Browsing the blog archives for August, 2012

Born again or born anew?

Robert V. Taylor

Published in the Washington Post, August 27, 2012

This is the story of a fundamentalist Christian, turned decidedly … unfundamentalist.

For a long time, the “certainties” of religious texts were a cornerstone of my life. But my entry points to organized religion couldn’t be more different: On the one hand, I was involved in the Charismatic Movement, with its emphasis on salvation and ecstatic experiences of religion. On the other, being a South African in the 1970s, there were my anti-apartheid activist friends, who rooted their faith in a God of inclusive love and justice. These two powerful forces would ultimately compete for my attention, and the choice would be one of living with a guarded heart, or a heart of compassion.

But I didn’t make that choice until a conversation with my maternal grandmother, Masha. (Also known as Granny – well, to me anyway.) On my return visits home to Cape Town from college, our chats always circled back to the question of whether in heaven she would see my grandfather and her first-born child, who had died in infancy. I responded with: “Only if they are born again.”

It was a cruel pronouncement. One in which I presumed to be judge and guardian of truth.

My answer was born out of the story of Nicodemus, who approached Jesus eager for answers in his search for truth. I had memorized the incorrect translation of the answer Nicodemus received, to be “born again.” Words that have been the rallying cry for religious executioners of the human spirit. Not surprisingly, Granny would cry at my certainty, seeing as how I just pronounced eternal separation from those she loved.

Inside, I was struggling too. In the homophobia that was part of the apartheid oppressiveness, I couldn’t tell Granny about my struggle with my sexuality as a gay man, or the harsh judgments that I believed were the consequences of being gay. The shroud of fear about my own truth lived alongside my belief that apartheid had to be overturned.

The irony is that the apartheid system was enforced with a dubious theology, claiming that scripture justified its violent attempts at dehumanizing people based on race. I was gladly claiming my voice of opposition to proof texts used to propel an ideology of exclusion, death and judgment based on race. I believed that the proof text justifications of apartheid were spurious at best, and an affront to spiritual notions of love, mercy, justice and kindness.

And yet? A small part of me hung onto that dubious theology. You can understand the problematic contradiction this set up.

But at the funeral of the black South African leader Steve Biko in 1977, I received a life-altering challenge. Desmond Tutu invited the mourners to be partners in the enterprise of love for all. Not simply straight people. Or white people. Or those “born again” (whatever that meant). All.

Desmond M. Tutu & Robert V. Taylor, Los Angeles May 2012

I began understanding intuitively that the texts of judgment and exclusion that marred the human spirit were not the only path. As I scoured the texts of my own Christian tradition with Tutu’s ever-present invitation, the insistent urging to a love that trumped all other questions was striking. Christian mystics like Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen reinforced that revelation.

Soon, I discovered mystics of the Jewish tradition too, along with their Sufi counterparts. They all pointed to a spirituality of generous love and joy that stood in stark contrast to the dour joyless judgment of text abuse that I had hurled at Granny. I began a lifelong discovery to a place beyond religion, and rather to a field of spiritual aliveness: one that invited me into the happiness that the Buddhist tradition pointed to, as well as the peace that Jesus spoke of from his Hebrew grounding.

In a transformative moment of grace, I discovered that the proof text about being “born again” was correctly translated as “born anew.” The landscape of my spirituality and life were radically shifted by the correct translation, and I suspect it might be for others as well. Nicodemus was not sent away to be damned, but to discover transformative love in the reality of his life story and the world around him.

Now, I had to face the truth that the text with which I had condemned myself and others was a tool for reinforcing religious control by those who presumed to be mediators of the sacred. The discovery of the correct translation beckoned me to replace damnation with a generous hearted and compassionate way of being in the complex muddle and joy of being human.

And what was the first thing I did? Apologize to Granny, of course.

When I stopped clutching to those proof texts of long ago, we embraced and cried together. And then, as if to reinforce the truth of those sacred texts of love and acceptance, she held me and said, “I love you, Robert.”

The battles of orthodoxy to control and mediate who is included or excluded continue to be played out in many religions – we still see it all the time today, and I have no doubt we’ll see it in this upcoming presidential election. But the invitation to the spiritual quest of unconditional love is arrestingly different. There is a joyfulness revealed in its expressions of mercy, justice and kindness. I’ll choose the grace of an unguarded heart of compassion any day.

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Wake Up Call! – Present to Blessings


Be present to the blessings that fill your daily life!

Friday was a busy, demanding work day for me and my spouse. I’d not planned that we would have the pleasure of an unexpected hour together in the middle of the day over lunch. I was aware of the nagging question in my mind, “How will my work get completed before preparing for dinner guests?” But there we were delighting in our conversation and one another.

I could have chosen to shut the door to the unexpected but instead chose to embrace the present moment.

As we each returned to work I was aware that I had received an unexpected blessing in my day.

The result is a reminder that I have a choice about how to receive the experiences of each day. Instead of lunch with my spouse upending my work schedule it was a gift of gladness in my day. I am reminded that how I approach each moment of the day affects how I receive it.


In your day:

  • Be present to the blessings that present themselves to you

  • Name and enter into the moment

  • Express gratitude for each blessing of the day

Notice how more fully alive you are when you are awake to each blessing of the day.

