Posts Tagged With: Interfaith

Hostile Takeover in Churches?

When I work with congregations after a pastor’s retirement or resignation, my goal is to help them prepare for whatever’s next in their congregational life. I lead them through a SWOT Analysis—thinking about their…



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This winter, I’m the Interim Pastor of a church in Connecticut. When we got to the “Threats” section of the process, it occurred to me that most congregations, no matter their denomination, are vulnerable to similar external dangers.

Partisan politics have entered the church house. In fifty years, we might have just three denominations: Republican, Democratic and None. Previously, men and women who’ve cancelled each other’s votes have been able to worship God and study the Bible together, acknowledging the Lordship of Christ. Nowadays, we talk past one another, emphasizing different portions of the Bible or ignoring Scripture altogether. Result?

  • “That preacher’s got to go.”
  • “I’ll never come back to that Sunday school class as long as that teacher is there.”
  • “Did you hear what the denomination did?”

Encroachment by those from different faith traditions. Some conservative Christians are fearful of the Interfaith movement. Hindus, Muslims and ISIS have never been a threat to the congregations in which I’ve worshiped. The problem we have in Baptist churches is crossovers from Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Reformed traditions whose beliefs are similar to traditional Baptists, but different enough to create havoc. “Christian” radio and television, as well as parachurch movements, create the impression that all Christians ought to think alike. But we don’t. That’s why, for hundreds of years, we’ve had Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist congregations in the same community. I’m an ecumenical soul, but I do not believe a lot of things some folks who show up in a Baptist church assume I believe.

Hostile takeover. That’s not a concept most people think about with regard to churches, but it happens every week. A new pastor sometimes has an agenda. Baptist churches call someone as their new pastor they believe is a “traditional” Baptist minister, whatever that means to them, only to discover they now have a Reformed Baptist or a Fundamentalist in the pulpit. Then come chaos and a church split.

Church shopping, combined with impossible expectations of pastors and staff. About one of every hundred preachers is what I call “lightning in a bottle,” with Billy Graham charisma, with clarity of voice and message. People look for a preacher that is the most humorous, the most inspirational, and the most charming. Denominational or church loyalty is almost a thing of the past. Megachurches with an entertainment mindset are sucking the bodies and the blood out of traditional congregations. The questions of this generation are,

  • “What have you done for me lately?”
  • “Is it fun?”
  • “Will it cost me anything?”

Secularism. Low priority for spiritual and church matters. Youth soccer games scheduled for Sunday morning at 10 a.m. are the norm, not the exception. Busy-ness. Crowded schedules.

When a culture no longer gives props to the church, Christians have the opportunity to demonstrate their own faith by acting counter-culturally. It’s not the culture’s job to do the church’s work.

Read the Bible. Pay attention to Jesus. Be still. Pray. Be grateful for what we have. Fear not. Think. Listen. Don’t worry. Make peace. Evangelize. Be generous. Let your light shine. Don’t judge. Learn grace. Speak the truth in love. Forgive. Major on the majors. Love one another. Serve others. Trust God.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Psalm 23: 1

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Suggested Reading for 2017

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr (The winner, hands down, for the volume that most affected me in recent years. Rohr says life is divided into two halves. The skills you need as a young adult are not the ones you need past age forty. If you only read one book in 2017, read this one.)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Knowing way too little about the early history of our United States of America, I learned something on every page. It’s not a comic book, but it’s easy enough for adults to read. Hamilton gives perspective to this difficult political season.)

The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill (I find myself repeatedly quoting this book, so I must think it has something to say. I read everything Cahill writes.)

The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh (What I learned in Baptist life, including seminary, was a caricature of the actual beliefs and practices of other faiths. Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to listen to what Buddhists say about themselves, what Muslims say about themselves, etc. This book is a good start.)

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (An impressive account, academic and easy-to-read, of Americans of African descent, who left a perilous existence in the Deep South and moved North, hoping to create better lives for themselves and their children.)

