you, you might be surprised that it can make God downright sick and disgusted. That is what the Old Testament prophet Amos said, and that is how the first pages of Upside Down Devotion unfold. Throughout the book, the author gently guides the reader to a place of balance, where one’s worship and one’s service can come into alignment to allow for healthy authentic living. By reminding us of the liberating words found the words and actions of Jesus, and by sharing his own stories of service to people dealing with issues ranging from addiction to mental illness and homelessness, Taylor Field demonstrates the value of living according to principles. By sharing insights from such writers as Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Soren Kierkegaard, he shows us how to live a genuine life that may seem “upside down” to some but meaningful to the one who seeks to practice faith in the real world.   

Upside Down Devotion is a book that offers practical advice to inner city ministries, social workers, relief agencies, and church mission projects (check out the appendix for a handy “Short list of Community Ministry Rules” drawn from the author’s own experiences). It can be a valuable source of inspiration for individuals wanting to live out their faith by giving something back to the community. It is not everyday that one finds a book that brings scholarship and spirituality to the street level where it can be applied to daily life. Upside Down Devotion: Extreme Action for a Remarkable God is such a book.

Book Details:
Upside Down Devotion: Extreme Action for a Remarkable God
Author: Taylor Field
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: New Hope Publishers (April 7, 2014)
ISBN-10: 159669405X
ISBN-13: 978-1596694057
For more information, go to: http://www.newhopedigital.com/2014/02/upside-down-devotion/

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Crafting, the Cross, and Holy Week

On the day after Palm Sunday, I made some palm leaf crosses similar to the ones pictured here (I got the pic from Sermon on the Sidewalk blog). I went online and found a great YouTube guide for making them, as I had done last year. 

In the past, I found it to be a good remembrance of Holy Week and its message, as I kept the cross in the car throughout the year. This year, I made the crosses because I had to do something with my hands to calm the emotions I was feeling and to put my thoughts into perspective.

You see, the Palm Sunday service did an unexpected number on me. I don’t know why I say “unexpected” because Palm Sunday usually has a profound effect on me in some way. This year, though, I thought it would be different because I have not been especially attuned to the season until this week. Sometimes the beauty of church liturgy, whatever the season, is that it is there when you want to truly engage, but if you are not up for deep engagement, you can still take part in the rhythm of the service in a lighter, more peripheral manner. I thought this year would be one of those peripheral participations.

The Liturgy Drew Me In

So we processed into the church with palm branches, participated in a liturgical reading of the passion narrative from the Gospel of Matthew,  heard a brief homily, celebrated the Eucharist, and it was all very nice. I didn’t get all emotionally caught up in the rejoicing stage or in the “crucify him!” moment. It was all nice and pat. Then came the closing hymn, “Were You There?”

“Were You There?” has long been a powerful and moving song for me. It is one of those Negro Spirituals that has made its into many hymnals, Catholic and Protestant alike. It was not the first time I have had mixed emotions about Negro Spirituals, often noting their simple beauty that arose from such hardship. 

During Sunday's service, however, I glanced down at the bottom of the page and read the source of the song which was listed as from “Old Plantation Hymns.” The loaded term, plantation, was just too much to keep me on the periphery. I could not help thinking of the hardship inflicted upon the slaves by the plantation owners. I could not help thinking that when the slaves sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” they actually were there. They were there in a way that neither the plantation owners then  nor nice church people now  could realize. 

The institution of slavery was oppressing and “crucifying” people, not for our salvation, but so that they could have a bowl of sugar on their table, abundant crops in the field, and money in their coffers. How often does our society still oppress or take advantage of workers just so we can have goods in the market and food on the table? “Sometimes, it causes me to tremble…” 

Craft Time

I had to get still and quiet Sunday night after the service. I couldn’t just shake it off; I had to dwell with it for a while. Then with a new day come Monday, I needed another routine to put me into a productive rhythm. I knew if I let the morning be “craft time” the use of my hands to make things would get me grounded again. 

