Pan-compassionist Freethinker

So what is a pan-compassionist freethinker?!!

It’s what I seem to be at the moment, and it’s been holding for a few months….   It’s a miracle!  No telling where I’ll end up, but it’s a good feeling to be able to maybe put a foot down somewhere —  for the time being!

Pan-compassionist:  means I would like to be compassionate toward everything.   Tall order, guaranteeing falling short, but good to have an aim!!!

Freethinker:  means I stay open to revising my views.   My allegiances are to compassion and to fact, insofar as we can know them.   I respect the traditions I come out of —  Christianity, social democracy, etc —  and I evaluate them by compassion and fact, to the best of my understanding.

In September 2021 I’m adding “engaged” —  “engaged pan-compassionist freethinker” —  because I’m realizing that I don’t mean it’s good to just passively observe and sympathize — I aspire to actively do something to make things better.   Wondering how to convey that, I thought of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “engaged Buddhism” and think “engaged” will work fine for now…. maybe eventually my own individual word will pop up  :  )

This blog is for thinking about what this means in my life & thinking (besides making me — and probably everybody! — a category of one!), and for collecting and celebrating my heroes and heroines (continually added to here),  It’s for conversation, if anyone wants to converse  :  )  !!!   Enjoy!!

~~ other web links here ~~



a ha!  10/19/21

what if  10/17/21

the Bhagavad Gita  10/3/21

expanding 9/26/21

missing  9/23/21

Intro’s  9/22/21

nights   9/18/21

New project  9/9/21

Freethinker  9/4/21  

The Pieta of Kabul  8/31/21

Being Peace  8/28/21

liminal  8/19/21

Open & Relational 8/15/21

Surprise! 6/19/21 

Update. 6/14/21

concept  10/30/19

Fresh Round  7/11/19

Agnostic  7/1/19

Thinking  6/29/19

speedbump  2/24/19

clarifying  2/21/19

restless  2/4/19

new group  2/1/19

becoming daisies  1/7/19

Construction 1/4/19

Grayling’s 10 Commandments 10/10/18 

Wisdom for the Journey 7/11/18 

“Atheists for Jesus” 6/15/18 

Jesus  — March 2013     talk at Lenten Luncheon

a step 6/10/18 

Social Righteousness 3/24/18      sermon

Heroes and Heroines 7/17/17

a ha!

Just for fun…. just posted this in the process thought class that ended a couple of weeks ago. I’d asked the question:

“The question that led me to enroll is Why do we use the term ‘god’? I love the idea of Whitehead’s ‘great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands,’ and I know that he moved from atheism to using the term ‘God’ in order for his metaphysics to work, but I haven’t understood him well enough to answer my question.”

And what do you know?


“Thank you again, Pastor Al!

“In case anyone reads after the course — I just happened on an online talk that is very helpful for my question — I’m just finishing Thich Nhat Hahn’s life of the Buddha and am struck by the co-dependent arising in Buddhism that sounds so much like process thought — Googling ‘Did Whitehead study Buddhism?’ surfaced the text of a wonderful talk by John Cobb that explains about Whitehead: ‘There must be an actual entity that mediates between pure possibility, which is fully abstract, and the occasions that are coming into being in the world. He called that entity God.’

“That’s the link I’ve been looking for, which makes sense in the context of the whole talk. Of course, internalizing it is a whole different project! but I feel like now I have a good clue.

Whitehead and Buddhism

“Next question will need to be — does that ‘actual entity’ ‘lure’ toward things that we think of as evil? I doubt there is thought of two such entities, one urging compassion & the other enmity!

“Thank you, Pastor Al — I remain on the lookout for the Matt Segall talk, which no doubt will help too! And deep thanks to John Cobb, who writes, thinks, and speaks so clearly and patiently — and to all here ‘rebirthing God.’
: )


what if

Just finishing Old Path, White Clouds, with its descriptions of the careful collection of the Buddha’s teachings during his life and after his death. It makes me wonder what Jesus’ teaching would look like if he himself had continued and shaped it — no doubt hugely different from today’s new testament — some thoughts, authentically his, he might have developed differently over his own lifetime if he’d had time…. His death an atrocity in so many ways.

Looking forward to After Jesus, Before Christianity, debuting next month from the Jesus Seminar. Some small hints there, I’m guessing : ) The contrast between these two origins is striking… and has to be so significant….

the Bhagavad Gita

A wonderful talk I heard this afternoon — about the Great Revelation, and this moment, today….

