Category Archives: personal stuff

Panentheism: Filling gaps of ancestral homelessness

A wise teacher said recently, with acute and accurate observation, “Most multi-god religions never really had an issue with the one-god religions. It’s the Monotheistic religions that chronically have taken offence with everyone else.” He went on to note that it may be entirely possible for an animist to sit in a Protestant church and feel fairly at home.

It seems it is becoming less and less tolerable (especially with increased information and awareness coming from science, anthropology, history, and ethics) to claim sovereignty of belief and truth in opposition to a great multitude of beliefs and experiences in the world. This poses an extremely consequential dilemma. On the one hand, there are fundamentalist believers of many different religions, who dig their heals in even more, saying it is a sure sign of the demise of humanity that so many people disagree with “our way.” These groups have to work even harder to preach and evangelize the “one true way.” On the other hand, many who grew up in the church or have Monotheism in their ancestral heritage, leave these “limited and exclusive” belief systems behind in order to find something more authentic to their experience. Sometimes this seems rather fundamentalist on the other extreme.

Granted, there are those who are perfectly comfortable with this arrangement of digging in even harder or abandoning their roots. I would be willing to bet, however, that for many, though, the arrangement, message, or straight up disconnection feels off… like something is missing and can’t be settled. I think this unsettledness is good and is important. It creates a hunger to search for something of meaning, something more reconciling, more inclusive, and more embracing of our ancestral heritage.

Some of us don’t feel quite right about about tossing off monotheism and some of the nuances that we are drawn to within our belief systems we were raised on. Maintaining a spirit of anger and betrayal towards something so central in our heritage is something akin to walking with a profound limp. I have heard so many times of the pain and horror at what our ancestors have done in the name of God and how this has driven one to different beliefs. Good! The pain of how things are and how they have come to be is exactly the burden we need to carry into the future as we put words to the trouble we are in.

There is a historical and cultural understanding about god, though, that I believe can unite and reconcile these homeless and disillusioned Westerners. It is indigenous, it is local, and it is inclusive. Panentheism is a foundational belief that includes God, mystery, or divine and also allows for more unification between the creator and the “created.” While not exclusive to Christianity, there have been Christians since the early church that considered God to be in all things and all things to be in God. So the universe is contained within an infinite and infusing presence.

In this way, the divine is simultaneous with Life. Love. The Force. The Great Spirit. Problems with the dualism of monotheism can be moved beyond. Within panentheism there is room for all, the ability to hold the grief of what has been done and is being done, and a way to love the world as alive and infused with Life. Problem of evil, or a good God allowing bad things? Not really an issue if God includes all of life, both light and darkness. Other religions or views about God? We are all part of a greater presence, each trying to find our cultural way of understanding and connecting. The relationship between humanity and other earth beings? We are all sustained by Life. None are greater than the others, but participate together with Life and Love to create more life.

Personally, the implications of living in this way and with this union are only beginning to take shape. Living in the belief that all things are in God and God is in all things has been my ongoing contemplation for maybe more than ten years now, but it continues to shape the way that I engage with others, pray, care for the land and those that live on it, eat and drink, attend and participate in church, and care for others in times of heartbreak and death. I have been able to find some reconciliation and harmony with my Christian heritage without feeling like I have to be stuck in a box that is too small and exclusive. I find myself in great wonder much of the time and frankly in awe of mystery at all times. It is okay for me not to know. In the midst of it all… all the joys and sorrows, wonder and heartbreak, there is still God who holds me and all beings in love. Life happens and continues to happen. It is not the enemy, not bad or good per se, but wonderful, yes. And consistently beautiful.


Another year and grateful, grateful, great-full!

One the eve of my 33rd birthday, I can really only think of gratitude and humor at the year I am moving beyond. While it hasn’t been an easy year, it has been better than some, and though full of insane life transitions, I would say I have been gifted with some good Bettger resilience, some extremely wonderful community, and just a little (or a lot) of grace and gifts from a good God.

