Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our Earthly Rulers Falter

during the past several days donald trump has continued to claim that he was spied on by president obama during the last presidential campaign.  the director of the fbi and other security officials past and present have denied this took place, and members of mr. trump's own party are convinced that this spying never happened.  next mr. trump's press secretary repeated a report from fox news that the british government tapped mr. trump's phones at president obama's behest, an action vehemently denied by the british.  when meeting with angela merkel, mr. trump said that one thing the two had in common was that their phones had been tapped by president obama, repeating his false claim.

these falsehoods are the latest in a long series of lies that mr. trump has repeatedly put forward.  he claimed that president obama's presidency was illegitimate because the president was not "native born," and repeated this lie over and over.  he claimed that he had not supported the invasion of iraq, even though he did so publicly and his taped words were played back ad nauseum.  he repeatedly insisted that the crowd for his inauguration was the largest ever, though live coverage of the event proved otherwise.  after claiming that the electoral system was rigged against him, donald trump was the winner of the election, only to claim that the reason he lost the popular vote was that millions of "illegals" voted for hilliary clinton, an unsubstantiated claim denied by members of his own party and for which he could offer no proof.

mr. trump has a skewed view of the world because of his reliance on news sources that are biased in the direction he favors and is ready to accept as fact any preposterous conspiracy theory these sources put forward.  he relies on advisors who have been a part of the "alt right" rumor mill and has the former head of breitbart news installed in an influential position.  his lies have damaged and continue to damage the credibility of the united states in the world, and his willingness to repeat absurd claims put forward by unreliable news media and propagandists makes the country an object of ridicule on the world stage.  one wonders how long the congress can allow this state of affairs to continue.  how can other governments trust what he says when lies fall so easily and readily from his tongue?  His disingenuousness in making false statements and then saying that he's not claiming to believe them, but only quoting other sources, make him all the more culpable in perpetuating lies because it is the president of the united states who is bringing them to the attention of a wider audience.

he claimed to be on the side of working people in the united states, but the cabinet appointments he has made belie that claim.  he promised a new health insurance law that would provide coverage for everyone, but he is promoting a plan that will actually decrease the number of people who have insurance.  he has proposed a budget that will harm the most vulnerable segments of the population in order to increase spending on the military and security, taking food out of the mouths of the elderly to build instruments of war.

may we call donald trump what he is: a liar and a charlatan.  may we have compassion for him, but may we oppose his policies in every lawful way we can.  may we acknowledge that only someone with great suffering at the core of his being can be so insensitive and callous and wish that his suffering would be assuaged, while at the same time working to prevent his harmful policies from coming to fruition and to counter his lies with truth.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Justice Lingers into Love

i've been trying to imagine what it would be like to be an undocumented immigrant in the usa now.  i read of a young woman in mississippi who came here as a child, a mother in chicago, a father in arizona, and think what it might be like to be in their shoes.  the young woman grew up in the usa and is one of the "dreamers" protected from deportation under the deferred action program instituted under president obama.  the mother is married to an american citizen and her children are american citizens, and the father's children are american citizens.  i read, too, of another father who was taken into custody as he walked his daughter to school.  to be undocumented and to live in constant fear that one will be ripped from one's family, from all that is familiar, must be terrible.  to put a face with these fears, that of the young woman in mississippi, daniela vargas, makes the terror much more real.  she watched as other members of her family were taken into custody while she was left.  only after she spoke publicly of her plight was she apprehended by immigration control and enforcement and sent to a detention facility.  she has since been released, but it is unclear why or if she will be deported at some point in the future.

i am trying, too, to put myself in the place of those who are apprehending undocumented immigrants and beginning the process of deportation.  i find this especially difficult to do.  i know that these government employees have families that love them and, like most americans, they are doing what they can to support themselves and those they love.  what does one feel when one's job is to arrest fathers, mothers, and young adults whose only "crime" is to have entered the country illegally, when one is responsible for taking parents away from their children?  certainly, it's easier to apprehend those who are known criminals and take part in their deportation.  but do the "ice police" have difficulty taking into custody those who are living normal lives, free of criminal activity, caring for and supporting their families, being good neighbors, doing honest work?  could i convince myself as one of those "immigration enforcers" that the work i did benefited the country or anyone in it?

on the one hand, we say that undocumented immigrants are in the country illegally and are therefore criminals, they have broken the laws of the usa simply by being here.  on the other hand, we see that the vast majority of these "lawbreakers" are living productive lives and have come here to help their families.  they are contributing members of society, often doing jobs that many native-born citizens don't want to do.  perhaps one's attitude toward these "illegals" is driven by one's worldview, whether one sees the world in blacks and whites with no gray shading: "the law is the law, and, if we don't enforce it, society breaks down."  or whether one sees the law as the servant of a just and merciful society that looks out for those who are disadvantaged and judges each case on its own merits, considering all the mitigating circumstances.