The other thing that helped my perspective was having just seen the BBC documentary, “How Art Made theWorld.” In one episode, it was pointed out how cultures around the world had used art to come to terms with people’s awareness that we will all face death. Many cultures have incorporated religious art that acknowledges death. One of the things that art can do is to find an object that acknowledges death and at the same tine provides comfort and hope. The Christian cross was given as an example of such a symbol.

So I busied my hands, steadied myself, and practiced an age-old art form whereby I could come to terms with death and celebrate life at the same time. There was also the factor that this was a fun thing to do, like so many projects we did as children. There is still the reality of suffering and death, but a little bit of art can give us courage to live. A day of crafts can give us a steady hand to work for change in the future. 


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Friends Writing Good Books: David Brazzeal

David Brazzeal
(photo from author's website)
Continuing my series highlighting friends who have written books, today's feature comes from my friend and former college classmate, David Brazzeal. David and his wife, Sanan, are currently missionaries in France. I say "missionary," because he is commissioned by the International Mission Board of the SBC, but he is more like an ambassador for the arts, having a unique outreach to the artistic community.

David's book is Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul. His writing, though easy to follow, reflects a deeper authenticity than one typically finds in popular spiritual/self-help writing. The note about the author on his book cover states, "his work is inspired by the synergy that exists between the spiritual and the creative. He loves nudging those who are creative toward deeper spirituality and those who are spiritual toward heightened creativity."

The following is my review of his book which was originally posted in April of 2015. You can also follow David's blog at http://davidbrazzeal.com/.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have known David Brazzeal, the author of Pray Like a Gourmet, since we were freshmen in college. I have also followed along on his blogsite of the same name and have participated in some of the activities and dialogue on that site. Also, it was my privilege to attend one of his prayer workshops (which he calls “prayer tastings”) where he elaborated upon his concepts of prayer. The workshop was done in the context of a shared meal to emphasize the “gourmet” aspects of his approach to prayer. In addition to food and instruction, there was music, interactive participation, and periods of quiet meditation. When David asked me to review his book, I was happy to do so and he sent me an advance copy to review. That being said, I must also say that Pray Like a Gourmet is one of the most complete and accessible volumes on prayer that I have read.

David Brazzeal shares some of
his "prayer recipes"
Beautifully illustrated, the book is organized in an intuitive manner that would make the book a wonderful guide for small group study or for individual practice. What struck me is how the author expands the notion of prayer and offers the reader a prayer guide that is borne out of his own deep longing for a more real and meaningful connection with God.

Just as a good meal will offer a full range to the palate from light to heavy,  from savory to sweet, Pray Like a Gourmet encourages the reader to experience a wide range of prayer practices. Brazzeal offers a number of “prayer recipes” from his own experiences. He describes many simple prayer activities designed to help one break out of his or her prayer-time rut. Throughout the process, the author encourages the reader to live with gratitude and to take note of the world in which we live. One example is his “Slice of life” prayer practice:

Take just one “slice” of your life—focus on a moment of transition, of confusion, of illness, of inspiration, of transcendence. Then begin to “thank” your way through all the details: the people, the events, the decisions involved at that crucial time. Feel free to express your gratitude however you feel at the moment: say it, sing it, draw it, write it, walk it, or eat it . . . the more variety, the better (and the more interesting).

Brazzeal advocates a number of different ways to practice prayer and meditation such as walking through the park and taking note of the people you see, doing a “museum meditation” at the local museum of art, or a “forest walk” to nurture a sense of wonder, praise, and gratitude.

A "prayer tasting" workshop led by the author of Pray Like a Gourmet

A quick glance at the Table of Contents will show the reader something of the range of prayer practices that the author presents: praising, thanking, confessing, blessing, observing, meditating, asking, interceding, etc. He even includes an important section on lamenting. Here the author very skillfully guides the reader in how to bring our sorrows and losses before God. The lament is a form of prayer we can find in scripture, but it is often not covered in your typical religious instruction.  It is certainly not addressed enough within the context of prayer and it is one more indication of the book’s authenticity – that it is not just the “nice and lovely” that we include in our prayers to God. Moreover, as the author points out very early on in the book, prayer is not just a matter of asking for things.

