Submitted by Peter on

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This bookstudy will begin January 22, 2023 only on Zoom.

The headlines are clear: religion is on the decline in America as many people leave behind traditional religious practices. Diana Butler Bass, leading commentator on religion, politics, and culture, follows up her acclaimed book Christianity After Religion by arguing that what appears to be a decline actually signals a major transformation in how people understand and experience God. The distant God of conventional religion has given way to a more intimate sense of the sacred that is with us in the world. This shift, from a vertical understanding of God to a God found on the horizons of nature and human community, is at the heart of a spiritual revolution that surrounds us -- and that is challenging not only religious institutions but political and social ones as well.

Grounded explores this cultural turn as Bass unpacks how people are finding new spiritual ground by discovering and embracing God everywhere in the world around us--in the soil, the water, the sky, in our homes and neighborhoods, and in the global commons. Faith is no longer a matter of mountaintop experience or institutional practice; instead, people are connecting with God through the environment in which we live. Grounded guides readers through our contemporary spiritual habitat as it points out and pays attention to the ways in which people experience a God who animates creation and community.

Bass brings her understanding of the latest research and studies and her deep knowledge of history and theology to Grounded. She cites news, trends, data, and pop culture, weaves in spiritual texts and ancient traditions, and pulls it all together through stories of her own and others' spiritual journeys. Grounded observes and reports a radical change in the way many people understand God and how they practice faith. In doing so, Bass invites readers to join this emerging spiritual revolution, find a revitalized expression of faith, and change the world.


1 – What would you pick as your “unique make in the world and to humanity.”?  267
2 – What piece of recent news has you most concerned about the future of humanity on our planet?  268
3 – How do you think our Sunday evening discussions would be different if we were all 3rd world participants?  271
4 – What do you see as the main difference between a throne room and a dining room?  272
5 – Lloyd Geering (now age 105) has commented that (part of) the reason religion is declining around the world is that society has moved religion into our culture; we are living the kindom of God.  Comments?  276
6 – When did you move from a vertical to a horizontal religion?  278
7 – Where are you on the question of:  The spirit created the material world OR the material world created the spirit?  280
8 – Where do you most notice “the gap between the spiritual revolution and religious institutions?”  283
9 – Who are your Teresa and Julie?  286

Conclusion:  “Revelation” (pp. 267-280)

  1. What would you pick as your “unique make in the world and to humanity.”? (p.267)

I have no task that is “unique” to me.  What I have was given to me – first by my parents, then by my community, and finally, by the Church in the biblical words of Micah 6: 8.  To paraphrase the question and answer of that passage, “What does God require of you?  Do justice.  Act with lovingkindness.  And walk humbly with your own understanding of God.”

2.  What piece of recent news has you most concerned about the future of humanity on our planet? (p.268)

It feels to me like it’s Putin’s war against the people of Ukraine – coupled with all of the other totalitarian regimes across the world (e.g., China, North Korea, Afghanistan – to name just a few) which insist on having things their way at the expense of compassion, freedom and justice.

3.  How do you think our Sunday evening discussions would be different if we were all 3rd world participants? (p.271)

To begin with, none of us would have access to a computer or a library, so we wouldn’t be talking about a book.  More than likely, we would be gathering to find ways we might simply survive the current crisis of not having enough food or water or time to educate and care for our children and grandchildren.

4.  What do you see as the main difference between a throne room and a dining room? (p.272)

A throne room, by its very design, is meant to show everyone who’s in charge – and it’s the one sitting up there on that throne demanding ultimate loyalty.  It’s placed as the focal point of the entire opulent room above everyone else to make a clear point.  “All of you down there below me, must clearly show deference only toward me and obey whatever I say should be done.”

A dining room, however, practically sends the reverse message.  While someone may occupy a seat at the “head of the table,” he or she is in that position solely to provide hospitality and service to the guests gathered around the table.  In most cases it’s very egalitarian in nature – but I suspect that Putin’s dinner table (maybe even Trump’s) looks more like a throne room. 

5.  Lloyd Geering (now age 105) has commented that (part of) the reason religion is declining around the world is that society has moved religion into our culture; we are living the kindom of God.  Comments? (p.276)

I’m going to assume that your spelling of “kindom” is not a typo but refers to that new way of viewing reality – one where everyone is to be seen as kin, and not just as neighbor.  I agree.  It does away with inequality and the few who used to have power over the rest of us.  That being said, I think “moving religion into our culture” has had a distinctly negative effect – especially here in the United States where it’s come under the direction of most white fundamentalist Christians.  And their ideas are nowhere near the Kingdom (or Kindom) of God.

6.  When did you move from a vertical to a horizontal religion? (p.278)

From my point of view, I go back and forth every day; so, it’s not limited to one plane or the other – it’s both/and.  For me, the vertical is not an image for a God “up there” over all of us “down here.”  It’s more of an “out there” and “within me” interaction at the same time so, it’s multi-dimensional.  It’s how I relate to God in deeply personal ways – the “I/Thou” experiences of the Sacred that happen in contemplation, meditation, and other such spiritual practices.  It even involves interacting with nature – like star-gazing or enjoying sunsets.

And yet, again, the horizontal is quite often there at the same time.  It’s how I relate to the Sacred through healthy relationships with others and with the surrounding environment in which we live.  It’s working on behalf of social justice and caring for the marginalized and disadvantaged.  It’s also enjoying moments of shared worship and music in the midst of a like-minded, open, and welcoming community.

7.  Where are you on the question of: The spirit created the material world OR the material world created the spirit?   (p.280)

I’m not sure that we have the same definition for the Spirit, but for me, it’s closely connected to – or, in fact is – that mysterious Force that gave rise to the material world, indeed, to creation itself.  It doesn’t make sense to me that all that is, or was, or will be, began ex nihiloi.e., out of nothing.  To my mind, something has always been there before the material world came into being.  That eternal Force is at the heart of creation itself.  Some would call it Spirit.  Some would call it God.  I’m content to see it in any of those three ways – they’re all the same to me.

Afterword:  “A Note to the Church” (pp. 281-284)

8.  Where do you most notice “the gap between the spiritual revolution and religious institutions?” (p.283)

For me, clearly, the gap is the continuing use of traditional liturgies and hymnody in the primary worship services of the majority of our churches.  The reluctance to embrace new voices, new liturgies, updated hymns, and diverse ways of doing worship – new ways of just “doing Church” entirely – have all combined to make the Church irrelevant to the younger generation.  Believe me, I know, because my own children and grandchildren have told me so.

I have sympathy, however, for most current pastors and their worship committees, because they don’t want to lose the congregants they already have – the majority of whom are over sixty years old; and they’re the ones who are paying the bills.

9.  Who are your Teresa and Julie? (pp.285-286)

It’s interesting that Bass describes the “professor of religious studies” as “secular” – those two categories would seem to be at odds with each other.  But, then, I think of Dr. Amy Jill Levine (Her M.A. and Ph.D. were both earned at Duke, by the way.) who is not only a practicing Jew and member of an orthodox synagogue in Nashville, she is also a Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies for the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University.  Figure that one out.

I suppose my “faithful Christian” would be Richard Rohr and my “committed secularist” would be any one of those three poets Bass also lists:  Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver or David Whyte – but if I had to choose one, for me, it would be Mary Oliver.  I love her poetry and views on becoming the person we were meant to be. She had been sent to Sunday School as a child and had a lifelong interest in spirituality, but never joined a church as an adult.  All of her poetry shows the depth of her love for the natural world.  As a lesbian, she was considered by many to be an LGBTQ saint of sorts.  She lived with her life partner, photographer Mary Malone Cook, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, for 40 years prior to her death on January 17, 2019 at age 83.  

Remarkably enough, “faithful Christian,” Father Rohr, remains to be an ordained priest in good standing within the Roman Catholic Church when so much of his work is well outside of it.  Just this past July, however, Pope Francis met with him and expressed support for him – even though Rohr has some very progressive theological points of view.  I met him in Albuquerque, New Mexico at a Spiritual Directors retreat some years ago. He said to a group of us, “You have to first know the rules well enough before knowing when they do not apply.”  A Franciscan friar, Fr. Rohr has also long been an ecumenical teacher and witness to the deep wisdom of Christian mysticism.  But he’s probably best known for his ways of combining the traditions of orthopraxy – “right practice” – and contemplation.  In fact, he’s the founder of a spirituality group centered there in Albuquerque called the Center for Action and Contemplation – which is not at all a part of the Roman Catholic Church or any other religious organization.  One of his more well-known quotes, it this one:

            “Love is the source and goal, faith is the slow process of getting there, and 

            hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”

1 – Religion is always in tension between personal and communal.  When do you feel pulled one way or the other?  237
2 – Do you have an experience of “the commons” that you would like to share?  240
3 – Rather than delving into the theory of commons, our author tells stories about them.  That has been my disappointment with this book all along.  Comments?  243
4 – What was the reason for the 9/11 terrorist attack?  244
5 – What are some “wicked problems”?  What is required for a wicked problem solution?  247
6 – My experience of baseball games is entirely different from our author’s.  What about yours?  250
7 – What happened to church family camp?  252
8 – What are you remembering at the words:  “Do this in remembrance of me.”?  250
9 – What do you think the Amish response to 9/11 would have been?  262
10 – “Peace did not last,…”  What do we have to do to ensure that peace may last?  265

Chapter 7:  “Commons” (pp. 233-266)

  1. Religion is always in tension between personal and communal.  When do you feel pulled one way or the other? (p.237)

I am, by nature, an introvert, so I’ve always felt more deeply invited into the personal aspects of religion – at least initially.  In other words, in order for me to reach outward in any meaningful way, I must have had that inward spiritual experience, first, before I relate to the outward or communal trappings of religion.  I remain convinced (whether one is an introvert or extrovert), that without a personal conviction, any communal experience would always be shallow or hollow – at the very least, while it might feel good, it would not be religious.

