The Difference Between Faith and Belief

SpiderWeb BySandy

I can pretty much trace my initial religious awakening to the fact that my (Catholic) dad married my (Lutheran) mom in defiance of Catholic precepts at the time that forthrightly declared only Catholics could enter heaven. (This view was actually restated by the recent Pope Benedict as late as 2007, though his successor has been sounding a far softer tone.)

When I was in third or fourth grade listening to the priest’s lecture on this matter in a religious education class, I thought of my kindly mom at home, denied entrance to heaven with us because she was reared in a different faith tradition.

This was such self-evident poppycock that I remember being not so much offended or outraged as I was dismissive.

The thought did not escape me that if the padre and his faith could be so blindingly wrong on such a simple and obvious matter…

Believing in a heaven where my mother was denied entrance required suspension of every shred of rationality and native reason my mere 8-year-old brain wa...

Read More

Robert Ingersoll’s Eulogy of Walt Whitman


One of the happy occurrences of blogging is all the tangential roads one comes to in researching a particular topic—and the pleasurable travels down that road as one discovers and delights in the new and unexpected.

And so it has been this week as my intermittent meanderings down a road exploring “faith” led me, link by blessed link (truly, this is a chain that liberates rather than confines) to the wholly new knowledge that two of my favorite literary figures, Walt Whitman and Robert Ingersoll, were not only good friends but that Ingersoll, one of the renowned orators of his or any other time, actually delivered the eulogy at Whitman’s funeral in 1892.

And that it was duly transcribed and preserved for posterity and is now freely available on the Internet as the intellectual feast and profound artistic homage that it is, one great and expansive mind consorting with another in a sacred ritual of reverence and honor.

One that I am now going to very happily share with you.


Read More

Reflections on the Guru Syndrome

CountryLane ByNickKenrick

There was trepidation in my church when our minister’s contracted sabbatical came due after his first seven years with us and it was time to prepare for (and worry about) his forthcoming six months’ absence. He’s a beloved and charismatic figure, and there was more than a little concern we’d flounder around a bit without him, becoming less lively, losing our sheen, misplacing our mojo.

As it turned out, our concern was overblown. Unfounded, even. The organization hummed along, congregants filled in where needed, we snagged a talented part-time sabbatical minister to help manage the rest, and suddenly six months have gone by, with not one casualty or lost wandering soul among us (near as I can tell) who is bereft and woeful pending Chris’s return.

Oh, we’ll welcome him back heartily enough, and the joy will be genuine...

Read More

We Are All Guilty

PearlsBy TheenMoy

My online pal Amy Morgenstern over at Sermons in Stones had a brief blog post recently in which she asked, “…Is there a special place in hell for people who spend $425 on a lace t-shirt in a world where they could use that money to feed a hungry family for a month? And if so, am I going there too for spending $65 on a jacket?”

It’s a great couple of questions, and in my response to her I indicated that I had long had a blog post in mind addressing them, with the headline as you see it at the top of this page. She said she would read that post if I wrote it, so Amy, this one’s for you. (And for anyone else who has pondered these same questions, which I am going to guess is everyone who peruses this site.)

Unfortunately, the issue is not only $425 t-shirts and other forms of conspicuous consumption by what is commonly regarded as the 1% in this country...

Read More

Second Annual “Songs of Summer”


One of the benefits of persisting with a blog for more than a year is you get to start riffing on “Second Annual” versions of this or that post. And being as how we have arrived at the summer solstice once again (when we need remind ourselves to rejoice in the light rather than lamenting, “Oh dear, now the days start to get shorter!”), I’ll keep the verbiage brief here and offer up another round of songs reflecting this most languid of seasons.

Poet Mary Oliver’s conclusion to her classic The Summer Day is put forth year-round as a stock-taking question, meant to challenge the passions that are perhaps dormant inside us: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”

Worth pondering, but one part of the answer is easy, because this summer day and every day should include, if we know what is good and healthy and spiritually uplifting for us, an emphatic, “Definitely listen to some music!”



Yep, it was 48 years ago when this classic tore th...

