Wednesday, April 26, 2017


     We graduated and moved across College Avenue to the seminary, played pool in the dorm

basement, dated girls and tried to keep our virginity intact as God wanted, since, paradoxically,

the great procreator of creation was absolutely chaste.  However, to compensate, we snuck

guilty glances at soft-porn centerfolds, joined the all-male line snaking around the corner

from a nearby movie theater showing “the actual birth of a child,” and a few had the courage

to check out Brigitte Bardot in “And God Created Woman” at the Drexel theater on

(what else?) Main Street bordering the campus.  Decades later, a roommate’s daughter,

in one of life’s little ironies, was Miss America.
These experiences were vividly real.  God, increasingly fuzzy, despite the thick fog of Scandinavian and German piety that hung over the seminary.  Evolution presented a problem.  We wondered.  If an affirmation of Jesus Christ was required for “salvation,” did that mean that millions of Chinese who had not heard of Christ were eternally damned?  What was required, even, what did it mean to “be saved?”  For all Thomas Merton’s profound spirituality, he wasn’t saved from the fatal electric shock of a defective fan.[i] 

Years later, an article in The Christian Century sharpened the question: what would we answer to extraterrestrials who landed on earth and said “Jesus who?”  Was Christ cosmic, earth-bound or just Euro-American; for all people or just white people.  And if the pictures we saw were anything like Jesus, how come he was so fair skinned?

      In seminary, the Inquisition, Crusades, the torture and murder of “witches,” heretics and

Anabaptists didn’t get nearly as much play as Luther nailing his 95 theses on the Wittenberg

church door.  I read all 567 pages of Luther’s Commentary on the Book of Galatians,

but never heard about the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu scripture of the world’s oldest

organized religion.  Worse, nobody mentioned racism, sexism or poverty.  We thought that

poverty was defined by our student budgets.
The theology professor gave his most memorable advice to the wives: “When you hang out your wash, put the underwear in a pillowcase so the neighbors can’t see it.”  His text was Pieper’s Christliche Dogmatik which held that there is only one valid interpretation of biblical passages.  I was reading the Christian existentialist Nikokai Berdyaev and Thomism’s, well, Thomas Aquinas.  Fathers (there weren’t any women in seminary) of newborns paid for the midmorning coffee break, and someone posted a sign that our son’s name middle name was Aquinas instead of Albert.  The neighbor across the hall was reading Reinhold Niebuhr and decamped for the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He was quicker on his feet than I. 



[i] There are several versions of what happened, including assassination and heart attack, but the bathtub-electric fan version seems most likely.

Friday, April 14, 2017


When I Was a Child

      Many contemporaries have had a mixed history with God.  Sometimes it feels as though my life has just been a serial rollout of cultural clich├ęs, plus a little this, minus a little that.

      God (or possibly my mother) led me piously through Sunday School, altar boy, church choir, Luther League, the church Boy Scout troop, the Pro Deo et Patria award, a Christian college, seminary and into ministry.

      During World War Two, we elementary school children were hauled into a temporary Quonset hut on the Broad Street School playground.  Boxes marked “food,” “water” or painted with red crosses were stacked high.  The lights were extinguished and a vinyl record played the whistling sounds of descending bombs.  The possibility of German bombers over our steel mill town seemed real, so we memorized the markings on Axis airplanes.  It wasn’t clear that God was going to prevent disaster.  War and the possibility of death seemed more real and scary than resurrection and eternal life.  Every night we prayed: 

            Now I lay me down to sleep,

            I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep.

            If I should die before I wake,

            I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.

            God bless mommy and daddy

            Ruth (my sister)

            And grandma and grandpa Rieger,

            (my Hoehn grandparents had already died).

 

      It left the creepy feeling that I might be dead before morning.  In church, we sang “God will take care of you.”  Was God going to take care of me if bombs fell?  The fact that bombs were already falling on children elsewhere never occurred to me.  God would take care of me. 

      Our Institute Hill Elementary School second-grade teacher, Miss Whisner, asked what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I said “a priest.”  She smiled tolerantly, since most Roman Catholic children attended parochial school and she knew we were Protestants.  At age eight, I thought I had a plan for the rest of my life, a horse to ride with God as my jockey, when, actually, I was just a little kid in jockey shorts. 