2.  Do you have an experience of “the commons” that you would like to share? (p.240)

As Bass has presented it, it’s “what we live for, the public world tribes make together – that serves the good forall” (p.239).  It’s “infinitely expandable, a place of hospitality for everyone” (p.240).  With that level of idealism, regrettably, I’ve never experienced it.  Even in all of the churches that I’ve served, there have been situations where some have felt excluded.

3.  Rather than delving into the theory of commons, our author tells stories about them. That has been my disappointment with this book all along.  Comments? (p.243)

I’m just the opposite.  I find her personal stories endearing.  They often seem to reveal her innate compassion, but also enhance her text by providing illustrative examples.

4.  What was the reason for the 9/11 terrorist attack? (p.244)

We here in the United States have long been viewed, at best, as apostates by Muslim fundamentalists or demonic, at worst.  So, these terrorists fervently believed that they were doing the work of Allah to eliminate as many of us as possible.

5.  What are some “wicked problems”?  What is required for a wicked problem solution? (p.247)

From a religious point of view, I think that the most “wicked problem” is what Bass observes remains to be “a fundamental tension in religion:  the tribal tendency to divide humankind into the blessed and the blasphemous...”(p.242).  From a socio-political point of view, it’s much the same kinds of separations that we see between the privileged and the underprivileged, the wealthy and the impoverished, the powerful and the disempowered, the so-called 1st World and the 3rd World, or between those with enough resources to live well while others face the multiple tragedies created by diminishing resources.

In almost all of these, I think Bass is right in suggesting that the only solution is a truly global expression of heartfelt empathy:  “That blinding moment of connection, the unavoidable awareness of relationship” – what Jeremy Rifkin wrote would lead to “more inclusive communities of compassionate engagement” (p.244).

6.  My experience of baseball games is entirely different from our author’s.  What about yours? (p.250)

I’ve experienced just what she’s talking about at many baseball games and other such sporting events – from high school to college to the professional level.  As she describes it, “it is the movement of some sort of spirit in which people discover that solidarity is possible” (p.249).  Almost everyone who attends these kinds of sporting events, however, doesn’t share the same religious, political, socioeconomical or racial perspective.  And yet we can all find joy in coming together to celebrate and root for the same team.

That Latin noun, communitas, that she lifts up, does describe such “a profound sense of equality and togetherness [and] is the opposite of the feeling of alienation and isolation” (Ibid.).

At some Giants games, I’ve even been able to look upon a Dodger fan as an acceptable – if not fully rational – human being.

7.  What happened to church family camp? (p.252)

It has lacked both leadership and the families with children who might be interested in attending.  Sadly, though, it’s just one more example of how the Church has become irrelevant to far too many of the next generation.

8.  What are you remembering at the words:  “Do this in remembrance of me.”? (p.250)

If I’m truly paying attention during those extended moments of communion, I still see the face and hear the voice of Jesus saying – intimately and personally – to me:  “Do as I have tried to do.  Live a life of lovingkindness before others and with every bit as much passion as you can.”  It’s led me to often ask myself (and one thing that the evangelicals got right with that WWJD bracelet), “What would Jesus do?”  May I continue to find true sustenance in such moments as that.  So, I find that it’s still a good question to ponder – at any time.

9.  What do you think the Amish response to 9/11 would have been? (p.262)

When I was a child, I was helped by my grandfather to understand some of these remarkable people from that community.  Gramp grew up and lived, for a time, near one of their farms in northwest Pennsylvania (And, no, they’re not Dutch; they’re of German ancestry – so that word in German is the “Pennsylvania Deutsch.”).

As I’ve come to understand the sub-culture of the Amish, they interpret the life and teachings of Jesus as calling them to never be caught up in or become part of any war or act of violence.  So, while they might have been saddened by the immensity of the 9/11 tragedy, I think they wouldn’t have responded to it in any way. They don’t even defend themselves when they’re attacked or when they may be faced with hostile neighbors – whether they might be Islamic terrorists, such as this, or the organizations that govern and sent them.  In situations like that across rural America in the past, they have simply abandoned their farms and moved.

By the way, for this reason, the Amish are exempt from military service – and that’s not just a deferment; it’s a complete exemption.  However, they probably would speak of their position more as one of “non-resistance” and not exactly as pacifism – which is a position that often expects a person to actively oppose war or violence.  So, I think that the Amish would simply walk away from this as they would any other violent confrontation.

10.  “Peace did not last,…”  What do we have to do to ensure that peace may last? (p.265)

In the final analysis, “what we have to do” is the point of Bass’s book.  We must be “grounded” in all of those aspects of life that actually will make for a sustainable and long-lasting peace.  Among other things, it does mean “empathy, listening, developing a reciprocal sense of the other, whether God or nature or a neighbor” (p.255).  What’s more, as she has quoted him, it would be fostering what The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “our inescapable network of mutuality [and the] interrelated structure of reality” itself (Ibid.).  And, yes, it also must mean showing compassion toward everyone (pp.258-260) and not just toward members of your own tribe – however you might define them.

But, nobody ever said this would be easy.

1 – (From last week) “home is an ongoing spiritual promise.”  In what ways have you experienced – or still long for – just such a “spiritual promise?”  191
2 – How did  you feel about the opening concerning the murdered college student?  195
3 – How do you love your neighbors?  What do you do?  201
4 – What do you think accounts for decline in social capital in our current society?  203 
5 – “We do not know hot to live with the neighbors.”  Comments?  204
6 – How many different kinds of neighbors can you think of?  210
7 – What is the purpose of your fence?  216
8 – ‘three men walk by.  Abraham” who lived with so few people that he needed human interaction.  Whenever we go out, we are in contact with too many people.  How does this change our relationships?  218
9 – While I have spent 60 years studying about turning enemies into guests, it doesn’t feel like I’m making progress (in fact, perhaps the opposite).  What are your feelings?  219
10 – “Our shared desires and innovative ideas are surprisingly neighborly.” I wonder how (much) this has changed int the eight years since it was written.  Comments?  227
11 – Why do you think our author talks entirely about the golden rule yet does not mention the platinum rule?  231

Chapter 6:  “Neighborhood” (pp. 193-231)

  1. (From last week) “home is an ongoing spiritual promise.”  In what ways have you experienced – or still long for – just such a “spiritual promise?”  [see Chapter 5, #11]

2.  How did  you feel about the opening concerning the murdered college student? (p.195)

I felt profoundly sad.  I found one of Bass’s closing comments there most poignant:  “Quietly, painfully, unexpectedly, we learned that when one of us is lost, we all are.  We are our sisters’ keepers.”  I wish that that were true; all too often it is not.

3.  How do you love your neighbors?  What do you do? (p.201)

I’ve always concentrated on focusing upon those whom I can, almost literally, reach out and touch – not on those who are beyond my reach or grasp (e.g., the victims of Putin’s war against the Ukrainians).  In my case, it would be the families and individuals within three miles of my front door – in other words, within the neighborhood in which my wife and I live.

I’ve regularly helped two frail elderly women with some of their household needs, spent time with a friend who’s losing his battle with Parkinson’s disease so that his wife could get a break, befriended a first-generation Japanese-American man as he, too, is struggling with health-related issues while living alone.  I gave away my sea kayak and all of its equipment to a veteran’s organization that organizes river trips for disabled veterans (and received a heartfelt thanks from the amputee who now is enjoying my kayak).  I’m in the process of turning over my golf clubs and all of my golf-related equipment to one of the members of the Rio Vista High School’s golf team.  I support our local food bank in several ways.  Well, you get the point.

