Responses & Reviews

Comments & Letters from Readers, Viewers, Students & Visitors

Thanks to all of you who have responded to the Essays, Columns, Books, Classes, Photos, Blogs, Videos and Wild Ideas.  I appreciate your honest and thoughtful reflections.   ~Chris

Comments on Facebook about “Awakening to Sabbath” (Citizen-Times):

“Beautiful article.  Thank you!” (Jewish leader)

“Thanks for sharing.  A nice article.”  (Catholic Charities director)

“Thanks, Chaplain.  Well said, well said.”  (Hospital Chaplain)

Read more responses on the Essays and Books pages

“Hang in there Chris. You are a nature-inspired voice of reason and compassion.”

-Humanist chaplain in Canada

“I used your book [The Message on the Mountain] for our spiritual retreat … Thank you for being the writer, thinker, and philosopher we can use as a mentor and guide to seeking a better path.”

~J, Progressive Christian educator

A Freethinkers Gospel continues to bring healing to me after years of feeling dismissed by my family and church. Your writing is validating, yet soothing and balanced. You express your thoughts with compassion that is consistent with a humanist stance. It’s as if you kept the best part of yourself and left behind all that is wrong with religion. I sincerely appreciate you!”

~J, former pastor

“Just want to express my appreciation for the weekly article each Saturday. They provide an opportunity for intellectual engagement that is not often provided in most publications. It is a real pleasure to have articles that are “not preaching to me” but opening up perspectives and stimulating reflection and thinking.”

~Perry, retired professor

“I’ve been reading A Freethinker’s Gospel.  You put into words what I’ve been thinking.  Thank you.”

~K, former pastor

“Your book Meditations of Henry David Thoreau is wonderful … I wanted to compliment you on your work and essays in these often confusing and chaotic times. Keep writing!”


” I have a growing appreciation for who you are, your approach to finding common ground regardless of differences, and your writing style.”


“I was given for Christmas your Meditations books; Muir, Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman and am relishing them. Thank you for these books, I carry the Muir book with me camping.”


“I’ve got to tell you, your piece [“While God Wasn’t Watching”] was a breath of fresh air. My wife and I were both just saying that you totally knocked it out of the park! Thanks for the awesome post!”


“I am reading [“A Freethinker’s Gospel”] like a meditation a day, and I find it very settling and peaceful, even though you address many conflicts between people of different beliefs. I find I am in agreement with so much of what you say.”

~Wayne, Marin County, CA

Read more reviews of “A Freethinker’s Gospel” here

“Just read your essay on “Saving Jesus, Again.” I sometimes think you are in my head and reading my thoughts or vice versa … just wanted you to know you are read and greatly appreciated by a like-minded secular friend also doing some writing.”

~Marty, Humanist Chaplain, British Columbia, Canada

“Thanks to the Citizen-Times for Chris Highland’s column. He recently shared biographical facts about his transition from fundamentalism to the ministry then to secular humanism. It is a higher creed, as all the true values and morality of religion are accented in humanism. . . .

Highland’s thoughtful essays on the beautiful real world and real human values, without supernaturalism, are a welcome addition to the paper alongside several regular features by evangelical leaders.”

~Richard, Waynesville, NC

“I am a person of faith, a church-goer, but nonetheless derive great benefit (and conversation topics) from reading Chris each week.  Congratulations to both you and Chris for this highly intelligent, well-written addition to our great hometown paper.”

~Robin, letter to the Editor, Citizen-Times

“Great column in the A-CT–you are balancing out the FEAR based religion of Billy Graham and others.  Shalom.

~Robert, Jewish reader

“A very refreshing read. . .  Thank you for your courage in publishing such clear, well thought out (albeit controversial) common sense articles. Nice to experience “thought freedom” so well articulated.”

~Peter, commenter

“It was a terrific column and I’m grateful for it. . . I think you expressed the spirit of what I gave you, and several members of my congregation have mentioned that they enjoyed it. So, again, thank you, and I look forward to talking again.”

~Mark, pastor interviewed for “Highland Views”

“I very much enjoyed your recent essay/review “Thoreau, Darwin and nature’s book” in the Citizen-Times. . .  I’m an admirer of your writing and your work.”

~Jim, Prof. of Biology, author

“I just retired from a 23-year teaching career and although I am far from an expert on teaching styles, I know that one of the things I always hoped for was to start a lesson and then watch the students take over the discussion, back and forth, with minimal guidance from me. Happened maybe 2 times that I can recall, yet for the last two weeks you’ve engaged our group to do just that. Great questions, comments – and civil discourse when in disagreement. Who knew it could happen in this day and age, right? Seriously though – bravo and kudos to you for amazingly effective class management and discourse.”

~Jon, Asheville, NC

“I appreciate your efforts to bridge the space between traditional church-goers, other believers, and non-believers. Your pieces often reveal that one doesn’t have to probe too deeply to find commonality, morality. Fear and intransigence otherwise take hold.”

~Michael, NC

“Count me among the many who read your AC-T column and appreciate the “breath of fresh air” it represents on the religion page. Glad I found my way to your blog…have it favorited. Thank you very much for your valuable engagement with the community.”

~Herman, NC

“Someone said, ‘Every Christian is called to proclaim the gospel, sometimes even using words.’  More important what we do rather than what we say.  You are a living example of that.”

~Retired Protestant Pastor, SF Bay Area

“Man [that Easter post] is just about as willfully dumb as a person can be.  But don’t worry, you’ll have all eternity to sort it out.”

~”Christ-centered” commenter on Secular Chaplain

“I am particularly glad the Citizen-Times is publishing your column every week. Thank you for your weekly insights.”

~Gail, Asheville, NC

“This is the biggest piece of garbage that this man has ever written.”

~An unhappy reader

“I adore this book [Meditations of John Muir]. If you love nature and the quiet collection of a great outdoorsman, this would be a good recommendation for you. I loved the daily thoughts and mindfulness about the world around him. John Muir was a fascinating person and I recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about life.”

~Valerie, Goodreads

“[A friend placed] a small treasure into my hands, My Address is a River.  I now am ready to begin Chapter 2 – your writing begs for a deliberate seating and that I will give it with curiosity and joy afterwards.”

~Jim, Non-profit leader, Asheville, NC

“I just returned from a week of hiking in the Yosemite high country and brought Henry David Thoreau meditations with me. Not only did I enjoy the essays, but a few other women borrowed the book and raved.”

~Joanne, Jewish leader, SF Bay Area

“What a wonderful book [Meditations of Walt Whitman], both as to conception and execution!  The same applies to the other books in the series as well.  ‘Nature meditations’ should be part of the curricula in institutions of higher learning throughout the land.  How well each book in the series speaks for Chris!  They bespeak moral sensibility, an imaginative, scholarly mind, and a caring, sensitive soul.”

~Vimukta, Hindu Monk, Olema, California

“After reading Meditations of Henry David Thoreau, many of us will take Thoreau’s advice and get out in the sunshine to renew ourselves. Highly recommended.”