i think of draconian laws in the past that made criminals of those who stole food to feed themselves and their starving families, that sent those who could not pay their debts to prison, that sent the poor and orphans to live in squalid "workhouses," that put the children of those who could not support those children on "orphan trains" to be sent to other parts of the country to meet an uncertain fate, that seized the land of native americans and sent those natives to live on reservations.  history is rife with instances of laws that blamed the weakest members of society for their situations and that took advantage of the powerless.  just because something is "the law" doesn't make it right, nor does failure to abide by unjust laws make one a criminal, except to those who hold "law" to be more important than humanity.

in the name of securing our safety, we are treating others inhumanely, making criminals of those whose greatest concern is the well-being of their loved ones.  one has to ask if such a course truly makes us safer, or are we creating enemies that did not exist before.  the surest way to create terrorists is to corner the helpless so that their only choices are to give up or to lash out.

may we see the humanity in every person.  may we never see a great mass of criminal "others," but may we see each individual as worthy of our compassion and respect regardless of where each was born.  may our laws protect the helpless and the powerless, and may justice always be tempered by mercy.  may the law of love be our highest law.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Height and Depth Beyond Description

this past sunday, we sang this hymn by new zealander shirley erena murray in church.  the hymn begins with the words, "loving spirit, loving spirit, you have chosen me to be," and goes on to describe God as "mother, father, friend, and lover" in its five stanzas.  i was struck by the imagery in the hymn and by the fact that the word "god" is not used once in the hymn.  i love the lines about God, as a father, hoisting me onto his shoulder so i can see from God's perspective.  in so many ways the hymn captures my thoughts about the nature of God as an all-pervasive Spirit that is a part of everything that exists, the very ground of our being, the essence of the universe itself.  we are each a "sign" of that Spirit/God, called into being by that which is beyond being.

we create our own gods that are like us, imagining gods that exist separate from us, gods who manipulate history so that a pre-determined outcome comes to pass.  we christians often reduce God to a great rule-maker and record-keeper in heaven making marks on a score sheet that will be tallied at the ends of our lives to determine the winners who get into heaven and the losers who do not, or we envision God as the great santa claus who gives us everything we ask for and constantly says to us, who see ourselves as perpetual sinners, "it's ok, i forgive you, i know you can't help yourself because you were born in sin."  we reduce God to what we want God to be, a God that we can blame when tragedy strikes--"i don't know why this happened, it must be God's will"--or an "american" God who is on the side of the usa: a white, protestant, heterosexual god for a white, protestant, heterosexual united states.

but God is much more than our narrow image of God.  God is the essence of good, the origin of compassion and lovingkindness, the presence that vibrates in each particle of matter, beyond knowing and comprehending, yet a part of each of us.  may we not reduce God to what we want God to be.  may we not attempt to use the god of our own creation against those with whom we disagree.  may we not set boundaries on God by trying to contain God in a "sacred" book.  may we worship God by our actions toward ourselves and our fellow creatures, sharing compassion and lovingkindness as the sign of God-in-us.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sweet Bonds That Unite All the Children of Peace

this morning as i sit to write, many thoughts run through my mind.  i find it difficult to quiet the busy chatter in my head.  i flit from thoughts of the fear that many who fear apprehension and deportation must feel to thoughts of the attacks on journalists that are coming from our present administration in washington to the meditation class i'm taking now.  as my fingers move over the keyboard, i am hoping that the act of typing this post helps to calm and focus my mind.

i feel my breath slowing and deepening and look at the black letters beginning to fill the blank white space in front of me.  i focus on the benefits of meditation, on how turning my attention to my breath stills my mind and allows me to sense the place where i am.   i feel the support of my favorite chair and the touch of my upper arm to the arm of the chair.  i feel the weight of my right ankle as it crosses over my left with my left foot resting on the floor in front of the chair.  from the corner of my eye i see our little dog resting in his bed in front of the fireplace.  i hear the roar of the fan on the heat pump as warm air flows into the room.  to my left is my glass of water on the end table and to my right my reading light glows, the only light in the room right now.  in sensing the present, my mind calms and the apprehension about the policies of donald trump fade, though just the thought of his name revives a sense of dread about the future of our country and the pain many are feeling because of what may be in store for them.

