Dear Pastor Paul,
I'm 15 and have been looking in to different religions for about a year now. The thing is, I love parts of all of them. You could call me a Zen Buddist, a Pagan, a Wiccan, a Open-Minded Seeker, or many other things. I really don't feel I belong in Christanity, but I love the people. It's really hard on me. I'm not sure what I should base my morals on. Can you help me? I would greatly appreciate it.


Dear Jenn,
I admire your strong spiritual curiosity and positive outlook on different religious expressions. I wonder if you've found a common thread in your spiritual journey, and if that thread will eventually provide a foundation for your morality.

Certainly, the Golden Rule--"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"--can be found in most religions. (a href=http://www.teachingvalues.com/goldenrule.html target="_new">Click here for a list of various Golden Rules.) All the major religions also require generosity towards the poor, respect for elders and parents, and prayer and meditation.

Your next step might be to go deep into one faith to find out the richness that lies in the sustained exploration of a single faith tradition.

The goal is to find a spiritual community, a home you feel comfortable in, with people you like and who nurture your blossoming religious life. If you are looking for open-minded communities, you may want to visit the Unitarian Universalists, a Bahai community, or a Quaker meeting.

Dear Pastor Paul,
I feel like a freak asking you my question because I'm Jewish, but the answers you've given others sound solid, and I have respect for all clergy and devout people.

I am 18 years old, a smoker and drug addict with an eating disorder. I've been this way for about 6 years. I love my religion, find comfort in spirituality, and aspire to the rabbinate.

The things I believe are good and true. They are not reflected in the way I treat myself, and I hate myself for it-which makes me treat myself worse. I need to stop but don't know how. I've been through treatment, and I don't want to give up, but I don't feel like I know how to be good and healthy and true.

I thought that people of all religions must struggle with issues about how they act and how they wish they could be. My family has given up and I understand why. I'm very alone, I'm desperate and want to know what to do.

--Angsty Jewish Girl

Dear Angsty,
You are going to make a great rabbi once you come through this hard time. Did you ever think that maybe what you are going through is just the experience that God wanted you to have in preparation for your rabbinical training? You now know what it means to suffer in the face of addiction and loneliness and that will make you a more compassionate, patient, and wise religious leader for the people in your congregation when you come out on the other side.

But before any of that happens you have to deal with your addictions. It is not easy. It will take courage, commitment and real hard work. But you are not the first one to go through this, and you are not alone. You have to let people help you to help yourself - which may be another lesson that God has for you to learn.

Check out this website for Jews in Recovery.

Peace to you, Angsty--and God bless you.

Dear Pastor Paul,
I love church, and my pastor really hits home with his sermons! But he is sooo busy, he never has time to get to know me. I would love to pay him a call to discuss with him what he says in his sermons and what I read in the Bible. When I call and ask to have him visit, though, he never does. If I ask him, he says to call and set up an appointment, and they just say they will pass on my request! What do I do?
--Blown Off

Dear Blown Off,
Your pastor does have a moral obligation to meet and get to know the members of his church. He will likely be too busy to meet with you on a regular basis, however. He does have to prepare those home-run sermons, after all.

I would suggest writing him a letter, explaining how a specific sermon affected you and asking him to meet with you once so you can thank him in person. He and his office should respect that request. You might also form a group in your congregation that goes to lunch after service to talk about the sermon you've all just heard, and how it applies to your lives. That way you will have a forum to discuss your thoughts and hopefully make some new friends.

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