~Amazon reviewer

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I have enjoyed your gift of the (Meditations of Margaret Fuller) book! I just could not stop reading it, she wrote so eloquently of Nature that you feel you are walking along with her! I cried – but they were tears of Awe! I love also the inclusion of the various poems and verses. Powerful.  Again thanks, and do keep writing, its your gift!”

~J.S., Social Worker, Marin County

“After moving away from 40 years of the noise and crowds of New York City, my wife and I moved to Massachusetts, and soon found our way to visit Walden Pond for the first time. I then became interested in Thoreau, and picked up your Meditations.

From there I read your Meditations on Muir, Whitman, and Emerson. One day this summer I swam across the Pond, and later lay in bed reading “I Can Hardly Believe it Exists.” I connected to Emerson’s ecstatic, joyful reflections on our natural world. Your collections of these writings have reignited my deep passion for the awe of the natural world and our place in it, and made their wisdom accessible.”

~Steve, Boston area

“The Burroughs book by Chris Highland is one of the most powerful books I have read in the last 10 years. I knew nothing about Burroughs prior to Chris introducing his writings to me. When I read it, time and again I found myself thinking here is someone who puts specific words and clarity to thoughts that have floated vaguely around in my skull, most often when I have been on wilderness trips. This book is the perfect gift for friends who love the outdoors. And it’s compact enough to fit on your hiking gear.”

~John, Retired English Teacher, Whidbey Island, WA

“I just wanted to let you know that I just finished reading your [Jesus and John Muir novel] and loved it.  Thanks again.  Oh yes, don’t you have a book of meditations based in John Muir’s writings?  I would like to get a copy of that also.”

~Bob, retired Minister, Marin County

“I received Chris’ book of Muir meditations [as a gift]. My goodness, what a treasure! I used it this morning in my meditation time. . . .  My worship is with the natural world. I go to the woods or mountain top for my grounding and discernment. Muir’s words are my home.  Please let [Chris] know how much I love this book. It’s good medicine for my recovery time!”

~Spiritual Director, NC

“I bought [Meditations of John Muir] at Yosemite years ago when I was hiking Half Dome. . .I read to my rowers every night.”

~Stacy, Episcopal Priest, Northern CA

“Between guidance, meditation, and inspiration, Chris Highland gives us the real truth behind every word he’s written in his inspiring book Meditations of Henry David Thoreau: a Light in the Woods. Chris is a brilliant man, whose teachings, writings and photography brought magic into our lives. I met Chris through blogging; we shared a common passion to Henry David Thoreau. I had the privilege to read one of his books and feel the magic of his words. Chris Highland has inspired me to be more attached to nature. His book “ A Light in the Woods” gave me the motivation to walk in his shoes. Thank you Chris for this amazing book. Hope one day we meet at Walden Pond, and share the words of Thoreau.”

~Ayman, Beirut, Lebanon

“What a pleasure it was for me to read and know your mentality and spirit towards Mother Nature, on the web.  It has become my great dream to have some of your favourite works on those well known naturalists of our planet.  I am from Ethiopia and have deep devotion for Nature and it’s servants like you.  I am not bare in mind when I am in contact with Nature, with Spirit.”
~Thomas, Geography and Environment Graduate, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

“Just returned home from a lovely cleansing vacation in Sequoia and Yosemite. Picked up your John Muir meditations while there. It became part of our routine to read from it with a.m. coffee and as we drifted off in our tent at dark. Thank you. I’m ordering your other books. Greatly enjoyed your Muir meditations. He is my prophet and we were in our cathedral.”

~Maggie, comment on Chris Highland blog

“Thanks so much for being in touch. I had come across your videos some time ago when I googled both nature chaplain and eco-chaplain. Yes, we do diverge a bit – I’m still firmly rooted in Judaism even as I find meaning in being out in the natural world. Your books look great – I’m going to get a hold of one of them.

Feel free to stay in touch.”

~Katy, Rabbi in Massachusetts

“My grand daughter and I read your story, The Greatest Tree of All.  She liked it, but was confused about what made the floor of the Meeting Hall start “rising, cracking, weirdly warping” etc.  She wanted to know if some mysterious force underneath it was pushing upward.  She thought that if she could see the pictures it might help her understand.  So that made me curious… did you publish it with illustrations?  Did you find an illustrator?   I told her I thought it was just breaking apart from old age, but she made me promise I would ask the author about what made the floor start rising. . .”

~Karis in Canada

“I really enjoyed your nature novel.  I love the way you express your passion for the natural world in your gift for language.  Your friend aptly pronounced it ‘brave’!  Bravo!”

~Andi, Marin County, CA

“Hey, Thanks!  Last weekend, I ordered all of your books on Amazon.”

~Catherine, Portland, OR

“I don’t feel the need to be a part of any church or religious body. I also don’t feel the need to believe in God. There are a lot of things I don’t understand, and God is one of them. Regardless of whether or not there is a god, I will and should strive to be a good person who treats others with respect, dignity, and compassion.”

~NJ, New Orleans, LA, comment on Christmas Baby

“I frequently enjoy your book, Meditations of John Muir. I draw inspiration for hiking yoga that I lead in San Jose, Santa Cruz mtn area. I’m putting together my website and was thinking about quoting you on one of my web pages if I have room. . .I look forward to your blog. Thank you for publishing your book. I appreciate it.”

~Heather, Yoga Instructor, SF Bay Area

“Greetings, I just recently found your videos when searching for “religious addiction.” I like the format and the information you share! Are you planning to do more videos? Thanks!  Blessings.

~Krista, Comment on the Nature Chaplain Channel

I wanted to thank you again for giving me a copy of My Address is a River.  I read it in December when I should have been studying for my New Testament and Old Testament finals – it kept me sane and gave me inspiration during a stressful period (and thank God I ended up doing well in both of those classes!).

I am so grateful for the work you do.  Thank you for carrying torches of hope for me as I wrestle with my call to ordained ministry, trudge through seminary on a slow boat, look at the sad state of the institutional Church, [and raise two children].”

~Wendy, SF Bay Area

“I just finished reading your essays and watching your videos, and I love them!”

~Bryan, opera singer, photographer, comment on Nature Chaplain Channel

“I will be interested in reading your book. I am a distant relative of John Muir and have visited Mt. Rainier in Washington State often. I consider it my stairway to heaven so to speak.”


“I quickly looked through your site and find it very compelling.  I shall look forward to future posts and look back to past ones.”
~Joan, comment on the blog, Beyond God

“I really respect your effort here to try and communicate your intelligent thoughts and message. I hope it will reach more than just the choir, (obviously that goes without saying).”

~Chip, Pacific Northwest, comment on the Nature Chaplain Channel

“Thank you for your novella [Jesus and John Muir]–I liked best your story of how understanding the Jesus of your life through action and service has been primary.  Many passages are pure poetry and your love of nature and John Muir is also pure. . . .  Thank you for your dedicated search and generous sharing.”

