Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Friend Abuga

Ministerial Muusings
February 2010
Rev. Jane Page

What country has the fastest growth of Unitarian Universalists? Kenya! So how did that happen? Did we send over missionaries to “convert” them? I wouldn’t think so. That’s wouldn’t be very “UU” of us, would it? I’ve been “m-uu-sing” on these and other questions since I received an email from Abuga Ragira, Lay leader of Ruai Unitarian Universalist church in Kenya. It seems that Pastor Ragira had read my sermon about congregational covenants on the internet and found it interesting. He shared with me his role in his local UU church and asked that I write back so that we could share our experiences in “uuism.” I wrote the following email back to him:

"Thanks for writing to me Abuga.  I'm glad you liked reading my sermon.  If you go to our UUFS Web Page (see the link in blue below) you can find a page that links to my sermons and read more.  I am happy to have a contact with a UU in Kenya.  I am hoping to one day be able to travel to Kenya, but it may be a few years before I can do that.  Perhaps we can stay in touch and if I am able to come one day, we will meet!"
And that’s how my friendship and frequent correspondence with Abuga began. Since that time, I’ve researched more through UUA to find out about his church and others in Kenya. Pastor Ragira’s congregation is one of several congregations in the Northern Kisii district that unite under the Kenyan Unitarian Universalist Council (KUUC). A separate council operates in Southern Kisii with well over 30 congregations in membership. The two councils recently agreed to work together under the umbrella of the KUUC.

Last summer, UUWorld published an article about Unitarian Universalism in Africa by Scott Kraft who was there on assignment from UUWorld to explore the rapid growth of Unitarian Universalism in Africa. Kraft reported:

"Ten years ago, the continent counted only a handful of UU congregations—four in South Africa, where Unitarianism was introduced in 1857, and two in Nigeria, where a Unitarian church was founded in 1919. Recently, congregations have emerged in places such as Kampala, Uganda; Bujumbura, Burundi; and Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. But the most spectacular growth has occurred in Kenya, where local leaders say sixty-eight congregations have sprouted in the Kisii province, a six-hour drive west of Nairobi. Several dozen more have emerged in Nairobi and central Kenya."

Unitarian Universalism isn’t totally new to Africa. There were two other groups before the more recent growth. According to Rev. Brian Kiely, a Canadian Unitarian minister who has traveled and worked with congregations in Africa:

"Unitarianism has been in South Africa since 1867 when a young Dutch Reformed minister turned his back on his church and preached the message of a loving – not wrathful- God. Our South African congregations are also culturally Caucasian and European. The only other Unitarian group with historical roots is in Nigeria where the tradition dates from 1915. There, a black Anglican Bishop, a 'liberal and principled man' pulled away and began holding services in Yoruba, using native instruments and writing Yoruba hymns."

But Unitarian Universalism in Burundi, Uganda, Congo and Kenya are pretty much brand new. Many of these folks are finding us through the internet. Kenya is the exception. Kenya’s Unitarian Universalists are organized into four main communities, but all owe their discovery of Unitarianism to Rev. Patrick Magara. According to Kiely, “Patrick is our only ordained minister in Kenya, although his ordination cane from the Seventh Day Adventist tradition. He discovered Unitarianism in 2001 and soon convinced his congregation to follow him into his new faith.”

Actually, he convinced more than his own congregation. It seems that he was the head of an association of two dozen Adventist churches, and most of them followed him in the UU faith. He found out about UU from a friend he met in the grocery store while he was studying in the United States. He went back and researched it on the internet and decided that this was the faith for him. He was quoted in UUWorld as saying, “I was questioning things. I was surprised that even my own church leaders treated Africans like children. And I was finding some weaknesses in my Christian beliefs. The idea that God was in each one of us was appealing.”

And since that time more new churches are forming all over Kenya. My friend Abuga Ragira is a lay pastor at one of these. His church meets each week for worship services and they are very active in various community projects, especially their women’s group. They have raised funds for the orphanage that is run by UUs there and they are trying to help some of the women begin small enterprises to help them provide for their families. According to Kraft’s article, UU is especially popular with women, as noted by the following quote:

"We found that Unitarians defend women very much. We have a problem in Kenya and we are determined to change a system where a pregnant woman has to carry sticks on her head, push a wheelbarrow, or work in the field while the men sit around. Unitarianism teaches our husbands that we are equal. Those other churches tell us we must obey."

