Enjoying the Journey

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Which Way Do You Read the Bible?

Posted by on Jul 13, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 0 comments

Which Way Do You Read the Bible?

Is it literally true?

Finally shaking off the shackles of slavery, over two million people set out from Egypt to form a new nation which would learn to worship their single God. That god led them every step of the way and wrote commandments for them to follow. They wandered in the desert until all the original sojourners had been replaced by a new generation. Their descendants would conquer the peoples who lived in Canaan and they would start a new nation there.

Sound familiar? Check out the Exodus story in the Bible. It’s all there, plus dozens of other details. Millions of people accept that story as an accurate description of historical events—albeit visually reinforced by movies such as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

For nearly 3000 years that story has been used to portray God as a supernatural power who does what’s right for his people, interacts mainly with the leaders, causes untold hardships on those who disobey or resist him, and eventually leads them to a wonderful land. It’s a story with many incredible details, but it was accepted as literally true in both Jewish and Christian religions.

Then came the human studies of anthropology; the research of thousands of archeological digs; and the scholarly critical methods of studying literature. No one could come up with one shred of evidence of such a group of people living in Egypt, nor traversing a desert. Two million people sojourning for 40 years would definitely leave archeological evidence—as one author put it—of their hygiene issues in that very dry desert.

So, it’s just a metaphor?

On the other hand, that legend is rich with metaphorical truths. It’s about our living in our own bondage to pharaohs that enslave us. It says we can leave bad times and bad jobs behind and venture to where new opportunities might be flowing with milk and honey. It is a story of liberation and following the God of Oneness as our guide to a more fulfilling life—even if events along the way are not easy to accept.

Do you read that story as literally and historically true and does it cause you to trust in a supernatural god who was known thousands of years ago? Or, do you read that story as a metaphor (a myth in anthropological terms) that supports you in developing wholeness today?

That’s how they saw the world.

The Bible was written by people who believed in a three-tiered flat earth. Their God was their unique refinement of stories and descriptions circulating at that time. They collected and created stories in the style of their oral-tradition era that would explain to others what they experienced, and thought was important.

Just as our knowledge of the universe has dramatically changed, so have our ways of understanding the Bible. Until just a couple of hundred years ago, Bible interpretation was mainly based on plain reading, i.e., according to its literal meaning. From the creation story (calculated to have been no more than six thousand years ago), to Jesus’ virgin birth, to Revelation’s apocalyptic verses, each story and bit of history was considered factually true.

However, we have inquiring minds and many people have been questioning some of the basic tenets of Christianity for hundreds of years. Early people had no idea that those twinkling holes in the night dome were really gaseous balls of fire whose light had taken hundreds, thousands, or even a million years for the light to reach us. Yet, even before telescopes poked into the sky and people asked, “Do you see God up there?” they were asking about the nature of deities.

In the interest of brevity, allow me to skip (for now) the questioning spirit and scholarly research that has gifted us with new perceptions of biblical meanings. What is important is that new insights have given the Bible deeper and richer meanings—understandings that can lead to better human relations and development in modern times.

So, the problem is that one can’t just read a passage and say in a simplistic way: “The Bible says it, so I believe it.” We can’t just take old Sunday-School-facts and make them applicable to our complex adult life. In addition, I want to be clear that new ways of looking at the Bible do not necessarily make it easier to grasp. However, good interpretive reading is more than worth the effort.

Old concepts of what we read into the passages get in the way of better meanings. I guarantee that when certain passages are read, we initially process them according to our early Sunday School mentality. Here’s a parallel example. During the early years of the NASA space program, psychologists would pose a question to the astronauts: “What’s the moon made of?” Invariably, what popped into the head of every one of these smart, highly trained, individuals was Green cheese!  Ridiculous, yes, even though a few moments later their higher brain functions would take over and explain the geological composition of the moon.

In a similar fashion, most people bring their traditional early learning to the Bible. They are nodding their heads at God’s judgmental decisions, or Isaiah’s uncanny predictions about a messiah coming in 500 years. They look for what they “have to believe” for Jesus to save them from their original and continuing sinfulness. Or, they may ask, will this reading help me get to heaven? Or, isn’t it nice that Paul wanted to start the Christian church? Yet, none of those concepts are honestly biblical.

We need to unlearn a lot of our previous concepts and rebuild deeper and more profound ways of understanding and applying what treasures these historical writers have given us. The benefits will be more fitting for the 21st century. Biblical truths are certainly universal but have been layered over by old dogma.

And let’s face it. Not all passages, stories, even books of the Bible, are equally relevant. Out of the thousands of stories, legends, and sentences in the Bible, if you rated their value to living an abundant life of wholeness, just a few passages carry the most impact. Rabbi Hillel (110 BCE – 10 CE) supposedly was asked to explain the Torah. He replied, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”  Out of 66 books, some verses are key, others provide supporting commentary.

Is that all there is?

God did not stop revealing fundamental truths 2000 years ago. Over the centuries, many people have discovered and made equally important statements about a well-lived life. Their life experiences should be included in biblical study. While the Bible is certainly the primary collection of writings for Christians, there are other authors who can give great insights into how we can relate to our oneness in Ultimate Reality.

So, is that Exodus story literally true or does it only illustrate metaphorical truths? Richard Friedman, eminent Jewish biblical scholar, says it’s bits of both. In a recent book he makes a strong case for just one small tribe of Levites leaving Egypt and eventually becoming the priestly class of Israel. It’s not as dramatic as two million people following Moses and eating from the hand of God for four decades, but it’s realistic enough to give some credence to the Exodus legend.

A progressive’s Bible is neither literal nor just metaphorical. It contains kernels of events, great myths and legends, and fascinating explanations of how to live and love abundantly in Ultimate Reality.

