Whatever our religious or spiritual background, we are all seeking to live this life with as much grace, purpose and integrity as we can muster. The real world often confronts us with religious, spiritual and ethical questions that we feel ill-equipped to answer. But don't worry, help has arrived! Ask Pastor Paul: Spiritual Advice for the Real World is the new weekly advice column for your dilemmas of the mind, body and spirit.
Ask Pastor Paul first ran a decade ago and became an Internet phenomenon with thousands of questions coming from people of all faiths and no faith. My hope is that Ask Pastor Paul will again offer practical and sensitive spiritual advice while sparking conversation on real world spiritual issues involving relationships, families, sexuality, mortality, conversion, religious practice, social justice, ultimate meaning and anything else that comes to mind. No topic is off limits!
In my work as a chaplain at Columbia and Princeton Universities, as an ordained minister, and now religion editor, I have developed a respectful pastoral approach to the questions of belief faced by people of all religious backgrounds. Hopefully Ask Pastor Paul will also provide reliable information about different religious traditions and help us to see the common humanity in practitioners of all faiths.
I look forward to hearing from you! Have a spiritual question, ethical dilemma, or religious curiosity? Don't be shy! People of all backgrounds, ages and creeds are encouraged to submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To give you the format, here are two columns from Ask Pastor Paul that were compiled in a book called "Teen Spirit: One World, Many Faiths."
Dear Pastor Paul,
My boyfriend recently broke up with me because he said God told him he had to. He told me he loves me too much and it's sinful because his mind is always on me instead of God. It's against the First commandment, he says, because his love makes me his idol. I grew up Buddhist and it baffles me that he could make such a decision. Can you help me understand where he is coming from?
The First Commandment in the Hebrew Bible (also referenced by Jesus) requires that we love God with all our heart. If your former boyfriend was so obsessed with you that he forgot to love God, then he's right - he is not mature enough to be dating. A real boyfriend is capable of loving you, his family, his friends his neighbor and God all at the same time. I suggest you practice the Buddhist principle of nonattachment and try to be compassionate towards him while letting him go.
By the way, when people tell you they are doing something unpleasant because God told them to do it -- watch out.
Dear Pastor Paul,
I have a little problem. I do not believe in a traditional God. I'm not a pure atheist, but just don't believe in judgment and all that. Anyway, my grandmother is a devout Catholic and cannot be persuaded in any way to go against "The Good Book." My question is this: should I share with my grandmother my religious feelings, or keep them to myself?
You should talk about your beliefs with your grandmother, especially if you have a good relationship with her in other areas. Don't start with confrontation and stay away from the Bible if that is the trouble spot. Instead, ask her about her own spiritual and religious journey. Try questions like: When has God been most present in your life?; How would you describe God?; and, What did your mother and grandmother teach you about God? You may never agree with your grandmother, but you will find out wonderful things about her life.
Once you have opened up a more personal interaction you can tell her about some of your experiences, thoughts and doubts. Hopefully she will appreciate how fortunate she is to have an honest and intimate conversation with her granddaughter.