Under the Banner of Heaven—John Krakauer (Continuing in the theme of trying to understand worlds I know little or nothing about, I’m fascinated by Krakauer’s stories of both faithful and radical Mormons.)

Overcoming Adolescence by Marion Aldridge (Well, of course, this book impacted my life. This is my story. I distill thirty years of life’s sometimes painful lessons on the subjects of fear, grace, wisdom, power and addiction.)

Marion D. Aldridge

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Lists/Top Ten | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Audacious Proposal

For a couple of thousand years, human beings have lived tribally: my clan against your clan, my nation against your nation, my religion against your religion.

My proposal: for the next two thousand years, more or less, we live as if all humans were part of the same family, and that we act compassionately toward one another.

I know nothing about statecraft, so I’ll leave that problem to people with different skills than mine. But I do know something about religion.

For instance, I’m aware that the Bible is full, exasperatingly full, of warnings about hanging out with those who are different:

  • “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.” Leviticus 20: 26
  • “Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Ezra 10: 11

Separate. Avoid. Shun. Sometimes, kill.

I’m sure the Koran and other holy texts have similar passages that counsel, “We’re the best! We’re number one. Our way is the right way. Other beliefs are false and dangerous. Stay away from them. Destroy them.” Hindus and Buddhists have also victimized others because of religious intolerance.

In the twenty-first century, the tribe that is threatened is humanity. Maybe it’s time to pay attention to some of the other texts in our holy books:

  • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” I Corinthians 13: 4-5
  • Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 37-40
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5: 7-9

 From the sacred texts of Islam:

  • “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” (Holy Quran: 2/ 256)
  • “Show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. (Al Quran 4:37)

It’s time for two millennia of zealotry, persecution, argumentation, name-calling, and finger pointing to give way to something different. This doesn’t mean people of faith become less passionate about their beliefs—just less angry and arrogant. I can tell my story and I can listen to your story. Religious people are endlessly talking about repentance and transformation, but it’s funny how it’s always the other person who is expected to change.

Here’s my audacious proposal:

I ask my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and Hindu friends to love, to be kind, to be patient, to be gentle, to be good, to be merciful, to be peacemakers, to be gracious. If we don’t, according to a Jewish rabbi quoted in the Christian scriptures,

 “You may even be found fighting against God.” (Gamaliel, in Acts 5: 39)



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Limiting God

“I remember reading about an Irish missionary’s attempt to teach the Masai people about the Catholic Sacraments. The missionary said that a sacrament is a physical encounter or event in which you experience Grace or the Holy. The people were then confused and disappointed when they were told there were only seven such moments (and all of these just happened to revolve around a priest). One Masai elder raised his hand and said, “’We would have thought, Father, there would be at least seven thousand such moments, not just seven.’” Richard Rohr

I share that story because it’s such a perfect illustration of a huge problem Baptists have, as well as Muslims, Mormons, and Presbyterians. We all have a tendency to limit God to our experiences and our understanding.

Bad idea.

Christians claim to like Jesus (many of them, anyway), so we read the sacred texts that actually tell about him—his miracles, his parables, his teachings. To be exposed to Jesus is to discover what appear to be holy actions and holy words. We also read texts written by other people trying to explain Jesus. They wrote fifty or a hundred or a thousand or two thousand years later. Some of these writers are better than others. Some are actually un-holy. Jesus had warned about that. But persuasive people persuade and new groups get formed, believing that the Fourth Verse is more important than the tenth verse, or whatever. They become the Fourth Versers. They come to believe there is no way to follow God other than through the Fourth Verse.

The Masai elder is right. There are seven thousand moments, not just seven. A sunrise is a sacrament. A baby’s smile is a sacrament. There are tens of thousands of holy words, not just a few. God is not limited to the Fourth Verse. God told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” In recent years, that’s become the theme of my spiritual life. Those pivotal words include a lot of verses in a lot of books and a host of experiences. No one has the right to insist that his or her narrow understanding of God is more spot on than mine.