Bonus page: To make a graphic comparison between two views of the Bible and how that has led to two views of God, I created a separate outline that you can see Here.

________________________________ July 13, 2018

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to consider different meanings in life. You will receive each article as soon as it’s written (and in an easier-to-read font) by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.” Of course, you can unsubscribe the same way.

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

The Epitome of Good

Posted by on Jun 29, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 0 comments

The Epitome of Good

The Galilean

About 2000 years ago, a Galilean peasant clearly recognized our ultimate life purpose. He saw the need for creating wholeness in every individual and fostering compassion and justice for all peoples. Better than anybody, he wholeheartedly understood ethical and loving relationships and our purpose in doing good for the sake of humankind.

He taught that every person is sacred. He saw beyond tribes, stereotypes, deeds, and any condition that separates people. Through great stories he challenged his listeners to grasp how all people and things are in an interdependent, divine relationship with everything else. He went by the name Jesus.

His message was so radical that the religious leaders wanted to get rid of him, but they had no power to do so. However, they knew how to manipulate the system and get the Roman authorities to crucify him for being an insurrectionist.

Over the next 100 years, it dawned on his increasing cadre of followers that his life plainly exemplified the message he was trying to convey. They said he fit the role of Messiah for the Israelites and, although he never subscribed to that role, they created that mantel for him. Decades after his death, they wrote about his life in the style of that era.  That is, they added stories, sayings from the Scriptures, and their own interpretations of how one might have experienced him, if they had ever actually met him.

Jesus and his followers—and all the New Testament authors—simply wanted a better Jewish life. However, by the end of the first century, the once-derisive term, “Christian,” slowly began to be acceptable for those who were no longer accepted in the synagogues. Over the next couple of centuries, disciples of “The Way” became a variety of Christianities until Constantine pushed for one denomination he could control. Eventually, the nascent Jewish transformation that Jesus wished for became the controlling political power for the Western world for 1500 years.

The historical Jesus

What fascinates me is that we’ve learned more in the past 150 years about the historical Jesus and the early Christian church than almost all research in the previous 1800+ years. Certainly, much information accumulated over the centuries. However, it wasn’t until the Enlightenment and later, that scholars would use scientific and literary critical methods for studying ancient texts—including the Bible—along with archeology and anthropology to really uncover and explain the historical data.

For example, we now understand that nearly all the metaphors the early followers used for Jesus were rip-offs of the Roman Empire. Most emperors were called Sons of God. They often had virgin births. Each was the Prince of Peace—well, Rome’s version of military peace. So, to deify Jesus, his followers took to using Roman terminology. Two of the Gospel authors included many references to “Kingdoms” to contrast the “reign of God” with the Roman Empire.

It seems evident from historical research—including non-biblical texts—that Jesus was a real person.  He wasn’t just a figment of first-century authors’ imagination. Unfortunately, no acquaintances of his wrote about him. The first person to extensively mention him, Paul of Tarsus, never met Jesus, although he did draw from first-hand accounts.

Marcus Borg was a scholar who summarized the life of this Galilean peasant in his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.  

[Jesus’] own understanding did not include thinking and speaking of himself as the Son of God whose historical intention or purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and his message was not about believing in him. Rather, he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion.

I want to be clear that none of this diminishes the value of examining Jesus’ wisdom and following him as a disciple. That’s why I call this post The Epitome of Good.

Here’s my outline of him:
Jesus was a dynamic Galilean peasant who attracted many fans.
He recognized that everyone was the Spirit of God.
He taught that being compassionate and assuring justice is our highest calling.
He was executed by Roman authorities.
His death did not end his message nor influence.
His community of followers continued to interpret his message
His legacy is our guide to creating and living in wholeness—life abundant.

You might have noticed that these points leave out a lot of traditional dogma about Jesus that has arisen over the past 2000 years. If you’re curious about any missing elements, please send me your questions.

_______________________ June 29, 2018

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to consider different meanings in life. You will receive each article as soon as it’s written (and in an easier-to-read font) by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.” Of course, you can unsubscribe the same way.

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

From gods to God

Posted by on Jun 18, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 0 comments

From gods to God

Last week, I jumped across 3.8 billion years of history from the first life to the human purpose of doing good. Somewhere around 5,000 – 10,000 years ago, humans realized they were in an environment that was much, much bigger than they could ever comprehend or fully control. However, they knew they were alive and were experiencing mysterious forces and energies. Early humans named those forces and sought ways to use those powers to improve their conditions—leaving behind clay representations of hunting scenes and phallic and feminine symbols. Obviously, they had their priorities!

As language developed, they tried describing the forces that they couldn’t understand using terms like “the personification of the sky” or “goddess of morning.” Eventually, these were reduced to simple proper names—for example Anu in Mesopotamia.

Gods

Early societies wanted control over their physical environment—crops, floods, fertility, weather, volcanos, to name just a few.  They also wished for better interpersonal relationships—from individual to tribal to national. And they assumed “beings” they couldn’t control must be causing these conditions. So, for thousands of years, people tried to improve their relationship to good gods and to appease bad gods. These supplications took the form of offerings, sacrifices, or specific behaviors (rituals).

Of course, we know now that those supernatural gods didn’t really exist. However, those people obviously saw their world as if those gods where out there. We also need to clearly understand that all peoples were describing their own experiences and attributing human characteristics to those experiences. They had no better way of portraying these happenings.

The relational God

Roughly 3000+ years ago, the Israelites reduced these gods into a single paternalistic god, calling him Yahweh or El (depending on which tribe’s author was writing). This god was unique in that it was not linked to a force of nature. It was a relational god. A god who wanted to relate to humans, to guide them, to have them be successful as a people.

