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Review of “Emptiness – The Beauty and Wisdom of Absence”

February 1, 2018

Author David Auten starts this delightful short book with important context for his readers who are Jesus-followers, “…emptiness lies at the heart of Jesus — who he is and what he is about” (p. VIII – Prologue).  I imply other readers because one need not be Christian to glean encouragement or wise direction from Auten’s work…. A man wise beyond his relative youth.

You’ll quickly see that he loves to learn from his young children.  He cleverly relates the fun and fascination of childhood to his theme of empty spaces, emptying in various ways.

Emptiness draws from the wisdom of Eastern traditions as well as Jewish and Christian. Of course, in them is a heavy dose of the value of release, of even active pursuit of emptying – one’s mind, one’s ego, one’s possessiveness.  Yet the author works in quotes and examples from these wisdom traditions in such a way as to put off or alarm very few Christians, I’d imagine.  In that sense, it is a book of broad spirituality as much as one for Christians specifically, or any subset of Christians.

A perhaps-significant aside is that this feature of the book lines up well with Auten’s own diverse background and his pastoring a church in a diverse region and a diverse denomination (United Church of Christ, which happens to be my own affiliation in recent years).  So, for how the book reflects Christian faith in America today, it’s a “big tent”.  It appears Auten is comfortable with this sometimes difficult situation, particularly for a pastor who wants to nurture and help people grow.  And this book is clearly one effort in this endeavor… a valuable one.

Both the author and the back-cover reviewers describe the book as a devotional one. I don’t often read this genre. I’d call it more than a typical devotional book, however. Its chapters are short.  They are focused on specific aspects of emptying and “nothingness”.  But there is depth of thought and references to various thinkers here that put it nearly into the category of a work of scholarship. But it certainly reads easier than one, and gets one thinking (or not!).

My thanks to Cascade Books of Wipf and Stock Publishers which provided me a free copy for review.  It has not influenced my opinions of the book.





Franklin Graham and the Twisting of Evangelical Integrity

January 20, 2018

I’m not saying Rev. Graham caused or has even led the “pretzelization” of Evangelicals’ integrity. Nor that integrity has disappeared completely in every quarter of Evangelicalism. The many, many Evangelicals who have become “emerging” church members or otherwise more progressive or consistent is one sign there are open, thinking people who seek to be integrous among Evangelicals.


I’d been thinking about a quick post on the ongoing frustration of the blindness of Evangelicals to the reality of Donald Trump and the damage of his presidency to our country.  Then this morning, I saw an interview of Franklin Graham by Alex Witt on MSNBC Live. (If you happen to be a Fox News lover and distrustful of the more liberal MSNBC, realize Graham was allowed to speak freely and was not stifled or “trapped” in unfair questions. He got to fully express his views with a generous amount of time and he didn’t seem frustrated with the interview.)

Given what I’ve just seen, I’ve decided to feature the particularly egregious example of  Graham since he is head of two large Evangelical institutions.  He also carries much of the influence of his more famous father, Billy Graham.  Sadly, his lack of clear thinking and consistency is mind boggling. (To see it yourself, a Google or YouTube search should soon show it readily… I can’t find it yet this soon to give a link.)

Among the several points that seem clearly and completely out of integrity with Evangelical theology per my decades-long knowledge of it and its stated values are these:

  1. It doesn’t really matter about Trump’s personal morality or ethics, because he is supportive of Evangelicals and is “pro-life”. (Graham did admit Trump’s, and his own imperfections, but that was about all in this interview.)
  2. It doesn’t matter what type of characters Trump associates himself with (going against numerous warnings in Proverbs and Paul’s writings in the Bible).
  3. There is little, if any, spiritual or wisdom-based evaluation about how financial prosperity for the country is attained. Graham’s apparent short-sightedness regarding the grave humanitarian effects and longer-term financial woes of poorly-thought-out deregulation, denial of climate change, unwise and isolationist trade policy choices, etc. is appalling.

One of the most shocking reasons Graham gave for minimizing the importance of Trump’s moral lapses is that he will give him the “benefit of the doubt” (not his exact words) on his denials.  He seems to believe the denials of apparently whatever Trump decides to deny.  He didn’t make a blanket statement but he didn’t cite any exceptions or doubts either.  Rather, he said Trump had been honest with him, that he could be counted on to do what he says.  For the record, Trump can’t be!… Anyone watching at all and “keeping score” has seen this repeatedly, though he is dogged on a few things, particularly some of his most un-Christlike and sometimes unconstitutional policies (e.g., “Muslim ban”, etc.).

I could go on with analysis about just why Graham and so many other Evangelical leaders as well as lay people have this massive blind spot and nearly complete disengagement of thinking faculties, but for now, I just wanted to point out the interview, provoke at least a little thought.