There are many children in Abuga Ragira’s church who enjoy singing and hearing about the UU principles. I asked Abuga to send me there first names and one Sunday in December, our children wrote notes or drew pictures for all of their children and we mailed these. The children in Kenya were delighted with their special notes with their names on them sent to them by the Unitarian Universalists children in the United States.

Meanwhile, my friend Abuga and I stay in touch, sending messages via email and now on Facebook too. Today I had this message from him on Facebook:

"It is a nice morning here and the wind is blowing very nice and the birds of new valley are flying from tree to tree tuning some sweet songs enjoying the good weather. Right now we are mourning to our people who were widespread devastated by the earthquake in Haiti. The world is in a state of guessing what is eating it but let us pray to God to protect us from fate."

Recently I asked our UUFS board to affirm our friendship with this congregation and they agreed. What does this mean for us? Although they have great needs, they have not asked us to send them money. Of course we could decide to help them with one of their projects in the future. But the main thing they want is connection with others who have found the joy of Unitarian Universalism. And we can respond “Amen” to that!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Facing Our Demons

Rev. Jane Page
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro
January 24, 2010

What in the world is a rational-minded, scientific-oriented naturalist like me doing preaching a sermon on demons! And again – as I prepared – I asked myself, “Why the heck did I send in a topic like that to the newsletter? This doesn’t sound like something I would do? ” I must have been possessed!

Well – maybe I was, and maybe I am. But I’m hoping the demon that encouraged me to make that decision was the kind of demon that the ancient Greeks had. This daemon (often spelled with the addition of an “a” or an “i” in the first syllable to differentiate it from the later meaning) was a guiding spirit. Socrates said he had one. And the most dramatic thing the daemon told him was to not flee Athens when he had been convicted and sentenced to death, which he easily could have done – and with some honor. To do so, however, would have been to betray his divine vocation.

Now Jesus had a demon that tried to persuade him to take the easy way out. But Jesus said, “Get thee behind me,” … and he, too, chose the difficult road.

And I was tempted to use my continuing illness as an excuse to perhaps replace this topic with something else, maybe even warming over one of my really old sermons. But I did not sway to that temptation.

So – like Socrates and Jesus, here I am—and I’ll drink from this cup. (Fortunately it’s just water.)

Folks this is going to be another one of those sermons that is more of a wandering journey through the labyrinth rather than three points and a poem – but bear with me. We’ll get to the Minotaur in the middle and back out again. Besides, I’m trying to overcome my obsession with being so organized.

There’s a wonderful old story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking in the woods one morning, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil, looking very pleased. The friend said, “I wouldn’t think you’d be at all pleased about a man finding a piece of the truth. And the devil replied, “Oh, but you don’t understand. Now I’m going to help him organize it!”

Well, I at least will start as usual when I use religious terminology and give you a summary of the evolution of this term demon.

Etymologically the term daimon (the older term usually spelled as daimon) means 'divider' or 'alloter' and is used mainly in the sense of an operator of more or less unexpected events in human life. In Homer and other early authors, gods, even Olympians, could be referred to as daimones...Later writers saw them as guardians or protectors. A lucky, fortunate person was accompanied by a good daimon; and an unlucky one was with a bad daimon. Plato used all the earlier meanings of the term and introduced others. Completely new was Plato's concept of daimones as beings intermediate between god and men. (And) this notion was adopted by all subsequent demonologies. (Quoted and/or paraphrased from Simon Hornblower & Antony Spawforth, Editors. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Third Edition. Oxford & New York, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-866172-X hdbk)

When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the term demon was used to translate words that were referring to evil spirits. And that meaning followed in Christian scriptures. The writers of the gospels included many stories – like the one from our earlier reading – where demon is used to mean an evil spirit that possesses someone. The Catholic Church jumped on board and even still has this belief as part of their doctrine – with specially prepared priests that are identified as exorcists. And, although more progressive mainline churches minimize these teachings, more conservative theologies have seen the teachings related to demons increase in recent years. And then – of course – pagan and neopagan and eastern spiritualities and religions have their counterparts. Remember that Buddha had to overcome the attacks and temptations of Mara, "the evil one," before he reached enlightenment.