Having a god who could help them and who wanted a relationship with them, is what gave them hope—the human recognition that things can be different in the future. Hope buoys us and gets us through difficult circumstances.

Everyone knew that being in a positive relationship with Ultimate Reality was the worthwhile goal. Life is simply more successful when things go well. So, the Israelite’s god mirrored the values of their culture—their focus on what was good for their nation. At first, their god simply reflected their needs and beliefs. Then they wrote about their god in ways which tried to keep their culture on the right path to please that god.

We call them sacred.

Many Hebrew authors sought to describe how they experienced their single relational god. They added stories, myths (in the anthropological sense), legends, and bits of history to flesh out their explanations. Over hundreds of years, their writings were collected and sometimes rejected, often merged and edited, and eventually became the library of scrolls called the Scriptures. Plus, after many translations, Yahweh became God—a much later Germanic word.

I want to be explicit about the authority of the Scriptures. Since God is not a being, “he” couldn’t have dictated the contents. The scriptures originated with religious writers who wished to codify and illustrate how they experienced their concept of a god. Often, they wrote to influence their fellow Israelites in positive—or sometimes, controlling—ways.  We accept them as sacred because their content resonates with our understanding of Ultimate Reality. They give us direction in fulfilling our quest for wholeness.

Next time, I plan to move the timeline to a Galilean peasant who focused on the key concepts of Israel’s sacred Scriptures. Stay tuned.

_______________________ June 18, 2018

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to consider different meanings in life. You will receive these as soon as they’re written (and in an easier-to-read font) by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.” Of course, you can unsubscribe the same way.

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

Oneness Creates Purpose

Posted by on Jun 4, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 0 comments

Oneness Creates Purpose

Life

They were just some inanimate molecules doing what they do best—nothing.  Why?  Well, because they weren’t alive. They couldn’t do anything but lie in some primordial puddle. A storm moved through and bolts of lightning nearby energized the molecules. They crossed the barrier we know as life. That is, they became alive—albeit, in a barely discernable way.

Fast-forward through 3.8 billion years.  There were hits and misses along the way.  Some forms developed all the attributes of life: metabolism, reproduction, sensitivity, growth, respiration, excretion, and nutrition. The one condition that all life forms require is a suitable environment for sustaining life. Turn the environment negative and, slowly or quickly (just ask the dinosaurs), some forms of life will die.

Good

So, what does that mean for humans? Well, one characteristic of life listed above, sensitivity, has become our realization that we are alive and that we have a relationship to everyone and everything. That consciousness is the quintessential aspect of being human.

Every specie must look out for itself. Most species can’t consciously control their long-term relationships nor their environment. Humans can. We are therefore driven to create a positive environment and workable relationships for our survival.

Life must always bend toward good or we won’t survive. Humans basically know that good relationships, good behavior, and a good physical environment are a necessity. So, I define “good” as that which contributes to the wholeness of individuals and the healthy survival of humankind.

Good life

Humans have built into them the capacity for more than just a life of existence. They can enjoy. They can be giddily in love. They can have the deep satisfaction of serving others. They can have hope. There’s an aliveness that goes beyond just staying alive. Have you ever felt satisfied about your day, but wanted to be and do more? You were looking for that heightened condition of aliveness.

Aliveness is what we feel when we hear the calling to lift ourselves up; to help others be lifted up; to consider lifting up the whole world—no, not on our shoulders, but by cooperating to make it a better place.

Purpose

The purpose or calling for each of us is to advance as individuals, families, tribes, nations, and collectively as humankind. Our aliveness comes from knowing we are not in this life just for ourselves. We are driven to foster wholeness throughout the world.

Our fulfilling experience is recognizing and celebrating that we’re connected to each other by a power greater than all of us. It also calls us beyond mere survival to aliveness.

Maynard Moore of Union Graduate Institute & University, sums it up this way: “human flourishing entails community. …Fulfillment comes through living for others, whether this be healing the wounds of the afflicted, calming the fears of those distraught, or in the larger sense of what Judaism call tikkun olam, ‘repairing the world’ in all its brokenness. Building this sort of ‘beloved community’ is a task worthy of us all, challenging our highest aspirations and consistent with values inherent in all the great religions as well as for science and the highest forms of human learning.”

And so…

Life began. Good is required for the survival of life. Recognizing oneness calls us to live beyond ourselves. Doing so is aliveness!

Challenge

Here’s a challenge for you readers. Can you think of a time when you felt truly alive; when you practically tingled with aliveness? A time when you sensed some special energy beyond yourself. A time you realized it’s really great to be here; and you wished you could share this feeling, this moment with others?

In just a couple of sentences, would you describe what you were doing in that situation and how you felt, and send it to me? I’ll collect them and make a future article out of them. Recent notes I’ve received tell me that you resonate with and enjoy the personal experiences and comments of other readers. Don’t agonize over finding the “perfect” example, (that’s what I’d do). Just pick a time you felt especially alive and send it to me. I think we’ll be pleased to see the range of circumstances.

___________________________________ June 4, 2018

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to consider different meanings in life. You can receive these as soon as they’re posted (and in an easier-to-read font) by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.” Of course, you can also unsubscribe the same way.

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

Conversations on Our Journey

Posted by on May 29, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 0 comments

Conversations on Our Journey

My previous article skimming across my religious life caused several readers to respond. Some wrote lengthy comments about their journeys and I won’t be able to reply to all their personal insights. However, those replies thrilled me because it means we are in a conversation, which is better than just my one-sided explaining. I’ll share a few comments using only first names.

Carol: “Life here at [my church] is heartwarming, friendly and uplifting, but sometimes I feel as though I am ‘just going through the motions.’”  Other readers have previously written and used nearly the same phrase, going through the motions.  So often, we enjoy the fellowship of congregations, but their spiritual basis leaves us empty.