So let me “name the ways”:

  • 20130827_151225I am so thankful for my angels… my wife, Kat, and my absolutely perfect son, Brendan, Also, that little guy who is on the way for January. Thank you for not making Mommy’s asthma flare up. (notice I didn’t mention the dog… though, Coco, you aren’t all that bad)
  • So thankful for the friends and community, not just in Bend, but around the country. There are countless ways that we have been supported this last year, even just in meals, potlucks, a place to hang out, moving couches, cutting hair, watching Brendan. And then there are the men from Illuman. Supporting my own calling, my leadership, my giftedness, and my journey. And those in my spiritual direction community who have done more of the same. And for friends in MN… so good to reunite after all this time.
  • I am thankful for our old house, while even though we couldn’t wait to get out, gave us good shelter, room to grow, and allowed us to live on less income.
  • 20130904_153041Thankful for our tax return, because without it, we wouldn’t have been able to make this trip to WI and MN for 5 weeks.
  • And for this trip… a time to rest, to be away, to transition and to spend more time with my family than I have in 6 years.
  • So thankful for my family, especially my parents who are the best grandparents I have ever seen.
  • Thankful for the chance to offer spiritual direction. It truly is a calling, truly is a gift, and to be able to join others on their journey of discovery and challenge, well… it doesn’t get much better than that. Finally certified this last year, and I’m so glad it took as long as it did.
  • Thankful for the books, so many I can’t even remember them all, but most definitely for the whole series of Game of Thrones (all 7000 plus pages of you) that got me through the winter and through school bus driving.
  • I am thankful for Kat’s family. The inlaws… for always challenging me to be better than I am and to live into my potential.
  • 20130901_084638Thank you, to Mother Earth, for holding us, feeding us, hurting us, and carrying us.
  • Thankful to my chicken that gave her life, even though violently, so we could eat. I will never forget that experience.
  • And yes even thankful for the school bus job. After all, it has to be the last job before moving to a new city.
  • So grateful for the upcoming chaplain residency, and for the opportunity to experience the next stage in my “delivery system”
  • Thankful for the Lord’s timing. It is just too ironic, synchronistic, or whatever you want to call it, to be anything else.

There are so many more, I could write for pages. Nevertheless, I can’t wait for what is to come. And just as with any given day, I look to the future with a mix of anxiety over the details and anticipation for the surprises, this next year will surely contain its fair share.

Where am I safe?

Whew… found this from 2008. How poignant in our election time, once again. A little angsty, so not quite where i am now, but a voice from the past (or from us all?) that deserves to be heard…

Longing, looking for that safe place
That Space where I don’t have to hide,
Where I can face Others
with honesty and presence


Growing up… starting on this journey
Hoping to find it in the family
Inherent in the blood that runs between us
The first confusing messages

Doing the best we could…
But wounds and patterns of thinking run deep

I look to those of like mind
Ones who are supposed to be following Jesus…
or so they say. Safe? Real?
Aware of the pain that I so often Feel?

Thanks for the guilt and the easy answers
The judgment and the stones

Times I’ve been tempted to find it in the government
Those talking heads on the tube
Telling me everything is going to be better
That they can keep me safe within these walls.

The enemy is out there somewhere
As long as we have freedom… there is nothing to fear

If anything, my own home should be a refuge
From what’s happening out there.
Hole up, hide, duck back, close the shades.
They can’t get me here…

But I forget about myself.
Alone, I have to face myself… often far from safe.
Questions doubt fear uncertainty guilt unknown confusion
Get away…

To where?

And God, aren’t you supposed to be safe
Predictable and easy to please?
Aren’t good things supposed to come to those who wait?
Or to those who love you?

Apparently, you are not safe all the time either…

What now, then? Where is the safety? Why so elusive?

Starting to Sound like a Fortune Cookie

I was in the middle of a good catch-up text session with a dear long time friend from MN the other night when I realized how easy it is for the things I say to sound like catch phrases and trendy self-help lines I might find tucked inside my Chinese take-out desert.

