Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Love Is Not Arrogant

though this quality of love is the third of the "love is not" characteristics in st. paul's list, a movie preview i saw recently prompted me to skip the preceding two in the list to write about arrogance.  we see too much arrogance in our society these days, the arrogance which says, "since i know i'm right, you must be wrong."  politicians insist that their solutions to the problems facing our county are the right ones, that their positions must prevail since those who have other ideas are dead wrong.  there can be no give and take, no compromise.  religious leaders insist that their view of the christian faith is the only true view, that those who interpret the teachings of the faith differently are in error, and that those who are adherents of others religions or no religion are dead wrong.

arrogance is dangerous because the arrogant believe that they have a monopoly on truth.  the arrogant see no other possibilities, no common ground with those who disagree with them.  the trailer that got me to thinking about arrogance was for a movie called "do you believe," a "faith-based" movie that appears to suggest that a lack of faith in the atoning sacrifice of jesus on the cross is the cause of suffering in the lives of its characters, that this strain of christian theology is the answer to the problems these characters and, by extension, all of us confront.  the movie is from the same studio that produced "god is not dead," a movie that has an atheist professor who is in a position of power over his students abuse that power by insisting that the students accept his belief that there is no God.   of course, in the end, the professor is converted from atheism to fundamentalist christianity because one student refuses to knuckle under.

since i haven't seen the newer movie, i shouldn't condemn it out-of-hand, but from the scenes in the trailer, it appears to have the same heavy-handed, simplistic arrogance of its predecessor.  it is not the content of the "believe" movie about which i'm so concerned, but the pervasive view in american society that one political party or one narrow view of christianity is the only valid one.  no party or religion can claim to be the only source of truth.  arrogance and the intolerance which grows from it are the banes of a democratic society, and we cannot allow ourselves to be taken in by an arrogance which refuses to love and respect those with whom we disagree.

may we take to heart st. paul's teaching that "love is not arrogant."  may we be open to the views of others.  may we never believe that we and those who agree with us are the only ones who can be right.  may love open our hearts and minds to other possibilities.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Love Is . . .

in first corinthians 13, st. paul lists several qualities of love, and i try to remind myself of those qualities each morning.  in this new year, i've been journaling about those qualities.  this morning i want to share what i've written in my "love journal" about the two positive attributes the st. paul lists: patience and kindness.  there are "off the top of my head" entries in my journal, and my thoughts are not fully formed.  if you have suggestions or comments that will help me or someone else understand what one means when one says, "love is patient, love is kind," i would be happy for you to help me and others to grow in patience and kindness.

love is patient:  love is willing to wait, to live life unhurried.  love doesn't seek instant gratification, but puts aside the lust for things in favor of being in the present and enjoying what is already in and around us.  love doesn't expect others to recognize what we need and supply it.  love doesn't have unrealistic expectations of others, but cherishes them for who and what they are without wishing to make them something that satisfies one's own needs.  because love is patient, love is accepting and therefore bears all things.

love is kind:  may we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  may we think first before we act, asking ourselves, "is this the way i wish to be treated?"  if we lived with such mindfulness, how much suffering we would refrain from visiting upon others, how many evil deeds would cease, how many good deeds would be performed.  how well our country would run if those in power imagined themselves in the shoes of those affected by the laws they enacted before voting on laws that harm others and take away their rights.  if employers put themselves in the place of their employees, would those employers resent providing a living wage or health insurance to their employees?  if teacher imagined themselves in the seats of their students, would they treat those students disrespectfully, and if students placed themselves at the desks of their teachers, would they misbehave and resent the authority of their teachers?

the essence of kindness is putting oneself in another's place, of seeing that all of us are essentially the same.  when we are treated with cruelty, and unkind actions and words are directed against us, may we try to react in the way we wish to be treated rather than responding in like manner.  may unkindness stop with us.  may our words and acts be mindful, without any attempt to repay unkindness with unkindness.

i am working on comments about the characteristics st. paul lists next, all of the next group stated in the form of what love is not.  what i hope to accomplish is to refrain from simply restating what was written so long ago but rather to become mindful of the underlying meaning.  may this effort help me to grow in understanding, to become a more loving and lovable person.  may we all work together to love others and to love ourselves.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

