Busted Halo
Features : Religion & Spirituality
December 31st, 2009
Seeking the sacred dimensions of daily life

Faith, spirituality and religion are too often looked upon as the province of “experts” who spend all their time in places of worship with their noses buried deep in holy books. At BustedHalo.com we frequently hear from readers who desperately want to explore their spiritual questions but feel alienated from traditional faith communities. The fact of the matter is that the experience of sacredness is as unique and personal as our fingerprints, but we sometimes fail to recognize these moments as God’s way of speaking to us in our everyday lives.
“Where’s God?” is our attempt to look more imaginatively at the movement of grace in each of our lives and chronicle the countless different ways God is at…

December 31st, 2009
A plea for an end to our culture wars

The uproar over Notre Dame’s honoring President Obama in late May exposed the fissures within American Catholicism that will no doubt be on display following the President’s July 10 visit to the Vatican.
But while it is no secret that American Catholics have been publicly bickering with one another since the end of Vatican II (and well before then, if one reads a little history), what we are seeing now is more disturbing than a simple clash of ideologies.
It is a culture war — but not the broader, endlessly discussed “culture war” between blue- and red-state America. Rather, it is a more specific, more intense, intramural Catholic culture war. It is not pretty and, more importantly,…

December 13th, 2009
Making the best of a bad situation

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Are you going home for Christmas with trepidation because it means dealing with a drunken parent? Are you not going home for Christmas because, after years of discomfort, you’re not willing to put up with it anymore?

Ever since I first wrote about alcoholism and addiction in the What Works column (Am I An Alcoholic?, Spiritual Recovery), people have asked about a parallel issue — when a friend, family member or partner is an addict or alcoholic. It’s too big a topic to cover in a single column, so for this family holiday, I’ll tackle the most relevant part of it: a parent who’s an alcoholic or addict.

Before my parents passed away, Christmas meant visiting their home. And, among other things, dealing with my dad’s alcoholism. My dad was usually a pretty harmless drunk, getting gradually mellower and eventually passing out. But occasionally he would get rageful instead. And though he never resorted to physical violence, that is all too common a result when alcohol simultaneously fuels anger and loosens inhibitions. (Being of a mix of pilgrim and pioneer stock, my parents’ form of punishment was not violence but shunning — the silent treatment — which could last for days.)

But family holidays meant more drinking than usual, and it meant my dad stayed up and engaged. This combination meant an “incident” or two — of anger or inappropriateness — was likely.

December 8th, 2009
'New Jew' Patrick Aleph is reclaiming righteousness by creating his own Jewish genre

Patrick Aleph, lead singer of punk band Can Can, has started an oh-so-needed movement in the Jewish community called Punk Torah . Punk Torah is not necessarily about music, Patrick explains, but it is about rebelling — rebuilding and reapproaching the way Judaism is being done. “If I punk the Torah, it’s not that I’m punking a holy book. It’s that I’m punking a certain way of looking at the book which is inflexible and what drives people away from it,” he said.
Patrick considers himself an observant Jew, but also lives what he believes to be a very progressive life. He gets asked often how he balances being in a punk band with Judaism. His says he doesn’t have to because…

November 30th, 2009
The spiritual value of not running late

This is one I still struggle with. A lot. I’m in no way an expert in getting places on time. But I’m much better than I used to be. And the reason I’ve improved is that I’ve come to understand more and more how it’s not just about time management. If you’re a chronically late person, it can carry behind it a lot of other issues — disrespect, dishonesty, creating chaos, self-centeredness, to name a few — and it bothers other people more than you realize.
There are so many reasons to be on time. The most obvious is that running late is stressful. It adds to the anxiety in your life with no change in outcome. Whether you’re early, just in time, or late, once you’re…

November 25th, 2009
One believer puts aside his childhood religion

I was just a child when I first began learning about Christianity in my hometown in North Carolina, but I was soon faced with a powerful choice: Would I accept Jesus Christ into my heart as my own personal savior?
It is the single most powerful question a Christian can ask a person. If you say yes, you get into Heaven after you die. It is that simple: you have to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he took flesh, that he sacrificed himself for the rest of us, that he was crucified for the rest of us, that he died so that our sins would be absolved. You have to believe that he rose from the dead, and that he is going to return. You also have to believe that if you don’t believe, if you don’t accept Jesus Christ…

November 17th, 2009
A young Jewish woman in NYC asks herself tough questions about religion and spirituality

In Rendezvous with G-d, twentysomething blogger and journalist Monica Rozenfeld explores what it actually means as a young Jewish woman in New York City to have a relationship with G-d.
From sitting at dinner tables with the ultra-Orthodox, non-believers and everything in-between, Monica asks herself tough questions about religion and spirituality. What does it mean? Does it matter? And where can I find some?
In her new blog Rozenfeld explores the issues of faith, religion and spirituality, and invites readers on her Jewish journey to the random places she meets G-d.
Starting now, you can find this new Busted Blog at bustedhalo.com/rendezvouswithg-d, and on the Busted Halo homepage. …

