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Panentheism – Nope… it’s not a spelling mistake…

Over at Earthpages.ca I’ve been doing some heavy duty revising. It’s my way of being a scholar and journalist at the same time. If only I got paid for it!

Oh well, better to try to do the right thing than to peddle products in the name of God. So many ‘squeaky clean’ Christians do that and, frankly, it turns me off big time.

For me, washing the inside of the cup is far more important than washing the outside (Matthew 23:26). Keeping both sides clean is best. But given a choice, the inside is what counts most.

What does this mean?

Usually when I hear Catholic homilies about this teaching they seem to fall short. Catholicism is great but, let’s face it, there’s a lot of worldliness too.

Some people gloss over it. Others repress it. But it’s there. I guess that’s why I’m not a priest or a monk. I would have liked to have been. But it’s just too much polishing up the outside while ignoring the inside.

Familiar patterns may be necessary. But they can also be used as a crutch to prevent real change. Inner change. Reel off the printed prayers, go to confession, give the ‘offering,’ and you get to heaven!

Hmm. I’m not convinced.

As any priest or preacher worth their salt will emphasize, what matters most is internal change. We have to dig deep into our own faults and not dismiss them as “weakness” but, rather, work toward eradicating them. Not easy. And it takes time. But anything else is just whitewash.

But I digress. My intent here is to introduce another entry about different ways people conceptualize God. Panentheism is not a spelling mistake. It’s just another variety in the endless chain of trying to make sense of something far bigger than ourselves.

 Why it was once unthinkable for a US president to be seen with the Pope(businessinsider.com)

 Gay Catholic sitcom The Real O’Neals got cancelled and homophobes are overjoyed (pinknews.co.uk)

 Chris Selley: Saskatchewan ruling on Catholic schools could be historic – if it holds up (news.nationalpost.com)

 Why hasn’t there been a Catholic President since JFK? (irishcentral.com)

 There’s literally a startup accelerator at the Vatican now (mashable.com)

 Pope names cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain, El Salvador (japantimes.co.jp)

 Stephen Colbert won in another debate about the existence of God with Ricky Gervais (businessinsider.com)

 Ondo CAN Preaches Religious Tolerance Among Nigerians (sundiatapost.com)


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Grappling with God

Over at Earthpages.ca I’m revising a list of terms that describe God differently.

So many people are instantly turned off by the “G” word. But unlike Stephen Colbert’s representation (ha ha), he’s not necessarily an old white man with grey beard!

Image via RawStory.com

The above tweet points to the first in a series of nuanced definitions that will appear over the next little while.


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Sacrifice, Service and “The Holy Helper”

Today’s tweeted story got me thinking about sacrifice and service.

So many people find themselves in situations where they feel called to make sacrifices. If this truly is a call from God, then it’s a beautiful thing that usually bears fruit in unexpected ways.

But there might be another type of person who plays the role of the holy person when really, they’re not that holy.

A while ago I wrote that I hadn’t been to Mass over the frantic Easter season, and that I might never go again. Well, that didn’t last very long. And I’m glad it didn’t. Yesterday I visited one of my favorite downtown Cathedrals and saw a person who, in my opinion, is fairly spiritual but also playing the role of “The Holy Helper.”

The Holy Helper brags about being a saint and how people, even strangers, ask for her prayers. But she seems to have a dark side. An unresolved dark side.

Some months ago at another parish The Holy Helper began swearing obscenities at an Asian lady seated in front of me. The Asian lady was calm but also a bit startled. She turned her gaze toward me as if to ask, what the heck is going on here?

I’ve known The Holy Helper for over a decade and have watched her become progressively strange. After cursing the Asian lady the HH began talking to me as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t endorse her behavior by ignoring it, and gently suggested that swearing at others in public is not a good thing.

Then I tried to tell her that I went through a challenging phase in my own spiritual development. I never swore at people in public, but was trying to help by sharing my own story.

Before I could get my words out, The Holy Helper became angry and indignant. She knew it all and I didn’t understand. I suggested she seek professional help. Moments later she started swearing at me. “You are a F***** Loser!” she yelled.

I was shocked and somewhat traumatized afterward. Fortunately another person gently ushered her out of the Church.

Yesterday the Holy Helper was back at the Cathedral. It’s sort of frightening when I see her. She hasn’t apologized so I don’t know if she’ll start swearing again. Maybe she’s gone even further over the edge and will assault me physically.

A sign that designates no swearing in a city.

