God 4.0 or God 5.0 – Which One Is Yours?

Going through my emails this morning, I came across an article from CNN titled “Denmark plans to isolate ‘unwanted’ migrants on remote island.” The uninhabited island was once used for contagious animals. These unwanted migrants have “tolerated stay” status and include those who cannot be deported because their lives would be threatened, those who are set to be deported due to criminal activity or national security reasons, and those convicted of breaking certain laws.

Inger Støjberg, the Danish Immigration minister, stated on Facebook that certain people “are unwanted…” and “When you are unwanted in Danish society, you should not be a nuisance for regular Danes…” Martin Henriksen, DPP immigration spokesperson, has said “We are doing what we believe is in the best interest of Danes, and if it comes down to choosing whose interest to protect — then we will take care of our own first…”

Those in American who believe in the slogan “America first” and see tear-gassing and separating children from parents as legitimate ways to deal with migrants seeking asylum in our country may applaud the efforts of the Danish to “protect” their citizens from undesirables. Many of these Americans identify as Christians (often as Evangelical Christians) and see migrants and other people who are “different” as a danger to American and Christian ways and values. Other Christians who disagree with this perspective cite the Bible as advocating caring for the stranger and extending radical hospitality to all people. Who is right?

Brian McLaren in his book The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian offers a way to see these two conflicting viewpoints. Chapter 5 of the book defines five concepts of God:

  • God 1.0 is a primal trust in a God who takes care of you, as an infant sees their parents as there to satisfy their needs.
  • God 2.0 includes the concept of God as someone who satisfy your needs but also introduces a God who calls you beyond selfishness to generosity, as a toddler is learning to share and consider the needs of others.
  • God 3.0 is a concept of God that includes a God who meets your needs and calls you to generosity but adds the God of rules and fair play who rewards and punishes. As children grow to adulthood, they realize the need to obey the rules.
  • The concept of God 4.0 is a God of love, sacrifice, and humility which inspires adults (who may marry and have children) to see their life as “a journey of learning new and deeper expressions of love.” But God 4.0 isn’t enough as it is a God “who shows favor to us but not them.God 4.0 “leads people to affection, fidelity, and forgiveness in family, community, and nation – but only for people from our religion, ethnicity, or tribe.”
  • God 5.0 is “a God of the inclusive we, the God not just of us but of all of us. Only a bigger, nondualistic God can unite us and them in an inclusive identity that is not limited to a tribe or nation, but that extends to all humanity…” and to all living things.

Although the details and chronology may be off a bit, looking at a traditional scene of the birth of Jesus can give us inspiration as to who God wants us to include in the Kingdom. The center of the scene is a helpless baby who contributes nothing tangible to society and requires constant care and self-sacrifice. Yet babies bring us joy and love, things which we cannot put a price tag on. The baby’s parents are poor peasants, part of a subjugated people who will later (as they flee to Egypt) be refugees. The shepherds’ occupation made it hard to maintain religious purity and keep the Sabbath; they also spent most of their times away from society and out in nature. The Magi were probably not kings, but they were foreigners and likely adherents to another religion than Judaism. Finally, we see the animals as part of the scene, because God’s Kingdom includes all of creation. To my mind, the birth of Jesus depicts God 5.0 and calls us to seek a more inclusive concept of God than most of us have had in the past. What do you think?


Connecting with the Ineffable: Art as Spiritual Practice

alcohol ink coastersIn my 30s, I went abruptly from being an agnostic to a follower of Jesus Christ. This kind of profound change meant rethinking most aspects of my life. As a poet, I found that my words which once focused on existential questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” now focused on the struggle of living a life of faith. Poetry, with its imagery, compact language, and multiple meanings, helped me to try to say that which was inexpressible.

Although I’m still in love with words, I’ve found lately that I have the desire to express my thoughts and feelings in other ways. I’m drawn to color and the way different hues and tones connect with emotions. Although I’m not skilled in visual arts, I find experimenting with alcohol inks or creating collages help me express my spiritual side.

When I use any kind of art as a spiritual practice during retreats, I emphasize that is the process that matters, not the product. It can be difficult for participants to let go of the idea that their finished art must live up to certain standards, but letting go of this judgmental voice can be very freeing.

Any type of art can be a spiritual practice, a way that offers insights into who we are and who God is. When we are focused on the act of creating, we become more aware of our senses and can find release from critical thinking. We open ourselves up to God and provide an opportunity for God to speak to us.

Christine Valters Paintner, in her blog post on Patheos called “Art and Spiritual Practice,” states that “In art-making as prayer, we engage the creative process consciously as an experience of the holy and a form of communication with God.” Paintner is the online abbess for Abbey of the Arts, “a virtual monastery offering classes and resources on contemplative practice and creative expression.”

The desire to create is a universal one and what better way to use that desire than to create something which connects us to The Creator. Isn’t it amazing that God shares that creative spirit with us? In the musical Children of Eden, Eve speaks of the “Spark of Creation.”