We see demons or evil spirits in popular culture today in science fiction games, books, movies, and even toys. It’s a big seller. But the concept also has attracted more followers in religious and spiritual settings. And regardless of your own beliefs, some of you probably showed up here today just to see what I had to say about this subject.

As I prepared I wanted to see what other ministers had to say about this topic – and not just UU ministers, and of course there’s plenty to read from more conservative folks on a subject like this. Some of them are so far-fetched that they seem evil themselves. But, I found myself shaking my head some as I read this from Rev. Bill McGinnis, Pastor of the

He writes:

Demons are harmful bundles of negative spiritual energy which exist as negative spiritual entities…. They are the true root cause of terrorism, leading vulnerable people to slaughter innocent civilians. And they have also affected our leaders here in the USA, dulling their minds and leading them into the brutal and hopeless invasion and occupation of Iraq, motivated by the false belief that God wanted them to do it.

Demons try to control, harass, torment us, or drive us to do things we ought not to do or wish we didn't do. Bad temper, anger, depression, fear, various sicknesses, various addictions -- to mention a few -- are caused by demons. Sometimes these demons are able to enter into us and gain control over us because of some flaw in our natural defenses against them, such as problems in our brain chemistry. Other times, we attract demons to ourselves because of our actions or our desires or our beliefs.

Now Rev. McGinnis has links you can click on that will provide prayers you can use to cast out your demons in the name of Jesus Christ – which he believes is the ONLY way to rid yourself of them. And that’s where my head started shaking in the other direction. Now, I myself – do understand the desire to just cast out your demons. You’ve got to do SOMETHING with this negative energy and emotion.

When I was in my 40’s, I was having a tough time with lots of marriage and family problems. But no one knew it. To the outside world, we had it together. The more I stuffed it down, though, the more resentment, jealousy, fear, and anger I felt. I was wishing that I COULD call forth a herd of swine to cast this legion of demons into. It’s a wonder that I wasn’t out on my porch hollerin’ SOOO WEEEE (because our neighbor farmer had some pigs that used to get through the fence). But before you animal lovers get upset – let me share with you that I, too, was always frustrated with that passage from Mark 5 where Jesus put the evil spirits into the pigs. SO – instead, late at night, I’d go out and shout at the trees in my front yard. They were strong and let me throw it to them. They didn’t die either. I sometimes think they now stand around my house – having transformed that energy into a protective shield for me. Now all of this is metaphorical and symbolic of course – me being a rational thinker and all – or is it? Actually, the tree thing didn’t help much because I had to do it every night. I finally achieved some relief by purchasing and reading a book by William Glasser – and doing some self-therapy with this that led me to face reality and make some very good decisions; and eventually getting into some real live therapy. And I know we have some counselors in our congregation, so I’ll give them a plug and say I highly recommend this strategy over yelling at the trees.

Rev. McGinnis of the doesn’t have a lot of confidence in mental health professionals. He states:

"Mental Health Professionals" in our secular society recognize the bad effects caused by various demons, and they have created scientific names for many of these bad effects. But they do not recognize demons as the underlying cause of these effects. So they attempt to control the symptoms of demonic activity, without dealing with the underlying cause, which is the demons themselves.

I disagree with Rev. McGinnis. They may not use “demon” terminology, but mental health professionals certainly do help us examine the underlying causes of our “stuff” if they can. But he MAY have a point in that sometimes medicalizing the terminology may not have as positive of an effect as we might think. Now I’m all for reducing the stigma of mental illness. I’m a member of NAMI and keep up with their stigmabusters campaign, signing petitions to stop people and organizations from using hurtful terminology for folks with various psychological disorders. Even so, I recently read an article in the New York Times about a book that was just released on January 12 that I’m putting on my reading list, because some of the points found in this seemingly well-researched article raise a flag of concern.

In his book Crazy Like Us, leading trend-spotter and science writer Ethan Watters, a regular contributor to the New York Times, shows that America is not only changing the way the world treats and understands mental illness, we are actually changing the symptoms and prevalence of the diseases themselves. He states:

For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases. These symptom clusters are becoming the lingua franca of human suffering, replacing indigenous forms of mental illness.