Ruth: “I left ‘active ministry’ in the congregational setting, because it is so far from my belief system of what I agreed to do as a pastor.”  A good portion of seminarians never live out their careers in pastoral positions because of the dissonance between their learning and what the traditionalists in congregations—and religious leaders—expect them to believe.

Debby: “I continue to be amazed at the similarity of our views-and I can understand how you would get wearied by traditional church. I grew up in love with Jesus, even though it was in a [traditional] church setting. …It was always the LIFE of Jesus that made me swoon.  But I did not come at the new theology as a way to solve a theological question, it happened more organically.”  Debby said she left a congregation, “not in anger, but in dismay…stayed away from church for about four years”…until she “found a group of committed and semi-fearless Christians willing to work at owning our liturgy.”  

Not many people are willing to help form new congregations to get the style of gathering that fits their spiritual needs like Debby did. But if the right mix of people sense a mutual need, it’s predicted that this will be the more frequent model of New Reformation congregations.

She goes on to say, “I feel very liberated and intellectually stimulated to explore this thing called Christianity. And it does need a face lift, if not a complete body swap.”  

As the 21st century reformation develops, it, like all reformations, will be messy and have myriad permutations. Depending on where people are in their journey, there will be confusion and happiness, certainty and doubt, exploration and stubbornness, and there will be numerous “Christianities.”

Bill: “I have studied a multitude of religious ideas for most of my life. …spent many hours studying Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Scientology, New Thought Christianity, and [many religious authors].  I have listened to and watched numerous fundamentalist preachers on TV. All of them speak of the same things; some with a view that they alone have a corner on the BIG picture of GOD.  GOD is simply too Too TOO … for any one person or group to have cornered into a framework of human thought.” 

Yes, I agree God is beyond human thought and our descriptions are very limited by language. However, that needn’t stop our trying to sort out and make sense of our experiences of the unknown.

Bill continues: “My search has led me to one radical notion – there is not heaven or hell because there is no one singular lifetime limiting us. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

For many people who are becoming enlightened about the Oneness of creation and spirituality, that’s not radical at all—even though I may differ on our spiritual longevity. Former Evangelical mega-church pastor, Rob Bell wrote a best-selling book, Love Wins, with the same conclusion about hell. (Unfortunately, it also exiled him from his church.) Radical thinking rather than institutional doctrine is becoming the norm for understanding what Christianity really means.

Both Debby and Bill made some additional comments which stimulated my thinking about the purpose and energy of Oneness and Aliveness. It will be a challenge for me to put this foundational concept into words, but I hope to write my next piece on why humanity can and must journey toward goodness and wholeness…even if there are a few bumps in our path.

___________________________________ May 29, 2018

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to consider different meanings in life. You can receive these directly by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.”

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

Is Your Journey Like Mine?

Posted by on May 15, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 2 comments

Is Your Journey Like Mine?

A couple of readers have questioned where I’m going with this blog. To do that, I need to explain where I’m coming from. So, I’ll start at the beginning. Well, my spiritual beginning, anyway. I’ll briefly sketch how my journey has gone from being a traditional Lutheran minister’s son (we’re known as PKs—preacher’s kids) to a non-theistic Christian searching for Aliveness.

As a PK, I did everything I was supposed to do; acolyte for services, be very active in Luther League, confirmation classes, church camp, and dating as many of the church girls as possible. My parents were pretty open-minded with my upbringing as I was sort of a late surprise-child. (My siblings were eight, nine, and ten years older). I was taught about the Bible, but generally not from a strict literal point-of-view.

In college, I don’t remember my beliefs being challenged much by the required religion classes. As a psychology major, however, I thoroughly enjoyed looking at various points of view, the anthropology of cultures, and how we could change our minds even about deeply held beliefs.

My only striking theological stimulation was a single lecture by noted progressive theologian, Paul Tillich. I recall enthusiastically discussing his comments with several other students later that evening.

Following college, I led a Sunday school session for other young adults. I would read a book by some contemporary theologian or scholar and try to share the basic concepts with the few contemporaries who were willing to attend that church and my class. Through that teaching effort, I was getting more insights into differences between what was taught in church and what I saw as logical thinking.

Choking on the meaning

From early in our marriage, my wife, Louise, noticed I would often clear my throat in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed. I guess I just couldn’t believe every line of what I was supposed to believe. What was that about God having sex with a virgin? God is three different characters—one of whom he had planned to cruelly execute?

Over the years, much of Lutheran theology became more and more unrealistic to me, especially anything that gave God human characteristics. Also, it became difficult to see how God could intervene in worldly affairs. For example, if God could cure cancer, it must also be God who chose to give cancer to certain people.

I began to have tons of questions. Why did prayer work for some people and not others? Did some people just pray “better?” If so, isn’t that works righteousness? That is, are certain actions better than others to entice God to help them; especially to keep them out of hell?

Heaven? Hell? Are those places? Several decades ago I gave up worrying about hell. Why would God be so mean as to design a place that tortures people just because they didn’t say some words of endearment to Him by the time they died?

Have you ever held a newborn baby and thought, My, you’re a sinful person because of what Adam and Eve did?  No, neither have I. That original sin stuff didn’t jibe with a God who was said to have created us out of love.

Those pieces of theology just seemed too bizarre. And I hadn’t even begun to try to figure out why God would require a human sacrifice to himself. You mean he had a son just so he could murder him? And this is a loving father?

And I was confused by the way Jesus was portrayed by the predominate Christian message. He died 2000 years ago for my sins today—again, to appease that wrathful Dad-in-the-sky?  When I read the words attributed to Jesus—the ones about love and neighbors and mercy—none of them fit that dogma of predestined slaughter.