~Sister Mary, Dominican Sister

“Yes, I have been to your website again to immerse in your gems. I shall appreciate your sending me a copy of My Address is a River. A Place to Belong, Closer to Home. Next to space, water, which is in us like space, is indeed our other home in this world. Its thumbling and splashing and rolling generate air too. It is energy. So your title is apt! Wishing you a happy avalanche of sales too.”

~Lere, Mathematician, Berlin, Germany

“I am gay and a priest in [the UK].  I came across your videos on youtube.  They made me smile for all sorts of reasons not least because of your happy use of the word gay and your message of kindness/acceptance.   Nature’s blessings to you also.”

~WG, United Kingdom

“I love your wisdom! I too believe we must “tend” to Nature and care for our home, our temple.  But Nature is a frightening thing, too.  Living in Africa makes one aware of that- especially when HIV lurks in every corner.  I would like to think that with thoughtfulness we could live in harmony with Nature and put an end to our destruction of the wild, poverty, overpopulation and disease as a result of our harmony with Nature.”

~Amber, Biologist, Chicago, Illinois

“Wow!  I have just done some web browsing and am delighted to make your electronic acquaintance. . .What a truly fascinating background. . .I love reading about your mix of social justice and environmental sensibilities.”

~Jan, Educator, Berkeley, California

“Felt compelled to send you a note letting you know how much I enjoyed reading some of your essays.  Reading your comments is like remembering my own life journey in the spiritual realm. . .  Let me offer my thanks for having this web site.  I am sure it is a solace for many, I know it is for me.  Keep up the site.  Keep up the message.  I feel exactly the same way.  You are an inspiration to all of us.”

~Wayne, retired History Teacher, Langley, Washington

“I started using your Meditations of John Muir last year for daily devotions – and I truly believe that inspired me to begin doing “John Muir in Person” presentations! So thank you!!  I ordered a case of your books which I have available when I go on tour with my presentations.  The response has been wonderful, and I fully expect to go through that case by the end of the
year – so there’ll be another order early next year!

It would be wonderful to meet sometime. In the meantime, thanks for the great gift of “Meditations” you have given us. It is superb. Tonight, I’m going to your web-site!”

~Don, retired Minister, Nevada City, California

“What a beautiful website and thank you for placing your writings on the web.  I am very interested in hearing more about your ideas for Earth Chaplaincy. . . .  My story is a little similar to yours and I would like to connect with you to hear more about your concept of an Earth Chaplain.”

~Judith, Interfaith Chaplain, Pacifica, CA

“I adore your website. . .I meander through it. . . .  It is a sanctuary for me.”

~Lori, Tech Manager, San Diego, CA

“I loved your web-site.  Your poetry favorites are exciting and profound.  I like your poetry.”

~Baird, retired Physician, Langley, WA

“Chris, I just finished your essay [“End of Religion”]. Very nice. Speaks my language.”

~Dan, Virginia, USA

“I  enjoyed your website greatly.  I was doing a search on Jesus and John Muir, and somewhere in the googleism I got to Nature Temple.  Well done.

Technically I am a native to Nepal.  Kathmandu to be exact.  That is where my exposure to the roof top of the world, different cultures, hinduism, and buddhism birthed.  Later in life I moved to Washington, and I suppose as far as the states go, Washington is home to my soul.  I lived outside of Leavenworth on a apple orchard.  The Cascades became my sanctuary so to speak.  In some ways they still are. . .  Now I am over in Idaho.  Different mountains in Idaho.    There are over 350 peaks over 10,000 ft.  But the Cascades are home, and maybe someday I will get back.

I grew up in a Presbyterian church.  That was a drag.  Not cause it was Presbyterian.  Baptist, Methodist, Unity, Catholicism….they all would have been a drag.
I heard and knew about God…..but I did not know God.  Big difference.  Today, humbly I can say I know God.Anyway, thanks again for sharing.”
~Jim, Idaho, native of Kathmandu, Nepal

“Just a quick note to congratulate you on your intellectual honesty, spiritual courage, and aesthetic and literary sensibilities. (I found your website while doing a search on John Burroughs.)  My path, though different in its details is, nevertheless, significantly similar. I, too, was very religious in early life, was ordained for the clergy, and ultimately left such undue certainties behind, preferring the honest over the familiar. Yet, like you–and Emerson and Burroughs and many others–I did not see the constructive alternative to religion being the uninspired science of mere cataloguing and scrutinizing. Intensity of experience and imagination and emotion and relationship to the whole…have their places, too.”

“I have been a Natural Spiritualist all of my life.  I am a Native American, Creek Nation.  Everything that you have said about Natural Spirituality is correct.  It is so simple and yet the powers of creation are so complex that it is breath taking if you look deeply into it.

It does not matter what religious background that you come from, Natural Spirituality does not hold anything against an individual.  Natural Spirituality is all the religions in one and yet it is not.  But you know that.
One thing that I tell people about Natural Spirituality is that it is like a path that you discovered in the forest.  You decide to see where this path leads you and you follow it.  The path may seem dangerous at times with fallen trees, rock slides, quicksand, and things that block your way and the path may take several turns and twists and you may get lost but remember, at the end of that path is the most awesome view of the extraordinary powers of creation.

What would it take for you to start the Earth Chaplain Organization?  I talk with people who are interested in Natural Spirituality all over the world.  Most people say that Natural Spirituality is what they have been searching for.  I must agree.  It is something that is a feeling deep down inside you that is awakened.”

~Benny, Creek Nation, Oklahoma

“I am interested in helping to establish a network of earth chaplaincy.  Was very impressed and moved when reading your web site. . . .  Hope that I might be of some assistance in building an earth-based pantheist chaplaincy.”

~Thomas, Public School Teacher, Toronto, Canada

“I was surfing the internet for ‘sacred nature’ and I came across your beautiful website.  I believe in nature as my spiritual home. . .and people of all faiths are welcome.  God is too big for one religion. . . I worship through nature, in nature I feel the presence of the sacred mystery of life.  Thank you for your web site, an inspiration to my inner self. . .  I will visit your site often, it gives me deep spiritual awareness.”

~Lynn, Georgia, USA

“I just finished reading your web pages. . .and I want to applaud your vibrant existence. . . I am very excited about your ideas for creating a Nature Temple and establishing interspiritual Earth Chaplains!  I want to know more about what being an Earth Chaplain involves.”


“This is so cool what you are doing. . .thank you so much for sharing it.  Your writings stay with me and influence my life and my family, how I see and respond to this beautiful earth and the people around me.”

~Karlene, Actress and Unitarian, SF Bay Area

“I want to thank you. . .for sharing your lens of life with us.  You’ve influenced me to decide to leave my job [in six months]. . . .  I can see through you that I am denying myself too much of the everyday joy in life by working in a life-suppressing environment.”