As a colleague of mine aptly titled one of his sermons some years ago, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”  I’ve tried doing just that.  And if I’m not blooming, myself, at least I’m attempting to help others bloom, themselves.  Is this building the kind of “sacred connections” that Bass is talking about here?  You tell me.  Some of it feels sacred, with others, just the right thing to do.  

4.  What do you think accounts for decline in social capital in our current society? (p.203)

Bass says here that “no matter how fragile or invisible the ties in such neighborhoods might be, we remain interdependent and connected.”  That would be the ideal.  But in an increasingly competitive world, coupled with dwindling resources and opportunities, I think the “decline in social capital” is due to the pervasive attitude of egotistical self-centeredness.  It’s led some people to say, in effect, toward others, “I don’t care how you get what you want or need, just stay out of my way; I’m here to get as much as I can for myself.”  So, we have Putin and Trump.

5.  “We do not know how to live with the neighbors.”  Comments? (p.204)

Bass is right, here, “the challenge of re-creating vibrant, healthy neighborhoods is building connections between people and, in the process, turning isolated individuals into neighbors.”  Part of the reason this isn’t happening is that we’ve become such a mobile society – “here today, gone tomorrow.”  As our author says, later:  “It may be that we have all moved to a new neighborhood and have not learned how to get along with the new neighbors” (p.206).

Add to that, we’re often more “connected through social media, professional associations, or shared-interest groups” (p.204) – much like the Westar Institute or our own Lutz Book Group.

6.  How many different kinds of neighbors can you think of? (p.210)

It’s a full spectrum – from neighborly to unfriendly to openly hostile.  There are the genuinely friendly types who always seem to initiate contacts with everyone they meet.  There are also those who interact, occasionally, but usually only with neighbors close by.  Some you have to draw out because they just don’t want to be bothered.  Others will only interact with people who think and act as they do.  Then there are those who resent any kind of contact and simply demand privacy.  The other end of the spectrum, then, are those who antagonize everybody – and often go out of their way to do so.  Where would you place yourself on this spectrum?

So, we are still a long, long way away from envisioning “the world as a large neighborhood.”  As Bass later points out; and it’s worth noting:

            “The problem is not the idea of tribe per se, but what happens when tribes

            become exclusive (when belonging is based on some form of superiority) and

            interested primarily in their own survival (when other tribes are viewed as a

            threat”) (p.212).

7.  What is the purpose of your fence? (p.216)

I have no physical fence around our property, at all, but I clearly don’t “cross the line” to engage with my right-wing-Trump-supporting neighbor down the street.  In the past, I’ve tried at least leaning over such fences, but usually was either ignored, never truly heard, or abruptly cut off and then given a lecture about the “error of my ways.”  Now, in the 78th year of my life, I’ve come to think that I could make much better use of my time than continuing to try to break down such fences constructed by others.  Does that make me a “bad neighbor?”  You tell me.

8.  “...three men walk by.  Abraham....” who lived with so few people that he needed human interaction.  Whenever we go out, we are in contact with too many people.  How does this change our relationships? (p.218)

I think that it depends upon the depth or levels of our contact.  At a Giants game I don’t interact with many more people than those seated nearby.  And engaging with others while packed into an elevator together, never makes for very meaningful conversation (as it’s been spoofed in many GEICO Insurance commercials).  A church social hour or public school parents’ meeting, however, is a completely different atmosphere.  Sometimes relationships can be kindled and others strengthened within such gatherings.  Much of any of these interactions, though, are – directly or indirectly – only related to how we feel about what we have in common with those around us.  In a crowd, we usually just keep walking and minding our own business.

9.  While I have spent 60 years studying about turning enemies into guests, it doesn’t feel like I’m making progress (in fact, perhaps the opposite).  What are your feelings? (p.219)

I’d refer you back to my own response to question #7, above.  Still, the ideal would, indeed, be our author’s statement that... 

            “...hospitality is the spiritual practice that saves tribes from tribalism, allowing 

            them to open their gates and widen the boundaries of neighborhood to include 

            those who happen to wander by” (pp.218-219).

It remains to be an immense challenge, however, “to ‘convert’ hostility into hospitality, to turn ‘the enemy into a guest’” (p.219) – especially when that enemy is holding a loaded weapon against your head and threatening to destroy everything that you cherish.

10.  “Our shared desires and innovative ideas are surprisingly neighborly.” I wonder how (much) this has changed in the eight years since it was written.  Comments? (p.227)

I think that the question “Who is my neighbor?” has become all the more important to answer, now, as our differences have intensified.  Some don’t want to be neighborly.  Some still choose enmity.  What’s more, those who’ve quite comfortably held positions of power and privilege, are now feeling assaulted by others who, for far too long, have been excluded from the kinds of decision-making processes that directly affect their lives.  Significantly, and justifiably, those who’ve been disenfranchised are now finding their voice and demanding justice and equality where neither have been offered to them before.  I’m on their side.  But if the “shared desires and innovative ideas” are never realized, true neighborliness won’t survive as well. 

11.  Why do you think our author talks entirely about the golden rule yet does not mention the platinum rule? (p.231)

I’m assuming that by “the platinum rule” you mean the one that states something like “instead of treating people the way you want to be treated, you should invest time in discovering how they want to be treated.”  I discovered that that statement has been attributed to Dr. Tony Alessandra in his book of that name:  The Platinum Rule.  In biblical style, one way of saying it might be something like, “do unto others as they would want to have be done to them.”

We could go way overboard here, because I also found online something which claims to be “The Diamond Rule:”  “Treat others the way they don’t even know they want to be treated” – in other words, don’t just meet the expectations of others, exceed them!

Why our author never mentions either of these may be that she simply thinks that the rule recognized as golden by all the major religions of the world was enough.  And we’ve never yet  really tried that one anyway.

1 – Do you tend to read your books once or multiple times?  163
2 – When did you live in a place that was NOT home?  167
3 – What would you change about your home (at any point in your life)?  171
4 – Similarly, what would you be willing to share about the messiness of your home (if any)?  172
5 – Living alone:  Comments?  176
6 – Is rearing children in a “Christian Reconstruction” home child abuse?  178
7 – What is happening socially / spiritually when homeless is converted to un-housed?  179
8 – I have a problem with the front door:  people there are either good friends or asking for money.  What are your experiences?  181
9 – What are “shelter shows”?  185
10 – “Dwelling in a space with others” is something I have tried to escape.  When Dad built our second house (about age 12), I was so relieved to have my own room with a door to keep my brothers out.  Comments?  190
11 – I would welcome a question from anyone who feels more warmly toward the home of their early development.

Chapter 5:  “Home” (pp. 163-192)

1.  Do you tend to read your books once or multiple times? (p.163)

It depends on the genre.  With most fiction, I usually just read them once – they’re for relaxing pleasure and (with some) simple escapism.  Rarely have I gone back to books like this that I’ve read before and read them again.  I already know the plot, subplots, character development and how the book ends; so the pleasure would never be the same.  To some extent, the same is true for nonfiction that is about a theme (e.g., racism or history) or place (e.g. a country).

However, when it comes to books like this one (theological, philosophical, spiritual, etc.), my first read leads me to underlining or otherwise highlighting aspects that I find most interesting or compelling.  Then, I’m always going back to these kinds of books – and often – just to ponder them further or share them with others (like within this Lutz Book Group or other such groups that I’m part of).  For this reason, my “man-cave” library is quite extensive because I can’t bear to part with these kinds of books!  I’ve even shared them with grandchildren (even though I don’t think that they find them quite that compelling – yet!).

2.  When did you live in a place that was NOT home? (p.167)

Regrettably, every parsonage that Martha and I have lived in never really felt like home to me.  Ever since the establishment of the Methodist ministry here in these United States, we pastors have been itinerants – appointed for a while and then prompted to move on (sometimes at our own request, but at other times by order of the current bishop of our Annual Conference).  While Martha always did her best to make every parsonage a home, none of them were ever really ours – and sometimes the churches we’ve served would remind us of that fact.

Every rental has felt much the same way, but even our current home feels transitional.

3.  What would you change about your home (at any point in your life)? (p.171)

As our author points out, it should be a “sacred dwelling.  Place, presence, and family make home” (p.170).  So, I would wish to be nearby grandchildren – wherever they may be.  On the other hand, I still crave a sprawling property surrounded by huge trees – with room to roam and wild nature within walking distance or just close by.  Sadly, such places are getting harder to find or are simply places that (like for most people) we never could afford to purchase.

4.  Similarly, what would you be willing to share about the messiness of your home (if any)? (p.172)

Thankfully, Martha and I hold our hoarding tendencies down to a manageable stack of stuff here and there – but you’d never see it if you were just an afternoon or evening guest in our home.  I still am haunted by mother’s voice admonishing me, “There’s a place for everything and everything in its place!”  That remains to be more of my own tendency, however, than (Dare I say it?) it is my roommate’s.