      In my early teens, a buddy and I trespass on the grounds of the Phillips (the gas and oil folks) mansion in our home town.  We crawl over the stone wall, carrying empty jars to catch guppies from a lily-pad pond.  As we scoop water into the jars, we hear the clump-clump-clump of approaching boots.  We dash, ducking through bushes, clamber over the wall and run three blocks before feeling safe.  As I catch my breath, I discover that my new eyeglasses are missing.  I don’t want to tell my parents, so I skip going home for lunch.

      We hang out a while, then sneak back.  I pray desperately that God will help me find the glasses.  As we steathily approach the pond on hands and knees, we spot the glasses hanging from a bush.  It scares me that I can ask, and WATCHOUT- BANG, God delivers.  Frightened by my power through prayer, I stop praying for a long time lest I say the wrong thing, like the wrong wish when the genie pops out of a lantern, or King Midas’ mistake.

      Years later, we would learn about people tortured in jail cells and concentration camps who cried out for deliverance, but, instead, experienced slow and excruciating death.  The urgency of their prayers was more compelling than my lost glasses, so urgent that the two thoughts don’t belong in the same paragraph.  But God did not save them from unimaginable suffering, untimely death.  So, I quit praying again, but this time for the opposite reason – it didn’t seem to matter one way or the other.  God wasn’t listening, couldn’t hear, or was powerless.  “He” couldn’t even do something as simple as help stop me from masturbating, though I regularly came to the altar asking for forgiveness and the strength to quit.  It never worked.  Never.

      After high school, God led me to Columbus, the capitol of Ohio and Capital University, a church-
related liberal-arts school.  Some of us participated in service projects to the school for the deaf and the Columbus State Hospital for the Insane where 100 lobotomies were performed in the 1950’s and 4,275 individual electroconvulsive therapies were performed in 1955.  As we walked the large rooms filled with hard-to-look-at boys, some tied to clunky wooden platforms, one boy asking to shine our shoes, we were starkly reminded that not everyone enjoyed the benefits we took for granted.[i]  Other students found different diversions.  One of my housemates was more interested in detonating home-made bombs in the back yard.

      The faculty were kind and reasonably learned.  The chair of the history department sometimes showed up in his classy reserve officer’s uniform because he had served in the Pacific.  It sometimes seemed as though the Pacific Front was the most important part of the war. 
     In Greek grammar, we were startled when our professor admitted that he had flown a Messerschmitt against Allied planes during World War II, though, “only in defense of his country.”  His flight experience with the Nazi air force was probably not on his resume when later he became dean of a U.S. seminary.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


I ♥ Ujung Pandang   

      I’ve regretted not buying the “I ♥ Ujung Pandang” T-shirt in Sulawesi as a reminder of the incredible God-event our Fulbright Summer Faculty Group was about to experience.[i]  Our leader heard that a public funeral was in progress among the upland Toraja people, so we clambered aboard a bus for a grueling ten-hour ride.  Going full speed as he approached blind curves with vertiginous drop-offs, the driver blasted his horn to warn vehicles coming from the other side, and yet come to a full stop for a chicken crossing the road (presumably to get to the other side, even in Indonesia).

      We arrived in time for the final “sending out of breath” or maqkaruqdusan day, of a three-day funeral.  The deceased person, “the one whose head is sick,” (tomasaki ulunna) had been dead for the three years it took to complete the funeral preparations and re-assemble the widely-scattered family.  It is their custom to store a “sleeping” corpse in a backroom casket with a small bamboo tube that drains outside, or they bury the deceased in a temporary grave.

      Locals watch from batik-bedecked bamboo booths surrounding a dirt plaza.  Some sit while others shuffle back and forth in murmured conversations.  A water buffalo, tied to a tree, shifts uneasily side to side over red-stained ground, perhaps smelling the blood of siblings.  There’s just one buffalo, so the deceased was not super rich.

      There are speeches in Sa'dan Toraja.  A eulogist, rises and speaks, curiously repeating a word that sounds to me like “Jesus,” though that seems unlikely, so distant from Christian culture as I have known it.  Then the choir rises and sings “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” – not in English, but unmistakable to anyone who has done hard time in Sunday School.  Ah, the Christian missionaries have been here.

