Posts Tagged ‘Pluralism’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  155                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 139

 Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1061

As I ride the bike today I want to note that we will be visiting the first of several pilgrimage sites in the St. Augustine Florida area tomorrow.  These include some of the earliest European fortifications in the New World, the Greek “Plymouth Rock” and a Catholic shrine. 

Peace and Prosperity for all on Planet Earth

I always start my morning by checking for blog comment s and facebook messages.   I often find a series of requests and offers to join different groups and causes.  I think one of the most significant aspects of this new social media is that it allows us to connect with a diverse group of people who we otherwise would have no possibility of meeting.  I find it intriguing and exciting as I get messages from fellow spiritual pilgrims from around the world.  One recent morning I had messages from an artist in Australia, a young man from Tunisian, a “healer” from Estonia, and was conducting an IM conversation with a college student from India. 

At times like this I wish I were bilingual, as I have received messages in Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Danish and Russian.  I could not understand their statements, but enjoyed the beautiful photos attached to the messages.  Artwork, like nature, speaks a universal language.  In our world community it is this growing connectedness of like minded, or at least open minded individuals which offers the most promise to finding solutions to the big problems that we all face as inhabitants of a shrinking world.  Besides reaching out to individuals, I have joined a number of groups. I find this to be an invaluable way to connect with others who share common interests.  I conducted a quick review this morning of the groups I have joined.  They represent a somewhat diverse range of interests, although most are of a pluralist, spiritual nature committed to a growing worldwide interconnectedness.  Many of them would fall under the heading of New Thought, Naturalistic or Eastern Thought.  Several focus on healing and health and often combine artistic images that promote and convey the messages of balance and creativity.  Of course there are several associated with Unitarian Universalism, my current religious affiliation.

No Seaparation

This collection of groups would not be a surprise to my family, friends and students who have heard me readily express my spiritual and political views.  There is one thing you won’t find in this collection of groups.  You will not find organizations that take a narrow perspective, such as condemning Israel or Palestine while not acknowledging the joint responsibilities, or singling out a particular religion for criticism, such as Islam.  You won’t find groups that argue for a continuation of the status quo, or that proclaim  “Americanism” as God’s gift to the world. 

Of course I would not seek out such groups and anyone who knows me would not invite me to join such a group.  It is for this reason that I was surprised and a little shocked when I found an invitation to join a group entitled “Let’s Build a Church in Pakistan.”  The group boasts over 50,000 members.  As best I can tell the group is based in England and has postings that are sprinkled with obscenities.  It is an “in your face, poke in the eye” attempt to throw fuel on the anti-Islamic sentiments.  It attempts to stoke the dichotomous “we are right and you are wrong” flames of anger and hatred. 

People Who Want Peace

As a pluralist I believe that all people should have a right to build churches, temples, mosques and stone circles to practice their faith.  I know this flies in the face of the rules in several countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia) where exclusionary regimes place severe restriction on such rights.  I do not believe these regimes are correct. 

I am proud of the US where people are free to build their houses of worship and practice their faith as they choose.  But even in the USA these choices are at times confronted by narrow minded exclusionary forces.  On my pilgrimage journey I have come across Hindu and Jain temples that were blocked by local governments from building in their communities, forcing them to relocate.  This is not right! 

Unitarian Universalism

I will join any group that embraces a goal of a world where every citizen has a right to worship.  But before anyone points fingers at other countries they should first look in their own back yard.  I am choosy about the groups I join.  I review them to make sure they fit with my values and standards.  I do not know who sent me this request, they obviously do not know me.  They do not share my desire for world peace, my desire for a connected world community. I embrace everyone on my friends list with love, compassion, concern and respect.  Please join me in this effort!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  103                                                 Days Blogged: 95

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 785

Form over Function?

As I ride the bike I am thinking about the Pilgrimage Site we will visit today.  It is named the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values located on the campus of the University of Tampa. 