5.  Living alone:  Comments? (p.176)

It remains to be a sadness of mine that our own daughter lives alone (except for Bailey, her Irish-cream-colored cat) and probably will for the rest of her life.  Her “home” is really her place of work as the director of a childcare center on the Stanford University campus.  Her gift and vocation is Early Childhood Education and she not only manages that center, but 40 teachers, numerous support staff, and hundreds of the children – from toddlers to kindergarten age.  She is beloved by them all and, I’m proud to say, is very good at her job.  Still, I wish that she actually had a “home away from home” – and it’s not the apartment where she lives now.

6.  Is rearing children in a “Christian Reconstruction” home child abuse? (p.178)

Okay, I finally found out what that is on the internet:  

Christian reconstructionism is a fundamentalist Calvinist theonomic movement.[1] It developed primarily under the direction of Rousas RushdoonyGreg Bahnsen and Gary North[2] and has had an important influence on the Christian right in the United States.[3][4] Its central theme is that society should be reconstructed under the lordship of Christ in all aspects of life.[5] In keeping with the biblical cultural mandate, reconstructionists advocate for theonomy and the restoration of certain biblical laws said to have continued applicability.[6] These include the death penalty not only for murder, but also for idolatry,[7]open homosexuality,[8] adulterywitchcraft and blasphemy.[9]

Most Calvinists reject Christian reconstructionism and hold to classical covenant theology, which is the traditional Calvinist view of the relationship between the Old Covenant and Christianity.[10]

Christian reconstructionism is closely linked with postmillenial eschatology and the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til.[11][12] ”

So, yes, you could make a case for this twisted aspect of fundamentalism leading to “child abuse” in homes where this kind of theonomy is imposed upon vulnerable children.  There is much truth in that African aphorism, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  And so I do think that it’s essential that we raise all of our children with a sense of compassion and lovingkindness – and that doesn’t at all look like what motivates this cult of “Christian reconstructionism.”

7.  What is happening socially / spiritually when homeless is converted to un-housed?  (p.179)

I’ll share what a man once shared with our congregation in Palo Alto during a worship service.  He felt doubly excluded by the term “homeless,” because, as he told everyone, Palo Alto had always been his home and still was.  He had just lost his house.  So, for him, it was both a social and spiritual loss of immense proportion.

8.  I have a problem with the front door:  people there are either good friends or asking for money.  What are your experiences? (p.181)

I’ve rarely had that latter experience, but did turn away a pair of Mormon missionaries one time when they realized that I could cogently defend my own theology in opposition to theirs.

9.  What are “shelter shows”? (p.185)

From what Bass goes on to say about such TV shows here (like Home & Garden TV), I assume that what they all have in common are the homes in which most of us have chosen to live.  So the PBS series “This Old House” is probably one – where homes are renovated and rebuilt by trusted experts to specifications that enhance family life.  I think they’re worth watching.  

10.  “Dwelling in a space with others” is something I have tried to escape.  When Dad built our second house (about age 12), I was so relieved to have my own room with a door to keep my brothers out.  Comments? (p.190)

It was sometimes uncomfortable for me, too, to always have to share a room with one of my brothers for most of my young life.  So, when my last “roommate” went off to college in 1960, at least I had a room of my own for the final three years of high school.  Being, by nature, an introvert, it was quite a pleasure knowing that now everything in that room was my own and no one else would mess with it.  On the other hand, I still had my mother to deal with.

Married life, however, changed that dramatically.  I loved sharing “my” space with my wife, Martha.  And we have both loved having all of our children around – from infancy to young adulthood.  In many ways, our home now feels empty without them.  So, family gatherings have become all the more precious to us.

11.  I would welcome a question from anyone who feels more warmly toward the home of their early development.

Well, I’d have to refer you to my answer to Chapter 4 “Roots” question #1 – the home of my childhood.  But, if you’re still looking for a question here, I’d lift up our author’s statement near the close of this section on “Home” where she says, “Ultimately, physical houses go to ruin, but home is an ongoing spiritual promise” (p.191).  In what ways have you experienced – or still long for – just such a “spiritual promise” as that?

I’d say that the “spiritual promise” that my wife and I have tried, for the most part, to nurture in our home(s) has been an environment of equity, understanding, challenge, but – most of all –compassion and lovingkindness.

1 – Do you have a house story to share?  131
2 – I would not recognize my roots if I tripped over them.  What makes some people so interested and others not care at all?  136
3 – Have you ever investigated your family tree on-line?  What was the outcome?  138
4 – ‘”Now” is superior to “then”.’  When and why did this come about, and obviously in Jesus time and before, why was the opposite true?  140
5 – How do you understand the change in history describe by:  “Once history was… now history …”?  141
6 – Can you find any example of how sin and evil are transmitted through the human race from Adam onward?  144
7 – How important is your spiritual DNA?  150
8 – How many generations ago was Lucy, at about 3.2 million years ago?  152
X – I just got a phone call from my cousin informing me that his mother (my aunt) just died yesterday at 99 years.
9 – “It is important to know who our ancestors are:”  Comments?  157
10 – How are you interested in the book of life?  161

Part Two:  “HUMAN GEOGRAPHY” (pp.127-266)

Chapter 4:  “Roots” (pp. 133-162)

  1. Do you have a house story to share? (p.131)

Much of my adult life has been short on (in Bass’s words) “roots, home, neighborhood, and community” due to the numerous moves that Martha and I have made with our growing family.  So, oddly enough, my fondest memories of home were during the first 14 years of my life spent in Bungalow 411 in Lago Community – named after the Lago Oil & Transport Company that our dad, a petrochemical engineer, worked for and that took us to the Caribbean island of Aruba in the Netherlands Antilles.  It was company housing, but felt so much like home.  Until I was 15, I always shared a bedroom with one of my older brothers (There were five of us boys – no sisters – so always a handful for our mother!).  Bungalow 411 seemed like a huge house to me.  It had three full bedrooms, two large bathrooms on either side, a huge living room, dining room, separate kitchen, and a broad screened-in front porch.  The expansive front yard was bordered by three concrete walls, a surrounding hedge, and a large garage that held my dad’s tool bench.  So, that workshop was always a busy place – at least for him and my two older brothers.

The yard, itself, was all grass except for a long concrete walkway from the front gate to the wide stairs that led up onto our covered front porch.  While we boys were much younger, Dad had also built a huge sandbox in one corner, complete with a mini-fort that became a playhouse for us.  It also, however, harbored a scorpion one day that scampered up my oldest brother’s pantleg and stung him numerous times.  The picture of him screaming while slapping his leg as he ran across the full length of the yard, remains to be a vivid memory for me of that day.

In the far corner of our front yard, opening across from the garage, was an expansive concrete patio, complete with a huge picnic table and rattan couches and chairs scattered about.  It was always the focus of all of the many birthday parties for us boys – as well as the place of a tooth-shattering slide during rain as we’d run in from the grass, throw ourselves on our bellies, slide across the waxed and now wet concrete floor, and crash into pieces of the furniture there.

My sanctuary, however, was the immense buttonwood tree that grew above the small brick front patio just to the left of the front porch.  It’s branches hung across portions of the porch, then above our parents’ bedroom, and over the larger patio.  I would spend hours climbing up and into that tree – even climbing out onto the rooftop of our house and from there to survey the wider community of homes that surrounded where we lived.  Most of the times, though, I would just nestle quietly into a crotch of one of its broader branches and sway with the rhythm of its breathing from the constant trade winds that blew across our island 360 days of every year.  I wouldn’t have named it, then, but it became a place of contemplation for me.  I was alone with my own thoughts and felt embraced by the rocking limb where I lay, while feeling the gentle fluttering of all of the leaves that surrounded and hid me from the rest of the world.

Our side yard was overgrown with an almond tree and oleander bushes, but the backyard was truly immense – actually, it had once been coral and cacti, but had been bulldozed over and covered with black top (a kind of combined oil mat and bituminous macadam, but very much like asphalt).  You could’ve fit two full basketball courts in that space.  But our dad just put up a backboard and basketball rim and net on the side of the house so that at least we could play half-court basketball.  He also built a tall three-swing set over another large sandbox that would have us swinging up toward the sky, then leaping from apogee of the swing to the sand below.

You sort of get a picture of the place.  And if we weren’t down at the beach and Big Lagoon, swimming, snorkeling, sailing, boating, water skiing or playing shirt-tag, this was our home.  When I look back at what we were given, it may have been a challenge for our parents to put this all together, but for all of us boys, it was idyllic – a perpetual playground.


2. I would not recognize my roots if I tripped over them.  What makes some people so interested and others not care at all? (p.136)

So, “ignorance is bliss,” they say.  But, ask yourself these questions:  “Do I care who my mother and father were?” or “Do I care who my aunts, uncles, grandmother and grandfather were?”  And have you ever wondered to yourself, “How much of them has made me who I am?”  So, to begin with, “How far back – if at all – does your caring go?”