      The choir sits.  Young men prance around the water buffalo and pull its tail.  It roars with indignation as it falls, but they boost it back up, for it has not fallen on the ritually prescribed side.  They tug and push, finally getting it upright.  A dancing youth waves a machete-like knife in airy circles, and then with a sudden single swipe slices the buffalo's throat.  Its last startled wild-eyed roar turns into a ghostlike rush of air as esophageal cartilage pops free of the neck muscles and lung-breath rushes skyward without passing through vocal cords.  The dead man’s soul is now released to ride his faithful water buffalo, so necessary for survival, to Puya, the land of souls.  When breath ends, the spirit departs.[ii]  

      The men use bamboo tubes to catch the blood spurting from the buffalo’s severed arteries as its heart continues to pump.  The women keen at the departure of their husband, grandfather, father, cousin, uncle, friend.  The buffalo is skinned and cut into huge chunks.  Black-clad mourners skewer the stringy meat with bamboo pikes and heft them onto their shoulders to begin the trek homeward.  Everything is shared.

      The horns will be mounted on the center post of a two-story thatched hut, along with those of its’ ancestors.  The batik banners are stripped from the temporary huts and draped over the casket, topped by a giant Mai-Tai parasol.  Men shoulder the funeral bier, move downhill, wade through a watery rice field nearly dropping one end, and climb the facing hill to a burial crypt. 

      Not your typical Euro-American funeral.  When’s the last time you butchered a bull in your church, synagogue, mosque or temple?  And, yet the ceremony was as meaningfully Christian to the people of Tanah Toraja as the funeral of a beloved member of the First United Methodist Church in Corsicana, Texas. 

      What sort of God/religion/spirituality do the Christian Toraja people have, and is it important that it is different than that of Euro-American Christians?  Western Christians who might denigrate the animism in a Toraja funeral, are oblivious to the ways non-Christian cultural themes and memes, such as consumer individualism, fold seamlessly into their religious experience.  Do Euro-American and Toraja Christians worship the same God?  Can it even be said that traditionalist Roman Catholics and snake-handling Protestants worship the same God?  Even people sitting cheek by jowl in a pew have differing understandings of who or what God is as well as what God expects of us.  How can there be a single meaning of the word “God,” let alone a single understanding or worship of the Being represented by the word? 

      Furthermore, there are an estimated 450 to 500 million atheists in the world who believe that God does not exist, 700 million people who are non-religious and millions of polytheists.[iii]  Billions of people are spiritual but do not worship a God figure.  Yet they practice “godly” virtues such as faith, hope and love whether theists or not.  The existence and nature of God, along with what happens after death, are greatest mysteries.  The relationship between God and goodness, is dicey at best even though some claim that you have to know God to know good.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.



[i] Funded by a Fulbright faculty summer grant.
[ii] Similar sacrifices can be found on youtube.
[iii] The "The Oxford Handbook of Atheism" estimates 450-500 million.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The following is a seriously revised version of the Feb. 10 post.


Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream                           
a   hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many
rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert,
someone who loves you --- even, perhaps, against all evidence, a
celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football
team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs
over all opposition.

   Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points
from which to view the world.

    -- Neil Gaiman, American Gods.[i]

           
      What does God have to do with social and political spirituality?  And, why is God in the last, rather than the first, chapter if God is the most important thing we could know about – the source of  ultimate mystery, more-than, power, meaning and goodness?

        God belongs here because ninety percent of Americans say they not only have spiritual or religious experiences but believe in God, and that can have implications for how they live their lives.[ii]  People who say they don’t believe in God, may also feel there’s a “higher power,” or spiritual reality.  Theists often look to (their understanding of) God to know what’s good.  But, people who are not theists embrace goodness without God, and theists do evil in the name of God.  So, “God” and good have a complex relationship that deserves our attention.

      On the question of why last rather than first, many theologies assert the nature and intentions of God, and then derive moral and political calculations from that understanding.  Some of those theologies invoke scriptures, traditions or the “laws of nature,” which presumably reflect the God who set them in motion.  But scriptures and traditions vary, even internally, as we have seen.  Nature creates and destroys.  If we take our God-clues from the “laws of nature,” is God both the creator and Shiva, the destroyer of worlds? 