One of the findings that really concerns me is that our Western biomedical conception of mental illness has been shown to increase the social stigma placed on the mentally ill around the world.

You know we think if we give something a medical name or put it in a list of disorders - that folks will be more accepting – but that is just not true. Plus, the ideas of what we think are psychological disorders CHANGE as we ourselves change. I could give lots of examples, but I think you can probably think of these yourselves.

So that in some ways opens me to consider using other ways of thinking about this.

But regardless of how we name this “Evil” within us, what are we to do with it? Carl Jung talks about us having shadows of our conscious self that we suppress. And these shadows are often just the opposite of how we experience who we think we are. So someone who identifies as a forgiving person perhaps has a vindictive shadow part of themselves that they are shoving down and denying. Denying it does more harm than good, of course. And that’s why this sermon title is “Facing Your Demons.” For when we deny it we end up projecting on others. Some shadows are good, and we deny them too. Instead, Jung encourages us to journey beyond denial and projection and move toward integration and transmutation.

Can we transform our psyche into something more positive without an exorcist to cast out our demons? The answer is YES. There is no easy formula, though. This is not something the brain scientists can easily figure out with their cat-scans and studies stroke victims, etc.—although there are certainly some glimmers of hope in understanding some things and I’m all for continuing that path. Another book I read recently that I would recommend to you is “My Stroke of Insight” written by a brain scientist who had a stroke herself – with some very revealing insights that perhaps we can look at another day. But even she realized the response she needed was more spiritual than scientific.

One of our members asked me if I was going to cover alcoholism as one of the great demons. And certainly with lots of problems in my own family, I can not ignore this. But most recovering alcoholics will share with you that quitting drinking alone will not solve their problems. Unless they move forward with working something like a 12 step program, which includes some spiritual practice, they will fall off the wagon quickly – or perhaps lead the life of dry drunk. Although I’m very familiar with the program and have read that Big Book, I had forgotten till I was preparing this sermon the role that Carl Jung played in influencing Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought some of the similarities were just coincidental. But now I find that Bill W. gives Jung a lot of credit. It seems that Jung was treating a man whose alcoholism was so hopeless that Jung concluded that only a spiritual experience could help him. And this man, Roland H. started attending Oxford Group meetings and later shared his success with another hopeless alcoholic, who in turned shared with another hopeless alcoholic, Bill W. Later Bill learned through others and incorporated even more about Jung’s views; and wrote Jung what amounted to a Thank You letter dated Jan 23, 1961. Here’s a quote from that letter:

Very many thoughtful AAs are students of your writings. Because of your conviction that man is something more than intellect, emotion, and two dollars worth of chemicals, you have especially endeared yourself to us.

Jung wrote him back a few days later and explained even more of his views – and although these two letters are the only ones I found on the internet, there is documentation that more exist. And you can see how AA’s ideas of facing your resentments and other “demons” (if you will), and determining your own involvement, and working for transformation is very Jungian indeed.

Some of you may be saying – Jane you are looking too internally. Aren’t there just EVIL forces – out there – in the world? Old Pat Robertson has even connected these terrible earthquakes in Haiti with a pact he says the Haitians made with the devil to help them get rid of the French.

One of my seminary professors, Dr. David Bumbaugh (who identifies as a religious humanist), has written some ideas which help separate pain and suffering (like these folks are now experiencing in Haiti) from evil. He states:

Let me begin by suggesting that evil is not the same thing as pain, suffering, tragedy or death. The natural world is replete with pain and suffering, with tragedy and death, and nature seems ingenious in devising gruesome ways to achieve its ends. … (Then he goes on to cite lots of examples of) the ways in which pain, suffering, and death, are used as survival strategies in the natural world.