People care because they care about their family.  Others don’t care because – at some point – those earlier people are simply dead to them.


3. Have you ever investigated your family tree on-line?  What was the outcome? (p.138)

Yes, our daughter gave me a subscription to 23andMe ( for my birthday a few years back.  With discovering well over 1,500 relatives, so far, it’s been a fascinating journey.  While I already knew that the ancestral roots of Clan Munro are from northern Ireland and the highlands of Scotland, it was also gratifying to see that confirmed by my own DNA.  This investigation has also revealed to me a 2nd cousin in my wife’s home state of North Carolina that I didn’t know was there.  


4. ‘”Now” is superior to “then”.’  When and why did this come about, and obviously in Jesus time and before, why was the opposite true? (p.140)

As Bass points out, I suppose it came about because we no longer accept the fact that we live in an “enchanted universe” viewing “visible and invisible realities as a unified whole.”  We no longer engage in “ancestor worship, commemorations of the dead, and the celebration of saints and heroes” (p.141).  But is it really true that “‘now’ is superior to then’”?  In some sense, I agree with her conclusion that “we have forgotten who we are....  We have become nomads in time” (Ibid.).  Maybe if we were better connected to our past, we would be better connected to our neighbors – no matter who or where they are.  In the final analysis, we’re all related so, if we knew that fact, maybe the concept of globalism would be better accepted than it is.


5. How do you understand the change in history described by:  “Once history was… now history …”? (p.141)

I understand our author to mean that we have, in many ways, become disconnected from our own history and, so, no longer think of where we’ve come from – or where we’ve been as a people.  To paraphrase the philosopher-historian, George Santayana, “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history, are destined to repeat them.”  In many ways we’ve done just that.  In Bass’s words, “we have forgotten who we are.”  That’s led to one repeated tragedy after another.  So I agree with her conclusion:

            “And this is troubling.  If we do not know where we came from or where we are

            in a story, it is difficult to imagine that we can grasp the meaning and purpose

            of our own lives” (p.142).


6. Can you find any example of how sin and evil are transmitted through the human race from Adam onward? (p.144)

First of all, it’s important to remind ourselves that the biblical “Adam” is a myth – one culture’s description of the first human being when, in fact, our creation was a process of millions of years of evolution.  Our shared genome reveals that “modern” human beings originated somewhere in Africa between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago – and that’s as “precise” as we can get.  Science postulates that our evolution from the most likely recent common ancestor came from a being labeled as Homo Erectus (which just means a guy who could stand up, i.e., in Latin it means “upright man” – never mind that she could’ve actually been a woman).  Scientists now recognize that that person is an extinct species of human that lived sometime between 1.9 million and 135,000 years ago.  No one knows, exactly, when the first Homo Sapien was born.

So, it’s virtually impossible to “find any example of how sin and evil” actually began.  I’d say that it was probably the guy (and, yes, a male) who first acted upon his assumption that he was more important than anybody or anything else, so either dominated everyone else or simply killed all of those who crossed him.  More than likely, “original sin” was probably just such a form of narcissistic and egotistical behavior – coupled with the kinds of megalomania and sadism that still plague us to this very day.  At least I think that makes more sense than the story taught in the Bible (Genesis 3, re-told in Psalm 51: 5, and then radically expanded by Paul in Romans 5: 12-21) – all of which was originally meant to be a metaphor anyway!


7. How important is your spiritual DNA? (p.150)

It’s very important to me.  I have learned so much about the real power of love, compassion, forgiveness and justice from my father and his father before him; and it’s been a deeply spiritual thing for each of us – as it has for the rest of our family.  As Bass points out at the beginning of this section:  “Knowing the stories of our ancestors makes a difference in how we act, the choices we make, and how we understand our own lives” (p.147).  And then later, she says, “Discovering where we come from gives us a sense of where we belong.”  Yes.  I feel that profound spiritual connection to my ancestors in exactly that way and (in my more contemplative moments) almost daily.


8. How many generations ago was Lucy, at about 3.2 million years ago? (p.152)

By “Lucy” I assume that you’re talking about the name given our fossil human ancestor.  A scientist specializing in evolution says that we can’t know the answer, because the lengths of every generation change:  So, if we just assume that 25 is the average length of one human generation, that would give us something like 128,000 generations between Lucy and us.  But, then, who knows?  Nobody does.


9. “It is important to know who our ancestors are:”  Comments? (p.157)

As our author notes, earlier, it’s important because just knowing our connection “is a powerful deterrent to fratricide, terrorism, slavery, and violence.  We are not warring tribes.  We are the same tribe” (p.155).  I agree.  We should realize the truth of what she says, “that we all live within systems of emotional interdependence” (p.156).

As the population of our world has continued to increase, we should finally come to realize that “we are dependent upon relationships and connections that saturate our understanding of ourselves” (p.157).  We are, indeed, a global village, and even those who live on the other side of the world truly should be seen as our neighbors.  Lifting up a line from Acts 17: 28, Bass concludes this section by saying:  “We live and move and have our being in a great web of belonging whose connective tissue is grace” (p.158).  It may be one more example of biblical poesis, but I think there’s a great depth of truth in it.


10. How are you interested in the book of life? (p.161)

Well, of course it’s better than finding your name in the Book of Death – which lists those who were “destined for hell” (p.160)!  But, again, I agree with Bass’s statement here that having a sense of belonging is important:  “Belonging is an intentional practice of remembering that we are joined with the lives of our ancestors” (Ibid.).  So, whether you call it the Book of Life or the Book of Remembrance, we should know about those throughout recorded human history who’ve shown us the importance of living a good life – a life of loving kindness, justice, compassion, and who left this world a better place because they showed us the way and the truth of how life was meant to be lived – and Jesus wasn’t the only one who did just that.

1 – Do you have an early sky experience you would like to share?  98
2 – “he does whatever he pleases…”  Comments?  99
3 – How much closer are we to our sun than any other star?  102  (in %)
4 – What do you think is the main difference between ancient creation descriptions and modern ones?  106
5 – “everything that exists was created at the same time”  Comments?  107
6 – Breath is life.  Comments?  111
7 – As we run Genesis backward and decreate the world, what do you think is the tipping point of no return?  114
8 – What is the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide today?  116
9 – “churches have functioned like elevators”  How do you think churches should function?  119
10 – How have your horizons shifted?  120
11 – “Jesus brings together sky and earth.”  Comments?  123
12 – Any comments on the end of the section, pg. 124 to the end?

Chapter 3:  “Sky” (pp. 97-126)

  1. Do you have an early sky experience you would like to share? (p.98)

Other than the many spectacular sunsets that are so often seen off the coast of our Caribbean island of Aruba, the most memorable “sky experience” for me must be the time that I saw the first artificial Earth satellite swing across its low elliptical orbit of earth in October of 1957.  It was the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 (By the way, I’ve since learned that the word sputnik is simply Russian for satellite – when it’s interpreted in an astronomical context – however, its other meanings, oddly enough, are spouse or traveling companion.).  I remember lying on my back in the deep lawn of our backyard gazing up at the billions upon billions of stars that one could always see in that perpetually clear sky.  But, on this particular night, one of them was moving, and quickly.  Even at some 18,000 mph, it seemed to simply drift along in a straight line across this broad expanse of sky.  I was entranced.  Many years later it moved me to write this poem as I relived that memory:

Artificial Light

by Doug Monroe


We are plagued

by light pollution

and have forgotten

how to see

in the dark.

Take time to leave electrified, amplified light


and see what unfolds

in the dark.

I remember my twelve-year-old self,

lying back in the grass of my childhood,

watching Sputnik move with strange precision

across the stars –

stars that seemed as startled as I

that something so inconsequential as us

would dare to pierce this sky

with artificial light.


2. “he does whatever he pleases…”  Comments? (p.99)

Of course, this is yet another example of anthropomorphizing the concept of God.  While the psalmist’s poetic license elaborates upon this clearly humanlike expression of the divine, it just perpetuates the idea of such an omnipotent and omniscient deity.  The reality of God, for me, remains to be far more mysterious than is our current ability to comprehend it.

In some ways, these lyrical words from Psalm 115 lift up that aspect of the sky that our author recognizes as “the most incomprehensible outer reaches of the universe” (p.100).  It’s led her to consider God to be “the one who is Light and made the lights” as “the night sky still dazzles as it has since before our existence, and will for billions of years to come” (p.101).  Such is God. 


3. How much closer are we to our sun than any other star (in %)? (p.102)

What I find online is that our sun is about 93 million miles away and the next nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is about 4.2 light years away.  So, our sun is some 265,000 times closer to us than this next nearest star.  You do the math if you just want a percentage.