      Those formal theologies can filter down to become practical theologies by which people live, encouraging them to heal or kill, create or destroy, dominate or serve, live or die.  This chapter posits that that Good/ness is a standard by which theologies should be judged, not the other way around.  Deductive theologies are upside down.  Goodness, broadly conceived, with an emphasis here on moral goodness, is a criterion used to decide which theories and claims about God make sense.  It matters whether God is good or Good is God.  The question is: does a God-theory or -statement promote goodness, as in “you shall know them by their fruits?”  So, we began with goodness and just now are getting to God as a metaphor for goodness.

      The chapter also argues that God as the humanized face of Goodness helps many theists thrive best because there is nothing more personal than human contact, so that a personalized God can be more meaningful than an abstract concept or numinous presence.

      We begin with a story from Sulawesi, an Indonesian Island east of Borneo, which highlights differences in practices among people who, nominally, subscribe to the same God but understand their religion quite differently than Western Christians.  This raises the question “what does it mean to be a Christian (or Jew, Buddhist, Hindu), if beliefs and practices are so varied within a single tradition?” 

      Then, we trace some personal experiences of a commonly shared trajectory from pious affirmation, through skepticism to a different kind of affirmation, in this case, inspired by a street-corner panhandler and a woman who cried out for God to heal, or if not, then, to kill, her.  Though perhaps extreme examples, they illustrate that many people need God, often a God that is more-than, not less-than, and at-least human . . . ish.



[i] Neil Gaiman, American Gods.NY: Harpertorch, 2001, p. 508.
[ii] The Pew Forum.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


I ♥ Ujung Pandang   

      I’ve regretted not buying the “I ♥ Ujung Pandang” T-shirt in Sulawesi as a reminder of the incredible God-event our Fulbright Summer Faculty Group was about to see.[i] Our leader heard that a public funeral was in progress among the upland Toraja people, so we clambered aboard a bus for a grueling ten-hour ride.  Going full speed as he approached blind curves with vertiginous drop-offs, the driver blasted his horn to warn vehicles coming from the other side, and yet come to a full stop for a chicken crossing the road (presumably to get to the other side, even in Indonesia).

      We arrived in time for the final “sending out of breath” or maqkaruqdusan day, of a three-day funeral.  The deceased person, “the one whose head is sick,” (tomasaki ulunna) had been dead for the three years it took to complete the funeral preparations and re-assemble the widely-scattered family.  It is their custom to store a “sleeping” corpse in a backroom casket with a small bamboo tube that drains outside, or they bury the deceased in a temporary grave.

      Locals watch from batik-bedecked bamboo booths surrounding a dirt plaza.  Some sit while others shuffle back and forth in murmured conversations.  A water buffalo, tied to a tree, shifts uneasily side to side over red-stained ground, perhaps smelling the blood of siblings.  There’s just one buffalo, so the deceased was not super rich.

      There are speeches in Sa'dan Toraja.  A eulogist, rises and speaks, curiously repeating a word that sounds like “Jesus,” though that seems unlikely, so distant from Christian culture as I have known it.  Then the choir rises and sings “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” – not in English, but unmistakable to anyone who has done hard time in Sunday School.  Ah, the Christian missionaries have been here.

      The choir sits.  Young men prance around the water buffalo and pull its tail.  It roars with indignation as it falls, but they boost it back up, for it has not fallen on the ritually prescribed side.  They tug and push, finally getting it upright.  A dancing youth waves a machete-like knife in airy circles, and then with a sudden single swipe slices the buffalo's throat.  Its last startled wild-eyed roar turns into a ghostlike rush of air as esophageal cartilage pops free of the neck muscles and lung-breath rushes skyward without passing through vocal cords.  The dead man’s soul is now released to ride his faithful water buffalo, so necessary for survival, to Puya, the land of souls.  When breath ends, the spirit departs.[ii]  

      The men use bamboo tubes to catch the blood spurting from the buffalo’s severed arteries as its heart continues to pump.  The women keen at the departure of their husband, grandfather, father, cousin, uncle, friend.  The buffalo is skinned and cut into huge chunks.  Black-clad mourners skewer the stringy meat with bamboo pikes and heft them onto their shoulders to begin the trek homeward.  Everything is shared.