I self-identify as a Christian, but I suspect there are Buddhists that are more Christian than I am. I think I’ll let God work all that out.



Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Quotations | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Phases/Chapters/Stages/Layers/Transitions of my Life

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Some people, when they reach my age, are still thinking and saying pretty much the same things they said when they were 18 years old, freshly minted high school graduates. I can name clear phases where my life has been altered—more or less in this order:

 1)   Where I began: Conservative/Cultural—I thought and said what I had been taught to think and say by my parents, church and culture. Also, I love nature, sports and reading.

2)   Friendships—The importance of peer pressure is huge for teens as well as adults. We tend to become like the people we spend time with. I have been fortunate to have good friends with positive influences.

3)   Intentionally Evangelical, but, at the same time, less churchy. Young Life was important.

4)   Socially Conscious—I became aware of ethical issues in the world, particularly racism. “There are none so blind as they who will not see.”

5)   Ecumenical, I became aware that the Christian world was larger than my Christian denomination.

6)   Family commitments, marriage and daughters altered my worldview and priorities.

7)   Pastoral care skills learned—I discovered there is pain in the world I had never experienced. The knee-jerk responses, opinions and habits that were intuitive to me were inadequate to deep challenges of the human condition.

8)   Travel—In my early thirty’s, I began to travel and discover worlds about which I had been ignorant. The world opened up for me.

9)   Listening better and paying attention affected every area of life.

10)  Professionalism, i.e., developing the skills needed to manage/administer/lead the organization(s) and people that paid my salary.

11)  Scholar. Eventually, I discovered I had a brain and enjoyed thinking. Wrote two books about worship.

12)  The language of Alcoholics Anonymous and Codependency became important to me as I attended AlAnon meetings for half a year.

13)  Humor—I discovered not only that I was funny but also that the world has plenty of irony and paradox at its core.

14)  Grace—I was slow to get to grace, but eventually I did. Wrote another book: Overcoming Adolescence.

15) Interfaith. Aware of the positive values within other faiths: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other. My understanding of God kept getting bigger and bigger. God told Moses his name is, I AM WHO I AM.

16) Yoga—Not sure yet what I will discover, but, after half a year, already I am learning and profiting from this new experience of focusing on breathing and mindfulness.

I’m 67 and still growing, wondering what’s next…

What phases, transitions or chapters have you experienced since adolescence?

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Military Shall Lead Them?


 On Monday, November 4, 2013, I experienced something that was borderline inconceivable to me.  Sometimes, a short trip takes us a long way!  We overuse the word “incredible,” but this event was on the edge of an entirely new thought—at least for me.

 I attended an event at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, where the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina (of which I am a member) was hosted.  We were given a tour of the chapels provided for various faith groups—Muslim, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Protestant.  These are used not only for worship but also to train military chaplains. 

 Did you know our military chaplains are cross-trained?  A Jewish chaplain is not required to baptize a Protestant, but he or she is obligated to make sure that such an option is made available.  And, vice versa.  A Christian chaplain must ensure that a Jewish soldier has the right to observe his or her high holy days.   The free exercise of religion extends not only to Baptists, Methodists and Mormons, but also to Pagans and Hindus.  All American military service personnel are entitled to worship freely within their tradition.

Typically, I don’t think of the military as cutting edge culturally, but they are way ahead of our congregations with regard to Interfaith accommodation and understanding.

I knew the Chaplain Center and School for the entire military was housed here in Columbia, South Carolina, and I had been on the site for a meeting once.  But I had never toured the facilities, which include a small Chaplain Corps Museum.  I am grateful for the foresightedness and commitment within the military that provides training opportunities for our chaplains. 