Share your experiences of being awake to daily blessings here.

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©2012 Robert V. Taylor

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Wake Up Call! – In Awe


Appreciating awe each day invites a mindful practice.

At a recent event I spoke at Jean approached me asking what I thought about awe. She said her spiritual practices had been expanded by the awe revealed in ordinary moments and encounters each day. She described how her matter-of-fact approach to life had given way to new engagement because of appreciating the awe found in a sunset, the story of another person or the gift of time spent talking to a friend.

I could have chosen to view it as an insightful observation. Instead I’ve found myself becoming more mindful about the awe that each day invites.

Jean’s question has presented a gift to me as I routinely invite myself to be present and awake to the awe to be discovered in the day ahead.

The result is that my appreciation of awe revealed in nature and ordinary human interactions each day lead me to greater thankfulness. Even in the difficulty of my mother’s last days of life I noticed my awe at the simple acts of kindness to her, to me and my family. Awe invites me into its presence when I am mindful about it.


Become mindful to awe around you:

  • Invite yourself to be present to awe each day

  • Notice and name it

  • Express gratitude for it

Notice how your appreciation of awe awakens you to the sacred in your midst.

Share your experiences of experiencing awe here.

Order A New Way to Be Human at B&N, Amazon or your Indie store

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©2012 Robert V. Taylor

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Chick-Fil-A Moral Menu Pushes Food Aside

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

This blog appeared on Huffington Post August 7, 2012

Chick-Fil-A is no longer just a quality fast food chain. It now aggressively offers a moral menu and diet to Americans. Dan Cathy, the company’s CEO, has taken the Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations are people to an audacious new high or low depending on your view about same-gender marriage. The resulting after-taste is not why we patronize it.

Few Americans would deny Mr. Cathy’s First Amendment right to free speech. He is certainly personally free to hold and espouse views about what he calls the biblical view of marriage. But here’s the rub – he was espousing his conservative religious views as CEO of a company whose corporate foundation has made donations to anti-gay organizations.

The moral arc of the Universe bends toward inclusion and the history of the US reaffirms that trajectory on a host of issues from slavery to the women’s suffrage movement to civil rights, gender equality and now LGBT rights, including the freedom to marry. In each instance the full inclusion of those previously thought to be beyond full participation in the privileges of our democracy has not undermined our civic life but enriched it.

The religious convictions of those who stood firmly against each of these movements toward full inclusion did not hold the nation hostage from taking legislative action to guarantee the rights and protections of each citizen previously denied them.

Protesting Chick-Fil-A

This is where Mr. Cathy has crossed a line that has resulted in angry protests from civil rights organizations, the LGBT community and elected officials in several major cities who have pulled up the welcome mat to Chick-Fil-A.

In his public pronouncements he has aligned himself and his company with the fringe views of Fred Phelps and his “God Hates Fags” agenda by suggesting that the freedom to marry movement invites God’s judgment on the nation. To be supportive of same-gender marriage is unpatriotic in his view.

The American public in its seismic shifts in support for LGBT rights and the legal privileges and protections of marriage for gay and lesbian couples would be stunned to learn that their evolving views are unpatriotic. To hold and respect differing views is a marker of a civil society.

The biblical definition of marriage that Mr. Cathy promotes ignores the biblical ho-hum attitude toward the revered figures of Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon having multiple wives. In the Book of Samuel, God was of the view that if David’s wives and concubines were insufficient in number he would give him more!  But no one embracing this biblical view of marriage that existed in a specific culture, place and time could compare to Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines.  The evolving biblical view of marriage appears to have been missed by Mr. Cathy. It is a dangerous exercise to claim religious authority for how a country deals with evolving views on any number of issues about the arrangement of human relationships.

Dan Cathy CEO of Chick-Fil-A

Americans are anxious about the stories we hear from the countries of the Middle East. Many wonder if the so-called “Arab Spring” makes it possible for a bleaker Arab Winter to emerge in which the views of conservative Islamists debase Muslim values by claiming that the Koran justifies enshrining a lesser status in society to women, Christians, Jews and others.  Most of us do not want the businesses whose products we enjoy to be drawing on supposed religious justifications for exclusion and division in the United States.

The strongly held religious views of American corporate leaders are well known but rarely do they cross the line that Dan Cathy has. Diane Brady writes in Bloomberg BusinessWeek about an illuminating conversation with Bill Marriott who’s deeply held Mormon faith in running the Mormon-controlled Marriott Corporation are well known. When his church led the opposition to same-gender marriage in California he abstained from supporting their position. He chose, she writes, to instead publicly highlight the corporation’s policies on domestic partner benefits and their targeting of LGBT customers.

Is it possible that with Bill Marriott’s tutelage and wisdom Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A will arrive at an American accommodation between personal religious views and corporate policies, practices and profits? Would Cathy and his team engage with those of us who are LGBT and be open to discovering that our very ordinary relationships, love and lives are quite similar to those that cause the pride he takes in his marriage?

If Chick-Fil-A emerged from such a process with new anti-discriminatory policies it would be cause for celebrating an all-American Chick-Fil-A Day. Many of us would celebrate it because we have each confronted our fears and had our views and positions evolve.

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