a novel by Jim Burklo
available at Patheos Press
Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California
A thirst for God leads Joshua T. Stoneburner on a quest through the spiritual landscape of America.
In his pickup truck, Joshua T. Stoneburner bounces down the back roads of America’s vast and irregular religious landscape, his tires kicking up dusty rooster-tails of questions about the nature of God and the purpose of life. Was it God he saw in the cactus? Josh isn’t giving up till he finds out, even if it turns his teenage years upside-down. His search for clues leads him into every form of spirituality he can find — enlightening, exasperating, and entertaining the people along his path. Each faith exposes more of the pattern in his vision, tantalizing the reader with religious revelations.
Along his way, Josh is drawn toward stranded immigrants, a tormented church janitor, a café waitress and her young fraternal twins, a Native American scout for drug smugglers, and his own fumbling father’s love. Josh Stoneburner is the “coyote” spiriting the reader back and forth over the border of laughter and tears. By the end of the book, Josh has questioned his way into faithful compassion, rather than affiliating with any particular faith.
SOULJOURN taps the aquifer of humor that exists under every religion, while it explores the ways that American culture, and every faith that crosses the US border, infect each other.
SOULJOURN is an entertaining way to learn about the religions of the world, and to get inspired to learn a lot more. It’s a novel with a mission – to increase religious literacy so that people of all faiths, or no religion, can understand and respect each other more.
Study Questions for SOULJOURN
- Have you ever had an out-of-ego experience? How can religion and spirituality help to get you out of your “selfish” self?
- What’s the difference between mental illness and spiritual visions?
- How much of religion is driven by social needs rather than spiritual ones?
- It’s an imperative in some religious groups to convert other people to the faith. How does that affect relationships between “believers” and “non-believers”? Can they have genuine relationships without the “ulterior motive” of conversion?
- How does your faith tradition see itself in relationship to other faiths? Is it exclusive (my faith is the only true one and others are false at best and evil at worst), inclusive (other faiths have partial truth in them, but only my faith has the most complete truth), or pluralistic (other faiths may be as good and true for others as my faith is for me)? Does your religious tradition have another way of relating to other faiths?
- How do Seedless Thompson’s letters to his “adopted children” compare with the letters of St. Paul in the Christian New Testament?
- What is faith? Is it belief in a religious doctrine, is it a way of living, is it an attitude toward life, or is it something else?
Have you ever had your life transformed by something that seemed small and insignificant?
- Who or what is God? If you don’t believe in God, which God don’t you believe in? Is God supernatural or natural? What forms of theism (or atheism) exist in different religious traditions?
- How much of spiritual experience is about ideas and how much is about feelings? Is the human experience of God an emotion, a thought, or something else?
- What is the role of miracles in religious faith?
- Is religious faith valid and sincere if it is mainly motivated by family and community influences?
- What is the place of mind-altering substances in religion and spirituality? Can they be valid parts of a sincere spiritual tradition?
- What does your faith tradition teach about an afterlife? What do you believe about it? How does this belief affect the way you live? How do different faiths talk about life before and after death?
- To what extent is religion compatible with science? How do different religions, and sects of religion, differ in their relationship to scientific knowledge and inquiry?
- How can religion help people to be more self-aware? How do different religions practice mindfulness?
- What is the role of sacred spaces and places in religion and spirituality? Do they actually have special powers?
- What are the signs of spiritual leadership? What gives a religious leader authority and validity? How can you tell the difference between a false spiritual teacher and a true one?
- Why is celibacy part of so many religious traditions? What are the reasons for being celibate?
Can sexuality be a means for experiencing spirituality?
- How much of religious experience is dependent on culture and language? Can they be separated from religion? What influence does American culture have on religion, and vice-versa?
- Can one God have many names? What is the significance of the name of the divinity in different religions?
- What’s the difference in spiritual experience between somebody who grew up in a religion and somebody who converted to it?
- What is the relationship between religion and violence? In which traditions is violence allowed or prohibited?
- So much of religion is expressed in stories. What is the spiritual power in story-telling? Do religious stories also come from the “story mine”?
- Are there stages of spiritual development, just as there are stages of psychological development?
- Are there universal moral standards that are grounded in all world religions? What is the relationship between religion and morality? Can morality exist without religion?
- To what extent is all religion a “cafeteria” where you pick and choose the parts you want to follow or practice, and drop the rest?
- Is God responsible for the evil in the world?
- How does God “incarnate” – show up in human form on earth? Why is this such a common idea in world religion? What are the differences and similarities among the religions on the subject of divine incarnation?
- The book ends without Josh choosing a particular religious tradition to follow. Is he missing something by not doing so? Can a person make up his or her own religion?