Having been to one of David Brazzeal’s Prayer Tastings, and now having read his book, I can heartily recommend Pray Like a Gourmet for individual or group study. The book also comes highly recommended by others who have previewed it, such as this quote from Brian McLaren: 

If I were a beginning cook, I would want a guide who was experienced, flexible, enthusiastic, and sensitive to the questions and insecurities of an absolute beginner. And if I were a beginner in prayer, I would want David Brazzeal to be my teacher. Even as someone who has prayed for most of my life, I found PRAY LIKE A GOURMET to be nourishing, delicious, and delightful.  

  Author: David Brazzeal
  Paperback: 192 pages
  Publisher: Paraclete Press (April 28, 2015)
  Language: English
  Price: $18.99
  ISBN-10: 1612616275
  ISBN-13: 978-1612616278
  Product Dimensions: 7 x 8.5 inches

About the Author

David and his wife, Sanan
David Brazzeal makes his home in France where he enjoys warm baguettes from the boulangerie and fresh cheese from the marché. Since 1986 alongside his wife Sanan, David has worked with the International Mission Board in Brazil, Guadeloupe, Québec and France, playing a leading role in five innovative new churches. Whether writing poetry, creating guerrilla labyrinths, or electro-meditative music, his work is inspired by the synergy that exists between the spiritual and the creative. He loves nudging those who are creative toward deeper spirituality and those who are spiritual toward heightened creativity.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday Music: As the Ruin Falls (Phill Keaggy)

When I was in college back in the 1970s, I heard Phil Keaggy's song which set to music C.S. Lewis's poem, "As the Ruin Falls." Being C.S. Lewis, the words gave more depth than your typical Contemporary Christian music that was just emerging at the time. Scroll down to see the lyrics. If you really want the full depth of Lewis's poem, read his novel Till We Have Faces. This song is a good meditation for Holy Week.

As the Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love --a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

                                                    ~ Clive Staples Lewis


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Unbound Journey

looking from the pier
the mind steps into the mist –
an unbound journey


Photo by Christopher Wesser (Getty Images)


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Friends Writing Good Books: Lida Inge Hill

Journal of a Cottage Garden

Lida Hill with copies of her book
I met Lida Hill at the SPAFER RoadHouse study group that meets once a month (the group currently meets at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Cahaba Heights at 10:00 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month). I was surprised to learn last summer that she had a book about to hit the press. The book, Journal of a Cottage Garden, is a beautiful work that combines her artistic talents in water colors with her love of gardening. One learns quite quickly that she has a preference for native plants over more exotic varieties.

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens blog featured Lida and her book last September. In that article she states,

Having taken a course, "Journaling with Pen and Watercolor," I decided to create a journal showing the trees and shrubs in my yard. In it I would distinguish between the native and non-natives. I wanted to have a conversation starter to share my new passion. Of course the only way to include names and text in a blank, spiral, watercolor journal was to use my own handwriting/printing. People who saw it convinced me to publish it. Now that the one book has become many, I have a larger audience. As I write and give programs, I share my enthusiasm with even more people.  

A page from her journal

From the author's promotional statement:

Lida Hill’s passion for native plants inspired the journey from personal journal for family and friends to published journal for an unlimited audience. “Journal of a Cottage Garden” is a watercolor journal in the artist’s own handwriting featuring familiar trees and shrubs found in many Southern gardens. With homespun humor, Lida gives facts, personal comments and Latin and common names of 30 plants she shares her home with. Identifying which ones are native, she writes about the value for our environment of the natives over non-natives often noting the invasive ones.

