Posted by: smstrouse | November 7, 2015

Why I’m Spiritual AND Religious

thAs I write this, I’m taking a break during the Jesus Seminar on the Road event called “Does God Have a Future?” It might seem to presumptuous to ask such a question. Especially since, as someone reminded me, God lives outside of time, therefore has no past, present – or future.

OK, that may be true. Perhaps the seminar should really be called “Does Our Current Construct of God Have a Future?” But that’s a much less sexy title.

That is what it’s about, though. It’s been good to be reminded of how our Western construct of God has been formed by Greek philosophy – and how that construct is not necessarily the same as that of the Hebrew Bible. And today, in our post-modern era, many people are asking different questions. For example, they’re not asking about the truth of religion, but about whether or not it performs. Does it have value? Does it contribute to the world?

And following from that: does God have value? What do we mean by God in light of these concerns? Is the  construct of God we’ve received from antiquity the only one possible? And if not, what form, if any, does God take for us today?

All this philosophy is making my head hurt! But the good news that’s coming through for me is that we are in a time of questioning and openness to ways of thinking about these matters. Religion doesn’t have to be the doctrine-bound, institutionalized bugaboo that is so maligned these days. Religion can be a container in which we can hold all the good ways we perform in the world. It can be a place where we explore questions of meaning and value. Of course these can happen in places other than within religion. But my hope is that those who think that all aspects of religion are to avoided at all costs will come to see that one can be a thoughtful, questioning, evolving, spiritual and religious person. The two are not are mutually exclusive

The institutional church is changing. That’s just a fact. Younger people are looking for and practicing their faith (there’s another word for consideration another time!) in different ways from previous generations. And this is good! Something creative and transformative is happening. Maybe the way we think about, understand, call God will be completely different from the way we were taught in Sunday school or by Monty Python. Old ways of thinking about God: Father, Master, Lord, Warrior, Omnipotent, Judge,etc. have already been giving way. Maybe we’ll finally learn from the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching that “the Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”  Whatever “God” may be is more than our constructs.

I like being religious, if this kind of edgy conversation is what we’re talking about. The anxiety of the institutional church will eventually give way to the new thing being born.

I also like being spiritual, although this isn’t the event for that; I have to find that experience elsewhere. I hope that I succeed in bringing the two together in the worship services that I put together. But it’s a ongoing process of learning and unlearning, growing and accepting my limitations, letting go and letting – God? Hmm, that remains to be seen.

There is still one more session to go in the seminar: “The Post-Modern Critique of God” which will “explore atheistic accusations against, and theistic defenses of, God. It will then move to an examination of post-atheistic and post-theistic thought, both of which express similar ideas on the question of religion and its future.”

Oh, my head! This will probably generate more questions than answers – which indeed is the whole point!

Posted by: smstrouse | October 31, 2015

Honoring My Ancestors – Even the Difficult Ones

When Facebook asks you to post your relationship status, one of the options is “It’s complicated.” That is exactly my feeling on this All Hallow’s Eve as I prepare for All Saints Day.


Celtic spirituality teaches us that this is a “thin time,” when the gossamer veil between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes even more diaphanous. This is the time to honor our ancestors and all loved ones who have died – to recognize that they’re not really all that far away from us after all.

It’s a lovely way of believing. I’ve been planning to create an altar of remembrance with photos and memorabilia from my parents, grandparents, and others who have shaped my life. But here’s where it gets complicated for me. My memories of my immediate ancestors are a complex web of love, anger, guilt, understanding, acceptance, longing, sadness – well, you get the pictugossamer_web_by_printsilike-d2xsr21re. Complicated.

Unexpected tears have welled up even as I contemplate digging out photo albums. Happy memories drift up from my unconscious: my father taking me to get my first pair of ice skates, the bus trip to Atlantic City with my grandmother. Other memories, not so happy, jostle with them for my attention: wounds forgiven but not forgotten.

