Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Fellowship of Love

i am writing this post on a sunday morning, though i won't post it until tuesday morning, as is my custom.  as i thought about what i would (should) write, i began to think about the day to come.  soon i will get up and begin breakfast preparations, first for the six animals in our household--four outside cats, one inside cat, and one dog--and then for the two humans.  after clearing away the breakfast remains, we'll prepare to go to church.

then i thought, "why do we go to church most every sunday morning?"  i no longer believe much of what is taught there, and i feel a certain dishonesty about my faithful attendance.  yet, i need to belong to this collective that is our congregation.  i need to be part of a larger group than my small household or even my extended family.  i need the friendship of these lovely people that i see on sunday mornings, to know that if i fall ill, they will be concerned for my recovery, that if a loved one dies, they will be there to comfort me, that when i return after being away for awhile, they will rejoice that i am back.  while i've moved away from many of the beliefs of my church, i still need, yearn for, the feeling of being part of something that connects me and them by something other than familial ties.

as in any group, there are those who need to control, cliques and individuals who want things to be done as they want them done.  right now, there are some in our congregation agitating for the dissolution of our connections to the national body of which our congregation is a part, and this desire to pull away is difficult to watch.  there are always those who cannot tolerate other points-of-view, who want to act as the inquisitors who enforce orthodoxy, and we have those among us.  yet, on the whole, those who are my friends in our church are lovely people, folks who are there because they treasure our connections with one another and who are more concerned about showing compassion than about controlling the institutional apparatus.

as my beliefs have transformed and as i've watched our congregation taking official positions which i find painful and lacking in love, i've thought about severing my ties with the church.  it may become necessary to do that if those who are most power-hungry get their way.  the problem is that there is no other group in our community to turn to if i turn away from this group, none that can come close to satisfying my need to belong unless i'm willing to accept impossible terms.

as i sit here on this sunday morning, i look forward to seeing these friends again, to making music with them, to repeating familiar words with them, to greeting them and inquiring about the week gone by and their health.  if this were gone, i would feel very sad on sunday mornings, and i think that sadness would carry over into the days that follow.  i watch and wait, hoping for the best, preparing myself for what may come, enjoying these friendships as long as i can.

may each of us find a place to belong, a group filled with camaraderie and compassion.  may we be true to ourselves and learn the futility of believing that we can control the lives of others or the events that are a part of our daily lives.  may we seek truth and follow it wherever it leads us.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger

my wife and i have returned from our travels to washington and new york with many fond memories, lots of laundry, and tons of pictures to be sorted through.  as we inevitably do when we travel, we found kind strangers who helped us along the way.    i'll write about three of them in today's post.

the first was a young man we sat with on the subway as we returned to our apartment late at night from the opera.  since my wife and i are obviously senior citizens, two old folks out at that hour piqued his curiosity, so he asked where we had been so late at night.  learning that we had been to see madam butterfly, he told us how much he enjoyed opera, though he wasn't able to go on a regular basis.  as we talked, we learned that his parents were in spain, that in a few minutes when midnight struck he would turn twenty-five, that he was a dominican-american, and that his grandfather had been the dominican ambassador to the united states.  he was on his way uptown to the stop before ours to join some friends to celebrate his birthday.  we had a wonderful conversation with him, and he was happy to have found an older couple to wish him a "happy birthday" since his parents were not there to do so in person.  as he left us to go to his birthday party, we were amazed at how this stranger had taken us into his life and had been genuinely interested in ours.

later in our trip, my wife sat next to man in the subway who struck up a conversation with her.  we were obviously tourists with our camera bags, and he asked where we were from.  upon learning that we came from arkansas and texas, he began asking us about what we had seen and planned to see while we were in new york.  after my wife shared our trip experiences and plans with him, he began to list other new york attractions that might interest us.  as he talked about the wonders of new york, my wife questioned him for more details about his suggestions.  before we realized it, we were at the stop where he and we left the subway for our apartments.  as he walked away in the opposite direction, he wished us well and encouraged us to come back to new york because there was no way we could see everything he and my wife had discussed in one trip.