Sykes Chapel

The site is still under construction, with its outer shell is almost completed.  The Center will serve a very important function for the University and the greater Tampa community as it has brought together worship leaders from 23 local religious groups for monthly interfaith discussions.  The finished Chapel/Center will include a main hall seating 300 people, meeting rooms, meditation rooms, and adjacent meditation garden.  The west end of the Chapel/Center will house a massive pipe organ.  On the plaza outside the center will stand a unique 75 foot grand musical sculpture adorned with 60 bells and a water fountain.  This unique sculpture/fountain brings together harmonious bells similar to what the center will attempt to do with the different faiths.  I believe the survival of our culture depends upon such efforts!  We must break from the past and the failed efforts at finding “one tone” that fits all people, or efforts to suppress notes that we may find disagreeable or just different.  Like this sculpture, we must come together, many different voices, like individual bells, making music and speaking of the divine.

Recently several of my blog viewers commented on my “Pilgrimages, Retreats and Port-a-potties” posting.  One individual shared a Christian prayer  which prompted a second viewer to note the meaninglessness of the prayer to those who “do not believe in God”.  A third viewer then joined in the discussion.  I directed a comment at all three noting: “We could get into all kinds of arguments about whose worldview has “the truth” and in all likelihood all we would do is go into our separate corners and lick our wounds. That is why I look at it from a “functional” level of analysis! All four of our world views work! They work for each of us and meet our needs… for meaning, purpose, guidance. If the world is ever going to find common ground it won’t be arguing till everyone agrees on the one true form of the divine.  This won’t happen until we all agree that as long as a world view (ours or someone else’s) functions in healthy pro-social ways for individuals and society it is a good and valid choice. Remember: “Be certain, but humble.”

Musical Sculpture

This discussion brought me back to a point I often ponder.  Why is it so difficult to find common ground, to listen to each other without trying to establish who is right or wrong. I believe one way of understanding the difficulty behind this task is to realize there are two different ways in which we can analyze religious or spiritual behavior. In psychology we talk about it being an issue of the depth of our analysis.  On the form level, an analysis looks at differences in the form or appearance of the behaviors.  Things like the different names or symbols used for the divine, or different sources of knowledge (e.g., mystical revelation, or sacred Scriptures, or rituals).  This is the level of analysis that tends to ask the question “which form has the truth?”  The other level of analysis, and the one that I challenge the students in my Psychology of Religion class to explore, looks at the functional level of the behavior. Using this analysis you might look at a Christian on their knees praying, a Buddhist sitting in meditation, or a Sufi twirling in a Dervish ritual and see all three as serving the same function for the individuals which is that of connecting with the divine.

 I believe  when you take a functional approach of analysis it is easier to see past the question of “who has the truth” leading one  to ask the question “does the belief system function to meet the individual and community’s needs?” It’s not easy to take a functional approach because you must make an effort and be mindfulness of the other person.  It takes the ability to see past surface differences and peer into the depths of a topic. I believe this issue is also tied to the question of why people do not always act in more positive loving ways toward other people. I’m speaking of the ideas Abraham Maslow embedded in his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. The lower needs are what he terms the deficiency needs (e.g., if we don’t have enough to eat we feel hungry).  These needs are always pulling at us, especially when TV advertisements tell us we need to look better, we need to have a nicer car, and we need more money.  The needs at the top of the hierarch, the being needs, call to us in a quieter voice and urge us toward behaviors like justice, understanding, compassion, wisdom and love.  These qualities demand that we looks past the surface, pass the question of what’s in it for us, and ask the question “what would do the greatest good for family, friends, community and nation.”  

Strength through Diversity!

Analyzing any choice, religious choices included, is easiest at the level of deficiency.  Caring first and foremost for myself and my people’s needs takes the least amount of effort.  Listening to the subtle voices of the being needs means asking questions about who is harmed, who wins and who loses, it means looking for positions of compromise.  Asking what position has “the truth” is always divisive and pulls a community down.  The functional choice would be to ask what position is the “right one”.  This would bring about the greatest good and is always a win-win situation, lifting up the community

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  82                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 83

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 681

What to blog on today.  It is not a question of scarcity but of bountifulness.  There are so many potential topics. So many spiritual and religious questions populate my Blog idea folder!  Of course there is the symbolism of reaching the end of a calendar year and out with the old and in with the new. The local newspaper and many local news casts are speaking not only the best and worst of 2009, but the best and worst of a whole decade.  Of course many people are busy preparing their pledges towards the future with resolutions to better their health, living space, work productivity and to renew their religious and spiritual rituals.  Some might start a new journey, while others will resolve to double their efforts on their current path.