I truly believe that in death we become whole. My parents, with all their own complicated histories, have received the ultimate healing – whatever and wherever that may be. The wounds they carried are healed. The ones they inflicted are forgiven. That is how life is on the other side of the veil. It’s not complicated at all.

On this side, however, healing is still incomplete. The witch’s brew of emotions roils within me. And yet  it’s not really a bad concoction, although it is rather bittersweet. On this side of the veil, I relate to the verse of the hymn For All the Saints that reminds me “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” Some of the theology and wording of the hymn may be outdated, but the struggle language definitely resonates.

I’m going to go and build my altar now. It will hold mementos of imperfect people who did the best they could with what they had. My own memories will go into the creation, the whole mixed up mess. There may be some tears shed, probably some smiles and laughter, too.

I do believe that within this process the veil between them and me will shimmer. And in so honoring them, I will be a bit further along in my own healing. May it be so.


Posted by: smstrouse | October 23, 2015

My Top 10 Parliament Moments

photo2-224x300Now that the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions is over, I’m reflecting back on the whole experience. There were so many facets: seeing old friends, making new connections, having fun, being inspired, feeling awe, experiencing hope, being challenged to work together for the good of the whole world.  Here are my Top 10 Moments which include all of the above:

10.  Orion in a turban (Orion Pitts: music director & administrative assistant at First United Lutheran Church)


9.  Meeting these young whirling Dervishes





8. Joyful dancing with the Hare Krishnas and Journey Dancing on my birthdayIMG_0582
(See my Hare Krishna video at





7. Jane Goodall!!!






6.  Workshop: “Kill Them (Qur’an); Do Not Spare Them (Torah); and CasKaren-Armstrong-520t Them into Everlasting Fire (New Testament): Context of Difficult Religious Texts.” Panelists addressed the “texts of terror” in the Abrahamic traditions. Karen Armstrong and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb were great, but the best quote was from Jonathan Brown, director of the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. He wisely advised us on how to deal with all these problematic passages: “Stop taking them literally!

5.  The presence of women . .



IMG_0572and the indigenous people of Utah









4.  Workshop:  #Black Lives Matter with Rev. Michael McBride (The Way Christian Center in Berkeley), Rev. Francis Davis (Calvary Baptist, Salt Lake City) and Rev. Jim Wallace (Sojourners)2015-10-19-1445252541-6725089-blacklivesmatterpanel-thumb





3.  Langar: what more can be said about the hospitality, generosity and spiritual wonderfulness of the Sikh people? IMG_053910463889_10207819092860312_8127650248499207495_nA beautiful experience!!



IMG_05582.  Making connections with people doing the same kind of work I want to do in intrafaith theology: Moses Penumaka (Pacific LutheranIMG_0612 Theological Seminary) and Shanta Premawardhana (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago)




1.  Having the opportunity and privilege of presenting my workshop, “The Intrafaith Conversation: How Do We Talk Among Ourselves about InterfaithMatters?” to around 40 people and receiving wonderful affirmation for my forthcoming book.


Next Parliament will be in two years. I’m going to start saving now. I wouldn’t miss another experience like this for the world!

Posted by: smstrouse | October 19, 2015

PWR: Final Day

Big panic! Late yesterday afternoon, I discovered that my workshop no longer appeared on the Parliament app. The app was now the only way to keep up to date on schedules; the print version was hopelessly out of date. I rushed to find a volunteer to help find someone who could restore me to virtual life. I came upon a group of  young people in green volunteer shirts, but they were getting ready to leave for the day. But one kind young man offered to take me to the volunteer center to see what we could do about my problem. As the staff person there tried to figure out what had happened, I leaned that my new young friend was a Hindu who was studying Christianity in his world religions class. So I asked him if he had any questions – and he asked me to explain the Trinity!!!

So I did – at least my version of it.

The app problem did get resolved and my workshop on the Christian intrafaith conversation
went great. There were about 40 people in attendance, mostly all Christian. But there were a few from other traditions – including the Hindu student!