A Gardener's Inspiration

I was given a copy of Ms. Hill's book after working with her on a photo shoot to help her get a shot for her book cover. My wife especially loved the layout of the book and the information that the author shares. We live in a cottage on a corner lot, and my wife has directed me in many landscaping and planting endeavors. Lida's book provides a "blueprint" so to speak, of her own landscaping at her lovely cottage. She then has page after page written in her own hand and illustrated with her own water color paintings of plants from her yard.

Signed copies of Journal of a Cottage Garden can be purchased in Birmingham, AL at The Dandelion, Crestline Pharmacy, Leaf and Petal at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Little Hardware and the Birmingham Museum of Art. It is also available at the Goat Hill Museum Gift Shop and Old Alabama Town in Montgomery as well as shops in upstate New York. Personalized signatures can be ordered through dawntoduskpress@gmail.com.

Another example of the author's work

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Friends Writing Good Books: Rick Watson

Life Changes: Enjoy the Ride

Rick Watson
(Photo from author's website)
I met Rick Watson a few years back at the Alabama Writer's Conclave. I found out that he was a blogger, which interested me because I had just begun my Not Dark Yet blog about six months before. Rick's wife Jilda also blogs, so we all got more acquainted, following each other's blogs. I soon found out that Rick grew up in West Jefferson where my wife grew up, and that he has a home spun manner about the stories he tells. He writes a weekly column for The Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, Alabama and has had articles featured in other newspapers in the region, including 280 Living, The Tannehill Trader, and 78 Magazine. Rick also does freelance writing for Village Living in Mountain Brook, The Hoover Sun, and The Homewood Star.

Life Changes: Just Breathe, is a collection of some of his best columns, and it is actually his third collection of essays. When Life Changes was about to hit the press, Rick asked me to read it and write a brief review for the back cover. Here is what I wrote as it appears on the back cover:

One of the best things about this delightful collection of essays is that Rick Watson shows us the value of an examined life. My guess is that you will relate immediately to the brief episodes that Rick shares in Life Changes. It doesn’t take long to read one, and then you’re hooked on reading the next. He may be driving down the road, sitting in the kitchen, or sitting on an old five-gallon paint can by the barn. Wherever he goes, he takes the time to reflect on life. Thankfully, he has shared those reflections with us. You’ll find something for every season of the year and every season of life in these pages. ~ Charles Kinnaird 

Rick has a page at Amazon which features all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Rick-Watson/e/B001KDX1DE/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

If you would like an autographed copy, he will gladly accommodate you if you go to his personal blog site, Life 101 at http://www.rickwatson-writer.com/p/books.html                                                                                                                                                       ~ 

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday Music: A Day in the Life

"I read the news today, oh boy..."

It was in the news last week: we lost another music legend when George Martin died. Without Sir George Martin, The Beatles would not have become The Beatles as we knew them. Perhaps they would have been just another boy band writing songs that appealed to 12 to 14 year-old girls. Then again, George Martin might not have become the producer her was without the Fab Four. When Martin signed The Beatles on in 1962, the creative combination rocked the world. Enjoy the video below of "a Day in the Life" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, followed by a brief news feature from the Wall Street Journal on the life of George Martin.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spirituality is Relational

My orientation, and my bias, is toward spiritual practice and ecumenical dialogue. This week has been a roller coaster ride in seeing the good and the bad. In all of it it I was reminded that any meaningful and authentic life is one lived in relationship with others and that any spirituality will likewise be relational. 

Here are the three "events" for me over the past week.  

I.                 Reporting a Culture of Abuse

On Monday, I read more about the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church. You have probably heard of the film, Spotlight, "The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core." I have heard good things about the movie, though I haven't seen it yet. Our local diocesan newspaper, One Voice, which is rather conservative, ran an article about the film. The title of the article was, “Spotlight is not anti-Catholic, Vatican newspaper says.”  On the same page they ran another news item about yet more sexual abuse at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania. Both articles were from the Catholic News Service.

 The article about Spotlight observed:

"it is now clear that too many in the church were more worried about the image of the institution than the seriousness of the act."

