An old friend is about as New Age-y as it gets: candles, incense, gurus, chakras, auras. You name it, she does it. She's spacey and goofy, yet I'm fond of her. How can I tell her I think all this is nonsense -- and still remain friends? She just hit 50 and I'd hoped she'd outgrown this stuff a long time ago.
If she's 50, then she's a Boomer, a generation accustomed to being stereotyped: hippies turned into yuppies, druggies became CEO's, VW's were traded-in for BMW's, idealism turned into disillusionment. But despite all that, many Boomers yearn for meaning. So while you may think the "New Age" is all off-the-wall silliness, it may speak deeply to your friend.
When you level with her about how you feel about what she's doing, you're also opening yourself up to her leveling with you about your spiritual life. This could be a test of your friendship. When you have your talk with her, remember that a lot of New Age "teachings" operate at an intuitive level and may reject anything that smacks of traditional science or theology. As long as New Age practices aren't harming your friend (spiritually, psychologically or even physically), think carefully about telling her they're drivel.
On the other hand, if you two are close--and both of you have a good sense of humor--then maybe this is something you can joke about together. Just make sure your aura is on straight before you get together with her.
A gay friend has invited me to services at his gay and lesbian church. I'm straight--and he knows that--and I've never been to a service like this. What should I do (or not do) once I get there? And how might the service be different from an ordinary Christian service?
-- A.R., Beverly Hills, CA
The liturgy and rituals probably won't differ from what you're accustomed to. What will be different will be the people in the pews. Many Americans, and most religions practiced here, still marginalize gays and lesbians. Even if they don't use that sort of language about gays, they may still think they don't fit into accepted theology. A church designed for homosexuals is a church that embraces Jesus' contempt for the self-righteous.
In your friend's church (depending on the denomination), communion will be offered, baptism might be given, the Bible will be read. The part of the service that will probably differ from what you're used to might be the sermon, which will be an opportunity to make Christianity relevant to gay and lesbian life. And that's probably something you don't find in an ordinary, white clapboard, side-of-the-road country church.
Last weekend, I went on my first Zen retreat. It calmed me down and opened me up, but I really didn't want to remove my shoes before going into the meditation hall. What would have happened if I didn't?
-- M.G., Manhattan, KS
Some Zen masters are famous for hitting their students with a stick. They do it to heighten their concentration and awareness, not to punish them. So don't worry: no one would have struck you if you wore shoes in the meditation hall.
Meditators take their shoes off mostly so they can be comfortable while sitting cross-legged on their meditation pillows. But it's also a way to lose your ego, to forget about who you were when you walked into the meditation hall. The longtime budding Buddhist Jack Kerouac once wrote an essential rule for writers: "Be submissive to everything, open, listening." The same goes for Zen: Submit. Be open. Listen. The next time you go to a retreat, imagine that the famous koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?," had been changed to "What is the sound of a shoeless foot walking?"