Then, on to the next workshop. “Christian Theology Facing Challenges from Religions: LeaIMG_0611rnings from a Seminary Course” was the perfect follow-up to mine. Seminary students from Chicago were at the Parliament as part of their course work. One of their teachers is Manuel Friere, descendant of Paolo.

IMG_0612Another is Parliament board member, the Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana. The students spent their week meeting and interviewing members of different traditions and then reflecting on the questions and challenges they found to their own traditions and beliefs – what I’ve been calling “passing over and coming back.” I came away with a vision of having a course like this at the Graduate Theological Union!

Even though the Parliament is officially over, it’s really not. I just got a call from First United member, Orion Pitts, who has met an imam at the Salt Lake City Amtrak station. The iman’s PhD thesis: Islam’s influence on Martin Luther. So stay tuned for more interfaith and intrafaith news.





Posted by: smstrouse | October 18, 2015

PWR: Day 4

This lovely BrIMG_0598itish Sikh explained Langar to us as we entered for lunch today. His obvious exuberance and joy at the spirituality of feeding people was inspirational. As I was eating, I was thinking about how much Jesus would enjoy this. I mean, he really loved feeding people, too.

It was a day of making connections. I met with Parliament board member, Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana, who is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. And he kindly introduced me to the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations officer of the ELCA. IMG_0605

More new friends: from Gender Reconciliation International. I didn’t get to go to their workshop,  “Transforming Patriarchy in Religion” (too many good options in the same time slots), but had a fantastic time talking and learning about their training retreats.

The workshop I did attend in that time slot was #Black Lives Matter. Panelists were Rev. Michael McBride (pastor of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley), Rev. Francis Davis (Calvary Baptist Church, Salt Lake City) and Rev. Jim Wallis (Sojourners). Their presentations were good, but it was the Q&A time that really got the crowd fired up. In response to the question “how do we know what to do join our community?” Michael McBride said, “Go and find the least reputable black person you can find in your community or your church and ask what they think you should do. And be prepared for them to tell you.”

Another questioner challenged us all to complain to the Parliament for relegating this workshop to the end of the day on Sunday, when it should have been front and center. She also wondered why all three presenters were Christian men; she would have liked to see a black trans woman on the panel because of the high rate of violence in that population. Unfortunately (as is usually the case), the session ended shortly thereafter. This topic really does need a venue for extended conversation.

Now I’m putting finishing touches on my workshop for tomorrow. The last day approaches. The mandala will be finished – and then swept away. As tired and extroverted out I am, I’ll be sad to leave this sacred place of diversity, generosity and peace.



Posted by: smstrouse | October 17, 2015

PWR: Day 3

IMG_0569What a way to spend my birthday! Wow!

Started the day with a workshop called “Kill Them (Qur’an); Do Not Spare Them (Torah); and Cast Them into Everlasting Fire (New Testament): Context of Difficult Religious Texts.” Panelists addressed the “texts of terror” in the Abrahamic traditions. Karen Armstrong and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb were great, but my favorite was Jonathan Brown, director of the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. He wisely advised us on how to deal with all these problematic passages: “Stop taking them literally!”

And then for something completely different; my second workshop was “My life is My Message: a Time for Community, Contemplation, Inspiration  and Commitment,” a lovely mix of music, meditation, story telling and conversation. I left feeling totally uplifted. IMG_0570

Then off to Langar again with two students from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Sikh hospitality is so incredibly generous and wonderful – and so is the food! We agreed that we Lutherans would be hard pressed to pull off a meal for thousands of people everyday for a week (there was no Jello in sight!).IMG_0585

And then, after a quick rest break: “JourneyDance.” This was “an interactive, healing free-styling dance modality that invites people of all faiths and traditions to dance together to celebrate their hearts and the hearts of each other.” It was a blast! I got totally exhausted, sweaty and happy! Here’s our inspirational leader.

Tonight’s plenary, “Focus on War, Violence and Hate Speech, ” included Alan Boesak, Medea Benjamin, Karen Armstrong and Jane Goodall. It was a long, long evening, but super inspiring.

And when we exited the Salt Palace, it was raining! How refreshing it smelled and felt after drought-plagued California.