One step further: I encourage the polite and civil engagement of those of us who have Christian affiliations or commitments with this kind of Evangelical thinking.  Not to approach it as debate, but concerned and open questioning… a search for the deeper issues driving this manner of political behavior.

This could well prove insightful for both parties. No name-calling! (Note, I’ve used “blindness”, lack of integrity and such as descriptors for statements and positions I’ve identified but I’ve purposely not labeled Graham with derogatory names, and seek not to with others who I may adamantly disagree with.)  And try, as I have here, not to overstate an opponent’s position and create a “straw man” to knock down… another sloppy form of thinking or seeking to dialog.    

And please offer any insights or encouragements here, for those of us who are dismayed, even if we partially understand, how so many are so enthralled with a man who had no business or sensibility in getting elected to the office of our presidency, and continues to prove it.


Jesus, Trump and The Paris Climate Accord – Revisited, 2018

January 11, 2018

Below is a post I put up when President Trump was pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017. It has never lost pertinence, but especially now that he has signaled possible rethinking (or new bargaining). Fortunately, numerous American states, cities and corporations have effectively “remained in” and affirmed the accord, and publicly stated it. Here, again, is my earlier reflection on some pertinent wisdom of Jesus, shared by other religious and scientific traditions as well: 

For those who follow Jesus in one manner or another, did he say anything about climate change? Well, maybe…

Ever heard (or maybe sung, as a kid) “The wise man built his house upon the rock…”? When the flood hits, this man’s house stands.  The foolish man’s, built on sand (Mt. 7:26), cannot withstand the flood. Of course this is a simile.  Jesus’ says the wise builder is like the one who hears and does what Jesus says, not just hears but doesn’t act.

So this saying had nothing to do with weather, really… let alone climate over an extended period.  But the call to hear and act accordingly does apply to our current climate situation.  

And what is our Foolish-Man-in-Chief doing? He just took another step in building on sand… disavowal of the Paris Climate Accord.  Not that this, in itself, will necessarily mean a lot in practical terms.  But it is consistent with both rhetoric and policy that will make real differences… and it’s not houses or even the American economy at stake, but the welfare of the entire planet.  

He and fellow Republicans are rightly concerned about leaving a massive national debt to our kids and grandkids. But will that even come into play if the planet is barely hospitable and adequate food production unsustainable?

Even Trump implies, if he seldom states directly, that he accepts a human involvement in climate change. So my Trump-supporting friends (and some readers here?) might appeal to the obvious: We don’t know exactly how much we are affecting the climate or that it will necessarily lead to catastrophe.  But so what if we don’t? What is the “wise builder” approach vs. that of the “foolish builder”?    

And what words of Jesus should we be acting upon that relate to climate (and other environmental) challenges? I imagine you can think of others, but a critical principle he pounded upon, in saying after saying, parable after parable, was this: Act in the interest of others around you; sustain the foreigner and stranger. Be kind and cooperative (and only resist when the evil is clear and harming others).  Where is the message of competition? Encouragement to beat others out, to be “great again?” (Wasn’t there something in there about the one who is greatest will be least, and vice-versa?)

Sure, Jesus gave hints of supporting capitalism. I’d not say his message or his vision of the “Kingdom of God”, in earthly expression, was what we think of as socialism.  But it clearly was not about dominating or seeking to gain an advantage over others.  Just the opposite! 

O.k… some of you are probably thinking, “That was about personal behavior, not between nations”.  Don’t be too hasty! What can you base that on? Why should it not extend out to an international scale?

I like the approach of French President, Macron, much better than that of Trump, whose rationale for withdrawal from the Paris agreement was “Make America great again”.  Macron’s: “Make our planet great again”. Win together, not “We’ve been unfairly treated… we need a better deal…” The planet approach seems to follow the spirit of Jesus a lot closer.  What do you think?

Where Are Evangelicals headed in 2018?

January 9, 2018

I’m a formerly “card holding” Evangelical…. Many years since I became “progressive” I still pay close attention and tend to relationships with family and friends still “in the fold”.  Part of the reason is that “Evangelicalism”, under almost any definition one may give it, is a reflection of much of our culture.  Changes within it is one measure of broader cultural movement.  Conversely, may it be that changes among Evangelicals lead certain changes in broader society?

I’m linking to an article by the leading Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, which takes a brief look at the question of whether and how Evangelicalism may be “cracking up”. Or even changing significantly.  You can find it here.

Personally, I think 2018 will see at least as much change within Evangelical churches and institutions as recent years have seen.  I’m not foreseeing any significant “crack up” scenario. However, split-offs of certain churches or groups of them may continue. According to a Jan. 2 article in the same Christianity Today, a group of nearly 180 Mennonite congregations just officially split off from the Mennonite Church USA “related to disagreements over same-sex marriage”.