All this time—four decades—I was highly involved in my congregation’s activities. Most people who become disillusioned with religion, tend to reduce their church involvement. However, Louise and I never missed attending worship services except when we were out of town. If anything needed to be done, I was usually participating in either a leadership or support role. (Except for singing in the choir. They never invited me to sing—for good reason.) Several times I was asked to fill in for the pastor and would lead the service and preach the best sermon I could muster to try to explain the Gospel. I truly enjoyed being a part of North Riverdale Lutheran Church in Dayton.

For example, the photo at the top of this post shows Louise and me as characters in our church’s re-creation of Bethlehem on the day after Jesus’ birth. Although I was questioning the birth narratives in 1992, it was fun leading the building and staging of the village, complete with live animals, and to direct nearly 50 costumed villagers. 

The fork in my road

By 2010, however, I had stewed in the pew long enough. I went to my pastor, Monte Stevens, and said, “If I have to believe the traditional Lutheran doctrine to be a ‘Christian,’ I can’t, in good faith (pun intended), continue attending church.”1

Now, I knew that Monte had a very enlightened outlook on Christianity. Because, for several years, he chose some fascinating books for our congregation’s Adult Forum, which gave new insights into Bible history, comparative religions, the historical Jesus, and more.

However, after my comment, I think he finally realized I could read certain other books without becoming unhinged. So, he recommended Bishop John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.2 Click! Light bulbs flashed on! There was a whole world of progressive religious thinking going on, and I just needed to tap into it.

Spong, and dozens of other authors, have allowed me to see way beyond the fear of hell, or even the allure of heaven. Gone are any feelings that “Christ died for my sins.” God is bigger and more significant than just a manipulative being. These scholars, theologians, pastors, and lay people have shown great insights into Jesus’ wisdom and love that is directly applicable to the enjoyment of an abundant life and the healing of the world.

Now, eight years later, American church attendance continues to drop dramatically, and that trend will escalate significantly over the next two decades. Most people assume that the predominate Christian story is the only one that’s true, and they’re staying away from the church in droves. My goal is to let at least a few dozen people, like you, know about this transformation and spur your thinking about the potential for a new age of being actual disciples of Jesus.

Since this post is kind of a digression, I won’t predict what my next topic will be. Have you had any similar experiences to what I’ve had? I hope you’ll continue this journey and let me know some of the questions that you’ve raised over the years.

___________________________________ May 22, 2018

1 Well, it was words to that effect. I don’t think it surprised Monte. We have lots of communication between us, but this was a more adamant statement than I’d made before.

2 John Shelby Spong, 2011. He is one of the ground-breaking prolific writers of progressive Christianity. Since Spong also served as an Episcopalian bishop, he was able to put into practice—and take flak for—his beliefs in ways not possible for many scholars and theologians who are in academia. This book was also suggested by my brother who started out as a Lutheran minister and, after some career changes, re-imagined what Christianity meant.

___________________________________

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to consider different meanings in life. You can receive these directly by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.”

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking  towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

Everything Is Related

Posted by on May 7, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 0 comments

Everything Is Related

Why have I jumped on the concept of Oneness instead of just trying to re-explain God? Because God is so often understood as a being. That being tends to be separate from us, in another dimension, and isn’t unconditional. But if we look at Oneness as everything, then we can see that we’re interconnected and interdependent with everything else in the universe.

What’s most critical about Oneness is how we’re related to every part of it. Even though we are all One, we, in our finite way, often see other people and things as different from us. And we tend to rank people. We say some people are not of our family—tribe, class, race, country, heritage, whatever.

But what if we are all equal elements of Oneness?  Then we have to see the worth of others. They’re just as deserving as we are. They have the same inherent needs, hurts, emotions, etc. as we do.

What is seeing?

Relationships are all about how we see. When we realize we’re all one, then we can imagine that everyone is made of the same divine DNA. So, if they are also divine, we need to treat them just as we want to be treated. Wait, isn’t there already a saying about that? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Every religion and culture has a variation on the same idea.

What does treating others as yourself require? It means first having empathy. Empathy is a way of seeing. Empathy makes everyone a neighbor. A neighbor is someone close enough to care about and care for. The major point of the Good Samaritan parable is that the Samaritan saw his oneness in relation to another person from a different tribe he wasn’t “supposed to” respect.

When we see with empathy, we realize the need for compassion and justice. We also see how sustaining the Earth is in the best interests of everyone. We see how improving other people’s lives, i.e., the common good, is good for us.

Jesus was constantly trying to get people to “see.” His chiding the disciples about their not seeing and healing of the blind were metaphors for lack of understanding.  He called his followers to see themselves and others as equally deserving of the fulness of life. He said doing that is enjoying life abundantly. Insight into the oneness of creation is truly seeing.

Aliveness!

What’s the benefit of recognizing Oneness, having empathy, and seeing the divine in everything? Aliveness! Brian McLaren coined that term as a better translation of the Greek, “eternal life” which has come to mean “life after death.” Aliveness is well-being, shalom, blessedness, wholeness, harmony, and living life to the fullest.1

I like aliveness because it’s such a positive, active state of being. We are not just “alive.” We are not just waiting for a later life. In the present, we are imbued with an active awareness of our own self, or connections to the rest of the world, and our ability to interact with all that makes all of us feel more fully alive.

Resonance

Resonance is when two entities are in sync. When we can truly empathize with another person we’re in sync. We mentally walk in their shoes and we tend to want to do something about their situation. Even if we can’t immediately help, it usually affects us in ways that resonate within our core being.

