Where you live: Wilmington, NC
What you do as a vocation or avocation?: Presbyterian Minister
Your two favorite books:
At the moment I like all but one page of The World Without Us by Alan Weisman–it’s surprisingly hopeful; there are some solutions available to us, and it strengthens my faith in humankind to know that people are applying skill, reason, and imagination to working on solutions to the problems we as a species have caused and are causing. There are also natural responses that, if we would just let up a little bit, would immeasurably help us as we scramble to try to save ourselves. On that note, Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything is another one—Bryson never mentions God, faith or religion, and still managed to spark the most powerful, disciplined theological thinking I had done for ages. In fact, if this question were framed as my desert island selections, I would have to take the Bible (New Revised Standard Version), and then any one of Bill Bryson’s travel books. If you’re stuck, alone, on a desert island, bleeding from bite wounds, with no food, and malaria setting in, you might as well have something that is absolutely 100% rock-solid guaranteed to make you laugh.
Your two favorite CD’s:
I believe Mali to be the wellspring of the most beautiful music ever recorded, on the most profoundly beautiful instrument, the kora (add one of those to my Christmas wish list, please). So for now I’ll pick anything by Toumani Diabate as one of my two (but not a collaboration with some Westerner—it’s most beautiful in its purest form). But this is a problem when you have The Who, the Kingston Trio, Sam Cooke, Balkan folk music, and Respighi’s Pines of Rome on your must-have list, along with about 40 others. I suppose at any given time my two favorite CD’s are an unfinished, unreleased, bootleg disc by the Midnight Stations and—blindfolding myself and pointing to my CD shelves—Living in the Past by Jethro Tull.
Why you are interested in spirituality?
I follow Schleiermacher in the conviction that, if you strip away all the stuff of religion (much of which I value deeply; I loathe the idea of abandoning religion in favor of something that’s loosely called “faith” or “spirituality”), at the core of every one of us—I’m sorry to be so presumptuous—there is a tiny kernel, a kind of interior knowledge: as Schleiermacher called it, the “feeling of absolute dependence.” I believe we ignore this, as all kinds of religious fundamentalists do, including the currently trendy atheists, at our peril. I believe that Jesus Christ came to clarify for us that God is the source of all life, and that no one’s life is meant to be, in Hobbes’s terms, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short (although I think I dated her once). I am interested in spirituality because it nurtures all that is best in the human being—namely, a recognition of truth and beauty—and urges him or her to live and die trying to make sure that everyone has access to abundant life.
Your favorite quote:
“If you deal with this material you can’t put God on. I thought I could spread light and I could enlighten my world and those around me and I thought I could, but I was unable to. This is a landscape in which men far stronger than you, far braver, nobler, kinder, more generous, men of extremely high achievements have burnt to a crisp on this road. Once you start dealing with sacred material you’re gonna get creamed” (Leonard Cohen). It would take me a week and a half to formulate that statement—which speaks so eloquently for me—and he tosses it off in an interview, the jerk. But also, Tom Wolfe has a marvelous quote that he gave Rolling Stone a few years ago, which you can see at thunderstruck.org. That one speaks loudly and clearly for me, except that I have emphatically not lost my faith, while he claims to have lost his.
Your favorite web sites:
Pardon me for appearing just to be giving a couple of plugs, but the truth is, The Spiritual Book Club site is tremendous, and of course some of my favorite people in the world have a home at http://www.midnightstations.com/ and http://www.riverroadmusic.net/. http://www.explorefaith.org/ looks really good, and I’ve found a nice little trove at the website of The Presbyterian Church in Morristown, NJ. I don’t know anyone there, but they have a great site; go to “Other Resources,” click on “Reflections,” and there are some of the great little inspirations and some that I hadn’t seen before http://www.pcmorristown.org/refl.html
A spiritual lesson you hope to learn?
I don’t even know what I don’t know. Keep talking, God, and let me keep listening.
A place in the world where you feel spiritually “connected?”
In northern central Indiana, in an almost preternaturally serene rural community, there is a farmhouse in which my Dad, his brothers, and many of our adopted ancestors were born. But if not there, drop me into any English town or village with a church and a pub, and in one place or another, I’m fully plugged in.