All in all, a fabulous way to turn 65.

Posted by: smstrouse | October 16, 2015

Parliament of the World’s Religions: Day 2

A full day!  First: got my free birthday latte from the Starbucks near the hotel. Then on to the Salt Palace. I decided to walk the labyrinth and focus on what I needed to be open to receiving or learning today. Felt a huge rush of gratitude for being here.

IMG_0542Then – checked in with the Buddhists to see their progress on the sand mandala.
Next, off to a panel discussion on sacred text interpretation from women’s perspectives. The four panelists were from Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions. The presentations were fascinating but the allotted time was way too short. No time for Q&A and I had lots of Qs.
Lunch was at the Langar, which is the daily, free meal IMG_0539prepared and
served by the Sikh community. After removing our shoes and having our heads covered, Linda Crawford and I sat on the floor with hundreds of others and were served a delicious vegetarian meal.
I had planned to go next to Matthew Fox’s Cosmic Mass. But when I got there, I found that it was full up. I couldn’t get in.  But no matter. I discovered a Hare Krishna group in the exhibition hall and had a great time singing and dancing with them.
And check out these adorable young dervishes who performed later in the afternoon.IMG_0559
Lots and lots of meet-ups with old friends and new in the hallways and the exhibition centers. In some ways, that’s the best part. What a privilege it is to be part of this extraordinary gathering!
Posted by: smstrouse | October 15, 2015

Parliament of the World’s Religions: Day 1

IMG_0515The fifth Parliament of the World’s Religions has begun! Around 10,000 people from 80+ countries and 50 religious and spiritual traditions are here, including the indigenous nations of Utah. The official opening was this evening, but all day groups were setting up displays, art installations, hospitality suites and tables of beautiful things for sale. I watched a group of Tibetan Buddhists beginning to create a sand mandala. A few feet away, a prayer service was being conducted at a Jain temple.

Walking through one of the exhibition halls, I came upon a sculpture  being created with keys. When I asked what it was all about, the women at the table told me that it was for full inclusion of IMG_0513women in religious leadership (yea!) and they were advocating for the ordination of women in the Mormon church. So I picked out a key, wrote my name on it and fastened it to the metal arch. You can’t see it in the picture, but the arch already had a good number of keys hanging from it.

And just so you know I’m not picking on one religion, I also got a wrist band from the Roman Catholic Womenpriest booth. And that’s where I finally ran into Orion, First United’s music director/admin. He’d been helping out Jann Aldridge-Clanton at her workshop during the Women’s Assembly.

There are lots of folks here from the Bay area. But I also met up with old friends from Buffalo: Father Butch Mazur, from the Network of Religious Communities of Western NY and Father Duke Zajac, who’s still a chaplain at Sisters of Charity Hospital, where I also worked back in 1989-91.

Tomorrow, I’m planning to go to one or two workshops – and a Cosmic Mass led by Matthew Fox. At some point I also have to fine tune my own workshop, which is scheduled for Monday. Plenty of time!

Posted by: smstrouse | October 9, 2015

Jesus, Mary & the Qur’an

640x392_80048_246190Are you kidding me?! I just found out that anti-Muslim protests are being planned for today and tomorrow (Oct. 9-10). So-called “patriots” around the country are being encouraged  to find a local mosque and organize a rally. The Council for Islamic-American Relations (CAIR,) the nation’s leading Muslim civil rights group, has issued a warning to all mosques to take safety measures this weekend. The organization (whose name I won’t even use and so give them any more publicity) is calling on protesters to be armed where permitted.

This is so wrong on so many levels. I find it interesting that four of the Facebook pages for these rallies have a Confederate flag as their profile picture. Let’s see, flags, guns, anti-Muslim rhetoric: what could possibly go wrong?

Well, rather than focus only on the craziness into which some people choose to lower themselves, I want to share a positive story of interfaith cooperation. It’s this kind of story that I believe will ultimately go a long way in neutralizing the hateful, ignorant, dangerous activities like those planned for this weekend.