Happy New Years!

Cycles in nature and in our lives are but one of the things that give our lives meaning and some predictability.  Cycles give an excuse for a “fresh start.”  They give us a chance to banish mistakes and errors of “the past.”  This blog has become an important part of my life as a source of inspiration, and a testament to my perseverance and progress.  But it is not my whole life.  I am preparing to send one son off to the military and to war.  I am watching as a second son learns the ropes of having a first girlfriend.  I am preparing to once again enter the classroom.  Some classes will be filled with fresh faces, students who have not heard my stories and have not been challenged by my experiences and world view. Other classes will be filled with seniors, who have heard all the stories and are ready to “take off” into the real world.  All I can do is tweak them a bit, add a little polish and send them on their way.

My virtual bike trip has strengthened my legs and deepened my breath.  But my habit of snacking has limited its impact on my girth. I resolve to cut back on my snacking and make my studio and office more of a “clutter free” zone. What about the blog? Structurally I will complete the redesign of the Pilgrimage Site page and redouble my efforts to identify such sites as we return to our virtual map.  These will be only cosmetic changes.  This morning a voice from my past pointed out a philosophical and theological question which I intend to explore in the months to follow.

Martin Marty

I’m always looking for resource books and research projects for my classes and now the blog.  I glanced at the stack of books and one title jumped out at me.  I was Martin E. Marty’s book entitled: When Faiths Collide.  It was a book I picked up this summer before I had started the blog.  The title intrigued me, but the author was someone I had the pleasure to meet years ago. Dr. Marty is a Lutheran pastor, and a Professor Emeritus of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. I met him when he was a guest speaker at my University, lecturing on the dangers of religious fundamentalism. We sat and talked for close to an hour.  We discovered that we shared a common root.  He was from a small farming community in eastern Nebraska, the same town where my mother had grown up. It turns out that he knew my grandfather and inquired about my uncles.  It is truly a small world!

When Faiths Collide

As I sat at the car dealership this morning, waiting to have some repairs done, I opened his book to the chapter on pluralism.  Barely a page into it I realized I had found another resolution for the New Year: to use the structure he outlined to refine my definitions of diversity and pluralism.  An underlying theme of my blog has been my recognition of an interconnection of all faiths, something Dr. Marty would call a “theological pluralism.” He points out that this is not an “easy sell” as it is likely to raise defenses of more exclusionary faiths.  Whereas “civic pluralism” relates to practical adjustments people make in communities in order to promote orderly relationships and common ground between different faith communities.  Dr. Marty notes that civic pluralism presented us with a less daunting task to implement.  This form of pluralism existed in the small towns Dr. Marty and I grew up in, on the plains where there was a necessity for town matters not to turn into battlegrounds of inter-religious warfare.

I have stated in my blog that I see my efforts as a small ripple, but that when combined with others, these ripples could become a larger wave for positive change.  It will be my goal in the New Year to clarify and explore the distinction between these two forms of pluralism. In doing so, I will hopefully not only further focus my efforts in productive ways but help my readers clarify their positions on this important topic.  Forward into the future!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 43                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 44

Today’s Mileage:  10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 365


Elusive target

Riding the bike today I struggle to choose a Blog topic.  I am reminded of a time with my two sons. We were wading along, knee deep in the water of a slow moving mountain creek.  We spoke little as each lost himself in the exploration of the water and the shoreline. Suddenly, my oldest son began to splash about, slapping the water in a vain attempt to catch one of the small, black water bugs that darted about the streams surface.  They were too elusive.  He would focus on one, miss his mark and then another would come along. It made for a humorous display as his efforts came up empty.  I am reminded of those efforts as I struggle to find a Blog topic. Each time I think I’ve captured one, I open my fingers and it’s gone!  Then I see another idea out of the corner of my eye.