All the Pay I Need Comes Shining through His Eyes

we share our home with a little dog with a gigantic heart.  we've always been "cat people" but when our son moved away and could not take Parker with him, we adopted him.  he's about seven years old now, we think.  we can't be certain because our son took him in from an animal shelter which was uncertain of his age.  he is the perfect dog for us.

when we talk to him, he looks at us with his big eyes and tilts his head from one side to the other as if he understands every word we say.  he never demands to be allowed in our laps or on the furniture.  most of the time he is quiet, only barking when he believes there is potential danger, such as when someone approaches the front door or when some wild animal such as an opossum or racoon invades our back yard, or when he has been outside and is ready to come back in the house.  upon coming in the house, he invariably runs to his safe place, a bed with high sides and a comfy pillow that sits in front of the den fireplace.

he has a special language when he talks to one of our six cats, a whimper that indicates that he is not a threat and that he wants to be their friend.  one of them, Lucy who was also inherited from our son, is his special friend.  Lucy seems to regard Parker as her child, grooming him and crying when we take him across the street for a walk in the park.  the other cats simply tolerate him, but he never gives up trying to be their friend and asking them to play with him.

looking at him, i often wonder why he is such a gentle soul.  he makes few demands, only an occasional game of fetch with his much-loved cloth bone or his nightly treat.  there is much that we could learn from him: he gives love with no expectation of reward; he never speaks without a reason; he is happy to be with us but is content to be alone; he is fully present for the person who is speaking to him.  would that we all could exhibit these virtues!

may we all have such gentle souls.  may we love unconditionally.  may we not babble needlessly.  may we be at peace with ourselves and with others.  may we treat one another with respect and consideration.  may we follow Parker's example.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Love Came Down at Christmas

christmas day has just passed, and we continue in the season of christmas.  we have sung the familiar words about shepherds and angels, about wise men, about a young man and woman traveling with a host of others to the village of bethlehem, of the birth of a baby in a manger.  we have contemplated the emotions of mary, an unwed mother, and of joseph, the man who is to become her husband.  for many of us, this is a beautiful story that reawakens the childhood joys that christmas brought and continues to bring but one that is not literally true.

on a much deeper level, the story of these events is quite real.  christmas is a reminder of transcendent love that permeates all of creation.  christmas is a reminder that in the darkest time of the year, there is a light shining through the darkness.  there is a promise of the awakening of that which is dormant.  there is the prospect of warm ground that nourishes new life, of crops that will be planted and grow, of flowers that will bloom, of the greening of the earth.  the most important of those crops and flowers and green grass is the renewal of love in our hearts.

it is not that christmas is a once-a-year occurrence.  rather christmas reminds us that our hearts can be filled with love every day, that each day can become a christmas if our hearts and minds will allow it.  every moment is new and can be filled with love if we make the right effort and have the right mindfulness.  love is there for the taking and the giving, and that is the real meaning of christmas.

may we embrace the love that is the message of the tiny baby in bethlehem.  may we remember that when we sing "o come to us, abide with us, our lord emmanuel" we are asking the love the baby embodies to be present in our hearts.  may every day renew the promise of christmas.  shalom

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

American Values?

much has been written about the senate report on torture at the hands of the american government's intelligence apparatus.  i doubt that i have anything to add to what others have written, but i feel compelled to have my say.  the account of what we have done is disturbing.  how can the united states have any credibility in the world if we are guilty of such heinous crimes?  how can we now condemn other regimes for human rights abuses when we have shown such disdain for the rights of others?  why aren't those who were involved being prosecuted?

equally troubling is the attitude of the american public to the actions described in the senate report.  almost half the population believe that torture is justified in the fight against terrorism.  this position is held despite learning from the report that many innocent people were subjected to torture and that little to no useful information was gained.  we discovered that some of those subjected to these horrible "enhanced interrogation techniques" implicated innocents in order to escape further "questioning."  where is the moral outrage among us that ought to accompany publication of the senate report?

the attorney general of the united states, alberto gonzales, who presided over the development of the legal doctrines used to justify the disqualification of these detainees from the provisions of international law and treaty, such as the geneva convention, is now the dean of the law school at belmont university, one of the most prestigious christian universities in the nation.  how can such a person attain such a position?  what does his employment at belmont say about the vaunted christian credentials of belmont?  why should one of those most involved in this sordid business be so honored?