Last week, a group composed of Muslims and Christians came together for a discussion of the role of Jesus in the Qur’an. We’ll start discussing the book, Islam’s Jesus by Zeki Saritoprak, at ouislams_jesusr next gathering, so for openers we looked at the stories about Jesus’ birth in the Gospels and in the Qur’an.

Fatih F. Ates of Pacifica Institute showed a YouTube video of a dramatization of the verses of the Qur’an dealing with the annunciation to Mary and the birth of Jesus. I handed out the texts from Matthew, Luke and John concerning the origins of Jesus. And a lively discussion ensued. The Christians were surprised to learn the high esteem in which both Mary and Jesus are given in Islam (there are more verses about Mary in the Qur’an than in the Gospels). The Muslims were curious about the development of the New Testament, how the stories originated and were transmitted.
Curiosity abounds on both sides and the conversation was thoughtful and respectful. Most of all, we enjoyed each other’s company! And we’re looking forward to getting to know even more about one another. My hope is that even more people will join the group – so many that we have to create more small discussion groups, at least for part of the meeting time. 
What a different way of addressing the diversity of our world from organizing protests at places of worship. Needless to say, there were no flags or guns at our meeting, either. I’m not writing this to brag (well, maybe a little), but to encourage people of faith and goodwill to get involved in something like this – something that contributes to peace in our communities. It’s too easy to just criticize the crazies,  dismiss them and go about our business as usual. More is required.
How are you already involved in peacemaking? How might you find new ways to “be the change you want to see”?



Posted by: smstrouse | October 3, 2015

The Pope Francis Firestorm


Oy vey! What a week it’s been! The title of this post has gone from “Pope Francis Fail” to “Pope Francis Fail?” to this final version.

After a week of shock, disbelief and ranting among those who had just days before been extolling Pope Francis, we now have to express a collective Emily Litella.Unknown

Turns out Francis gave Kim Davis neither a private audience nor an  endorsement of her position. What? Oh. Never mind.

So what can we learn from all this?

Believe it or not, I’m going to quote Martin Luther. Really.

From his explanation of the 8th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. In his Small Catechism, Luther wrote:

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbors, but excuse them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything.

I think we get the part about lying and betraying (most of the time anyway). But putting the best construction on everything has always been a challenge to most of us. And it seems to have taken a turn for the worse since the dawn of the Internet era.

I’m not saying that we should have just given the Pope a pass on meeting with Kim Davis. If indeed he had given her a private audience, I would want to know if Francis was aware of the political hot potato he’d been handed, who had set it up and what exactly had been said.

If indeed he had offered her his support, I would have been deeply disappointed. Even though the Roman Catholic position on same-sex marriage is quite clear, Francis has been very adept at softening it and maneuvering around it (much like the Dalai Lama, I might add). However, it would not have taken from me my admiration for his stand on other issues and my hope that he would continue to evolve – and help the Church evolve – in this area as well.

But now that it has been revealed that Davis was among many who met the Pope, received a generic pastoral admonition to “stay strong” and used that encounter to further her own agenda – well, this is where it gets hard! Am I able to put the best construction on what Davis and her handlers say and do?

I find it easier to do with Davis. She is operating out of her convictions. No matter how much I disagree with her, I have to respect her right to express them. However, as both Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, one who disobeys a law as a matter of conscience must accept the consequences.

It gets more troublesome with those who are using Davis to further their political agenda. Once you enter the realm of politics, the 8th Commandment takes a beating. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy into “the lies behind the truth, and the truth behind those lies, that are behind that truth” (Don Asmussen’s Bad Reporter, SF Chronicle). We can take the high road and make out best effort to put the best construction on it and sort out the truth in the midst of the spin.

Pope Francis got caught in the spin cycle this week. I’m sure he’s not losing sleep over it. I hope we don’t either. But I do hope we’ve learned something from it, because this kind of situation will surely come around again. And as much as I always loved Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella, I really don’t want her as my role model.

I’m much more Unknown-1Roseanne Roseannadanna.

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