Read More

Is It At All Helpful to Call Governor Rick Perry An Idiot?

GayFlag ByJeffAdair

Apologies for the long strange headline above, but it descended on me in the midst of a run, charging up a hill, fuming, while wondering what to do about the Rick Perrys of the world.

Outgoing Texas Governor Perry, as you probably have heard by now amidst all the other mayhem and head-shaking absurdities of the daily headlines, responded to a question after an address at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco earlier this week about whether he thought homosexuality is a “disorder” with this nugget:

“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that. I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

So there you have it: a remarkable response in all ways—for its ignorance, its small-mindedness, its complete refutation of actual knowledge rather than breezy moralistic opinion...

Read More

Why Does Anyone Go to Church?

ChurchByBrenda Anderson

I am a churchgoer, and though I have made many friends within my church community over the 10 years of my membership, outside of that community very few of my other friends and acquaintances from a now long life step inside a church with any more regularity than is required by an occasional invitation to a wedding or memorial service.

So do I consider these non-churchgoing people’s souls to be in some kind of danger, their lives somehow less capable of experiencing the fullness of love and charity, grace and communion and exultation?

No, I don’t. Not one whit or bit.

Salvation, such as it is, comes in nearly infinite forms of expression and experience. If hell is the ultimate destination for non-churchgoers, God’s minions are going to have to carve out a very large cavern.

So then why does anyone go to church?

Why do I?

I was talking with a couple of mainline Protestant minister friends of mine not too long ago who doubted whether the respective churches they serve would even sur...

Read More

The Fallacy of Second Amendment Absolutism

ColumbineBy DonSutherland

There has been another shooting…

The names and locales and exact number of victims begin to intermingle and fade into each other over time as a wearying sequence of outrage, grief and calls to do something give way to a series of volleys that see the left and right political flanks in our country dig deeper into their respective trenches of outrage tinged with near despair on the left and dismissive, gun rights absolutism on the right.

“When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness!’? Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, ‘Not one more!’”

That’s Richard Martinez, father of one of the six victims left dead at only the most recent carnage last weekend at UC Santa Barbara.

“As harsh as this sounds—your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

That’s “Joe the Plumber,” a supposed American “everyman” who catapulted into the media spotlight when he took on then-candidate Obama at a 2008 campaign stop, parlaying that enco...

Read More

The Best Anti-War Song Ever

ArlingtonCemetery ByTreyRatcliff

The best anti-war song ever written actually began its life as a poem. But like most fine poems, it contained an abundance of musical elements and concrete, vivid imagery. So much so that folk singer John Gorka readily saw the opportunity to turn it into a haunting, masterful song, so plaintive and quietly anguished that it throws off the power of its anti-war outrage under the cloak of a mother’s muffled sobs.

“Let them in, Peter,” implores the first line, and we immediately know which “Peter” the poet Elma Dean was referring to in the dark days of 1942, when the war was going very badly in post-Pearl Harbor America. This is the Peter who does not need a last name. The sentence finishes: “…they  are very tired.”

And the next lines:

      Give them couches where the angels sleep, and light those fires
      Let them wake whole again, to brand new dawns
      Fired by the sun, not wartime’s bloody guns

The poem/song is all of 15 lines, and the focus is loss...

Read More

A Sermon on “Fiction and the Religious Imagination”

BookStack Cropped

Once a year or so, I’ll fill the pulpit for a lay-led service at my home church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Santa Rosa. Today was one those days, with the sermon title as noted above.

Oh, what a long, strange and compelling story humanity has written for itself over the eons! Some of this story is reflected in our history books—especially those weighty tomes that tend to sit on our shelves for decades collecting heavy carpets of dust. Under the dust, we can barely make out grandiose titles like The Story of Man…or Civilization. Or, if you want to get more micro about it:  Copper Crucible: How the Arizona Miners’ Strike of 1983 Recast Labor-Management Relations in America.

But there is another class of stories within the narrative of history. Another way of telling humanity’s tale. Rather than focusing on external events—who, what, when, where, why?—this way focuses on internal events, the ones that take place in the human heart.

It is the story of our interior...

Read More