Taiami trail

When this kind of frustration happens with a client, student or friend I always tell them to step back and look at “the bigger picture.”  When I do this I realize that among the swirl of topics are patterns.  Many of the topics are cued by ongoing world events, conflicts of a religious and/or political nature.  Some topics involve situations of personal relevance arising from my interactions with colleagues, family and friends.  Other topics involve my professional responsibilities as a teacher and a scientist.  When I step back from the swirl of darting ideas,  I see  unifying topics. The question is where do I focus my attention, my questions, my explanation and answers?  When talking about spirituality and religion, one can focus on the forms (content) of these beliefs. These varied forms include types of prayers, conceptualizations of God and the divine, religious ritual expressions and symbols, to name only a few.  One might also focus attention on the function (process) of religious and spiritual belief systems. 

Belief systems can appear very different in form and content while serving the same personal and group function and process, providing a sense of security, group cohesion during adversity and shared meaning.  There are those who ask the questions: What is the true name of God? What is the proper way to pray? Which are the valid sacred scriptures?  They seek the proper form. 

Palm trees along the trail.

I personally marvel at the diversity of religious beliefs in form and content.  I am dazzled by the colorful and mysterious displays of dancing and chanting, colorful vestments, burial ceremonies and symbols of ancient times.  Like walking through a garden, the last thing I would wish is to have all the flowers the same, all the trees bare the same colored leafs or pathways of only one type of stone. Those who seek to plant only one flower in our shared human garden, to eradicate all others by labeling them as weeds or intrusive foreign invaders, set themselves and all humanity upon a path of conflict and self-righteousness.  I will not engage you in an argument of which belief system has the true or proper form, but I will engage in a discussion of how belief systems may function against a unification of our human endeavors to grow, cooperate and survive!

If I may return for a moment to the story of my son and the water bugs.  After several failed attempts and a growing frustration, the capture attempts ceased.  My youngest son moved over from the shoreline and joined us. “What are you doing?” he asked.  “Trying to catch a water bug, it’s impossible!” exclaimed my oldest son.  The youngest looked down as he noticing for the first time the insects boaters, his arm darted forward barely disturbing the surface.  “You mean one of these!” he opened his hand to reveal a water bug paddling about in his palm!  Sometimes a clear mind and simple focus yields the rewards we seek.

 A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 23                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 24

Today’s Mileage: 10                                               Total Trip Mileage: 228


Holidays and Holy Days on November 1st:

All Saints Day – Christian day for honoring saints, known and unknown. In general, saints are persons with reputation for unusual lives of holiness and devotion to God or who were martyred for their faith. A Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church where saints have special formal status.

Samhain – Wicca celebration of endings and beginnings and of remembering the dead.. Revering of elders is also observed.


     As I climb on the stationary bike this morning I realize that we have only two days left in the Everglades National Park before we head up the coast to the Miami area. Tomorrow we will celebrate the Sacredness of this site as well as “all of God’s creatures” which inhabit it!

nine mile pond by donald see

Nine Mile Pond in the Everglades

    Part of me is sad that we will be leave behind the panoramic scenes of nature, often undisturbed by little more than a road. However, I know many unknown scenes of beauty lie ahead of us, both natural as well as manmade! There are several different religious sites we will visit in the Miami area, representing a very wide range of spiritual traditions. The next several weeks should be interesting, luckily on my virtual ride I don’t have to worry about the traffic or “making the lights!”

white mangroves by maryknapp

Stand of white mangroves

     You no doubt noticed the holiday and holy days heading at the top of this posting. I have decided to start noting all religious celebrations falling on the day of the posting. Since pilgrimages can be associated with certain holy days it is meant to give the readers a wider perspective on the world wisdom traditions. I remember talking with a student once about comparative religious studies. He noted that he knew about other faiths, as he had taken a class that compared Christianity to Judaism!

everglades by jorg behmann

Everglades grasslands

     When I teach the Psychology of Religion, I review all of the major world wisdom traditions, their beliefs and rituals. Spiritual beliefs are like clothing. We often become very comfortable with “our favorite outfit or style,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t become familiar with the outfits and costumes of others. I believe we share a large, but shrinking world, where we have to interact with people who are different from ourselves. It helps if we have an understanding of their world view and values. If we open ourselves up to their views, we may in fact come to not only appreciate them, but to actually celebrate them!

pinelands by nationalparklover

Everglade pinelands

    I am a pluralist. I do not struggle to discover which of the many wisdom traditions holds The Truth. I see them all, as long as they are “life affirming”: Loving, Compassionate, Foster Connections with others, as holding truth. They are by no means similar. They represent very different paths, with respect to beliefs and rituals. However, they can and do all lead to the mountain peak, a relationship with the divine. I believe the critical question is NOT which path holds truth, but which path holds the truth that fits for me , for my personality, my experiences, and my struggles.