4. What do you think is the main difference between ancient creation descriptions and modern ones? (p.106)

The ancient ones, of course, are myths.  At least the modern ones try to stick to scientific fact.  But even the “big bang” theory is largely speculation – how can anyone say, for certain, “that once the universe did not exist”?  I think something else was there.


5. “everything that exists was created at the same time”  Comments? (p.107)

This seems to me to be a non sequitur.  It ignores the process of evolution – which is an essential aspect of creation.  All life was very different at its very beginning.  While much of it does share “the same matter,” much of it does not.  While we are connected with everything else in many ways, in other ways we are not.  You can’t find the entire Periodic Table of Elements in absolutely everything. 


6. Breath is life.  Comments? (p.111)

In an essential way, this is true.  All living organisms respire – even if they do it in different ways.  At the cellular level, energy itself is formed through this process and is essential for organisms to survive, reproduce and thrive.  While not all living things have lungs and breathe like we do, oxygen and carbon dioxide are the main gases involved in all aerobic respiration.  

Even though breathing and cellular respiration are actually two different processes and can’t be used interchangeably, I get what our author is trying to say here:  “The atmosphere is humanity’s womb, and without it all terrestrial life would perish” (p.109).  So, yes, to this:

            “In human experience, our understanding of atmosphere is both a spiritual

            and scientific reality, a concern of the soul and biology.  In both cases, we are

            speaking of what animates life” (pp.111-112).  


7. As we run Genesis backward and “decreate” the world, what do you think is the tipping point of no return? (p.114)

I’ve had to go to the internet yet again to find the answer to this question; our author doesn’t discuss it.  As scientists define this “tipping point of no return,” it seems that there are more than just one – it’s a cascade of points.  To begin with, in climatology a tipping point is defined as a rise in global temperature past which a localized climate system – like the Amazon rainforest or the Greenland ice sheet – begins to irreversibly decline.  Once that tipping point has been reached, the runaway effects will essentially doom it forever, even if global temperatures begin to go back down.  

But scientists are now projecting that there are probably more like 16 major tipping points!  See this from England: as well as this:  And I think that many of those tipping points may be geopolitical in nature – nations just cannot get together long enough to agree on what’s worth doing and that everyone should be involved in solving the problem.  So, we continue to move inexorably toward a major global catastrophe – and we don’t seem willing to stop it.


8. What is the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide today? (p.116)

This question (like #7 above isn’t discussed by the author so, again, I just did a search online.  The first answer that I came across was NASA’s claim that on October 9, 2019 it was 412 parts per million – and rising.  As NASA’s website says: 

            “This represents a 47 percent increase since the beginning of the Industrial Age,

            when the concentration was near 280 ppm, and an 11 percent increase since

            2000, when it was near 370 ppm.”

But then, for the most up-to-date reading, I see that it’s continuing to rise and is currently at 419.03 ppm (See for the daily reading.)!  My question is, “What’s the real significance of this steady increase?”  Many scientists claim that there really is no “safe” level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  So, at what level does it truly become dangerous?  Some climatologists claim that number is 350 ppm; and we’re already well past that!  That’s why we’re experiencing more heatwaves, floods, storms, and biodiversity loss than ever before – just to name a few consequences of this continuing rise in carbon dioxide.  This is troubling.


9. “churches have functioned like elevators”  How do you think churches should function? (p.119)

Maybe they should function more like NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and play a major role in international development and aid – but, for a church, that ought to be spiritual as well as financial.  Much like other philanthropic organizations, their emphasis should be upon peace, justice and the welfare and advancement of all people – not just “my people.”  And I think, like most NGOs, churches should always remain to be non-profit organizations, as well, relying not only upon their membership but other sources for funding – like private donations and government grants (And yet, imagine how troublesome that would be, since churches should always be able to operate independently from the government!).


10. How have your horizons shifted? (p.120)

It happens every time that I’ve experienced (in our author’s words there) “an alternate vision of peace, blessing, and abundance, the world as God intended it to be.”  But, I wonder, will such an horizon always remain completely out of reach?  Connected to that is discovering the further shift that “God is not completely accessible to us” – and, most likely, never will be.  So, yes, this concept or reality of God is like an ongoing “‘cosmic horizon,’ the edge of the universe past what we aspect of mystery, even a sort of transcendence” (p.121).


11. “Jesus brings together sky and earth.”  Comments? (p.123)

Most of this comes from the vision of the author of the Gospel According to John – i.e., that Jesus is God, full blown, walking around the face of the earth – or, as Bass says, “that God entered the cosmos in the form of a gift, the gift of Jesus” (p.122).  So, as she maintains here, “God is closer than we imagine, and the ever active spirit is animating the world.”  The sky may seem “sacred” to our author, and so “the sphere of dynamic forces and mysterious emptiness.”  But, are those “forces” and that mystery to be equated with God?  This comes close to my convictions as a panentheist, but who knows?  I wish I did, but I don’t.


12. Any comments on the end of the section, pg. 124 to the end

The reality of God may, indeed, be present in the “Earth, water, sky, and fire” (p.126), but all of that seems more like mere manifestations of the presence of God to me, and not at all God’s essence –  that is far, far more of an unfathomable Mystery.  As human beings here on earth, it may be our “natural habitat,” and we can experience the reality of God in such immanent ways, but for me, God is – at the same time – far more transcendent.

1 – What are your feelings about the river by the time you reach pg. 68?
2 – How do you understand “sacred”, as in the middle of pg. 69?
3 – “if the water is invisible to the fish, is God, as the One in whom we swim, also invisible?”  71
4 – Do you have a (short) story about water?  74
5 – What would you add to air and water to make a natural trinity?  76
6 – Could the healing power of water be as simple as washing away dirt, bacteria, viruses and assorted nasties, leaving cleanliness behind?  81
7 – How do you understand: “And it may well be the future of God too.”?  87
8 – Where do you think the idea of rivers as a way to the afterlife came from?  89
9 – How many conflicting uses of water can you think of?  92
10 – What are you doing to conserve water?  94

Chapter 2:  “Water” (pp.65-95)

1.     What are your feelings about the river by the time you reach pg. 68?

I do like her journal notation:  “Creation, as crippled as she is, still has power here at river’s edge” (p.67).  But, like all of the many rivers that run through industrial-America, the Potomac can be killed – if we’re not careful.  And up to now, we haven’t cared enough.  As she says, the watersheds that flow across every continent “are vital to the health of the whole planet” (p.68).  I am concerned, and profoundly saddened, by the fact that we’re slowly killing all of them.

2.     How do you understand “sacred” – as in the middle of pg. 69?

As she is using it – that “the river is sacred, the watery way of salvation” – the waters that ebb and flow across our planet remain to be the very source of life.  It reminds me of that solemn liturgical pronouncement associated with the imposition of charcoal on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday:  “Remember, from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”  It may mark our beginning, but without water, our ending will come far sooner than we think.

3.     “If the water is invisible to the fish, is God, as the One in whom we swim, also invisible?” (p.71)

I think that she both asks and answers that question when, in the next sentence, she says, “As we pay attention to rivers and seas, we might also discover God’s fluid presence with the water.”  I would’ve used the word “within” there, but then I am a panentheist when it comes to understanding the nature and presence of God.  So, I see myself, quite literally, as “water’s child.”  I was first nurtured into being within the amniotic sea of my mother’s womb.

4.     Do you have a (short) story about water? (p.74)

Imagine your own beginnings, as I’ve reflected on mine, in that last sentence of my response to question #3 above.

5.     What would you add to air and water to make a natural trinity? (p.76)

It seems to me that it should be fire.  Most species which animate our world are made up of the stuff that comes from the heart of a star – like our own sun.

6.     Could the healing power of water be as simple as washing away dirt, bacteria, viruses 
and assorted nasties, leaving cleanliness behind? (p.81)

It certainly is a good beginning.  But it’s worth remembering that most adult human beings are from 50 to 60% water.  Think of what it does inside us:  it helps regulate our temperature, hydrates our skin, and lubricates our joints.  It also helps maintain our blood pressure, flushes waste, and is the only way in which oxygen is able to circulate throughout our entire body.  Scientists have discovered that hydration levels will even affect our brains.  Just a 1 to 2% loss of body water can affect cognitive functions – including attentiveness, critical thinking skills, and memory.  As a kind of “rule of thumb,” I would tell all of my children that if their urine was a dark yellow, they weren’t drinking enough water.  So, have another drink, but make it water!

7.     How do you understand: “And it may well be the future of God too.”? (p.87)

Earlier in that same paragraph, Bass observed that “threatened water can lead to threatening religion [because] water is the source of great political and religious tension and often war.”  It’s led her to conclude that “the future of water is the human future” and to close with this quote that “it may well be the future of God too.”  I understand her to mean, then, that as we lose the sacred aspects of water, religion and the very concept of God is threatened.  With only the rich and powerful in total control of our world, they would act as if they were God.