A sign that designates no swearing in a city – Wikipedia

I doubt it but am not sure.

Keeping my phone set to “video” gave me some confidence. Afterward I wondered what I would do if I captured her on camera swearing at me or someone else.

Would I report her or just let it go again?

I feel that if someone is roaming around verbally abusing people, they should not be allowed to persist. They need help. And if they’re not going to get it themselves then some kind of intervention might be in order.

Why do I tell this story?

Well, partly because I’m somewhat annoyed. When I go to church I don’t want to have to deal with borderline personalities. I just want to pray and feel close to God.

I also feel that The Holy Helper is a great example of someone identifying with the role of being a sacrificial saint without giving due attention to her own issues. Hence, a lingering shadow of resentment builds up. A shadow that comes out in abusive ways.

Anyone could all fall into this kind of mindset if they are not honest with themselves. We’ve all heard stories of nuns slapping even burning children in their care, priests molesting kids, and so on.

Repression is a nasty thing.

On the other hand, sacrifice can be beautiful but only when in line with God’s will. Everything else is probably based on some kind of psychological compensation. Compensation means we play up real or imagined personality traits that make us feel superior because underneath, we feel inferior.

That’s not true spirituality. And if left unchecked, a subconscious sense of inferiority can unexpectedly flip into its opposite.

That’s when the innocent have to run for cover.


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All you need is love… and maybe a little wisdom

This morning I replied to a Tweet that said the important question is whether a person is “alive” before death.

I suggested that it might be more fruitful to talk about being “awake” before death because to imply that someone isn’t alive – i.e. dead – seems a bit judgmental and final.

“Awake” and “asleep” are softer terms than “alive” and “dead.” And rarely do strong proclamations or insinuations do any good in helping ourselves and others.

So afterward, I walk to my local parish. And funnily enough the theme (and wording) for today’s Mass was about the soul not dying!

It made me think…

What did Jesus really say? The Bible has so many additions, glosses, translations, contexts, versions, and deletions that sometimes we can’t be sure. Even scholars and linguists quibble over the precise meaning of biblical terms (probably partly why I never bothered to learn Hebrew and Greek).

Dead Awake

Dead Awake (Photo: Wikipedia)

After a short while I came to the tentative conclusion that we’re all different and have unique roles to play in the grand scheme of things. So even someone who seems spiritually “dead” could be doing something vital. And even someone who seems spiritually “alive” could be out to lunch on other important issues.

Instead of a “this or that” approach, I think it’s more realistic to view people as complex, evolving creations. This involves a multi-dimensional or, if you like, a multi-factorial model of consciousness instead of a binary one.

With a multi-model we would be less inclined to judge and more open to finding out the inherent strengths in others. And more importantly, we might be better disposed to love, even if the “dead” or “sleepers” irritate or harm us.

Now let me be clear. I’m not talking about being a doormat. Nor am I suggesting we don’t defend ourselves or speak out against perceived injustices. I’m just talking about making practical instead of ultimate judgments.

For sure, I steer clear of people if I have reason to believe they’re borderline and possibly violent. You get people like that in big city churches. But I don’t hate them. And I don’t think they’re hell bound or simply going to disappear at death.

Loving people who have insulted or hurt us is not always easy. It might take a while to work through our own resentment. But I find that choosing to love usually works best for everyone, provided it’s done with discernment.

Discernment is a Catholic term with two related meanings. On the one hand it means finding out God’s will for us. On the other hand, discernment is learning to recognize the good and evil influences acting on our souls. Like anything, sincere seekers tend to get better at this over time.

So what will you choose?

Related articles

 We gather together to share our faith (helpfulinspirationalblog.wordpress.com)

 Sermon: It Finally Happened, Acts 2 (grantspasschurchofchrist.com)

 Be a Good Steward (danpolecheck.info)

 New Bible Study, “Dynamic Studies in Hebrews” by Fred Scheeren, Helps Readers Who Long to Live a Life More Pleasing to God (prweb.com)

 6th Sunday of the Year: Choosing the Lord with all our heart (studyprayserve.com)

 We Were Made For Something Greater (faithandfootsteps.wordpress.com)

 God Hates Pride (challies.com)

 We’ve handed over Buhari’s death wishers to God – Community leader (vanguardngr.com)

 Overcoming Your Fear of Death (pakalertpress.com)

 Scripture Verse Of The Week ‘Philipians4 Verse 4’ (mylordmyfriend.com)


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EP Today – When teachers get creepy

eptoday-copyWay back, when Earthpages was a website instead of a blog, the main page had a feature called “EP Today.” Some of my early web pals might remember this.