November 2nd, 2009
An unassuming little tool in my spiritual first aid kit that can have a big impact

I want to share with you a little method with a big impact: the Welcoming Prayer. This unassuming little method has helped me many times. What’s your first impulse when you have a “bad” feeling? If you’re like me, it’s usually to suppress it. But we all know that doesn’t work. What you focus on sticks around. This is one of the big lessons you learn through meditation. If you try to suppress a thought, it becomes your entire focus. Worse than before.
But while a regular meditation practice can inculcate a balanced relationship with your feelings and emotions, with the serenity that comes from that, sometimes you need help now, in the field. You can’t exactly sit down on…

October 30th, 2009
Southern Pagans peek out of the broom closet

Tom Cornwell had a secret stashed in the ottoman of his Savannah, Georgia, home. A former Jehovah’s Witness elder and minister for 20 years, he worshipped the Egyptian goddess Isis. Cornwell, 62, thought his secret was safe — until his devout Jehovah’s Witness wife announced she’d found his cache of witchcraft books.
Cornwell (not his real name) came out of the pagan closet to her that night, and says she took it better than expected. “I think the Goddess was watching over me,” he says.
A year later, he studies with a Wiccan coven and is a member of Savannah Pagan Meetup. Cornwell, who still hasn’t come out publicly about his beliefs, says he joins a growing number of pagans…

October 19th, 2009
Letting go of our burdens

We’ve all heard the jokes. Ever since the term “baggage” entered popular use thanks to the 80s inner child movement, it’s been both a warning — “I have a lot of baggage” — and a punchline.
Example: A few weeks ago on Jay Mohr’s sitcom, Gary Unmarried…, before he meets his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, she says: “And I really like him, so please don’t make that joke about how his strong grip will come in handy when he’s carrying all my baggage, OK?”
The broad definition of baggage is: something from the past that continues to weigh you down.
Christine used the word “fraught” in last week’s excellent column

October 8th, 2009
Ministry and connection in 140 words or less

Religion has found Twitter, the 3-year-old web service that allows people to dish on their daily lives in 140 characters or less. Increasingly, monks, nuns, pastors, rabbis and followers of all faiths are using Twitter as a means of spreading their faith, talking about faith-related news stories, connecting with their congregations and sending their prayers into cyberspace. Consider the following:
Each morning and evening on Twitter, @TheUrbanAbbey has prayer services in 140-character bites. The monastery without walls included this prayer in a recent morning service: “Giver of the present, hope for the future: save us from the time of trial. When prophets warn of doom, free us from our helplessness.”…

October 4th, 2009
You won't miss anything important

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I don’t mean to put anyone out of work in this difficult economy — I even have several friends in this profession — but I implore you to turn off the news and leave it off. Mainly, I want you to turn off the local news, where “if it bleeds, it leads” and the priority, after titillating you with gore, is to scare you — because they thrive if we think we have to watch or we’ll die.

There are a number of reasons I recommend turning off the news. First, life is stressful enough already. Who needs this? Second, if you are powerless over something, there’s usually no benefit in worrying about it. Third, exposing yourself regularly to the ugliest aspects of society darkens and coarsens your view of other people, which takes you away from compassion and love, and thus away from God. It undermines your spiritual fitness.

Rather than helping us better to mourn — to see the suffering in the world with an open heart — watching the news regularly hardens our hearts. In order to face so much suffering with no option of relevant action, we detach from it; we tune it out, if you will.

October 3rd, 2009
Making my peace with the blessing of the animals

If you’ve ever seen dog owners walking to church with their pooches in ridiculous outfits, sprayed with doggie perfume and a bow in their fur you’ve stumbled upon the annual “blessing of the animals” on the Feast Day of St Francis, October 4. In years past I witnessed one woman’s dog in a top hat and tails. Another dressed in a doggy business suit. A third looked like a clown (both dog and master).
I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when I overheard conversations in the pews about how smart their silly mutt was and how much love they received coming home to the wagging tail that greeted them at the door. Owners shared recipes about what they cook for their pets, talked about what…

September 29th, 2009
Opening up to God through meditation

As a child, I yearned to be good. Not just pleasant-table-manners good, but profound, give-away-all-your-belongings-like-St.-Francis good. This may surprise anyone who knew me back then, since I appeared to be a competitive, selfish, critical little pill of a girl, but that’s the story of my life: I want to be good and I don’t know how.
I don’t mean that I don’t know what actions are good. That’s usually clear enough: be honest, be kind, help others, and share what you have. The difficult part is how to be the type of person who really is… good, who has good impulses, who wants to be good. How do you become more compassionate, more kindly, and more patient? How do you transform yourself