      The horns will be mounted on the center post of a two-story thatched hut, along with those of its’ ancestors.  The batik banners are stripped from the temporary huts and draped over the casket, topped by a giant Mai-Tai parasol.  Men shoulder the funeral bier, move downhill, wade through a watery rice field nearly dropping one end, and climb the facing hill to a burial crypt. 

      Not your typical Euro-American funeral.  When’s the last time you butchered a bull in your church, synagogue, mosque or temple?  And, yet the ceremony was as meaningfully Christian to the people of Tanah Toraja as the funeral of a beloved member of the First United Methodist Church in Corsicana, Texas. 

      What sort of God/religion/spirituality do the Christian Toraja people have, and is it important that it is different than that of Euro-American Christians?  Western Christians who might denigrate the animism in a Torajah funeral, are oblivious to the ways non-Christian cultural themes and memes, such as consumer individualism, fold seamlessly into their religious experience.  Do Euro-American and Toraja Christians worship the same God?  Can it be said that traditionalist Roman Catholics and snake-handling Protestants worship the same God?  Even people sitting cheek by jowl in the same pew have differing understandings of who or what God is as well as what God expects of us.  How can there be a single meaning of the word “God,” let alone a single understanding or worship of the Being represented by the word?



[i] Funded by a Fulbright faculty summer grant.
[ii] Similar sacrifices can be found on youtube.

Friday, February 10, 2017


That which follows is the most unfinished of all the draft chapters so far.  And, probably the most controversial.  Also, I still, obviously, haven't taken time to straighten out font and spacing problems.
The God Merry-Go-Round

Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream  a  
hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many

rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert,

someone who loves you --- even, perhaps, against all evidence, a

celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football

team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs

over all opposition.

   Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points

from which to view the world.

-- Neil Gaiman, American Gods.[i]

             

      What does God have to do with social and political spirituality and why are we only getting to God now if, as billions believe, God is the most important thing we could know about – the ultimate mystery and the absolute more-than, the source of meaning around which we should shape our existence?  Because we have limited knowledge and power, God is often described as all-knowing and all powerful, the Almighty, especially for tribal people who knew so little about their world and were radically subject to fierce animals and other random forces of nature.  Because we are finite and die, God is believed to be infinite and bring eternal life in one form or another.  Whereas our thoughts and actions are a mixture of good and evil, God must be the supreme good, the source of morality.  The gods of ancient Greece and Rome – gods of wine, war, wisdom and wild things; trade, time and truth – mirrored and magnified the daily lives of ancient peoples, or at least the wealthy class.

      Statements about God (theologies) are extrapolations from, interpretations of, experiences of burning bushes, sacred texts, charismatic individuals, or induced by meditation, incense, gongs or ecstatic visions.  We may not be sure about which theology is “right,” but ninety percent of Americans still say they not only have spiritual or religious experiences but believe in God.[ii] 

      There are historical as well as empirical reasons why “the God question” needs to be part of a discussion of social and political spirituality.  That which people believe about God often leads them to act in certain ways – healing or killing, creating or destroying, dominating or serving, dying or living, informed by their understanding of God.  What they believe counts, regardless of  theological speculations about the existence and nature of God.
     A Sulawesi experience, described below, illustrates differences in practices among people who, nominally, subscribe to the same God.  After the story, a series of personal experiences trace a not uncommon trajectory from pious affirmation, through skepticism to a more grounded affirmation, inspired by a street corner panhandler and a woman who cried out for God to heal, or if not, then, to kill, her.  Next post, to Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo. 



[i] Neil Gaiman, American Gods.NY: Harpertorch, 2001, p. 508.
[ii] The Pew Forum.

Friday, January 27, 2017


A second helpful Niebuhr contribution addresses the question of why people who individually are moral, often commit immoral acts when banded together in groups, in the words of the book’s title, Moral Man and Immoral Society.  While for Niebuhr, this observation had theological significance, it’s essentially a formulation that could have been made by any cultural commentator about moral and political culture.  Over time, many have asked and addressed this issue.