He continues…. Had such mechanisms been devised by a deliberate, reasoning, rational mind, they might well be called demonic and evil. If, for example, there were a God who deliberately fashioned such a world, it would be difficult to distinguish that god from a demon. The point I would make is that suffering and pain and death are real, but not necessarily evil. Evil is the consequence of a conscious and clear moral sense. It cannot exist except there be the capacity for feeling empathy for the other and the ability to choose between alternative strategies. One cannot fault a water bug for the way it kills and consumes its victim. It has neither the ability to put itself in the place of the frog, nor does it have any other mechanism for survival. Evil comes into the world when the capacity to feel for the other exists and is ignored, when there are alternatives to be considered and they are ignored. In other words, evil comes into the world only when life has reached a level that is human, or very like human. This is not to suggest that evil is unnatural. Human beings are part of the natural world; (but) within humanity, an ethical sense arises from out of the natural world, and with it, the possibility of evil.

Bumbaugh then gives examples through history of how we’ve tried to conquer evil by killing the “Great Satans,” like Hitler. But even when the war is over or evil communism has failed, we are fed constant fear in our local universe. He says:

The papers, the magazines, the radio and the television all feed us a steady diet of stories detailing the existence of evil in our world. And in lurid fascination, we feast our minds on stories of young children sexually assaulted and murdered by quiet neighbors, of babies murdered by their mothers,…. We consume stories of … sexual abuse, of disgruntled employees and religious fanatics acting out their fantasies of revenge and retaliation, of wives and ex-wives and lovers and ex-lovers brutally beaten and disfigured and murdered. …There is an enormous industry at work in this country supplying our appetite for stories which describe the threat of evil which lies all around us. We feed upon it like carp in a small pond when a handful of food has been tossed into the water, and we scare ourselves senseless in the process.

So we cry out: Build more prisons; put them in jail and throw away the key… Kill the incarnate evil among us so that the world may be safe again.

What we seem to miss in all of this, what we have seemed to miss throughout the history of this (past) century, is that evil is not an anomalous consequence of a single individual or group, and therefore, it cannot be destroyed by destroying the person or the group in whom it emerges. Rather, there is (what Bumbaugh calls) an ecology to evil, a structural relationship which involves the entire community. There is a sense in which the criminal, the perpetrator represents a response to the unvoiced, the unexamined, the repressed needs of the community. So long as we need criminals, we will continue to produce them.

Bumbaugh looks hopefully to the ideas of Gandhi and Martin Luther King to work on changing ourselves in how we respond to what we perceive as evil – to not fall into the trap of playing the game that perpetuates the continuation of vengeance and hate.

So, where is this journey of a sermon going now? I guess it’s time to come to the center of the labyrinth and face the minotaur -- my own demons. And my problem –is that my demons (and maybe some of yours too) seem to start out in goodness – in something that may even be considered as sacred or divine. I feel called to do GOOD things – become your minister, care for my family members, work for peace and justice in the world. GOOD stuff! But I find that in the process of doing this “good stuff” I sometimes shift into a very negative gear, obsessing over it, worrying excessively and trying to control unnecessary details, – allowing perhaps the preparation for a worship service or a pastoral care concern to keep me up night after night; setting ridiculous expectations and pushing myself for no good reason -- to the point of collapse. That’s not goodness, that’s sickness. And many of the other demons we have – like jealousy, envy, and greed – probably start out with the goodness of love, admiration, and a healthy desire to provide for our families. But, the gear shifts – and the balance changes. And when that gear shifts into that other kind of energy, your vehicle, your soul, doesn’t run very smoothly – and can easily head for break down on the road of life.

So that brings us back all the way around to the title of this sermon – “Facing Our Demons” – because that’s where we have to start. We all have them. Can you face yours? One thing I’m thankful for is that I have this community of support, standing with me on the side of Love as I face mine. And we will be here for you too. Just as Bumbaugh warns of an “Ecology of Evil,” the good news, our gospel, is that there can be an “Ecology of Love” that develops in community. I encourage you to really get more involved with this community. Let us study together, meditate or pray or walk the labyrinth together, teach our children together, and, of course, serve our greater community together.

And for our newer folks – if this feels like “home” to you, we invite you to begin on that path toward membership in this wonderful liberal, religious community of healing, support, peace, joy, and LOVE.

I’m sounding like my old Baptist preacher giving his altar call. Maybe those old altar calls were not altogether bad—because they asked people to make a conscious decision to change something in their lives, and to declare that intention to their religious community.