~Janet, Social Worker, Seattle, Washington

“I have been enjoying and savoring my ‘walk with Waldo’. . .It is a book that I will read and re-read.  I really appreciate your intuition in pairing the other writings with Emerson’s essays.  Thank you so much for sharing it with me.”

~Marsha, Woodcraft Artist, Langley, Washington

“I find your web page very productive and interesting.  More information on Earth Chaplains!”

~Pat, Member, Universal Pantheist Society

“Thanks, I needed that [essay on “Livelihood”].  I am in the throes of figuring out who I am right now as I am not defined by job or title or role.  I liked your essay and the one before this as well.”

~Jack, Minister, California, USA

“Thank you for your visit [to our college English class].  Your presentation and discussion trans-formed a very ordinary unit on [Walt] Whitman into something very special, very inspirational, and very mind-opening that the students and I will remember for a long time to come.  You are truly a gifted teacher, and I want to thank you again for that wonderful gift.”

~Chad, Community College Instructor, Bellingham, Washington

“Dear Free-thinker,  Good essay.  Good to be reminded of all our foremothers and fathers.  We need to claim that ground today. . .and tomorrow.  You are, and I am too.”

~Carol, Interfaith Council Director, California

“Congratulations on another excellent essay!  I’m glad you presented it at a Unitarian Universalist fellowship too.”

~Harold, Webmaster, Sierra Club; Universal Pantheist Society

“Wow, Chris!  I just went to your website and clicked on every photo, each one making me yearn to be in it.  Then I read down the quotes, until I came to the one beginning ‘There is no need for an altar.’ I said, yesss!  This is my favorite!  Until I got down to the end and found out it was yours. This is the inside of my soul.”

~Patricia, Writer, Coupeville, Washington

“Oh, you are ranting again!  Keep it up!”

~Todd, Teacher, Composer and Minister, San Francisco

“For years I have been wondering about our need for physical shrines and temples, obligatory pilgrimages, etc. and the need for change as in, focusing on our internal temple, the one within ourselves.  I found your site and your work with naturetemple very interesting. I have even checked out availability of your meditations series on Amazon.  Keep up the good work.”

~Theresa, Ottawa, Canada

“I’m on an airplane to Houston tonight, so have some time to catch up on my reading (i.e., your writing). For some reason unknown to me I started at the bottom and am working my way up. So far I’ve gotten through “Just Us, or Justice”. These are interesting – I want to keep reading them so that must be a good sign. You’ve had some really good experiences. Your writing is strongest when you’re relating a personal experience – the page really lights up when you’re telling a story. I think you should consider expanding some of the storylines.”

~Mark, Business Executive, Chicago, Illinois

“I just read your online book, ‘Why I Am No Longer a Christian” [now, Life After Faith].  Thank you.  I am currently on a spiritual journey, mid-life quest to find what is true about religion and life.  I was raised in the Baptist church, for many years attended fundamentalist churches and for the past couple of years no church.  I have always said ‘I wish we could have church outside.’  I have always felt closest to God in beautiful natural surroundings.  I have longed to live in the mountains, in the valleys, in natural places. . .I am blessed to have a gazebo for my sanctuary.  It is surrounded by trees, plants, flowers, birds and squirrels. . . I’m learning about wisdom traditions. . . There is so much out there. . . So much and yet, I’m most at peace in the quiet of a forest.  Your words encourage me.  I am not alone.”

~Susan, Texas

“Every now and then I check in on your website; usually on days at work that I need a breath of nature, truth, or inspiration. . .I appreciate the work you have put into the website.  Thank you for making it available.”

~Allene, Mount Vernon, WA

“I understand better now your meaning of an Earth Chaplaincy and must say I like it very much. This may be just what we are looking for in fact. It may be much of what is needed to help spread the truth about how important Nature is to everything and how spirituality can be experienced so intensely simply through a walk in the woods. The type of unofficial network you have here is a great idea and I’m sure it will crystallize as much as it needs to when it needs to. . .Each person is potentially an Earth Chaplain, your network could be somewhat of a medium of growth for them to become that.”

~Thomas, Tennessee

“I thoroughly enjoy your writings about your journey.  I too have a very fundamentalist/evangelical background but my liberal seminary experience forced me to think!  I wasn’t used to thinking; I was an expert in ‘believing.’. . .I appreciate your openness and willingness to be true to who you are.  Keep up the work that God has called you to.”

~Larry, email comment

“I like to think of Mr. Muir as a Moses-figure – preaching environmental awareness. – A VERY nice presentation you have created here! – A pleasure!”

~Chiparoo, comment on “John Muir: The Wild Gospel of Nature,” Nature Chaplain Channel

“We have never met, though tend to run in the same literary circles. I am writing to you today in my capacity as [an editor] firstly to introduce our press to you and convey to you what a great admirer I am of your work. . .”

~L.B., Connecticut

“The Emerson & Whitman meditations were my constant companions during my NY visits last year.  Emerson especially really helps keep me centered.”

~R.B., NY

“Wow! Your’s are the first words that describe my feelings of ‘liberation’ from the bonds of Christianity. I still believe in many aspects of the faith but have now an open mind to believe in so much more.

~E.C., comment on the Nature Chaplain Channel

“If you have heard of Muir Woods, then you need to learn more about John Muir, after whom the well-known national monument is named. A great way to read some of John Muir’s wisdom and thought is to spend time with this lovely little book. It is filled with Muir’s insightful words about the beauty of nature and creation. Plus there are quotes from spiritual thinkers around the world. The book also makes a terrific gift! Enjoy!”

~Anon, review on Barnes and

“[Muir’s] meditations are inspirational. I also spend alot of time in Yosemite Valley and high Sierras. And find his writings true in the sense of renewing one’spirit and sense of oneness with the Earth and nature.
His writings are entertaining to the mind and senses.
His writings are calming to the soul.
John Muir’s books speak for themselves with the timeless beauty of his writings.

Recommending reading for all who enjoy this world that we live in.”

~FG, review on Barnes and

“At the John Muir birthplace [Dunbar, Scotland] we currently stock 3 books, ‘Meditations of Muir, Thoreau and Emerson’ and they continue to sell well. I have suggested to the managers they might want to consider some others.  You, of course have not seen the Birthplace. We have just celebrated our 10th anniversary and have passed 120,000 visitors!”

~Jim, Friends of John Muir Birthplace, Scotland

(note:  I visited the birthplace on my second visit to Scotland in 2001)

“Just received your Meditations of John Muir and so enjoying it. I’ve been visiting Dunbar area for 30 years- going tomorrow for 10 days- and only recently begun to appreciate Muir’s writings. I shall visit his birthplace museum ( again ) with a different perspective and enthusiasm. Thank you !”

~Cath, comment on this blog

“I love this book so much that I have purchased 6 more as gifts….My favorite story to share is that I gave Meditations of Henry David Thoreau: A Light in the Woods to my son on his 40th birthday, writing that I wanted him to slow down, sit on his porch and read it. Best advice a mother could give!”