Franciscan Brother, Richard Rohr, says, “The energy of the universe is not in the planets or in the protons or neutrons, but in the relationship between them. Not in the particles but in the space between them. Not in the cells of organisms but in the way the cells feed and give feedback to one another.”2

The space between them. It’s not just people who have energy, but it’s the relationship, the space between people, that creates energy. In feeling that energy, we are defining all humanity and our connection to it.

The deepest experience or relationship we can have is to be in synchrony with the universe. In this humanly-desired state we are fulfilling life to the greatest depths and broadest expanse. In this state we are, at the same time, serving ourselves and helping others achieve the same state of wholeness. We feel whole.

I recently saw the hilarious, but thoughtful, play, Hail Mary.  Felicia, a novitiate nun, questions a new teacher’s progressive thoughts on the reality of God not having a separate nature. Near the end of the play, she finally understands and breathlessly lunges into the classroom and blurts out: “There is no separation. It looks like there is, but that’s a trick of the mind. We are not separate. We are, all of us, part of the whole, all one. Like a drop of water in the ocean is a part of that ocean. So that hurting him hurts me. Helping her helps me. The tiniest act of kindness effects all of the ocean. And that ocean…is God. Not separate, not up there, looking down. But right here. All of us and everything equals…God.  …I think.”3

As is typical of all new realizations, Felicia, still has doubts about all the new concepts fitting together. So, she adds, “I think.” That’s very good. She’s thinking! She’s comparing how everything in the cosmos is related; how it fits her early Sunday School learning (God 1.0), or whether she needs to reimagine a lot of old religious images.

That reimagining is the journey…and there’s no worry about a destination. Keep enjoying the journey. This blog’s path will now lead to the purpose and calling of Oneness…I think!

__________________________________  May 7, 2018

1 Brian McLaren. We Make the Road by Walking, p, xv. He says that Aliveness is the meaning of the Greek, Zoein aionian, that is often translated to “eternal life.” For people living in the here and now, it’s a better translation.

2 Richard Rohr Meditation. April 29, 2018, The Template of Reality – Relationships.

3 Tom Dudzick, Hail Mary. Produced in Dayton, Ohio, by Human Race Theatre Company.

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Q & R — Question and Response. I don’t claim to truly have answers, so I’ll just write responses and let you decide if they’re an answer. I’m very thankful for the questions I’m already receiving because it means you’re reading and interacting with this blog. Unfortunately, as much as I’d like, I won’t be able to reply to all of them.

Carol writes: “When I think of hundreds of young Jewish men spending hours debating the Torah, I wonder why Christians do not have these debates. We certainly have enough material for it!”

This is an insightful comment, Carol, as it will let me explain where I get some of my ideas that may seem beyond traditional Christianity and from where progressive Christianity is emerging.

Yes, Judaism has a robust culture of multi-interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. Since “Israel” means struggles with God, they feel free to struggle with the words about God.

Christian theological and scholarly debates are also quite common and are led by both women and men. However, they seem to be suppressed from public view for two reasons. One, much of Western Christianity has developed an “our-way-is-the-ONLY-way” mentality, so true dialogue is often stifled. It’s been this way since Constantine told the bishops to write a creed that tells everyone what correct belief should be. This was reinforced for centuries by the Catholic Church and more recently by Protestant Fundamentalism.

Second, young pastors today are generally exposed to a wide range of Christian thinking in seminaries. But their first congregations tend to be conservative, and they preach to keep their jobs—that is, without rocking the boat.

What is now loosely known as “progressive Christianity” got started during the Age of Enlightenment. Then in the mid-19th century, German theologians started questioning the miracles of Jesus and began asking the essential question: Who was the historical Jesus? There was a backlash after the Enlightenment, along with scientific discoveries about the universe (especially evolution), and open debates within denominations (exacerbated by the Civil War). Out of this came Fundamentalism and Evangelical denominations, which mainly took a very literal view of the Bible.

However, at the same time, mainline Protestant denominations and scholars were starting to debate (mostly through writings) much different interpretations of the Bible influenced by archeology, anthropology, critical-study methods, and the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi codices.

New Christian concepts from theological writers like Paul Tillich and John A. T. Robinson (among many others) started hitting mainstream media in the mid-20th century. The amount of scholarly discussions grew exponentially. In the mid-1980s, a group of religious scholars got together to debate topics such as: Which words of Jesus are authentic, and which were probably created by the Gospel writers? Or, which books attributed to Paul were actually written by him?

That group was called The Jesus Seminar and published many books of their findings. It’s now called The Westar Institute. I’ve attended several of their debates and seminars and they’re always fascinating and enlightening, if a little pedantic sometimes.

Our congregation reads and discusses one or two progressive books each year to better understand God, the Bible, Jesus, and our call to lead the Christian life. This blog is my tiny attempt at having conversations about modern Christianity. Many debates have been going on. Unfortunately, they’ve often been under the radar for lay people.

The debates will continue as the New Reformation (see April 15th post) finally comes out of the academic closet in the coming decades. Unfortunately, it will coincide with the passing of the Christian church. But that’s a whole future post.

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If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to ponder different meanings in life. You can receive these directly by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.”

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy a walk towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

The Reality of Oneness

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 3 comments

The Reality of Oneness

Deep calls to Deep

At my father’s funeral, the presiding pastor, Russell Morgan, told of the final time he gave Dad communion. Dad, also a Lutheran minister, was bed-ridden and very hard of hearing. Russ had to shout in Dad’s ear and, even then, Dad couldn’t easily figure out what Russ was saying. But when Pastor Morgan offered the bread and wine and said the familiar communion words, Dad mouthed the words right along with him. Pastor Morgan said it was as “Deep calls to deep.”1

In that moment, Dad and Pastor Morgan touched another dimension beyond either of them. Deep calls to deep. They were immersed in a depth of Oneness with Ultimate Reality.