"All of this cannot justify the very grave crime of one, who as a representative of God, uses this prestige and authority to take advantage of the innocent," the article said.

The film, in fact, shows the kind of devastation wrought on victims when "they don't even have a God to plead with anymore, to ask for help," it said.

The second article related to a case in Altoona, Pennsylvania, “Report:Priests abused hundreds of kids in Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.” The opening lines reported:

Hundreds of children were sexually abused over at least 40 years by priests and other religious leaders in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, a statewide grand jury found.

At least 50 priests or religious leaders were involved in the abuse and diocesan leaders systematically concealed the abuse to protect the church's image, according to a grand jury report released March 1 by Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.

Even after at least 15 years of increasing awareness of the scandal, as a Catholic convert, I find it shocking and incredible that what I can only call "a culture of abuse" has existed within the church. Even with the distressing news of new allegations in Pennsylvania, I see it as a sign of hope that it is being reported rather than ignored in our diocesan paper. A tenuous hope, some may say, but I must also acknowledge the positive aspects of our community of faith. At least more of our society is aware of the problem which hopefully will lead to better protection of our children. (To read a poem I wrote on the subject in 2002, “Slowly God Arises,” go here)

II.             Responding to A Culture of Hate

Being Muslim in Alabama panel discussion
(Photo from Over the Mountain Democrats Facebook page)

On Wednesday night of last week I went to a forum at the Vestavia Library, "Being Muslim in Alabama." The event was billed as “a discussion with Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center; Khaula Hadeed, Executive Director of the Alabama Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations; Ashfaq Taufique, President of the Birmingham Islamic Society. Today's polarized political climate calls for reasonable dialog and sincere effort from each of us to better understand the rich, varied fabric of American society and all the members of  the U.S. culture that never stands still. Come learn more about Alabamian Islamic relations and ways we can better understand one another as we work to make a better community for us all.”

Potok shared some statistics involving hate crime and hate speech. He pointed out that following 9/11, hate crimes actually went down until 2010 when specifically anti-Muslim groups began to appear. In 2014, other hate crimes went down while anti-Muslim hate crimes went up. We began to see ginned up issues and conspiracy theories geared toward inciting fear and hate.

Khaula Hadeed and Ashfaq Taufique shared a bit of what it is like being Muslim and living in Alabama. We heard some informative discussion, yet with the polarization and the reactionary political environment we are witnessing today, solutions are not easy. One of the most salient bits of advice offered was that we should simply get to know someone of the Islamic faith. Have a meal with them, Mr. Taufique said. It is difficult to hate someone you have shared a meal with. He added that he gives this same advice to people in the Islamic community regarding getting acquainted with others. “It will not diminish your faith, he tells his colleagues, “to get to know your non-Islamic neighbors.”

The most encouraging thing for me was not in any answers (there are no easy or simple ones), but the encouraging thing was that the auditorium was filled to capacity with citizens who are concerned about making a difference.

III.         Mindfulness in Our Spiritual Practice

(Photo from Jim Burklo's website)

On Friday morning I read Jim Burklo's blog on “Prayer and Mindfulness” which highlights the relational aspect of spiritual practice in terms of self and others as well as self and Other (i.e. “God”).  

In my own experience, the best thing I can do for my friends is to listen to them.  If I’m doing too much of the talking, then I’m not adequately listening.  And when I listen, I do best if I really listen: just be present in silence and give my friend my full, compassionate, truly interested attention. . .  Mindful prayer is being God’s friend, and letting God be a friend to us:  simply being, attentively, with each other’s’ being.

Spiritual practice is indeed an endeavor that involves listening, waiting, and paying attention. With all of the reminders this week of betrayal of trust in the church and words of hate in the public square, it was good to be reminded of the need to push the personal “reset button” by spending time in meditation and to practice mindful prayer.

Jim Burklo's blog, Musings, is on the Progressive Christianity website and can be found at  http://tcpc.blogs.com/musings/.

There you have my Monday - Wednesday - Friday summary of the week past. Now on to the week ahead.

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