Dr Mesle is a process philosopher — with a huge heart.
He often quotes a key passage that holds him:

Those who burn with the bliss
and suffer the sorrow
of every creature,
within their own heart,
making their own
each joy and each sorrow,
them I hold the highest.

Their every action
is wed to the welfare
of other creatures.

Link is here:
Talk starts at minute 30 & ends around 48.

Personal, deeply moving. If you watch, I hope you enjoy!

[Specs from Cobb Institute email: “noted process philosopher Robert Mesle, speaking to First Unitarian Universalist congregation in Los Angeles, for their hybrid service Sunday, October 3, at 11 a.m. (Pacific Time). ‘Elliot is Brahman: UU Principles and the Bhagavad Gita.’

“Robert Mesle is author of these widely used introductory texts: Process Theology: A Basic Introduction (Chalice Press, 1993) and Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead, (Templeton Press 2008). Jay McDaniel interviews Bob Mesle in a Cobb Institute Conversation in Process. ]


Before I rose this morning, I had a happy thought!

I was worrying (as often) about whether I should demit, and if I did, what I can say to spouse, conservative family members, congregation I’ve been attending.

It’s so complicated…. it’s not everything that I want to distance from — but there’s so much that I reject as unreal, unethical, etc.

Suddenly out of nowhere (it seems) I realized — I don’t have to reject — I just want to expand — I am growing out from where I started my intellectual life, a very large part having been Presbyterian theology…. as I’ve developed, I’ve expanded more and more, and dropped some attitudes & ideas — and now, to the ideas I began with, I add ideas from other traditions, the sciences, humanities, just plain life lessons. (Right now I’m reading Thich Nhat Hahn’s life of the Buddha — Old Path, White Clouds — and there’s so much there that I appreciate — without wanting to follow everything!)

If this holds water, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether or how to demit — just work through how the expansions & deletions affect my official status vis a vis the denomination. If it means a change, fine — but I would not be implying a letting-go of the parts of the teachings of Jesus that I find awesome, nor shutting the door against future revelations or re-visitings.

First reaction is — I think I like it : )


I’m realizing something is missing in my “species” — the idea of trying to make things better, not just sympathize. Borrowing from Thich Nhat Hanh, for now I’ll add “engaged,” like his addition, “engaged Buddhism.”

So: “engaged pan-compassionist freethinker” : )

Simplicity : )


Just for fun, here’s my intro to the Cobb Institute zoom class I’m taking —

“Intro-wise, I’m ………….., retired hospice & long-term care chaplain, living in my rural NC home town. The question that led me to enroll is Why do we use the term “god”? I love the idea of Whitehead’s “great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands,” and I know that he moved from atheism to using the term “God” in order for his metaphysics to work, but I haven’t understood him well enough to answer my question. As I’ve let go more and more of the conservative theology of my childhood, I find myself agreeing with “Friendly Freethinker” Chris Highland (who was a chaplain of the streets, Presbyterian) that there needn’t be an extra layer of glory for things to be ultimately meaningful. [blog: ] I’ve been thinking of myself as an engaged pan-compassionist freethinker. : ) Usually where you’re aiming starting out is quite different from where you find yourself afterward, so thanks so much for all the thoughts and friendship along the way!”



moon, jupiter, saturn

What beautiful nights…..

moving diagonally upward from moon is jupiter, then saturn….

Until covid, I haven’t paid much attention to the nights, just enjoyed them….

now it’s exploring them…. mind-opening, thinking of what those distances mean….

: )

New project

Words & Stories: I’m going to try assembling the words and stories attributed to or told about Jesus that have been an inspiration. My problem has been that I don’t think anyone can be sure which actually originated with the historical Jesus… so I’m abandoning that idea and collecting what’s come down in the tradition that I admire and would like to affirm. Sort of like the Jefferson bible, I guess : ) How this relates to the historical figure (adopting the conclusion of Ehrman & Crossan that there was such a figure), I don’t know.


welcome to visit here… will be adding for a while!!


Thich Nhat Hahn’s Being Peace is reminding me I’m not an absolute “freethinker” — my thoughts spring from my heritage, all the ways of thinking that have been passed down to me by family, educators, books. I may claim to be free to choose to follow compassion and fact, but —

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: 
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,  60
        Hath had elsewhere its setting, 
          And cometh from afar: 
        Not in entire forgetfulness, 
        And not in utter nakedness, 
But trailing clouds of glory do we come….

…not exactly Wordsworth’s idea, but still, we grow out of all that has come before us and that is impinging on us….

Makes me think how individualistic I tend to be.

Thankful for Brother Thay’s “interbeing”