I won’t ask you to do that today – but I will ask you to look into your own hearts and souls and come to that symbolic altar of LOVE where we can commune together. And we, Unitarian Universalists, will welcome you with open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.

Amen and Blessed Be.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oh My Soul!

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro
January 10, 2010
Rev. Jane Page

In 1871, Anna and Horatio Spafford (a successful Chicago lawyer and real estate investor) experienced the death of their only son; sadly – just the first of several traumatic events for them. The next was the great Chicago fire which practically ruined them financially. In 1873 Anna and their four daughters set sail for England on the S.S. Ville du Harve. Horatio planned to join them later, having been delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Fire. While making the crossing, the Ville du Harve sank rapidly after a collision with an iron sailing ship, the Loch Earn. All but 39 of the passengers, including the four Spafford daughters, died. Anna survived and sent her husband a telegram – saying – “Saved alone.” Soon Horatio traveled to meet his grieving wife. When his ship passed near where his daughters had died, he looked out over the waters – then went to his cabin to pray and contemplate. It was here that he penned the hymn – “It is well with my soul.” The first verse shares a personal perspective related to his loses.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I heard Spafford’s hymn sung often through the years at First Baptist Church here in Statesboro. And it was one of my favorites. It’s a soulful song about the soul. But what is it that Spafford was singing about? And what do I mean when I say that song is soulful? I must admit to you that even after hours of reading and study – (or perhaps BECAUSE of hours of reading and study); I do not have the answer.

I’m in sympathy with the soul of the old depression era blues and gospel singer -- Blind Willie Johnson (who was a friend – by the way – of Statesboro’s Blind Willie McTell). He sang:

Won't somebody tell me, answer if you can!
Won't somebody tell me, what is the soul of a man
I'm going to ask the question, answer if you can
If anybody here can tell me, what is the soul of a man?
I've traveled in different countries, I've traveled foreign lands
I've found nobody to tell me, what is the soul of a man.

So Blind Willie couldn’t find the answer and I couldn’t either. But this is a Unitarian Universalist congregation. And if you know anything about our faith and our congregation, you already know that I don’t know the answer. But I can share a little with you about what others have considered regarding the soul – and perhaps pose some questions and some possibilities for us to ponder.

The English word soul is derived from the Old English Word -- sawol; and is akin to Old High German word seula. lists a dozen different definitions. I was privileged to hear Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, speak at the UU Minister’s Convocation in Ottawa this past November. At the Question & Answer session, someone made the mistake of asking him to define Soul. He glared at them and simply said – “No, I will not define it…Next question?”

Most of us grew up in this Judeo – Christian culture with understandings of the soul that were provided by western religious groups. Although western theologians have differing views of the soul, most do view it as something separate from the body – that part of human beings that is eternal and destined to live on (for better or worse) after our bodies die. And we assume because this idea is so prevalent in religious literature and church teachings, that this is the biblical teaching about soul. But that’s not really accurate.

The two words that are usually translated as “soul” in the Bible are the Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psyche – and these were used to mean the life of a being – whether that being is human, animal, or even God. And we still use that meaning today when we say something like, “the tsunami came and thousands of souls were lost.” We are talking about lives – living breathing beings, which are no longer living breathing beings when they die. Now the Bible did speak of resurrection and immortality. The Jews were divided on this idea with the Sadducees denying immortality and all spiritual existence. The Pharisees maintained these doctrines, adding belief in pre-existence and transmigration. And of course the Apostle Paul believed that Jesus would return within his lifetime and that Christians who had died in the meantime would be resurrected to share in God's kingdom. He also believed that the saved would be transformed, assuming supernatural bodies. But he uses words other than “soul” to share these views – although he does use the word soul (or translated as soul) in other places.

So where did this Christian understanding of soul as the immortal being come from – if not from the Bible. Would you believe from Greek philosophy – especially Plato’s ideas? Augustine of Hippo is the early church theologian that is usually given credit for promoting the Christian view of the soul as something immortal. And he was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy – especially the Neo-Platonists, who built upon Plato’s ideas.