I’ve got a feeling that the Father who made us
When he was kindling the pulse in my veins
He left a tiny spark of the fire, smoldering inside
The spark of creation, is flickering within me
The spark of creation, is blazing in my blood
A bit of the fire that lit up the stars
And breathed life into the mud, the first inspiration
The spark of creation

Confirmation for Real Life

dove stained glass windowIn one of my Facebook groups, a pastor shared that three suicides had occurred at her local high school and middle school in 48 hours. Facing confirmation class orientation shortly, she was considering scraping her elaborate confirmation curriculum “filled with content, requirements, and boxes to check off” and telling her families that confirmation this year would be family based. “Come with your child and we will share highs and lows, see what word God might have for our daily lives in the Bible, talk about it, pray for one another and bless one another.” She added that she didn’t care if her confirmands “memorize the catechism, or can remember the three marks of a sacrament or recite the books of the Bible in order.” She wanted them to know that God loves them and they are wonderfully made in God’s image.

Checking back in the Facebook group the next day, I was glad to see the pastor had decided to go with her plan to make the confirmation program family-based. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, why it takes something like a community triple tragedy for those of us in the church who offer faith formation programs to realize that we’re doing it wrong? The evidence has been mounting for some time, with studies like The National Study of Youth and Religion determining that parents are the most significant influence on the religious and spiritual lives of American teens. As Wendy Claire Barrie puts it in her book Faith at Home, the study also noted that “the home is where the transmittal of faith happens, that clergy and youth ministers play a very limited role in that transmission, and that ordinary life practices – not programs, or rites of passage, or preaching – are the means of transmission.”

Of course, the family should be the center for faith formation from a child’s earliest days, but if it hasn’t happen before confirmation age, then the confirmation program provides an opportunity to make up for lost time. For various reasons, families who have brought their children to church sporadically or rarely will make the effort to have their children attend a confirmation program in order to gain the “prize” of being confirmed at the end. Those of us in the church need to make the most of the precious time we have with these youth.

As we look around our churches and see less and less young adults, it is beginning to sink in that confirmation needs to be reevaluated. Although some programs incorporate spiritual practices, service, and mentors – all good things — there is very little emphasis on faith formation with parents in the home. So much of the content is head learning – creeds, theology, church history – which is good to know but isn’t what makes a person decide to follow Jesus. Our intellectual approach doesn’t convey the wonderful mysteries of faith. You may be familiar with the old joke about a group of pastors discussing the problem of bats in the belfry of their churches. They discuss various techniques to get rid of the bats, none of which has worked successfully. Finally, one pastor relates that she has found the solution: “I had that problem but I baptized and confirmed them and I haven’t seen one back since!”

What do you think? Do our confirmation programs need to change?

A Faith Geek’s Nightstand

Night StandYou can tell a lot about a faith geek from what’s on her nightstand. Looking at mine, it’s obvious I love to read and I read a lot of different books at the same time.

There are a few other items on my nightstand, many of which are reading-related. There’s a ceramic cup, made by a friend in college, but I’ve forgotten which one. (I had a lot of artsy friends in college.) The cup is filled with pens, pencils, markers, etc. because sometimes I need to write down a quote from a book or make a note about a book. I very rarely highlight or write notes in a book, as I was taught by the nuns in my Catholic schools to see books as sacred and writing in them a great sin.

I also have a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear, which my daughter gave to me. She’s married and lives in another state, but every time I look at my stuffed Pooh, I remember how we loved to read the Pooh book series together when she was little. My daughter inherited my love of reading and now works as a children’s librarian.

I have a lamp — actually, I have two lamps, although one is attached to my bed board. It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but good light is needed for all the reading I do.

An alarm clock is on the nightstand; in true faith geek fashion the alarm sounds like cathedral chimes. Thankfully, I don’t have to use it too often, as I usually work from home and have fairly flexible hours, which tend to be later in the day (or night). I have fibromyalgia and arthritis so I wake up, as my rheumatologist puts it, “feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.” I don’t hop out of bed in the morning, although thankfully my husband is an early riser. Every morning he brings me a cup of tea which I place on my electric cup warmer. The cup you see in the picture is from the Upper Merion Township Library, where my daughter works.

I recently bought a bigger basket for my nightstand. It is filled with screen cleaning cloths, earbuds, a prism magnifier, prayer beads, Post-it flags, a notepad, a leather book weight, and of course bookmarks. You need a lot of bookmarks when you read a number of books at the same time. One of my favorites opens out accordion style to display a map of Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings book series.

Of course I have a Kindle filled with books, too many to list. There are plenty of physical books on my nightstand as well. They tend to reproduce so I need to sort through them when they start falling off the nightstand or when my husband starts complaining, whichever comes first. The books presently on my nightstand, in no particular order, are:

 So now I think you know me a bit better after taking this tour through what’s on my nightstand. And yes, there are more books in my nightstand. How about you? What’s on your nightstand – care to share?

Meet the Author Webinars

Information about PRC’s new Meet the Author Webinars program —

Practical Resources for Churches

hand-laptop-notebook-technologyWe are pleased to announce a new program called Meet the Author Webinars. We are inviting new and established authors of books with religious and/or spiritual themes to present a 30-minute webinar which will give a brief summary of their book and include a question and answer period for participants. There is no charge for authors to present a webinar and no charge for attendees.