i embrace the feeling of anxiety, recognizing that it is a part of the present moment just as the calm that concentration on my breathing is.  the two exist together.  i know that the tension i feel rises from compassion for those whose suffering is increased by mr. trump's policies, and i know, too, that the tension motivates me to actively oppose those policies.  i am filled with hope as i see the protests taking place across the country, the demand that our elected representatives examine the havoc that their policies will wreak on people's lives as anxious citizens fill town hall meetings across the country.  i am filled with hope as i hear of those willing to take risks to shelter those who fear deportation and as law enforcement authorities refuse to cooperate with the federal authorities in apprehending those who are undocumented.  i am filled with hope as those in the "intelligence community" speak out against policies that make our country less safe in the face of double-speak that claims those same policies are intended to make us more safe.

in many ways, we see the unfolding of orwell's novel in the political language we hear.  as federal regulations that protect our environment--our water, our air, the plants and animals that are essential to our well-being--are dismantled we are told it is for our own good, since we will be more prosperous as a result.  our health is less important than our wealth we are told, but the wealth will flow to those who are already wealthy as the great mass of us become poorer and sicker.  targeting those coming into the country because they are from certain "terrorist" countries will make us safer, though no evidence exists that such a policy will do so.  detaining those whose skin is the "wrong" color, whose first name is "suspicious," whose religion is suspect is a prudent exercise of authority we are told, as a british teacher is refused entry and sent back to the united kingdom, as a french academic is held in the airport for hours and is afraid that he will be escorted onto a plane back to france in shackles, as the son of a great american sports hero is held despite ample evidence that he is who he claims to be.  we are supposed to believe that these actions are the acts of a just government, a rightful exercise of authority, examples of the application of the rule of law.

as i write of these unconscionable actions, more indicative of a fascist dictatorship than a free country, the tension level rises and i return to my breath.  my anger is a good thing.  it reminds me that we cannot allow these policies to go unchallenged.  the calm that focusing on my breath and this present moment brings is a good thing, too, helping me to see that this anger, though justifiable, is not who i am, just as mr. trump's policies are not who we are as citizens of the usa.  the anger has to be channeled into constructive courses, it must be tempered by reason and compassion, focusing on helping those who are harmed by what has happened as a result of the last election.

may we who are citizens of this country see that, in order to help ourselves, we must stand up for the values on which our country was founded--that all are created equal with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  may we not tolerate a country where so many live in fear, where the rich become richer at the expense of the poor, where support for the weakest among us is withdrawn in order to build more weapons and train more soldiers, where people are belittled because of their race, religion, physical appearance, or sexual orientation.  may we breathe deeply, behave rationally, and exercise our right to protest the wrongs we see taking place around us.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

So Much to Be Thankful For

this has been a difficult couple of weeks for my wife and me.  we have worked hard to make some repairs in our home and to do some decluttering.  none of the repairs were major but they required some diligent labor, and my body aches from them.  as we look around the house, we are pleased with what we've accomplished.  this morning, my mind turns to the sense of gratification one feels after the completion of a series of goals and the gratitude one feels for having the strength and perseverance to see a job through to its end.

gratitude is an important attribute, one that i often overlook.  there is much to be grateful for--health, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, an abundance of food, more than adequate income, freedom to think-say-write-believe without fear of arrest or persecution, loving family and friends, a nice home--the list could go on and on.  i think of the many who are unable to make such a list, those who are hungry, homeless, poverty stricken, afflicted by disease, those who live in fear, the lonely, through no fault of their own.  they were born in the wrong place or to the wrong family.

why?  why was i so fortunate and they so unfortunate?  i did nothing to deserve the wonderful life i enjoy.  sure, i've worked hard, but without the luck to have been born in this country to a loving family and to have grown up not knowing real want, in many ways to have life handed to me, if not on a silver platter, at least on a pewter one.  without the advantages of my birth and the opportunities that came to me unmerited, my hard work would not have led me to the life i've enjoyed.  it is too easy to condemn those who don't enjoy the privileges that i enjoy, to say that they didn't work hard enough, that their culture is deficient, that their circumstances are of their own making, and sometimes that may be true.  but, too often, those of us who live lives of privilege forget to be grateful and to realize that our privilege results in large measure from blind luck.

so this morning, i think of all that i am grateful for, so little of it earned by my hard work, and i suffer because of those who work just as hard and see so little reward for their labor.  may i never think that i deserve this privileged life that i lead.  may i gratefully acknowledge the fortunate circumstances that have been mine and mourn that all beings have not had such good fortune.  may i do what i can to extend the benefits i've enjoyed to more and more beings, thus living out my gratitude for the blessings i enjoy.  may all be well, may all be happy, may all live in peace.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage

i am becoming increasingly aware that the focus of our church's approach to life is unhealthy and misguided.  in every lesson that is taught at wednesday evening bible study, every sermon that is preached, and every prayer of confession in corporate worship, we are told how unworthy we are as human beings.  the calvinist doctrine of the total depravity of humans is a recurring theme that we hear each time we enter the church for study or worship.  i am sure our minister is unaware of how her emphasis of human frailty when compared to God's greatness beats us down as a congregation.