Can you think of moments when you felt really connected to someone or something outside of yourself, almost in a mystical way?
Maybe when admiring a sunset, you felt at one with nature;
Or tearing up when you first held your newborn baby;
Or the satisfaction of giving a hungry person a sandwich;
Or being overwhelmed with joy or sadness when singing the words of a poignant song;
Or the realization of being supremely connected with another human while making love.

In instances like those, you become one with a dimension that is beyond just the physical. Possibly you recognized that feeling was related in some deep way to all life, even to all that is. Instead of saying this is God acting, I see these moments as tapping into Oneness.

Oneness is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love, compassion, and justice.2

Experiencing God

Remember, I said last week that we can’t define God. We can only describe our experiences of the divine. To me, Oneness describes both an experience and a reality. When it’s a feeling, a sensation, or to use a mystic’s term, a knowing, then we can say it’s an experience. When we use Oneness as a name, we’re describing the ultimate reality of the entire universe. So, to me, Oneness is my way of referring to the active experience and reality of what others call God.3

A Biblical example is the oft prayed Jewish Shema: “Hear, O Israel. Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one.”  We usually think of this as referring to a single being. But you can also read it as God (Yahweh) is Oneness.4

It’s not just semantics.

What I’m trying to do is to move beyond God as a being, whether “up there” or “down here.”  Understanding God as a being is making God too small. Paul Tillich described God as the “ground of being.” Notice he doesn’t say God is “a being.” Rather God is the ultimate reality of all there is: good, bad, whatever. When we grow in what that means, we don’t need to get hung up on specific portrayals.

Am I simply playing games by substituting one word or concept, Oneness, for the more familiar God? You may say that. However, what I’m trying to explain is that the usual descriptions of God carry a ton of baggage.5 Using a different term can help us expand toward better understandings of the human purpose within creation. This helps us navigate toward wholeness. And wholeness makes both us and others feel better and nudges the world toward a healthier future.

The Freedom of Oneness

What’s great about Oneness is that it is not someplace else—out of this world. It is everywhere and each of us participates in it and, in our own way, shares responsibility for it.  There can be no distance between us and the universe. No separation between us and God—the reality of Oneness—and all the rest of creation.

Oneness is choosing to live in the present, rather than being on Earth just waiting for another life in some mysterious realm. It frees us to be fully human right now.

Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is describing Oneness when he says, “We’re not separate and distinct from the Universe. We’re not just alive in the Universe. The Universe is alive in us.” I think he’s paraphrasing the apostle Paul who described it as “the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being.”6

We don’t need to try to relate to a judgmental God, nor have a savior die for us. We are already part of the divine essence. And so is everybody in the world. My pastor, Monte Stevens, sees each of us as made of divine DNA. Obviously, that has great implications and responsibility for our relationships with others—neighbors throughout the world.

So, next week I’ll touch on how Oneness affects relationships. After that, I plan to show a few ways Oneness gives purpose to creation and encourages wholeness in our lives. For now, embrace the thought that you’re a divine part of all creation. You’re interconnected to every molecule of Ultimate Reality, and that calls you to be all that you can be.

____________________________  May 1, 2018

1 Psalm 42:7a

2 Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p.64. I used her great definition of spirituality with just two changes to shift it from Spirituality to Oneness. Her use of “greater power” is spot on. The more popular term, “higher power,” implies too much “up in heaven theology” and separation between us and whatever is above us.

3 I don’t mind using the term “God,” but I want to be clear I’m not referring to a being who resides outside the world. I haven’t fully decided on the capitalization of Oneness, so I’ll probably be inconsistent in some of my writing. I consider it both our experience of, and a name for, ultimate reality. Oneness also doesn’t cause confusion with gender references. It isn’t a “He.”

4 Deuteronomy 6:4. Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz of Temple Israel, Dayton, confirmed that this interpretation is within the scope of the Hebrew word for One as used in the Shema. This is often described as “there is one as opposed to no other.” This is clearly a non-dual concept and since Oneness includes everything, there can obviously be no “other.”

5 The negative baggage includes any vestiges of anthropomorphism, any ability to intervene in earthly situations, and any judgmental or punitive nature.

6 Acts 17:28. Paul was quoting the poet, Aratus, who originally wrote that line. I would modify the line to read: The One(ness) in which we live, and move, and have our being. Taking out “whom” removes any personification.

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If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to ponder different meanings in life. You can receive these directly by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.”

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness, and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy a walk towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

What Happened to Our Old God?

Posted by on Apr 23, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 2 comments

What Happened to Our Old God?

Brian McLaren gives one of the coolest examples of our changing perceptions of God. He starts with the basic view of God that mirrors our parent’s care—God 1.0. Then we learn about God 2.0 who cares for others; through God 4.0—a God of affection, fidelity, and forgiveness for us. Many people only hold a medium level of God understanding. However, we can activate our best self when we grow through additional revisions until we reach God 5.0: a bigger, wholistic God that incorporates all humanity, all living things, and the entire cosmos.1

Why is a concept of God important?

The most pivotal concept in progressive Christianity is how we view Ultimate Reality. That, in turn, leads to understanding what the Bible is, how we appreciate Jesus, and how we lead our lives.  Your behavior, your hopes, your relationships with every creature and every molecule of being begins with that ultimate reality we humans tend to name “God.”

We can get through life without ever having to explain what God is. But, the clearer our view of ultimate reality, the easier it is to choose behaviors that reinforce our satisfaction of knowing we’re living our best lives.

However, giving a pure, succinct definition of God, is impossible for humans. We’re finite; God isn’t. Plus, any language description is very limited. You see, any human account of “God,” can’t really be God. It would be something less than the Unconditional Ultimate Reality that gives purpose to the universe. God is bigger than any definition—including my feeble attempts!