~Rose, review on Amazon

“I have Walden, but this book has one page wisdoms of Thoreau along with other writers so that they can be read one at the time per day for a daily dose of calm philosophy. Love Chris Highland’s concept—I have other books in this series, also.”

~Joanne, review on Amazon

“John Muir was gifted in many ways, with writing one of his many talents. The entries in this book are absolutely beautiful. . . . In fact, I’d say Muir should be required reading in every school.”

~S.F., review on Amazon

“One of my most favorite works on nature to read. I’ve read it over and over, and every line still rings true. Perfect for trailside meditation. This book is always in my pack.”

~Jennifer, review of Muir on Amazon

“John Muir had always been one of my heroes. He was a giant of a man and if it were not for him and committed people like him we would not have any wild places left in this country. I equate these writings with scripture.”

Bette, review on Amazon

“I love this book, keep it in my day pack to read when out day hiking or overnighting it. Highly recommend.”

~Judy, review of Muir on Amazon

“These excerpts from Muir’s words are inspiring. I carried this with me while hiking in Yosemite and read different pages along our trails. As a teacher, I have given away several copies of this book for students who are interested in being in nature and a desire to be closer to their faith.”

~Carla, review on Amazon

“I bought this book while visiting Yosemite this summer and liked it so well I gave it away and ordered six more copies from Amazon. which I have given as gifts. The meditations are profound, but I found the book smaller than I remembered and the print harder to read.”

~Virginia, review on Amazon

“This is a great book with excerpts from John Muir’s work. I read one a day in the morning to get the day going and to encourage me about why I work so I can see Earth’s beauty.”

~C.K., review on Amazon

“It’s short and sweet, and made me buy more books on John Burroughs. What a fascinating man and a deeply touching life.”

~Elizabeth, review of Burroughs on Amazon

“A connection to the Divine is found in every sentence. This book is full of Meditations of Thoreau and quotes from others that correspond to his focus, I love the format, give us more!”

~Anthony, review on Amazon

“A great book to take with you camping or hiking [Meditations of Henry David Thoreau].  I have bought the other books in this series with Emerson, Whitman and Muir and this one by far is the best! I am not sure if I connected so much with Thoreau’s writing style or if his thoughts just were more impactful to the soul but I loved this book. Each meditation is to be read and really pondered over to get its full impact, this isn’t just a book to read to kill time but to really reflect on the deaper issues under the surface of this thing we call life. Buy it and enjoy it!”

~Jesse, review of Thoreau on Amazon

“A must read for lovers of nature [Meditations of Margaret Fuller].  For anyone who has sat under the comfort of a big tree, sung along with a robin, sauntered under dazzling skies and felt you were loved and nurtured by the simplicity of it all–this is a must have in your pack book.
Chris has captured the essence of Fuller–her inspired works, her reflections, her life in this easy to read, robust book about the heart and soul of our Mother Earth. I am thrilled to see Margaret Fuller’s name on a modern day book–she was a woman ahead of her time and deserves a nod from the modern naturalist.”

~Heather, review of Fuller on Amazon

“I recommended [Meditations of John Muir] to a friend as an introduction to his writings. . . .  With such excellent content [in Muir’s writing] I don’t think it would be difficult to produce a decent publication, but I believe Chris Highland has done an excellent job of selecting and compiling 60 [passages]. . . .  The black and white photos throughout the book look as though they could have been taken by Muir himself, but they were taken by Chris Highland. . . .  As an introduction to Muir’s writing, I challenge anyone to read a few pages and try to resist the temptation to head out and experience Nature as a Temple.”

~Terra Firma Adventures, book review

“For this Thanksgiving week, I thought it would be apropos to read some of [John Muir’s] writings.  Thankful that my friend had sent the series [Ken Burns, The National Parks] and thankful to rediscover this connection inspired me to devour Meditations of John Muir:  Nature’s Temple by Chris Highland. . . .  This is a read for those who love nature and find peace and joy there.”

~Kim, A Book a Week

“We’re listing some of our top picks for kids and adults alike. . . .  This book [Meditations of John Muir] pairs quotes from Muir’s journals with short reflections on spirituality.”

~Project Learning Tree, Summer Reading List (2014)

“I was reminded of a holy moment in Yosemite National Park when I unexpectedly came upon a herd of deer.  I crept forward and sat down and in my silent presence they came closer to me.  I was hiking with a book of meditations by John Muir so I pulled the book out and with a dozen deer within a few feet of me I began to read to them.  The passage ended with the words, ‘The place seemed holy, where one might hope to see God.’  The quiet place in Yosemite had that feeling.  The park bench at the Indianapolis Museum of Art had that feeling.”

~The Rev. Howard Boles, “Visiting Sacred Spaces:  A Park Bench,” Roberts Park United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, July 2013

“Thanks for sharing your newest essay with me [The Bible of Nature] and I found it wonderfully liberating in reminding me to fully embrace the natural beauty all around me and (at least for me) celebrating/affirming the “Source” in the midst of it all. You definitely have the gift to be Nature’s messenger and message all in one challenging those of us stuck in the ruts of more conventional spirituality (“religion,” “dogma,”) to close our books, take a leap of faith, and literally broaden our horizons to something more beautiful, sacred, and even more infinite.”

~Dan, Protestant Minister

“I bought this meditations book [Muir] to have with me specifically to keep me company on the trail this summer, but I found myself so captivated and in love with this selection of works that I’ve stopped myself from reading past #5 (of 60) so I can better enjoy this book for years to come, breaking it up as I go. Savor this book and these meditations and you’ll find a new incredibly positive and uplifting way of looking at all things in life. Muir is one-of-a-kind.”

~Reader comment on Amazon

“Always a delight to open this book to any page and find his deep thinking and love of nature. This is my third copy as the others have been given to special friends. A must for anyone who appreciates John Muir and his lifetime of dedication to our environment.”

~David, comment on Amazon

“Your column is a beautifully crisp presentation of just what more traditional folk need to hear. You cut right through divisiveness and intolerance with your description of what devotion can, and should, mean. I hope the paper appreciates what they have in you.”

~Jim, comment on “secular devotions” column

~David, comment on newspaper column

“I have often said that the woods are my church. If you are someone who feels that way as well, this book [Muir] will enhance your spiritual practice.”

~Janette, comment on Amazon

“I am a poet and songwriter.  The reason I tell you this is in 2010 I visited the Grand Canyon and bought your book on Walt Whitman, Earth, My Likeness.  I believe it was meant to be?  I have surrendered to my true path, I have read the bible for many years looking for answers.  Nature has answered some of the questions but the journey is not complete, only god will answer and complete my journey.  Thank you for this gift priceless.”

~John, comment on the Natural Bible blog

“It’s wonderful. I am grateful that I have found out your blog. It’s the simple pleasure of observing nature.”