     My partner Susan reminds me that I don’t need to preach to people about my beliefs. That is not my intention, I am certain in what I believe and have experienced, but I am humble because I know that these beliefs and experiences do not fit for anyone else. I raise these points out of a concern for tolerance, civility, and acceptance as all people of the planet face a multitude of shared problems. Unless you believe that all of the problems will miraculously disappear, the solutions will require a coming together of all cultures, religions, and races!

sunset by danhester

Lone sentinal at sunset!

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 19                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 20

Today’s Mileage: 11                                            Total Trip Mileage: 192

     I mount my bike today with mixed feelings.  I am approaching the milestone of three weeks riding, feeling physically stronger but mentally adrift.  I believe I’ve let the focus of this journey wander over the past week.  Due to computer problems I was unable to get my map posted, causing me to ride but without any sense of where I was heading.  Identifying new pilgrimage sites has proven to be more of a challenge then I had anticipated. Even with the internet it is difficult to separate serious and worthy sites from simple roadside attractions and tourist traps. In addition, I am trying to be open and pluralistic about what constitutes a sacred site. At the same time I do not want the definition to be too broad. When I’m faced with such confusion I often respond by doing the physical thing and just ride.  

     One of my favorite sayings is “Be certain, but humble!”  I often tell my students that it is important to understand and explore your belief system so that you can be certain what it is you believe and what principles guide your behavior. I believe this same process of exploration should lead us to be humble as we realize that we are not that different from other people, with respect to desires and struggles, and that our personal belief system may not fit for anyone but ourselves. I realize this represents my pluralistic belief: There are many paths to the peak (goal) and all have truth (get you there).  The critical question is not which one has the exclusive truth, but which one fits for you.

     Of this I am certain, I am meant to be on this journey, on the stationary bike, seeking out pilgrimage sites and sharing it with others.  I am humbled by the fact that I have wandered aimlessly for a short time perhaps leaving my readers wondering where I was taking them. I feel this wandering represents a danger of any pilgrimage, you get distracted, by external beauty and/or internal doubts, and you leave the path without recognizing the fact.  It’s humbling that no matter how much education, knowledge or experience one has, no matter how much certainty you start a trip with, at some point anyone can suddenly realize they have exited the road they intended to stay on.  It’s clear to me that it is time to shift out of mountain dirt bike mode and return to the highway.

     Here’s what will happen in the next several days.  I’ll return to posting a daily map and will include more thumbnail photos of what we would see on the ride.  I want us to have at least a passing perception of the places we would be traveling through as if we were actually on the road.  Rather than being selective about the Pilgrimage Sites at this point we will just visit places along the way and decide on specific criterion for future sites as we go.  As I am procuring a number of books that maybe helpful, I hope there will come a time when people from the locale we are visiting will provide some assistance with site identification.

     On a more personal note I have been preoccupied with the suffering and struggles of a number of family, friends and strangers.  As often happens, even when you are a trained therapist, you come to realize that there is little you can do to help them.  At times like these all you can do is offer a prayer for their safety and guidance and hold them in your daily thoughts.  For this reason I will be adding an additional page to the Blog.  It will be called the Pilgrim’s Prayer flag and will be a page where anyone can go and leave a prayer request for themselves, for others, and/or a prayer of praise and thanks.  I will post a Blog on the topic of prayer and explain the Prayer flag concept later this week.  This feature should help me stay focused on the journey while at the same time acknowledging those people in my life and world who I am concerned for and carry in my thoughts.  I hope visitors to the site will take advantage of this feature to share their concerns and needs and “lighten their loads!”

     Remains a mystery

     What in the world!

     A strange creature

     Dashed in front of

     The metal monster

     I propelled down the road.

     Was it a skinny rabbit?

     Or a tailless squirrel?

     It ducked into the bushes

     Before I could tell.


   Hope you enjoy the poem I wrote this morning as I pulled onto campus. Thank you for visiting the site today and I hope you will “stick with me” as our Pilgrimage journey unfolds!

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