i long to hear words of encouragement and to be reminded that we are created in God's image.  i want to hear joyful words that celebrate the richness and beauty of creation.  i need to feel loved, valued, and comforted inside the doors of the church.  we spend too little time studying the teachings of jesus and too much time on the failings of the ancient hebrews and paul's criticisms of the early christians.

in the background there is constant sniping and bickering between those who believe our minister should leave and those who are loyal to her.  behind the scenes there is a struggle for power in the church and a demand that other staff members demonstrate absolute loyalty to the minister.  it has come to the point that those who continue to have personal relationships with the critics of our minister are on the "naughty list" of the minister and her allies in the church leadership.  my wife and i have tried not to engage in this infighting, as have many of our friends, but it becomes increasingly difficult to stay above the fray when it is suggested that a staff member may be fired if he talks to members of the wrong faction.

this is not what church is supposed to be.  our participation in church should bring us joy and renewal.  the church should support us as we seek to follow the teachings of jesus.  the church should be honest rather than teaching old myths as fact, while ignoring the valuable lessons that those myths preserve.  we should see each others as sisters and brothers in the family of God, not as members of one faction or another.  as more and more of our members flee this atmosphere, i fear for our congregation's survival as a church.  i don't want to be one of those who abandons the church, but something must change soon or my wife and i will no longer feel welcome.

our minister is a good person at heart.  she wants our church to flourish, but i fear that her inability to reach out to those whom she has hurt and offended stands in the way of healing our divisions.  those who have befriended and been most supportive of her have engendered an attitude of intolerance toward her critics, many of whom have valid points.  bullying of those who dissent by some lay leaders will not bring us together.  it is heart-wrenching to witness the upheaval and bitterness and to be told at every turn that we are unworthy of God's love, that God's grace is all that keeps us from damnation, that we have no redeeming virtues.  where are the words of love that jesus taught?  where is the good shepherd who cares for the sheep?  where is the call of jesus to come to him to find rest, to carry the yoke of his easy burden and bear his light load?

may we who are christians stop dividing one another into sheep and goats.  may we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  may we worship a God of love rather than a god of wrath.  may we abandon petty squabbles and power struggles and embrace one another as members of a family.  may we regard all those who seek to do good and to love others as part of our family regardless of their religion or lack of religion.  may we acknowledge that all suffer and long for love, compassion, and respect.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Clear the Chaos and the Clutter

this past week i stayed home most of the week.  i attended two rehearsals, but other than that i had no commitments to any group or organization.  i had no appointments.  i ran few errands.  instead, i accomplished some major projects in my home and yard, and i feel a great sense of satisfaction.  i had forgotten what it's like to live several days in a row without the call of obligations to church, civic organizations, and volunteer duties interrupting my daily routine.  it was wonderful to get up and know that i had the entire day to do what needed to be done at home.

i realize that i've allowed the needs of the community to overwhelm my life.  i suppose it's the desire to be needed by the larger world that has caused me to become so involved in organizations that make great demands on my time.  because so many others have no trouble saying no when called on to help, i always say yes, and that's not a good thing.  in the process of being the one that others can always count on, it's too easy to lose one's way.  this week of pretty much withdrawing from the world has been good for me, and i'll try to discipline myself to do more of it.

i've checked my calendar for the coming week, and there is one civic organization meeting and two musical rehearsals on it.  i have one big outside project at home that i want to attend to, so i'll build my week around that project.  if it works out that these outside responsibilities interfere, i'll skip some or all of them.  it's time i reclaimed my life!  the little voice inside my head that tells me that i'm being selfish is mistaken.  the organization and the musical groups will go on if i'm absent this one time, but the big task i have to accomplish at home won't get done without me.  that job needs to be done now while i have a few warm days to work outside during february, which is often the coldest month of the year here.

perhaps these simple decisions are trivial ones.  they don't address the destructive policies of donald trump and the republicans in congress.  they don't alleviate hunger or homelessness.  they don't reverse the increasing income equality in this country, promote peace and understanding in the world, or help with the myriad of other problems that are larger than my day-to-day schedule.  yet i feel good about my decisions.  maybe focusing on my little corner of civilization for a couple of weeks will give me a better perspective on how i can use my time wisely for the benefit of myself and others.

may each of us take time to evaluate the effectiveness of our busy lives.  may we step off the merry-go-round of meetings and the constant demands of volunteerism once in a while and focus on what is and isn't important to us.  may we set priorities and boundaries that enable us to be at peace with ourselves and the world around us.  shalom.