A third Niebuhr contribution, in response to political idealists of his day, is his exploration of the depth of evil (“sin”) inherent in the human condition and thus the need for political realism, e.g. that it takes power to offset power – again, an observation that was not original and had been made by other observers of political life.  Niebuhr was driven by his understanding of God.  But, the lasting significance of his life is in the realm of recovery groups and his popularization of other people’s moral and political theories.  Insofar as these make a good contribution to the human community, they can be thought of as in some sense the working of the spirit of god; just not exactly the God he was thinking about.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Thirty percent of people say they practice religion “to help you be a better person and live a moral life,”17 percent say “to find peace and happiness,” 10 percent say “to connect with something larger than yourself,” 8 percent say “to give your life meaning and structure,” and 3 percent say “to be part of a community;” all. sensible, pragmatic reasons.  The laity are better theologians than their clergy.

It’s interesting that well-known theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, whose fifteen books have been appreciated, by tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people, is probably best remembered for  pragmatic observations that could stand independent of his systematic theology (itself an oxymoron).  The first is the serenity prayer, used with slight modification in thousands of twelve-step groups, and could be affirmed by atheists if you substitute something for the word “God.”

            God (i.e. Higher Power) give us grace to accept with serenity the

            things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which

            should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.  

 

The prayer is not specifically Christian, though Niebuhr was a Christian neo-orthodox theologian.

A second is his observation that people who individually are moral, band together in groups often commit immoral acts, in the words of the book’s title, Moral Man and Immoral Society.  While for Niebuhr, this observation had theological significance, it’s essentially a formulation that could have been made by any cultural commentator about moral and political culture.

A third, in response to political idealists of his day, is his exploration of the depth of evil (“sin”) inherent in the human condition and thus the need for political realism, e.g. that it takes power to offset power – again, an observation that was not original and had been made by other observers of political life.  Niebuhr was driven by his understanding of God.  But, the lasting significance of his life is in the realm of recovery groups and his popularization of other people’s moral and political theories.  Insofar as these make a good contribution to the human community, they can be thought of as in some sense the working of the spirit of god; just not exactly the God he was thinking about.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


It has been hard for me to stick with the church.  Most of what I had been taught now seems wrong, not because I had been lied to but because the teachers simply did not know any better, though sometimes they knew better but were afraid to share it.  I believe the latter is true of a lot of local clergy who are vulnerable to wholesale desertions if their congregations knew what they really think.  While I cannot be angry with some of my seminary teachers and colleagues because of what they taught, for indeed, most of what I’ve written or said is probably just as deficient.  The annoying part was that they made absolute claims absolutely.  More tentativeness, expressions of uncertainty, more biblical and theological humility would have gone a long way.  The problem is not religion per se, but absolutism in the name and practice of religion. 

The church’s moral, as opposed to biblical or theological, failings, however, did and do provoke anger.  In the late 1960’s, invited by a friend to preach at a congregation on the South Side of Chicago, I ended a mild and moderate sermon with: “And so, everyone who has God as his father has Martin Luther King as his brother.”  The church summoned the pastor when he returned and took away his right to invite supply pastors unsupervised by a committee of the board.  Like many others, he soon left the parish.  I quit giving money to the church and started giving to the NAACP, SNCC and CORE because if God was anywhere, “he” was in the movement.  

As I became more aware of the Holocaust, I began to doubt  that God  is in charge, that God answers prayer, indeed, that God  intervenes, or does anything in real social-historical time.  At the same time, the good and evil, the pain and pleasure, experienced in family realities became more and more salient as did the importance of politics – 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education, 1964 The Civil Rights Act and The War on Poverty, 1971 School Busing as a way to reduce inequalities.  The “God question” didn’t seem nearly as important as the human question.

Even though some of what I hear in church makes very little sense, I continue to cast my lot with religious institutions because they do more good than harm and because I do not see other institutions that, day in and day out, century in and century out, continuously promulgate goodness.  Thus, my commitment to religious institutions is has pragmatic, aesthetic (music, art, architecture), ethical and communal elements along with personal reflection and meditation.  The Bible makes a contribution, but “the Bible says so” is, by itself, no longer an adequate guide.