Authors will need to prepare a PowerPoint or similar presentation and participate in a brief practice webinar. The use of a webcam is optional. We provide the software, which is GoToWebinar. We also provide an organizer for the webinar and technical support. We handle the registrations and will assist authors in publicizing their webinar.

The webinars are recorded and we will list them on our website. Authors are also free to publicize the link to view the webinar on their website, publisher’s websites, in emails…

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Palm Sunday Musings

Palm Sunday stained glass edited in CanvaI stood in my church’s parlor, just outside the door that led to the sanctuary. The Palm Sunday service was almost over and the congregation was singing the last hymn “lustily,” as John Wesley had instructed the first Methodists, their hosannas loud and jubilant. I listened with mixed feelings; I was thinking about two other Palm Sunday celebrations in another part of the world. Two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt had been targeted by terrorists and scores of people were dead or injured. “In the midst of life we are in death,” I thought, recalling the first line of a Latin antiphon.

The very nature of Palm Sunday creates ambivalence. We send our children down center aisles, waving palms and singing, and tell them we are celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on this first day of Holy Week. Yet this day is also called Passion Sunday and we know another kind of walk, the walk down the Via Dolorosa, is coming before the week is over.

But we know what happens on Easter Sunday, as Jesus emerges victorious over death, victorious over evil, victorious over earthly sufferings. In our churches on Easter morning, we celebrate and look forward to sharing in Jesus’ triumph after our time on earth is over. We try to keep the end in sight as we go about our lives, but it’s hard as we struggle with imperfect relationships, physical hardships, sickness, loss, and the headlines that tell us of humankind’s inhumanity.

To walk through this life is to practice a delicate balance. I remember in school when we read John Donne’s words: “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” I understood that as humans we were all connected, but if I were to mourn each time someone died, then I would be in a perpetual state of grief. Was I expected to never be happy in my life? Or was it possible or even permissible to carve out a bit of joy in a world with so much suffering?

Perhaps the problem lies in thinking that there is only one truth, whereas life is better represented by the yin yang, symbol of two opposite halves that together represent complete wholeness. We might recall the opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two  Cities: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…” Or remember Jesus’ words in the 16th chapter of John: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

What I Learned from Bob the Cat

bob-under-the-coversWe let our son, who was 10 years old at the time, name one of the two kittens we were adopting many years ago. He decided on “Bob” which my husband thought was a “stupid name for a cat.” After a few months though, we couldn’t imagine Bob with any other name. They had called him “Kermit” at the shelter, because he hopped a bit when he walked. My husband thought something was wrong with his back legs but the woman at the shelter assured us that it was a temporary condition. It wasn’t, but Bob learned to pull himself up with his front legs rather than jumping onto places he wanted to get to. The procedure was comical at times and we could never call Bob a graceful cat.

Bob was a sweet cat, who considered humans warm furniture. When our family sat down to watch a movie or TV show together, Bob would enter the room, eyeing each of us in turn, trying to decide which person’s lap he wanted to settle in. Often he would rotate from person to person. He didn’t go outside so his life was rather uneventful, other than trips to the vet and a fall from a second story window once. My son had opened it without realizing there was no screen in it. I happened to be sitting in the breakfast room at the time, and watched a cat fall from the sky onto our back deck. It took a while for it to register that the falling cat was our Bob, but he just sat and waited patiently on the deck for one of his people to come to the rescue.

So Bob’s days were filled with food and sleep, pets and laps. He developed routines and didn’t like change. He slept at the foot of our bed all night. My husband usually has a bowl of ice cream right before he goes to sleep and leaves the empty bowl on his night stand. Bob always waited until the morning before going over and licking the bowl. On the rare mornings when there wasn’t a bowl on the night stand, he would just stare at the place where it should be in bewilderment.

My husband would then take his shower and afterwards put on a terry cloth robe. Bob would wait until he heard the water stop and then go to the bathroom door. He didn’t meow or scratch; he just waited patiently until my husband opened the door. Then he would stretch and put his front paws on my husband’s legs, which meant he wanted to be picked up and held. I didn’t realize until a few years ago that this time was my husband’s morning prayer time, but maybe Bob knew.

Bob’s love of sitting in laps or just cuddling made us slow down. I would look at him and wish I could be as serene as he was. Sometimes in the morning I meditate using an app called Calm. It takes effort to let my muscles relax and still my mind. For Bob, it seemed to be his natural state. So much of our time is spent taking care of our possessions, working to buy more possessions, finding room to keep all our possessions. Bob didn’t need much – just the basics really — food, shelter, and, of course, love. I often gave thanks to God for Bob and thought about the lines from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” where he wrote:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

A few months ago, Bob was diagnosed with kidney failure, a common condition in older cats. Two nights ago my husband and I had to make the decision to let him go rather than have him suffer. For almost 17 years, Bob looked to us for all his needs, but he gave us so much. Thank you God for animals, large and small. Thank you for Bob.