8.     Where do you think the idea of rivers as a way to the afterlife came from? (p.89)

As Bass observes here, “The river is not a place to die, but a place to live and share life with others.”  So, for a long, long time, flowing water has been a fascination for human beings – who even began to see it as sacred because it was the source of life itself.  If it was there at the beginning, not surprisingly then, some concluded that it would be there at the end as well.  The Greeks came to believe that the Styx (which was also a female deity, by the way) formed the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead – Hades.  They thought that when someone died, their pneuma or psyche (spirit or soul) had to cross that river in order to enter the afterlife.

As our author later points out, “the riparian zone seems an apt metaphor for life” itself and “what some faith traditions refer to as liminal space, the uncertain territory between two more certain realities” – like life and death.  So, “[g]oing with the flow means moving with all the waters as they flow toward the main river leading to the sea” (p.90).

9.     How many conflicting uses of water can you think of? (p.92)

To begin with, conflicts over water usually happen because the demand for water resources (especially potable water) all too often exceeds its availability – or because control over access and allocation of water continues to be disputed (e.g., the Colorado River and the 7 states that draw from it) or those who manage it are incompetent, self-centered, or simply missing entirely.  Who should have priority:  the needs of agriculture or our ever-expanding cities?

On the other hand, the interrupted flow of water from dams has often caused havoc for those who’ve lived further downstream and now no longer have access to the water that they once did.  In trying to control the flow of water in this way, entire communities have had to relocate as dammed up rivers have put many homes underwater.

Maybe the most controversial example of this has been the construction of the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River basin.  Over 1.4 million people were uprooted from their ancestral homes as their houses were demolished, whole communities broken up, and their farmlands flooded.  When the project was finally completed, the dam had submerged two cities, 114 towns, and 1,680 villages along the river banks.  And the Yangtze basin still floods.

Water has also been misused as a “convenient” source for human beings to get rid of their waste – sending the problem further down river or into the sea and causing devastating pollution all along the way.

10.  What are you doing to conserve water? (p.94)

I only use water outside (e.g., for the garden or to wash off our cars or patio) on Sundays or Wednesdays.  Throughout the rest of the week we do use water, of course, to cook and wash, but in our toilets we use the mantra, “If it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow!” – a phrase purportedly coined by hippies in the early days of the environmental movement.

1 – What experience of nature that you had as a youth would you like to share (shortly)?  Why?  33
2 – Do you have any connection with God and dirt?  Describe.  38
3 – What do you think is the main reason farmers are more religious than city dwellers?  43
4 – Why do you think overpopulation of the earth has become such a minor consideration now?  46
5 – Would you fit in well at a “garden church”?  47
6 – How do you feel about applying the term resurrection to the life cycle of the soil?  50
7 – “baptism removes our sins.”  Comments?  53
8 – Why do you think that conserving resources never made it into the 10 commandments?  56
9 – How much dirt do 300,000 people take away from Chimayo each year?  (see question 4)  60
10 – Is there any difference between “made for it” and “made from it”?  64

Part One:  “Natural Habitat” (pp.27-126)

First off, I love that opening quote from Thomas Berry which Bass chose to begin this part:

           “We need the sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers, and the mountains and birds,

           the fish in the sea, to evoke a world of mystery, to evoke the sacred” (p.27)

To which I’d simply respond, “Yes,” and again, yes!”

Chapter 1:  “Dirt” (pp.31-64)

What experience of nature that you had as a youth would you like to share (shortly)? Why? (p.33)                                                                                                                   
As I’ve mentioned before, “I am water’s child.”  Growing up on the island of Aruba – one of the Lesser Antilles islands in in the Southern Caribbean Sea – I was swimming before I was 3 and skin diving (swimming under water without a diving suit – usually with a face mask and swim fins) in deeper water along coral reefs with a snorkel by the time I was 10.  This was also part of freediving, which just means you hold your breath and dive down as deep as you can, explore the depths and its wildlife for as long as you can, before coming back up to the surface.  These waters just 12 ½ degrees north of the equator were also warm enough that none of us ever wore wetsuits.  Some time between elementary school and junior high school I took my first SCUBA diving lessons – an acronym for “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus” – which means that you dive with an air tank connected to a regulator on your back so that you can breathe underwater.  I also learned how to use some kind of weight belt (technically called a BCD, or Buoyancy Control Device) while SCUBA diving so that I could hang stationary or simply sit on the bottom without floating back up to the surface.

Why?  Because this underwater world is beautiful – almost magical – in the amount of wildlife that one would never see without making a deep dive.  And I’ve not even mentioned the joys that I’ve experienced while body surfing, sailing, kayaking and water skiing through and over these same waters.  Half of my young life, quite literally, was spent at the beaches and in the surf, lagoons and deeper waters along Aruba’s dramatic coastline.

2. Do you have any connection with God and dirt?  Describe. (p.38)

To a great extent, my “connection with God and dirt” is much like our author’s, who said that for her “...the country became a place of wonder.  Those woods and farms were a sanctuary of the sacred, a place where the Bible actually spoke” (p.34).  After the waters of the Caribbean, for me, the wild woods that surrounded my grandfather’s house in northwest Pennsylvania became a sanctuary of just such beauty and mystery as this.  I used to spend hours walking or running through those woods with his dog, Curly, and, from time to time, scrambling up young pine saplings and riding them back to the ground – in much the same way that I did swinging from the large fronds of palm trees on Aruba.  What’s more, the creek out behind Gramp’s house held the coldest, freshest, ground water that I’d ever tasted – it was also where he kept an “ice box” buried beneath the water.  I wouldn’t have been able to name it then, but that word “panentheism” fits – the idea that the Spirit of God was everywhere around me.

3. What do you think is the main reason farmers are more religious than city dwellers?  (p.43)

I think that it would be, as Bass points out, “The spirit is with and in the soil and the farmer, a binding power beyond and yet still a part, where two become one” (p.38).  On the other hand, for city dwellers the land was turned “into an object to be managed instead of a relationship to be experienced” (p.39).

4. Why do you think overpopulation of the earth has become such a minor consideration now? (p.46)

It’s become a politically perilous dilemma:  who decides where and how the world’s population will be diminished?  We’ve seen the negative results of China’s “one-child” policy (most often at the expense of girls) where that nation is now struggling with an overpopulation of aging males and not enough young people for the ever-expanding work force.  Then there are parts of the world in which entire populations are already starving to death.  Do we here in the so-called “1st world” just let that continue to happen as if it’s simply “nature’s way” of dealing with over population and dwindling resources?  Where is the compassion and simple humanity in that?  It’s all become “such a minor consideration” because we’ve simply chosen to look away.

5. Would you fit in well at a “garden church”? (p.47)

I think theologically, philosophically, and maybe administratively, yes, I would.  Technologically, however, I would not, because I’m no “handy man” and take little-to-no pleasure in gardening.  My interests and passions lie somewhere else.

6. How do you feel about applying the term resurrection to the life cycle of the soil? (p.50)

I do agree with our author that “By tending the soil, we imitate the creative process in Genesis.  We can ‘breathe’ new life into the ground” (pp.49-50).  So, if resurrection does mean bringing something back to life, yes, it could be applied “to the life cycle of the soil” as well.

7. ...“baptism removes our sins.”  Comments? (p.53)

No, it doesn’t – never has and never will.  Like all sacramental moments, baptism is “an outward and spiritual sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  In other words, you have to change your mind and heart, first, before any kind of sin might be removed.  No ritual, in itself, will accomplish such a profound change.  What’s more, the only persons without sin are newborn children, so, the least in need of any such a ritualistic misunderstanding.

8. Why do you think that conserving resources never made it into the 10 commandments? (p.56)

It’s probably because everyone doesn’t hear that issues of respect for human life, property, telling the truth, generosity and religious belief, in fact, are there within the 10 commandments so, in reasonable extension, should include the conservation of our resources as well.  Far too many theologians, however, don’t hear these commandments that way, so have continued to interpret them very narrowly.

9. How much dirt do 300,000 people take away from Chimayo each year?  (see question 4) (p.60)

Assuming each person took away an ounce, that’d be 18,750 pounds of annual take away.  Since there are 2,000 pounds in one ton, that would be well over 9 tons (9.375) of dirt taken.  My conclusion: somebody’s replacing the dirt in Chimayo.

10. Is there any difference between “made for it” and “made from it”? (p.64)

It might seem as if the former receives it, while the latter gives it away, but it’s both of those.

First off, let’s be clear, we’re not talking about the stuff of Job’s lamentations here – where he claims that he came into the world with nothing and will leave the same way when he dies (cf. Job 1: 21 with Ecclesiastes 5: 15).  Job seems to be repeating the belief that all he ever had was a gift and God is sovereign over all of them – such questionable theology is continued in James 1: 17 that “every good and perfect gift” only comes from God “without variation or shadow of change.”  Our free will provides us with much more potential for good than that.