are we so arrogant as a people that we actually believe that we have the right to engage in the most grievous abuses of human rights in order to combat terrorism?  where will such a belief lead us?  we are on very shaky moral ground when we permit such actions to be taken in the mistaken belief that these practices will keep us from harm.  may we disavow any future use of torture for any reason.  may we repent of our past actions, seek to make amends, and prosecute those who engaged in them.  may we decry in the strongest possible language what has been done under the guise of national security.  may we practice what we preach to the rest of the world.   shalom

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

May We Walk Hand in Hand

my thoughts keep returning to the great divisions in american society, to our inability to look at life through the eyes of another.  during the past week, i listened on public radio to a review of a book about the horrors of the slave trade.  i thought of how many americans defended the institution of slavery by citing passages from the bible.  i thought of recent comments by conservatives and neo-confederates suggesting that american slavery was a benign practice that actually benefited those who were enslaved.  i thought of how easy it is to assign those who are different from us into a category of "others," thereby relieving us of the necessity of viewing those "others" as completely human since they are unlike us.

i wonder, too, if it isn't too simplistic to see the police who have been involved in the slaying of unarmed african-americans and, by extension, all police as being a class of "others."  can we have compassion for those who commit acts that we view as immoral and try to see life through their eyes?  should we try to understand what motivated them to kill before trying others avenues to resolve the situations in which they found themselves?  i think we should.  how did we allow our society to become so fearful that we see persons whose skin is a different color from ours as being dangerous.  we must find out why we have become a "shoot-first-ask-questions-later" people.

we are so separated by economic status, by region, by ethnicity, by religion, by sexual orientation that we no longer see ourselves as "one country indivisible."  these thoughts about our alienation from one another caused me to think of jesus' words in the the seventeenth chapter of john's gospel.  in this prayer just before his arrest, jesus repeatedly refers to "oneness."  first jesus prays that the disciples would be one just as jesus and the Father are one.  next he prays that all those who become followers of jesus would also become one: "the glory that you have given me i have given them; so that they may be one, as we are one.  i in them and you in me, that they may become completely one."  finally jesus prays that "the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and i in them."

the only solution to our divisions is to see that we are all the same.  there is no jew or greek, no male or female, no black or yellow or white or brown, no straight or gay.  there are only sentient beings, and we are one.  may we change our thinking so that we will become not just one nation indivisible, but one world indivisible.  may we let go of the fear we have of one another.  may we stop condemning each other to categories that exist only in our wrong-thinking minds.  may we all be well, may we all be happy, may we all be at peace.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Just Imagine

the protests against the killing of unarmed african-american men in the united states continue, becoming more widespread each day, it seems.  white americans often seem baffled by the strong emotions these killings have aroused in the african-american community.  no white person can claim to share the experiences of african-americans that lead to such a response.  regardless of how sensitive some of us wish to be, we white americans have not shared the years, the generations, of repression that has been the reality of our black brothers and sisters.  it seems that many anglos go out of their way to diminish the angst that those most affected by these senseless killings are feeling; this insensitivity seeks excuses, justifications for what amounts to legal murder.

this state of affairs must not continue.  we must not continue to imprison, discriminate against, and kill unarmed men of color.  we dare not perpetuate a predisposition to assume a person is dangerous or criminal because of the color of his skin and his gender.  conservative white americans in general, and the republican party in particular, have pandered to the racism that is endemic in our society.  it's time that we stop standing by and treating this thinly veiled racist political posturing as a legitimate expression of american values that should be treated as a reasonable point-of-view. 

every white american harbors some racist attitudes.  we are all guilty of failing to try to imagine what it must be like to be an african-american, no matter how liberal our politics.  white america needs to be quiet and to listen to the outpouring of rage that is coming from the african-american communities in feguson, in new york, in cleveland, and across the nation.  we must hear the angry voices and all of us must work together to end these attacks on black americans, especially on young black men.  It is time to face up to our shortcomings as a society.

may we have to courage to speak out against those who try to justify police who shoot first and ask questions later.  may we have the compassion to hear the cries of mothers whose sons are killed before a police officer looked for other alternatives to diffuse a situation.  may we understand that some of us assume guilt based on ethnicity and that whites in similar circumstances to the black men who have been killed would have been treated very differntly.  may we imagine what walking in the shoes of another is like.  shalom.