~Empathy, Burma, comment on Natural Bible

“[It] is amazing [that] your class opened me to a way to fill myself with thoughts that have bubbled within me about my own spirituality/agnosticism/atheism for years. I’ve found a “home” through your class!”

~Wayne, CA

“I have to tell you that Life After Faith is the most important book I have ever read and it so wonderfully validates much of my own personal experience — YOUR STORY HAS BEEN SO LIBERATING FOR ME.  Here’s to you, Chris!”

~Mark, NC

“I’ve been meaning to contact you and congratulate you on your new column at the Asheville Citizen Times. It is so refreshing to see your perspective out there. . . and reflecting a more compassionate and inclusive point of view that is a better expression of what Asheville is today.  You are an inspiration.”

~Trish, NC

“I very much enjoyed your thoughtful piece in the Citizen Times about the “Faith Lessons from Olmsted’s LIfe.” A wonderful piece. I am a biographer of Olmsted and a lecturer on the Olmsted legacy. A historian and filmmaker, specializing in historical documentaries for public television.”


“Your written (and verbal) ponderings. . .have served as models to me of how to relate honestly and openly about what I believe.”

~Pastor in the SF Bay Area

“Thanks for the good stuff you’re doing to make safe spaces for people who want to grow together.  Hang in there brother!”

-Bart Campolo, Humanist Chaplain, USC

“Thanks for supplying this type of great written content.”

~fifa, Eastern Europe

“This a wonderful book [Meditations of Henry David Thoreau]. It certainly can be read very quickly, but why would you want to? Take your time and enjoy the words on the pages. See and feel the beauty in all things the way Thoreau did. After reading a selection from the book, I always came away with good feelings, very serene. I will likely read it again and again.”

~L.M., Oregon

Add Your Response Below!


  1. I enjoyed your AC-T article about secular devotion. However, you were somewhat misleading about the prohibition on atheists holding public office in NC. Yes, it is still in the Constitution, but in 1961 such provisions were found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, and thus unenforceable, and no one has been trying to enforce it for decades. Locally, Cecil Bothwell, elected in 2009, is an example of an atheist holding office without any legal challenge. Otherwise, good work!

    • Thanks for this clarification, Joseph. I do have a question and comment however. I know of Mr. Bothwell, who served in more liberal Asheville. But, do you know of anyone else running for or holding public office in NC as an outspoken non-theist? How about across the country, or in congress? There have been a few, very few. You see, part of my point is that constitution or not, openly secular people are generally not represented in office because they are not trusted or, worse, simply despised for not being a part of the dominant religious culture. So, though it may not be legally enforceable to deny a non-theist full rights and privileges of leadership, in practice there is a barrier, that begins in the mind. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Regarding your “Can Secular People Also have Devotion?” article, barring atheists from holding office indeed does sound like America. George Washington, at the first-ever Presidential inaugural address, set a religious tone by expressing his own heartfelt prayer to God. One of my ancestors, a Founding Father whose name was given to me, declared the Oath of Office not only a religious action, but “an act of worship.” Multiple U.S. Presidents have made similar acknowledgements to God in their Inauguration.

    And as for your question “Does that sound fair?” (denying public office to an atheist), it is not only fair but a quite practical qualification. The Bible tells us in several places that only a fool denies the existence of God (Psalm 14:1 among others). Our Founding Fathers had the down-to-earth notion that fools should not be serving in a public office. It’s hard to argue against such a qualification when one views the broad sweep downward in our Nation’s culture and morality since this kind of qualification was deemed irrelevant. The most recent evidence is half our electorate embracing a candidate who engaged in destruction of evidence, lying to a Federal agent, treasonous sale of uranium resources to Russia, “pay for play,” looting 95+% of earthquake relief funds, and much more.

    I take heart that the American public seems to be reviving to its heritage. This last election was not so much a political battle but a moral and spiritual one. I’m thankful that the side that embraces Satanic worship involving semen, menstrual blood and pedophilia was not successful.

    • Ok, John. Let’s look at what you say here. I sense you would very much like a Christian country, but sorry to let you know, it’s not, and never has been. For authority, you quote Washington, your ancestor and the Bible, while the Constitution itself clearly states in Article VI, an “oath OR affirmation” is acceptable for office, and “no religious test shall ever be required.” I take it you would replace the Constitution (that has nothing to do with the Christian God) with the Bible. I understand your wish, but it’s not reality (thankfully).

      It makes no sense to jump from my Constitutionally-based question to quoting the Bible. Your holy book is frankly irrelevant to the point I make in my column. On the other hand, you prove my point. A person chooses to build walls, or bridges. You’ve chosen walls.

      Apart from your obvious politicizing to tout your “I’ve never asked forgiveness” candidate, I hope you’re right about one thing: that America is reviving its heritage. That heritage happens to be secular, with protections for freedom of religion and freedom not to have a religion. If you don’t see that, I’m sorry to tell you, you missed the intent of the Founders including your namesake.
      Yet, I still wish you peace, and defend your right to believe what you do. Apparently, you don’t defend my freedoms. That indeed does not sound very American. . .or Christian.

  3. But how do we change a US that has turned away from it’s foundation, and be an agent for change in an era of high-powered Madison Avenue propaganda churned out by the billions of (name your oligarch) dollars? Where is the next Ingersoll and it really is getting late! Paul Clark Lawrence Jr.

    • Not sure I have any solid answers for you here, sir. If we don’t hear an Ingersoll (or Paine, Jefferson, etc) I suppose we have to speak up more. In my experience “change” happens pretty much one to one, and one community (or neighborhood) at a time.

  4. Do you have a Facebook page that can be accessed for your readers? Thanks so much!!! David

  5. In the Citizen-Times today (October 7, 2017) you stated the question about how atheists can have a basis for moral standards (e.g., in regard to killing stealing, injustice) without a Biblical basis; but you did not answer the question. What is the answer?

    • Actually, Isaac, the question was put to believers: If the Bible wasn’t telling you not to harm others, you wouldn’t know that was bad? A non-believer doesn’t need an ancient book to tell them not to kill or steal. That is something anyone with a conscience (and common sense) knows already.

      • What about a person who doesn’t think that someone else deserves to live or be treated “justly” (whatever that means) or who wants his or her stuff? What about a person who has uncommon, not common sense and thus kills or steals? Has that person done anything “morally wrong”?

      • What is the source of a person’s “conscience”? Is it inborn or acquired?

  6. It seems to me you have an “answer” for us.
    You haven’t responded to the question posed: is a person good (or moral, ethical) only because of god?

  7. Amen! That’s why we say, Good with God or Good without God. Our common ground is to find and practice an ethic of goodness, kindness and justice.

  8. I have known people who are, in my opinion, “good (or moral, ethical)” without believing in God. Why they are is hard to know. Perhaps they are “law-abiding” people who obey laws that are “good (or moral, ethical)” or perhaps they have some other personal reasons for their behavior although they do not expect to be judged after death. Their behavior does not disprove the existence of God.