Growing to God 5.0

The concept of God has been changing since early humans attributed human characteristics to the forces of nature. What we need to realize is that through these millennia when we define God we’re describing our experiences with God. And we’re using very human characteristics, usually limited to one language.

In the 1960s I was greatly influenced by J. B. Phillips book, Your God Is Too Small.2 He lifts you out of thinking that God may be a resident policeman; a parental hangover, or even a heavenly bosom. (And as a young man, I thought a lot about heavenly bosoms.) Phillips really started me on the quest to view God in terms that take us, well, beyond human terms.

For example, any anthropomorphic portrayal—gender, labels, emotions, senses, ability to do something, physical characteristics—is making a form that is limiting. Any capability for intervention in worldly affairs means that God is outside the situation and therefore is less than the total situation. Even benevolent descriptions such as “God is love” or “God is good” also imply that God isn’t everything (and yet I really like those phrases as I’ll explain later)

Then there’s “evil.”

People often counter with, “But what about Evil? Bad things happen in the world; how can that be God?” This thinking comes from old Greek dualism. That is, if there’s a good god, then there must be a bad god—evil or Satan. So, I ask, how can a part of creation, even evil, be “not-God?” Wouldn’t that make God less than all there is? If anything can exist outside of God, then that God is too small.

I’ll admit, this is hard for many people to swallow. You mean He isn’t the old man—Father-figure—we learned about in Sunday school? God isn’t mad at us for all our sins? Yahweh didn’t make a covenant with his people, Israel? God didn’t kill off his son? Wait, you mean there may be more (or fewer) than three dimensions—a trinity—of God?

When I say “Yes” to all those questions, the next comment from traditional church folks is often, But, doesn’t that negate everything in the Bible? Wouldn’t that mean there’s no point to Christianity? Or, non-religious people might say, But, that’s not what I hear when the news media talks about God.

A different revision of God than we’re used to—like God 5.0—has incredible implications. I already alluded to Biblical meanings and the status of Jesus, but there’s also prayer, religious practices, and, even more to the point: the very purpose of our lives. Next time, I’ll apply God 5.0 to the purpose of Oneness and Wholeness.

So, what are you thinking now? (I’ll bet there’s a good chance you don’t agree with everything I’ve said.) If you give feedback by asking questions and making comments—positive or negative—this can become a conversation; a way to grow together in living our most meaningful lives.

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  1. McLaren, Brian. The Great Spiritual Migration. 2016. His chapter on God 5.0 is one of the most progressive explanations of God you can find, even though he admits “God 5.0” is an unwieldy term.
  2. Phillips, J.B. Your God Is Too Small. 1952.

_____________________________________  April 23, 2018

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to ponder different meanings in life. You can receive these directly by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.”

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness, and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. That is, he’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy a walk towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.

A New Reformation Is Ablaze!

Posted by on Apr 15, 2018 in Enjoying The Journey | 2 comments

A New Reformation Is Ablaze!

Our local park district has a beautiful prairie that grows tall and green for several years. Then, to make it even healthier, the grassland must be burned to renew it for future growth.

Christianity also needs renewal after years of dogma that no longer sustains growth. Many old doctrines are dry and choke out fresh ideas.

The traditional Christian message was often the Missionary Sales Pitch: Say the magic words and you won’t go to hell. The magic words? I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

This was built on the foundation of original sin and a punitive God. As I’ll explain later in this series, this concept is suspect. Plus, much of it is not Biblical.

I sincerely believe there’s a better way to be Christian; to love and be loved. A more positive way to feel fulfilled and see hope in yourself and the world.

Christianity, God, the Bible, Jesus, and personal spirituality are undergoing major transitions. Does this bode well for your personal life, the wholeness of others, and the healing of the world? Or are there drawbacks?

Another Reformation

The next reformation is well underway and could be more transformative than the one Martin Luther ignited. It could lead to an extremely positive change in the world. However, like all upheavals of institutions and cultures, it will no doubt involve some major disruption in Christianity, Judaism, and possibly other religions.

This new reformation started over a hundred years ago. It picked up steam since the mid-1990s with theologians and scholars delving deeper into the Bible’s message, questioning each other, and especially studying the history and dynamics of the early Christian church. Now, there’s a gale of fresh thinking blowing through some Christian communities. Unfortunately, the vast majority of pastors/priests are reticent to share this good news for fear of alienating their contributing members.

One of my goals, in this tiny corner of the world, is to take on the mission of sharing how this reformation can be a very positive force for you. It can mean the freedom to be more fully human…and enjoy it more!

If God is not who or what we used to think “He” was, would that arouse your curiosity? Or might you say: “That’s heresy. God never changes!”  I fully expect some of these new views to cause confusion.

A better life?

Would you like to have a clearer, more satisfying purpose in life? What could you accomplish with a resilient, hopeful participation in the abundant life Jesus talked about? Here’s how he described it: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Living a life that pulsates with hope that isn’t built on fear of hell or other old dogmas.

That’s why this blog will focus on living as Jesus taught, but without much of the thinking that holds a lot people—maybe even you—from being active in the institution called Christianity. So, in my next few writings, I will touch on:

  • What happened to our old God?
  • Is God Oneness?
  • How are the experience and explanation of God different?
  • What does the Bible say about this?
  • Where does Jesus fit in? Is there a Trinity anymore?
  • What’s going to happen to “the church?”
  • Why are these concepts beneficial for you?

I’m still exploring this spiritual path. I truly hope that you’re curious enough to travel a little further with me.

_____________________________________  April 17, 2018

If these messages intrigue you, please share them with others who might like to ponder different meanings in life. You can receive these directly by sending an email to afabian131@gmail.com and say “subscribe.”

Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness, and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. That is, he’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy a walk towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.