“Things happen as we walk the road towards them…”

This after:

“Take risks, do what you love, and don’t compromise. One step at a time…”


“I’m not in a rush to claim more than life has to teach me.”

I suppose in any regular face-to-face conversation, these might be taken at face value and as wise words, however in the context of text messaging (and probably emailing, blogging, or small talk), I was rolling my eyes at myself.

My roommates used to say I was an old man in a young man’s body. That probably had to do with my enjoyment of smoking a pipe, reading old smelly books in rocking chairs, and watching birds. Another friend recently told me my sweater looked like something Mr. Rogers would wear. As a trained spiritual director at 31, I have to be aware of what I say. The things that come out of my mouth may not have the same weight as if I had a bit more gray hair or more wrinkles. Gravitas comes with age… try putting that one in a fortune cookie.

I am trying to surround myself with influence that encourages a bit more creativity and originality to my voice. Swearing helps too.

A mentor of mine has, in the last 10 years or so, started simply going by “…parker” and hosts pub conversations called The Shepherd and the Knucklehead (or the Knuckle and the ShepherdHead, as I call it after a few beers). He uses periods between words and joins them together in ways that are sometimes near incomprehensible. He writes things like,

heyNate.. scratch.the.itch.. that is living into the fire.. might get hot.. white hot.. whewBoy

.you must “take” time.. the thread is yet thinner. SundayAM.. Wanna talk..

You get the idea. Anne Lamott, who I love, writes about working through anger:

At times like these, I believe, Jesus rolls up his sleeves, smiles roguishly, and thinks, “This is good.” He lets me get nice and crazy, until I can’t take my own thinking and solution for one more moment. The next morning, I got on my knees and prayed, “Please, please help me. Please let me feel You while I adjust to not getting what I was hoping for.” And then I remembered Rule 1: When all else fails, follow instructions. And Rule 2: Don’t be an asshole. (from Plan B)

This is influence I can use. I’m finding my voice… In fact, I’ve probably already found it. A bit quirky at times, maybe sounding like something an old man would say sometimes, probably some good swear words thrown in there. But my own. I wouldn’t really fit in a fortune|cookie. I don’t like them that much anyway.

On burned out days, shop… and smoke

At five thirty this morning, the chickens wanted out. I suppose I should say, at four o’clock, Coco wanted out… who knows what for. Probably, to run around the neighborhood and eat the neighbors’ grass. I let her out and then later, let the chickens out too. They needed some love, which entails letting them toss compost and dirt piles around the yard and raze my garden. It is gray this morning and quiet. Kind of how I feel.

Kat and I had a burned out day yesterday. She was ready to throw in the towel and get out of town and I felt lost, like I didn’t really feel like I have been doing anything worthwhile. Thursdays are errand days, so Kat got some groceries and bought some clothes. When she came home and watched The Bachelorette, I went thrift store shopping and got myself some new shirts. And some fresh pipe tobacco. A lot of my encounters yesterday, and the feelings I was having just made me sad.

Can’t say we really felt that much better by the time we went to sleep.

So five thirty found me sitting on the back porch keeping one eye on the chickens and smoking my pipe. It felt good to be outside in the gray with my coffee and quiet. I hung the laundry on the line and listened.

Anne Lamott writes about her challenges in starting a Sunday school for kiddos in her church in her book, Plan B: “I thought of what this dream had taken: all those times we teachers had had to ask for help, and had plugged away without enough resources, without knowing how, or whether, we were going to manage. And it had taken much more letting go and trusting than we had felt capable of.”

Burned out days come around. I am no stranger to feeling lost, worthless, or tired. So sometimes we just have to buy some new clothes and smoke some fresh tobacco. And sometimes the chickens need some love. We do what we can with what we’ve got and listen… and perhaps we find out that when we look for it, we know that we have been given just about everything that we need.