In this case, people wanted to remain more conservatively oriented.  In other cases, especially for individuals, people want to be more progressive and leave for reasons related to that.  Often they don’t find a comfortable church home elsewhere.  Some are fine with that, others not.  My 2018 hope is that more church and denominational leaders will start digging deeper… into their own faith, to begin.  That would include their doubts (starting with admitting they exist, on a variety of issues, even though these leaders are looked to for providing answers). 

After some honest and deep reflection, maybe accompanied by some “opposition research” and serious “paradigm” reconsideration, my prediction for them would be this: They will help lead Evangelical institutions further along the inevitable road of conforming closer to a post-postmodern reality.  Why “post-postmodern”? (A long term needing explanation.)

Not just “modern” in an overly rationalistic defense of orthodoxy, seen for over a century.  And not “postmodern” in leveling all differences (the very charge of many Evangelicals against “postmodernism”).  Maybe some additional leaders who take thinking seriously will find that systems like “Process thought” have provided a stronger, more consistent foundation than has “orthodoxy” (read: tradition/status quo) for robust and satisfying communities of faith.  Communities seeking “miracles” and spiritual growth but also concerned with care for the earth, for the oppressed, for the findings of science.

A “Higher Order” Review: A Year of Trumpian Views on Trade and Economy

December 29, 2017

All I’m going to do in this post is link to what I had written shortly after Trump’s election to the presidency, with this brief intro: Now, almost a year into Trump’s presidency, we can begin to see what effects are building from the particular “thinking error” I was there pointing to.  It’s pertinent to this blog’s theme, having to do with ethical/spiritual themes like, say, the Golden Rule.

While there may yet be no obvious or profound negatives, any supposed positives are either incidental to Trump policies and rhetoric or, I would argue, are short-term and vulnerable to reversal and later effects in a negative direction.  The post is “A Fundamental Thinking Error of Trump and his Supporters”, found here.

Morton Kelsey: The Importance of Jung on Consciousness after Death

December 28, 2017

You may be aware that depth psychologist, Carl Jung, brought a lot of attention to what he called “synchronicities” (and Christians often call “God things”). I noted it in my recent review of a fascinating book on his body of work in relation to a patient and later collaborator, physicist Wolfgang Pauli, found here.

I was intrigued to find that, a few days after writing my review of the book on Jung’s and Pauli’s pursuits, I accidentally unearthed some more material on Jung I’d had over 2 years but not remembered about, from the estate of a neuroscientist friend who had died.  It was very pertinent (synchronicity or subconscious memory, triggered?)… on Jung’s work on death, dying, and continuation of consciousness.  In addition, it was by a professor whose work I’d been impressed with in the past, Morton Kelsey, an Episcopalian who taught at the University of Notre Dame.

It’s also interesting that what I’d been given may never have been published except for students or interested parties at Notre Dame, in the 1970s.  It is a copy of a typed manuscript, on legal size paper. With at least an unofficial (default) copyright, I will treat it as any publication for review.  Undated, it appears to have been written around 1972. Kelsey published books after this date, most of which I’ve not read to know if he later published this or similar material. (Title: “FACING DEATH AND SUFFERING: The Christian Hope, Part 1”, n.d.)

What is worthy to note is that Jung was both particularly science-oriented (collecting lots of data, weighing it analytically, researching, etc.) and spiritually-oriented.  He had broken from his mentor, Freud, over the “spirit/materialist” worldview issue.  In this, he stood over against most other analysts and psychiatrists of the day and since, who tended to be materialists or favored determinism, ignoring any realm of spirit.  They were, and a majority still are, reacting to the sloppy mix of wise mythology, silly superstition and confused conjecture with legitimate spiritual sensing that constituted most of Christian and other religion.  (Jung himself was far from any kind of traditional Christian, though raised in such a family and environment.)

It’s not easy to unravel this messy interwoven fabric. Jung knew this and was gifted with focus and persistence… and fortunately, a long life.  In this short paper on the impact of a course of his on death and dying for a class of pre-medical Notre Dame seniors, Kelsey points out that Jung had his own experience of being close to death for about three weeks during his sixties (he lived to 85).  He already had decades of research and similar impressions from reading and many interviews, to what he experienced directly at this time, during a series of vivid “visions”.  One with the strongest of impressions Kelsey summarizes as seeming “to portray his departure from this world in the most universal images, and then his return.”