I’ve decided to go back to that name for commenting on current news and general interest stories.

So here it is. Our first reinstallment of EP Today!

Today I’d like to briefly touch on the (imo) silly idea of the perfected being. The more I get into the spiritual life the more I recognize the importance of humility. Also, to think that someone is more evolved or pure than another may carry potential dangers. Some gurus and charismatic figures can really disrupt family relations.

I remember living in a small town about 100 miles out from Toronto. A group of local devotees would drive every weekend, abandoning their spouses and children, to be with a high profile NYC guru. That’s a pretty long drive to make every weekend!

At a gathering designed to welcome and orient potentially new disciples, some devotees’ family members showed up and openly spoke out. They said the guru was stealing the hearts and minds of their loved ones. I was surprised. The concerned family members seemed almost angry. And I must admit, back then at my young age, I leaned toward the side of the devotees whose manner suggested that their families just didn’t quite get it. They weren’t enlightened enough to understand…

But about 25 years later, I can empathize with the complaining family’s perspective. Imagine if your wife or mom was rushing off every weekend to be with a NYC guru? Wouldn’t you be a bit concerned? I would.

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The difficulty, as I see it, is this:

Most gurus claiming to be perfect often emanate some kind of soupy, numinous power. It’s not clear like the Holy Spirit. But it’s still there. A buzz, if you will. And sensitive but naive followers pick up on that buzz and are impressed. They’ve never encountered numinosity (spiritual power) before. Or perhaps they’ve never experienced anything better. So they believe, mistakenly, I’d say, that the guru’s ‘light’ is ultimate.

To me, true spirituality isn’t hero worship or getting spiritually drunk or stoned. Instead, it involves realizing that we carry each other, and on many levels. Healthy spirituality is not a one-way street with some pampered, contented teacher at the top, supposedly raising up disciplines who are far beneath them. No. The dynamic is multidirectional. And anyone who says otherwise is probably naive or, if they’re squatted at the top of an unhealthy guru-disciple relationship, an egotist and possibly a mind-abuser.

So many sham gurus and questionable spiritual leaders seem like bullfrogs posing as kings and queens. They rule from tiny little mudponds, like that creepy turtle in Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle. And until an oppressed turtle speaks up, the kingpin or Queen Bee will keep scamming cash and mental energy from the gullible and inexperienced below.

Would anyone in their right mind really want to have anything to do with that?

 People Theorize What It Would Be Like If Dr. Seuss Wrote Erotic Novels and Now Our Childhoods are Ruined (cheezburger.com)

 Health and Technology (forwardthinking.ashford.edu)


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Seekers’ reality check – We all need one

Looking back on my life I see a funny dynamic. Many times I thought I’d found “the answer,” either through a partner, a job, a scholarship, a religious affiliation. And usually when I have found the apparent “answer” I’ve become a bit full of myself and maybe overly enthusiastic about my new path. God and life, however, have this way of auto-correcting. Stuff happens… and what a great way to regain humility.

Deep thought

Deep thought (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I’m thinking it’s nice that I don’t take myself as seriously as I once did. Yes, if someone steps on my toes I will still let them know. I don’t believe God wants us to be doormats.

But at the same time, getting older means that I can appreciate all the twists and turns my life has taken, and just as importantly, how everyone else is just as “valid” as me. Are just as valid as me? Whatever. I don’t feel like checking out Grammar Girl right now. 🙂

The tweeted article spells out some of the reflections I’ve had over the past few years in this area. I think it does a good job.


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Crisis what Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you might recognize the header for this post as coming from an album by the classic rock band, Supertramp.

The album cover captured, like the best of Supertramp, the irony and alienation of the 1970s. True, the 70s had a fun and optimistic side. But there was also this nagging sense that the world was messed up and there was no turning back.

Pollution, social problems and spiritual angst are nothing new. They’ve been with us in various forms throughout history.

For me, the best approach is to try to understand our somewhat tarnished world and to not judge. The only person I can really judge is myself. And I suspect that God’s standards and expectations differ from person to person.

All fine and dandy. But as Archbishop Sheen suggests, if we just go on blindly ignoring problems, how will the world ever get better?

And this is the crux of the matter. Where should the Christian dictum of do not judge end and the modern idea of social responsibility begin?

Again, each must find his or her own solution. Some of us pray. Some of us write. And some do a bit of both.