Which brings us back, I think, to that question of theodicy:  “If God is a god of love, why is there evil?”  Can we not receive love, make something of it, and then give it away?  I think we can.  The answer to question #10 here, then, would be that we are not only made for love, but from it as well.  So, as our friend Bob Saxby might say, “It’s both/and.”

1 – Describe your experience(s) with a labyrinth.  2 
2 – How do you feel about the places you have lived, particularly the differences among them and any changes over your time there?  3 
3 – What other questions are raised for you when asked “Where is God?”?  6 
4 – Why do you think authors (who I think should know better) use the word God without any description of what they think it means or how they are using it?  Am I the only one concerned with this question, and it’s obvious to everyone else?  7 
5 – Do you see the world as being reenchanted, and if so, how (does it work)?  10 
6 – Do you think answers to the “Where is God?” question are influencing what is happening in our government, and if so, how?  11 
7 – What “grounds” you?  How would you describe that grounding?  18 
8 – What change do you think would most reduce the gap between the spiritual revolution and the institutions of religious faith?  21 
9 – In what ways do you see Napa Methodist (or your church) either “sleeping through the revolution” OR moving into the revolution?  Do you like or dislike the ways?  24 
10 – I didn’t make it to the magical ‘10’ questions.  Do you have one I missed?

Introduction:  “Genesis” (pp.1-26)

   1. Describe your experience(s) with a labyrinth. (p.2)

I enjoyed strolling through the one at the Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA and have walked it numerous times – but not so much for the labyrinth itself, but because of the beauty of its surroundings.  I can get just as much of a deeply contemplative experience from a walk or kayak through most any area of wild nature, so I can’t say that a labyrinth has any special qualities – at least for me.  But, then again, maybe I wasn’t paying attention.

   2. How do you feel about the places you have lived, particularly the differences among 
them and any changes over your time there? (p.3)

First of all, they’re almost too numerous to mention – from an island in the Caribbean, to every sort of rural and suburb of America, and from California to North Carolina and back.

I’ve felt most “at home” when wild nature was close by – i.e., within walking distance or a short drive away.  Curiously enough, then, it wasn’t the actual edifice in which we lived, but the neighborhood or areas that surrounded us that made any place feel like home.

The changes were often dictated by the needs of our family:  schools, a church, grocery stores, places to eat and buy whatever we needed, entertainment centers (from sports facilities to theaters), and vacation opportunities nearby.  They were places where we were able to act upon the very human need to love and be loved.  What changed were simply the ages and stages of our lives, so how we lived within them was more important than where we lived.

   3. What other questions are raised for you when asked “Where is God?”? (p.6)

The most important question, of course (at least for me), was “Who is God?”  The next might be, “What difference does that make for me, personally?”  Another is, “How do the people around me express their understanding of God?”  And, “How has that affected me and the ways in which I live my life?”  Throughout all of this, “Who’s right and who’s wrong – and how would I know, for sure, either way?”  If we’ve thought enough about it, we might even be able to answer the final question, “What do I believe about any of this – questions and answers – and what difference does it make for the way I live my life?”

   4. Why do you think authors (who I think should know better) use the word God without any description of what they think it means or how they are using it?  Am I the only one 
concerned with this question, and [is it] obvious to everyone else? (p.7)

Bass does give us a first glimpse (of sorts) on how she understands God when she says,

    “And I feel that other presence as well, the heartbeat of love at the center of
    things, the spirit of wonder or awe that many call God” (p.3).

And, again, here:

    “Now, however, the personal, mystical, immediate, and intimate is emerging
    as the dominant way of engaging the divine. ... to be able to touch, feel, and
    know God for one’s self” (p.9).

Which is why she can say, at one point early on:

    “The biblical narrative is that of a God who comes close, compelled by a
    burning desire to make heaven on earth and occupy human hearts” (p.13).

She also lifts up how she’s come to borrow the title of this book from that well known German theologian, Paul Tillich, who proclaimed God as “the Ground of all Being.”  She seems to agree with him “that God is not an object – but God, the numinous presence at the center of all things, is what grounds us” (p.18).  She then concludes her book’s Introduction by saying,

    “...the grounded God is a God in relationship with space and time as the love
    that connects and creates all things, known in and with the world. ... we might
    think of God as inter, the spiritual thread between space and time; intra, within
    space and time; and infra, that which holds space and time.  This God is not
    above or beyond, but integral to the whole of creation, entwined with the 
    sacred ecology of the universe” (p.25).

And then, finally,

    “...there is a pattern of God all around us – a deeply spiritual theology that
    relates to contemporary concerns, provides meaning and hope for the future,
    and possesses surprisingly rich ties to wisdom from the past” (p.26).

So, after all that, who is God, really?  Is God a sentient being, an inanimate Force of nature, a disembodied yet ever-present Spirit, or...what?  You tell me.

   5. Do you see the world as being reenchanted, and if so, how (does it work)? (p.10)

Our author is talking about a “shift in religious consciousness” here, and she believes that it’s a “reenchantment of the world, a spiritual revolution of astonishing scope.”  But who said that it was “enchanted” in the first place – and why that word or how and by what or whom?  Some theologians would say that the enchanted place is what’s being described in the overlapping stories of creation in Genesis 1 and 2.  I’m sure that Bass is not meaning, however, that we should somehow turn-back-the-clock to some prior century’s vision of nirvana.

Alongside our author, though, I do feel that we are in the midst of “a spiritual revolution of astonishing scope.” In my opinion, it’s directly  connected to the concept of globalism – so feared by those in power – which tells us that it’s long past time we should be placing the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations.  If that’s the “reenchantment” that Bass is going to be talking at length about with us, I’d agree with her, but I think of it more like another religious reformation – so, truly, a “spiritual revolution.”

Elsewhere I’ve referred to this movement as a “mustard seed insurgency” – after that parable attributed to Jesus (cf. Mark 4: 30-32, Matthew 13: 31-32 or Luke 13: 18-19).  Something thought to be very small and insignificant has been planted, taken root, and is growing.  It sounds to me that this is the heart of our author’s message in this book.

   6. Do you think answers to the “Where is God?” question are influencing what is happening in our government, and if so, how? (p.11)

I think that those answers are in direct opposition to the ways in which our government has failed us – the ways that it has served wealth and power and not cared for the vast majority of our country’s population.  It’s the theme of this book when Bass says, “To relocate God is to reground our lives. ... God is here.”  I think she means that we’re either in this together or not at all.  When we can finally realize that fact, we will come to know the very height, depth and breadth of God, because we’ll begin to live “grounded” in a world as it was meant to be.  Up to now, our government (like far too many others in both ancient and modern history) has been more interested in caring for its own special interests than it has in caring for people.

   7. What “grounds” you?  How would you describe that grounding? (p.18)

What profoundly grounds me is knowing who I am and where I belong – it’s where I truly live, move and experience my very being (cf. Acts 17: 28).  For me, it begins with my family, but then it extends on into of my interactions with friends, neighbors, the larger community, as well as experiences of wild nature, and continues on out into the greater world – much like an ever-expanding series of concentric circles.  Throughout it all I am embraced by the Mystery of God.

   8. What change do you think would most reduce the gap between the spiritual revolution 
and the institutions of religious faith? (p.21)

It would be difficult – because the gap has been at least twenty centuries in the making – but the institutional Church must allow for beliefs and practices that, while decidedly unorthodox, have the force of contemporary biblical scholarship behind them.  Orthodoxy must give way not only to the well-reasoned reinterpretation of scripture, but to the replacement of anachronistic liturgies so that creative and progressive theologies can be embraced and not condemned as heresy.  The hierarchy of leadership in the Church should also be turned on its head.  But that’s another story – even though it’s been at the very center of the problem ever since the Council of Nicaea during that fateful summer of 325 CE.

   9. In what ways do you see Napa Methodist (or your church) either “sleeping through the 
revolution” OR moving into the revolution?  Do you like or dislike the ways? (p.24)

Under the guidance of The Rev. Marylee Sheffer, I think that Napa Methodist’s worship and outreach has begun “moving into the revolution.”  With openness to theological expressions represented by members of the Lutz Book Group, as well, at least our church is not asleep.

   10. I didn’t make it to the magical ‘10’ questions.  Do you have one I missed?

With all of this “God talk,” I think that it might be well worth our exploring the issues of theodicy – that controversial aspect of theology that asks (but does not satisfactorily answer), “If God is a god of love, why is there evil?” (p.15)

The traditional answer is that, for the sake of our freedom, God has “allowed” our evil ways to continue.  But, I don’t believe in such a god.  We’re responsible for the messes that we’ve made of creation, so we’re the ones who need to clean them up.