He then quotes Jung from his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963, posthumous), “‘It was not a product of imagination. The visions and experiences were utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them; they all had the quality of absolute objectivity.'” (p. 275)

Now Kelsey had met Jung on more than one occasion.  Jung did not share Kelsey’s views of Christian faith. However, he notes that Jung can hardly be charged with being either naive or mad. It would also have been totally out of character for Jung to have lied about his experiences.  “In talking with the man, I found it difficult to imagine a more down-to-earth person, or one more realistically critical and less naive. He gave himself no airs…. I found that I must take these experiences seriously and also other experiences of the same kind which have come to me through twenty-five years of pastoral experience, and longer than that reading and pondering the subject. For those who have not put on the blinders of a naturalistic world view, the evidence is there to read.” (p. 13)

In fact, there already were lines of evidence, many of them outside of organized religions, when Kelsey wrote this in the 1970s.  However, it appears Raymond Moody’s famous book of 1975, Life after Life, had not yet been published.  It was first of a long and increasingly detailed and verified series of studies of evidences for survival of consciousness beyond clinical death.  Perhaps not scientific-style “proof” of continuation of consciousness or “life after death”, but a welcome shift to curiosity and serious study of the nature of consciousness and how it may exist in both an “individual” identity (a “person”) or collectively, or both.

People of professional science need to give “spirit” and “paranormal” phenomena their due, and people of faith need to pay close attention to the findings of science.  That is, when it properly exhibits humility about the limits of its methods and refuses speculation and unwarranted conclusions as much as it expects that of religion.

Jung, along with Kelsey (also now passed), are prime exemplars in this endeavor.


The Interplay of Science and The Mystical: Review of “Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung”

December 14, 2017

This is an important and fascinating book. I just discovered it recently though published in 2009. Something sucked me into it. Perhaps my decades-long interest in the relation between science and spirit; between our intuitive, unconscious being and our rational, conscious being.

Here, as for Pauli and Jung, it’s not “science and religion” but what author, Arthur I. Miller, might prefer to see stated as “science and mysticism” or maybe “science and spirit”.

Once into the book, the hook was also the deep peer into two extraordinary minds and lives… of Wolfgang Pauli, physicist, and Carl Jung, psychologist.  And how Jung first helped Pauli out of despondency and self-destruction and then became an active collaborator as the two plumbed the depths of physical and psychic reality. Pauli seeking out the deepest, smallest structures, forces and “symbols” (mathematical equations) of the atom and Jung the structures and symbols of the mind and its “shadow side”.

There’s something here for a wide berth of readers: enough fascinating life-story for biography buffs; enough detailed atomic structure and history, personalities of early-to-mid 20th century physics for science buffs; enough political intrigue, conflict and drama for European history buffs; and enough of Pauli’s and Jung’s persistent probing into the relation of matter/energy and consciousness/life for anyone intrigued by the nature of reality and “what it’s all about”.

I want to keep this brief. So rather than summarize much of the wide-ranging, fascinating detective and historical work of the author (such as correspondence not made public before) or of the protagonists (both were historians as well as innovators in their own and related fields), here are some “take-aways” for me:

  • Innovation is fostered both by cooperative synergy and by competition (sometimes with a nasty edge)

  • While physics has advanced tremendously since Pauli’s death in 1958, some of the questions puzzling him and his colleagues remain unanswered, particularly the reason for the centrality of “137”, while even more have been raised

  • Similarly, Jung’s breakthrough insights about the collective unconscious and archetypes has been advanced in areas such as “resonant sensing” (or “remote viewing”), and “near death” studies, much remains shrouded in mystery

  • “The academy” and control centers of both physics and psychology remain basically as closed and averse to serious research and examination of “parapsychology” as they were 50+ years ago, though these two men, with others since, have demonstrated the viability and promise of such research and consideration

  • (In other words, as to the above, institutional resistance yet needs to be broken down… resistance stemming from the doubly irrational positions of pure materialism in the physical sciences and much of psychology and the “magical” supernaturalism of its major opponents operating out of the orthodox theism of the monotheistic religions)

My own reflection, a step beyond or aside from where Arthur Miller leaves us, is that the complementarity of opposite poles considered crucial in both physics and psychology by Pauli and Jung is most often not in play, on a human level.  That is, few people allow for a valid “opposite” or counter-balance to their own perspective. We need a breakthrough toward mutual respect and greater introspection.  Rather than this holding sway, vast energy is being wasted by certain science representatives opposing religion (and/or spirituality) too broadly.  In reaction, many religious leaders and lay people take up an offense, counter-attacking science, being anti-evolution and such.

Fear of being ostracized or ridiculed by their colleagues, and of institutional “penalties” held back Pauli and Jung from some of what they wished to contribute to stimulate further thinking and research.  Sadly, it is not much different yet today.  But the legacy of both men, and of their “strange” and productive friendship leaves us a lot to work from and an inspiration to forge ahead.