Plato viewed the soul as separate from the body. He considered the soul as the essence of a person. And he considered this essence to be eternal. Our bodies die, but the soul is continually reborn in other bodies. The Platonic soul comprises three parts:
1. The logos (mind)
2. The thymos (emotion, or spiritedness, or masculine)
3. The eros (appetite, or desire, or feminine)

The allegory he uses is that of a charioteer (the logos or mind) trying to control and balance two horses, the thymos and the eros. Of course the feminine part of the trio is the bad one. Anyway --- these ideas evolved and took on a more religious element – eventually even lifting up the idea that was similar to the “oversoul” from our reading by Emerson.

When I was in seminary, my theology teacher, Thandeka, thought that it would be wise to have us read all the books of Augustine’s Confessions. Really! Augustine was basically a renowned teacher of rhetoric who continually pondered life (and for several years kept a journal of these ponderings). He was the son of a pagan father and a Christian mother – and mom was forever pushing him to convert to Christianity. And he considered it for a very long time, along with other religious and secular alternatives. Augustine also really enjoyed “knowing” the women he loved. And he deemed this a major obstacle for conversion. One of the most famous quotes from his confessions occurred before his conversion when he prayed, “Oh Lord, give me chastity, but do not give it yet.”

Eventually, however, he took on a life of chastity and devotion to the Church – becoming one of the most important of the early church fathers. His earlier writings about the soul seem more dualistic – indicating that a human being is “a rational soul using a mortal and earthly body.” Later this dualism gets a little muddy with the idea of a single substance for humans including a body and soul. In any case, his views and the views of other early church fathers have certainly affected how many Christians view the term soul. Now Augustine’s views were also influenced by his study of Paul’s teachings. And he incorporated those teachings about salvation by grace through Christ into his doctrine. When Spafford wrote the words, “It is well with my soul,” – he fully believed that his immortal soul was in good hands because of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But the word soul is used in so many other ways. We search for our soul mates, sing soulful songs, cry from the depths of our soul or give soul hardy laughs. We read inspirational stories as “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” We say our souls are tormented, enlightened, uplifted, and downtrodden. And of course since the 60’s, soul has also been used as a term to represent African American culture. We eat soul food, and listen to soul music performed by soul brothers and sisters. I attempted to find out how “soul” became a term used for music, food, and culture of African Americans and was unsuccessful in finding a definitive answer. I did find one interesting story though that may explain – at least – why one songwriter used this term.

Remember the song “Soul Man” – from the movie with the same name, and also sung by The Blues Brothers and James Brown – and originally recorded by the duo Sam and Dave? It was written by Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter and here’s a quote I found on Wikipedia from a book called Soulsville, USA published in 1997 about the history of Stax records.

Co-author Isaac Hayes found the inspiration for "Soul Man" in the turmoil of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In July 1967, the 12th Street Riot in Detroit, Michigan occurred. Watching a television newscast of the aftermath of the riots, Hayes noted that black Detroit residents had marked the buildings that had not been destroyed during the riots - most African-American owned and operated institutions - with the word "soul". Relating this occurrence to the biblical story of the Passover, Hayes and songwriting partner David Porter came up with the idea, in Hayes' words, of "a story about one's struggle to rise above his present conditions. It's almost a tune [where it's] kind of like boasting 'I'm a soul man'. It's a pride thing."

The soul was explored by Jung using archetypal psychology with it’s pantheon of gods, goddesses, myths, and metaphors and by James Hillman – who took Jung’s ideas and de-literalized them a bit. And its Hillman’s work that is the bases of the book by Thomas Moore that I cited earlier – called Care of the Soul. I thought that I had read this book in seminary – but I was mistaken. I must have just read an article or chapter, because most of this book seemed new and strange to me. Anyway – as you remember, Moore refused to give a definition to the questioner at the conference I attended. But I did find a more succinct description of Hillman’s ideas given by Hillman himself. He said: “By soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures; the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” (From Hillman – 1975, as quoted in

And after reading Moore’s book – you can see that his understanding is very similar to this. Soul is connected to imagination. But unlike many who use the words “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably, Moore and Hillman draw a distinct line. They associate spirit with "afterlife, cosmic issues, idealistic values and hopes, and universal truths," while placing soul "in the thick of things: in the repressed, in the shadow, in the messes of life, in illness, and in the pain and confusion of love." (Hillman J (T Moore, Ed.) (1989). A blue fire: Selected writings by James Hillman. New York, NY, USA: Harper Perennial. pp. 112–113.)