    Please answer my questions sent on October 3 in two separate comments (see above).

    • Thank Goodness you’ve met godless folks who are good. I’m not a philosopher or psychologist so I can’t answer your questions regarding origins of conscience. I’m not sure why it’s important to know that. Ethical living seems to be the common ground where people of faith and faithlessness can meet. Why not just focus on that?

      • I agree that it is good to have “ethical” people of faith or no faith, although such common ground exists only for people whose ethical standards happen to coincide. Others do horrific things to their fellow humans in the name of political ideology or faith.

        Here is an answer to the question of the origin of conscience and, consequently, why so many people agree on some ethical questions (e.g., murder, stealing) while disagreeing on religious questions. In today’s Asheville newspaper, Billy Graham cites Romans 2:15: “They show that the requirements of the law (of God) are written on their hearts, [their consciences also bearing witness].” In other words, some basic ethical standards are innate, although individuals can “suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Romans 1:18-19).

  9. I’m not as cynical as you seem to be about good ethics (“happen to coincide”) but I’m glad to see the recognition that bad things can be done in the name of faith, which is no guarantee of ethical living.
    As for the “answer” you present, I can’t accept the “authorities” you cite, Bible and Graham. As you say, some ethical standards are innate. Maybe this is a reason some choose not to believe–it is not necessary for living an ethical, happy, fulfilled life.

    • Billy Graham is not an authority for me. He just reminded me of a verse that I had seen before.

      The problem with believing that some ethical standards are innate without believing in any known source (other than an unexplained one derived, presumably, from human DNA) is that any individual can claim to be acting ethically based on his or her particular conscience/DNA. Thus you have no basis for objecting to Nazis killing Jews or Islamists killing Christians, etc. (following their own consciences) except that such behavior is contrary to your personal ethics (and/or to state, national, or international law); but why should they be bound by your ethics rather than their own? Concerning illegal acts, we know that human-generated law is sometimes at odds with what we (including you and I) consider ethical. We hope that we would have opposed slavery when it was legal. Thus without a known source of conscience, which I believe to be God, ethical standards are subjective and no basis for social life.

      Can you propose any other known source of conscience/ethics?

  10. I don’t think we’re going to convince each other to change our views, Isaac. I’ll just say that choosing the biblical God as an ethical model poses many problems (genocide; slavery; blood sacrifice; etc). Nature and natural selection are reasonable explanations for any origins. Science does not have all the answers, but seeks (posits theories and then tests for evidence). Faith claims to have answers, so does not seek (quotes ancient texts and presents no evidence). Be well.

    • I am not trying to convince you to change your view. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8). Only God can do that. If He chooses to use my comments in that process, then all glory to Him.

      You have not answered my question about another known source of conscience/ethics that gives you the basis for objecting to, for example, genocide other than your personal ethics and common societal norms, which may be explained as based on social contract rather than objective moral standards.

      • Well, Isaac, I have responded to your questions, but as I say, it won’t convince. Nature, through thousands of years of evolution, and human experience through that wonderful journey, lead people to the sense of right and wrong. Or, people name or blame a god for the good or the bad. If one person says their god tells them what is good and right, what if another person’s god tells them something different? This is the history of religion. I’d rather base my life and ethics on something greater than that: Nature, Reason and common sense.

  11. You have circled back to your original point about “Nature, Reason, and common sense” without giving a rational basis for objecting to another person’s different “common sense,” so I will assume that you would not criticize a genocidal actor for following his or her conscience. Surely you would not do so without a rational basis for your position.

  12. Maybe you could write a column about people like me that love the
    emotional part of religion. I am basically an agnostic…because from experience…
    I’ve learned we don’t know what else there is. But humanism and free thinkers are
    into their heads. I loved going to a Christian church over the holidays just to hear
    all the carols. I don’t believe them…but they do touch a part of childhood memories.

    I think humanism leaves out that stuff unless you are into nature or an artist. I find I am a
    little lost in my beliefs. I am 85 and finding things like the Messiah just enthralling
    despite the message in the words.

    Just some thoughts as the year ends.


  13. Just read your article in today’s Asheville paper. Too bad your windows are such a hazard for the birds. Usually birds will only fly into a window if they can see all the way through it and see the woods on the other side. Try putting some decals on the window or draw the curtains on the far window. Otherwise you will continue to add to the killing of our beautiful friends.

    • Already done, Duncan, thanks. May have been chased by one of our local hawks. We don’t have windows that see through to other windows. No one loves the feathered neighbors more than we do. Cats kill many more.

  14. I read your article “What if Holy Books were written by women?” It is true that no entire book of the Bible is attributed to a woman, though the authorship of some books is not known. It is also true that the Bible contains writings by women. The first song in the Bible was sung by Moses sister Miriam–found in Exodus. The Song of Hannah is a poem interrupting the prose text of the Books of Samuel. According to the surrounding narrative, the poem (1 Samuel 2:1–10) was a prayer delivered by Hannah, to give thanks to God for the birth of her son, Samuel. It is very similar to Psalm 113. It may have been the inspiration for The Magnificat, sung by the Virgin Mary–found in 1st Chapter of Luke. The Book of Ruth is about a woman and contains the lament of Naomi–“Don’t call me Naomi” and the song of Ruth “entreat me not to leave thee.” The first people to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection were women and they were commissioned to preach the greatest sermon –to find his disciples and to tell them that He is risen. There are other instances where the words of women are recorded. Therefore the Christian Bible does contain the testimony of many faithful –or, in the case of Jezebel–not so pious–women.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ludy. The verses and stories you cite do indeed highlight women of faith, though, as we seem to agree, we don’t know what may have actually been written or said by those women. The column was of course not suggesting that women do not have some major roles in scriptures, but emphasized the predominant role of men in constructing and promoting interpretations of “sacred” texts that (conveniently) support male dominance and male images of God (mental “graven images”?).

      By the way, as you may know, technically the “Christian Bible” consists of the Hebrew Bible plus the Christian scriptures.

      Thanks again for your reflections.

  15. Just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your column in the Citizen-Times on Saturday, April 7. I’m a retired French instructor. The first time I ever went to a Catholic Mass was during my first trip to France over fifty years ago. A very moving ceremony, I appreciated the beautiful formality, and as a beginning teacher, enjoyed partaking of the cultural richness. I found your observation that it was very appropriate for Bob, a Jew like myself, to take part in the community of faith. How interesting it is that many Christians forget (or ignore) that Jesus and his Disciples were all devout Jews, and the roots of Christianity in Judaism.

  16. About your thoughts on “blessing(s).” To say “bless you” for a sneeze or any other reason, or “blessings on you”,or even “God bless you” to me has the same weight as saying, “Have a good day!” “Best wishes!” “All the best,” and other such sayings. You are summoning positive vibes for another person from wherever you believe they come—an old man wearing a sheet living in the sky or energies of universal consciousness. To not speak these words is to deprive that person of an expression of caring.