If you would like for your church’s senior adult group to take a tour, Marcia McManus (803-751-8079) is Director of the Museum and Chaplain Lembke (803-445-4184) is Director of the Center for World Religions.  The Museum will be enjoyable to senior adults because of the nostalgia of the mementoes.  A tour of the school, which is small but impressive, however, may stretch some folks who have never given a single thought to the worship of other people with different faith traditions. 


Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Making Friends When You Travel


Sometimes you go on trips with old friends.  Sometimes when you are on a trip, you make new friends.

 Not always.  But it’s fun when it happens.  Pilgrimages and other kinds of group excursions (cruises or camps, for example) put you in close proximity with others for at least a few days, maybe a week or two.  You become pals, then return to your “real life.”  Some people have a “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!” attitude, and have no desire to keep up with a new relationship. 

 Certainly, I don’t need every dinner companion on a cruise to become my new best friend.  But I love it when a relationship continues, even if it’s just as Facebook friends.

 Of course, not everyone I meet close to home becomes a dear friend either.  Life is filled with acquaintances, and we need all of them.  A handshake with someone at church is a good thing.  A kind word to or from someone in your social circle is part of the lubrication of life.  Business buddies have a role to play in our everyday existence.

 So I put no pressure on myself or on the random people who come into my life to become more important than others who are already my friends. 

 But I love it when it happens.

 In the Amazon Rain Forest earlier this year, we met Allen Stratton, who is a children’s book author.  Here is his website.  Buy his books!  Good guy!

 On a cruise ship last year, we met Rabbi Mark Winer who has an impressive career in Jewish and Interfaith circles.  Instant rapport.  I’m looking forward to years of friendship with Mark.

 On the secluded island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland, Randy Wright and I became friends with Steven Raw and his daughter Lydia.  Not much to do in Iona, so we spent a lot of time together.  Great people.  Lydia came over to spend Thanksgiving with us one year.  Even her brother Benjamin has made the trek to South Carolina and the Aldridge hostel.

 Not everyone you meet when you travel becomes dear to you, but some do.  I am grateful for these relationships.


Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tomorrow’s Guest Blog will be written by my friend, Holli Emore, who is a Pagan.

ImageBy Pagan, I don’t mean, as I once did when I used the word, someone who is not a Christian and who misbehaves a lot.  Though Holli grew up as a Christian, she nowadays identifies her faith as Paganism, and as far as I know, she doesn’t misbehave any more than the rest of us.  I like Holli, who is very good writer, and am proud to call her a friend.


For most of my adult life, I have been an Ecumenical sort of person.  Ecumenism is a semi-technical word describing conversation and interaction among those within the household of the Christian faith.  So Baptists, Quakers, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Pentecostals, Methodists and Presbyterians are all Trinitarian Christian denominations.  When we worship together, that is called Ecumenical worship.


Interfaith conversations have always stretched me.  Hindus believe in many gods.  Unitarians believe, well, I’m not sure yet what they believe.  Jews and Muslims believe in One God, and say that Christians believe in Three Gods.  Mormons believe a lot of what Christians believe, then add on to their faith system an even Newer Testament, the Book of Mormon.  There are a lot of different faith systems in our world.  They can be overwhelming and confusing.


My purpose, in this blog, is not to explain other faith systems.  In fact, you could read Holli’s blog tomorrow and not have a clue she is a Pagan.  She chose to write about the Hmong people in North Carolina. 


But I wanted to say, up front and without apology, that my life the past forty years has become more and more inclusive about other people and their faith.  I no longer feel the need to be a guardian of orthodoxy.  I know what I believe, but I have learned to listen to other people.  Everybody I know, including me, is wrong is some of what they believe and what they do.  Lifelong growth is my goal. Learning from people with different life experiences is vital.


Holli Emore can teach me a lot.  So, thanks to Holli for her friendship and for adding to the variety and color of our lives.  Aren’t you glad we don’t all look alike and think alike?


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