Well, if that’s the case – I’m sure in the need of some soul work, because that’s where I’ve been – in the thick of things -- for the last month or so, with family members and church members who are grieving or who are ill, and, indeed, my own obsessions about my work. And so, you would think that reading this book, Care of the Soul, would be just what I needed. And it did provide some food for thought if not soup for the soul. Here are a few of the points that Moore makes that I believe are worth sharing today.

Moore discourages people like ME from trying to understand the soul. He states, “Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle of life; quite the opposite, it is an appreciation of the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life and culture can be.” (page xix)

Moore claims that a loss of soul lies behind the restlessness, addiction, insecurity, and frustration of folks in today’s world. He asserts that people whose lives are so devoid of meaning and purpose are yearning for something to nourish their souls. This book was initially published in 1992 – and folks were really flocking to self-help books and new age spirituality as well as more traditionally religious books at that time. Perhaps he was right.

SO – how DO we nourish the soul? Well we might, according to Moore, follow the lead of Epicurus? REALLY? Wasn’t he the wild party animal? Nah, … Moore sets us straight on Epicurus.

Epicurus, a much misunderstood philosopher who stressed simple pleasure as a goal of life, wrote, "It is never too early or too late to care for the well-being of the soul." Epicurus was a vegetarian who urged his followers to cultivate intimacy through letters. He held his classes in a garden, so that as he taught he was surrounded by the simple foods he ate. (Ironically, his name has since become a symbol for gourmet eating and sensuality.) (page xviii)

In his chapter on Soul and Power, Moore shares the paradox of finding strength through difficulty. He states:

What is the source of this soul power, and how can we tap into it? I believe it often comes from unexpected places. It comes first of all from living close to one's heart, and not at odds with it. Therefore, paradoxically, soul power may emerge from failure, depression, and loss. The general rule is that soul appears in the gaps and holes of experience. It is usually tempting to find some subtle way of denying these holes or distancing ourselves from them. But we have all experienced moments when we've lost a job or endure an illness only to find an unexpected strength. (p. 120)

I also found intriguing Moore’s thoughts about the importance of ritual in nourishing the soul. He notes that neurosis and psychosis are often accompanied by obsessive ritual and asks:

Could it be that these neurotic rituals appear when imagination has been lost and the soul is no longer cared for? In other words, neurotic rituals could signify a loss of ritual in daily life that, if present, would keep the soul in imagination and away from literalism. The cure for neurotic ritualism could be the cultivation of a more genuine sense of ritual in our daily life. (pp. 115-116).

Moore provides a plug for formal religious associations when he states: “If we are going to give ritual a more important place in life, it is helpful to be guided by formal religion and tradition.” (p. 116).

Well – no more of Moore – at least for now. I’ll probably resurrect him again in two weeks along with others when I take on the topic, “Facing Our Demons.”

The bottom line is this – although I found this book interesting, it didn’t feed my soul. Maybe a book and more information for my brain was just not what I needed at a time when my soul didn’t feel so well. I got a lot more out of an experience this past Friday. After spending the night with my mom in her hospital room, I had a special treat of getting a facial with a gift certificate that my husband had given me for Christmas. Now having someone pay attention to your face and rubbing away the tension is great. But then it got even better. Monica left some gook on my face for a while and turned her attention to my feet. First she gently washed them with warm water. And I thought about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. What a loving act! Then she scrubbed and massaged the soles of my feet, these soles that carried me everywhere and bore the weight and burdens I carried. What wonderful care for those soles! Now there’s a metaphor we could ponder with a homonym for wordplay to boot!

But the best care for my soul is just being with you folks – even if I’m not as prepared as I would like to be (and this sermon has been a little on the rambling side). Because I know that this is a place that I’m accepted and loved; as well as a place where we can support one another in community – perhaps in that Oversoul that Emerson talked about. In any case, when my soul is sick, this is my hospital – with a bountiful group of nurses ready to care in their greetings, songs, rituals, words of encouragement, hugs, and of course – great coffee! Oh, Yes, It is good to be here, and I share with Horatio Spafford the acclamation that “It is well with my soul!”