  17. Mr. Highland,
    Although your interview with Rabbi Adam Chalom (printed in the March 30 issue of the Asheville Citizen-Times)was interesting, I’m afraid he does not
    understand what is meant by “the light.” The Light does NOT mean enlightenment. It is the actual Light emanating from God, along with the Holy Sound (the Word) and can only be seen when a person is connected with the God Power by a competent Master. It is spiritual, not “humanistic,” Humanism sounds as if it’s one step from atheism and, as as clergyman, it is unfortunate that Rabbi Chalom sounds as if he does not believe in God.

  18. Mr. Highland,

    I am responding to your column/essay of Saturday October 5th: Is honesty honored in our faith and freethinking communities?

    I reading your essay on honesty, I found that you repeatedly asked rhetorical questions to make your point without offering a more grounded explanation.
    But first, you compared Franklin and Paine’s quotes about the function of government (“the people”) with congregations, which are not governments. Governments are intended to make changes to social, legal, and economic structures in response to the needs of its body of people, and presumably changes emanating from the people and by their consent.
    Congregations have in common with government their composition of the people, and to serve the people – but that’s where the comparison ends. Government does not intend to bolster and change the spiritual life of individuals, nor does government have the purpose of sending its members into their daily life to carry a spiritual message and behave in a manner that reflects that message. Government does not send people out to do the work of the government; instead it encourages people to be citizens and provide the social and economic arena that fosters government. The church does not send people out to create a social and economic environment for improving the institutional Church. (When it did there was a reformation.) Instead, the Church professes: “Be a good neighbor to your neighbor because that ushers in the Kingdom of God.” A church ought not to have the purpose of self-perpetuation, as does government.
    So when you asked the negative rhetorical question of whether “we can say the same of church or religion in general?” – indeed we cannot, but not because of some defect in church/religion, but because the question makes a false comparison. Apples to oranges.
    Again, government and church political structures have various things in common, but churches are not governments. We have heard many times people suggest: “If government was run like a business…” – but government is not a business, it is a societal service. Church is not a service, though it often does provide some services. Church is an intentional community.
    This leads me to address your use of rhetorical questions, by their nature intended to manipulate the reader to accept your viewpoint without having to support the argument with specifics. Granted you had limited space, but your use of rhetorical questions is both frequent and usually the basis of each point you attempt to make. Perhaps we should ask: since rhetorical questions by their nature always have a pre-determined answer, has there ever been a rhetorical question which promoted free-thinking? But of course, that question was intended as a jab!
    The premise of your article encourages the reader to be free thinking, with the underlying premise that if they were REALLY free thinking and not bound by the creeds and constraints upon questioning, typical of all churches – you would suggest – then the reader would wise up and leave the church. As you said about “many who have left [the church] and feel the same sense of liberation – liberty – that I have felt. Many others choose to remain in their congregations where their views are unpopular and it doesn’t seem wise to express what they honestly think or believe.”

    To quote you again, “We know TOO MANY PEOPLE [emphasis added] who feel that the church is closed to them – the persons they truly are – or their workplace, their community or their family is cluelessly closed. If they dare to be honest, they risk it all.” Now I must concede that this can and does happen in life. In your essay, you spoke of the hours that a church building is closed and made a generalized comparison to the people who ARE those churches, as being cluelessly closed; and a generalization that if a person does not feel the people of the church body are open to them, then it is insinuated that the reasons behind their lack of acceptance and inclusion is most likely from a defect in the empathy of those church people. Where do I hear this? You had just championed your past work with disadvantaged people who have to confront uncaring, and potentially malicious people.
    Ironically, you stated that the masks those people wore were necessary “for coping, survival, and sanity – when the initial point of your essay was that open dialogue and honest communication are the basis of honesty. Again, ironically, you make the quip “truth is unmasked” – when it is dishonesty and prejudices that are unmasked. But perhaps you meant that underlying truth can eventually be revealed.
    Throughout your essay, you point out that honest communication doesn’t happen, but you also do not promote it.
    Your frame of reference is about being honest with oneself – certainly important. But the result of your framing and the gist of your essay/column is that people would be better off if they did what you did and left their church, rather than “choose to remain where their views are unpopular and it doesn’t seem wise to express what they honestly think and believe.”
    In essence, your intention is fairly destructive to the integrating fabric of people’s lives; a theme that runs through most of the essays you write.
    Again, more irony. If you read the article on the page opposite from your column, it is all about being honest in community (large or small) and promotes honest and sensitive communication as the most effective means of negotiating human relationships. And that is missing from your column.
    In your essay, there is no acceptance of the combination of flaws and human needs; where a flawed person also needs the interaction from others to meet the challenges of being among imperfect people in the community.
    Indeed, you often mention with pride your work as a chaplain while elsewhere denigrating the institution that endorsed your work. And it makes me think that negotiation – effective grappling with issues – may have been missing in your decision to leave the ministry that you valued. But who am I….
    To throw another rhetorical question at you: Was there something missing in your relationship with your church? Granted some churches (people and institutions) can be very rigid, which is why there are so many denominations and variations from congregation to congregation.
    In the end, your essay promotes individualism without opting for negotiation within the community. Now, I can hear you say that some communities/people will not negotiate. Certainly that can be true.
    But in making any decision there only three choices: accept, change or leave. Accept: cope, adapt, or “suck it up” [usually with resentment]; Change: change you, change me, or change the situation; Leave – create distance, leave for a time, or leave forever. Most people opt for change if possible, to leave most of their lifestyle intact. In my experience, change most often involves changing oneself, and not just others. And you make that plain by your penultimate rhetorical question in your essay.
    “Is honesty honored in our faith and freethought communities?” Your answer is NO.
    I, however, experience honesty honored every day. But it certainly makes a difference if you’re diligently looking for something, because sure enough, eventually it will be found.

    Scott Hart
    Fletcher, NC

    • Scott, looks like you wanted to write your own column. I’m hearing lots of rhetoric here and not sure anything I would say would be adequate for you. But I will say that you missed the essential point of my column which was interweaving basic comments from Franklin and Paine to make a rather simple point about honesty (after all, it’s “Highland Views” right?). I write from a secular point of view, so what you are reacting against is my perspective. If you don’t think congregations (or religious traditions in general) don’t have a governance, then you’ve missed most religious history. I’m glad your particular church apparently teaches to be a good neighbor. That’s nice. I’m concerned with a little bit larger view of the religious landscape.

  19. Born and raised Lutheran (LCA), practicing Quaker for over 35 years and your “essays” as offered in A Freethinker’s Gospel is the most compelling (Bible) ever for this 70 year old! A million thanks to you for sharing such remarkable wisdom. Theron White

  20. I love your column today, Chris, about music. I am a board certified music therapist, and my role has included using music as a healing tool for my patients, using music to bring people together, and using music personally, for expressing myself and enriching my life and my soul. Thank you.

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