September 24th, 2009
For Yom Kippur, a rabbi offers this functional definition to apply to all your relationships

In the Jewish yearly cycle, Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, is most holy. On Yom Kippur, we Jews simulate death, in order to stimulate life. We refrain from such life-affirming activities as eating and drinking, creative work (as we do each Shabbat) and sex. Our rituals nudge us to focus on the value of our lives in this world.
Leviticus 19 teaches: “Be holy, because I, the Eternal God am Holy.”
(A rabbi, a priest and a minister are discussing their own funerals. The priest imagines a eulogy about his compassionate listening, his sage advice and his encouragement of the poor. The minister hopes for words about his work for civil rights, peace and health care. The rabbi wants those at his funeral to say,…

September 23rd, 2009
A Jewish grandmother thinks about identity and intermarriage

I’m not a fan of circumcision, though the bris milah is required for male Jewish children and is considered an essential component of Jewish identity. I do know some modern Jews now have the ceremony of the bris… without the actual circumcision. When my sons were born in 1962 and 1963, I didn’t want to have them circumcised, which was an unusual position in those days. My husband felt strongly about the boys being circumcised, however. I allowed him the final decision and actually I’m glad I did: as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more aware of the value of our family’s connection to its Jewish heritage.
When my oldest son and his wife had a son, there was no consideration of the baby

September 20th, 2009
Stop wasting so much time figuring out what to do

I was on a retreat this weekend, and do you know what one of the little pleasures was for me? Coming to the dining room at mealtimes and being presented with a single option — simply accepting what is offered. Why is this lack of choice a comforting treat rather than an annoying limitation? Because having to choose from dozens of options — having to decide what to do every minute of the day — can be exhausting, and stressful. And, like the dinner menu, many of the decisions we face every day are entirely unimportant.
I live in New York City. More than any other single place on this planet, perhaps, it offers lots of options. This can be exhilarating, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. On any given…

September 16th, 2009
A young minister reflects on her encounters with evangelism

Shawn preaching in the Union Square subway station

Union Square is a historic and lively outdoor space in Manhattan, known for its plethora of restaurants, live entertainment, farmers market, college students and — most infamously — skateboarders. It is a crossroads for all people; a place where the rich and poor, young and old, goth and suits meet for entertainment and leisure. Entrepreneurs, extreme sport enthusiasts and people watchers are not the only ones taking advantage of this unique space; street evangelists are too.

They are part of the two percent of Christians who share their faith, according to statistics released by the evangelistic organization, Crusade For Christ. These street preachers are spreading the love and message of Jesus Christ right in the middle of New York City, and adding religion to the mix at this outdoor Manhattan hotspot.

This sparks some questions. How do they have the guts to do what they do in such a city? Are they simply Jesus freaks who should be categorized with the other “crazies” that roam Manhattan? And, is anybody really listening?

I took several different approaches as I watched these street preachers on my biweekly visits to Union Square. As a Christian, I admired their willingness to spread the message and inquired about their motivation. As a minister, I admired their preaching boldness, analyzed their audiences’ responses, and learned some indirect yet valuable lessons about spreading the Gospel. And at times, while I respected their mission, I had issues with the message they chose to share (particularly in regards to judgment, hell, and dogmatism) and questioned whether the best and most relevant methods were being used to reach their audience.

September 7th, 2009
Discernment is about uncovering what you already know

I’ve written several columns here with suggestions that are rather directive — get enough sleep, use the downturn to find your calling, meditate regularly… and then there was my column about not saying ‘should’ and ‘have to’.
“Um,” said a reader after the ‘don’t should’ column, “How do I know when to make a change and when to go easy on myself — how do I know when to apply which principle?”
It’s a great point, and I’m grateful to be called out on it. It’s all well and good to say we should live in the now and accept God’s plan as it unfolds, but that doesn’t mean we should be passive. Using…

August 25th, 2009
How I decided not to become a priest

Around the middle of last February, just as the Lenten spirit of penitence was starting to kick in, an unexpected guest turned up at evening Mass. Tall and lean, graying and bearded, wearing a Dominican habit and an air of stern benevolence, he looked like central casting’s idea of a Grand Inquisitor.
It turned out that wasn’t too far from the mark. He was, in fact, novice master for our province of the Order of Preachers. After the Gospel reading, he took the pulpit and delivered what amounted to a recruiting pitch for the order. To my own surprise, I found myself straining to take in every word. Becoming a Dominican sounded like a capital idea. Between the travel and the scholarship, it reminded me of grad…

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