after going out to eat in mid-town, we got on the subway, and i wound up standing next to a lady holding a small suitcase in front of her.  i spoke to her and asked her how she was.  she was amazed that this stranger had greeted her and asked, "what did you say?"  i repeated myself, and she responded.  she turned to my wife, who was seated on the other side of her, and said, "what a nice husband you have."  they began to talk, and from my vantage point, i could hear little of what they said.  as soon as a seat was available, i sat across from them and watched their conversation, still unable to hear them.  they talked animatedly until she left the train one stop before us.  when we got back to our apartment, i asked my wife about their conversation.  she said that they had talked like old friends about the presidential campaign, the folk-dancing class the lady was on her way to, our trip, and their daily lives.  we both remarked that it only took a simple greeting for this lovely lady to open up and share a bit of her life with a stranger on the subway.

one often hears about the rudeness or, at best, the indifference of new yorkers, but that has never been our experience.  there were many others who showed us kindness--the young woman who, in the process of giving us directions on the subway platform, dropped her phone down beside the track; the man who saw her plight and jumped off the platform to recover her phone for her; the waitress who treated us with kindness that went far beyond the requirements of her job, the kind private bus driver who gave us a lift to the entrance to The Cloisters when we asked him for directions, just to mention a few.  wherever we go, we find that most people want to help and to make human contact with others, even perfect strangers.  we humans are alike once you get past the superficial differences that we allow to separate us, and we find that kindness is far more prevalent that indifference or cruelty.

may we remember that there are no real strangers, that every person is our father, our mother, our sister, our brother, our child.  may we know that when we treat another with kindness, we are expressing that-of-god within us.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Off the Grid

My wife and I are traveling, so I will not post again until mid-April most likely.  Shalom.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guard Each One's Dignity?

a few evenings ago i sat in the choir loft during our church's maundy thursday service and thought about forgiveness.  i had just witnessed another choir member speak unkindly to my wife during our rehearsal for the service.  a few moments later, this person tried to make amends, and i wondered if my wife was able to let go of the hurt that curt words had caused.  i thought, too, of the strife in our church, with some seeking control by withholding financial support to protest various disagreements with the church:  dislike of the minister, the national church's position on various issues, sundry hurts like the one my wife had just suffered.

and here we sat in a service where we meditated on jesus taking the role of a servant as he washed the feet of his disciples, of jesus blessing bread and wine knowing that one of those closest to him was in the process of betraying him, of jesus going out to pray in the face of the torment he knew was coming soon, of jesus being abandoned by those he had nurtured and taught over the past months.  i thought of jesus saying,  "forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing," as he hung on the cross.

on another evening, my wife and i watched an episode of the pbs series, "grantchester."  this episode revolved around the murder of a gay man in a public restroom where he had gone for a liaison with another man.    in the closing scene the young gay man who was to have been the partner of the victim tells sidney, the anglican priest who is the series' central character, that, while sidney's argument in favor of one's right to privacy is admirable, the real need is for society to acknowledge that everyone has the right to be who they truly are, that none should have to hide behind the right to privacy to find their place in society.

the maundy thursday service and this episode of one my favorite shows highlight the human tendency to want to control.  the religious authorities wanted to control the practice of the jewish religion, to stop jesus from teaching views that threatened the accommodation they had made with the roman authorities.  the radical teachings of jesus were leading people to a view of the religion that diminished the power of the priests in the temple, and jesus had to be eliminated so that control over the people could be maintained.  english society believed it necessary to control the accepted pattern of relationships, limiting conjugal relations to those between a man and a woman.  same-sex attraction could be tolerated so long as sexual encounters between two men or two women remained discreet and hidden--don't ask, don't tell.  once these encounters became public, they had to be quashed.

we are quick to condemn religion for the suffering it causes, but i wonder if religion is the true cause of the suffering for which it is blamed.  perhaps religion is an excuse for our propensity to seek control over others and over events.  we cloak the fiction of control in a mantle of morality to hide our ugly motives.  we pretend that those who threaten the status quo are dangerous, threats to the established order that must be dealt with.  we rail against deviation from what we consider normal, rather than seeking to understand those whose desire for love and to love seems to be unlike our own.  yet when we put aside our fear of that which is different, we find that at our core we are very much alike.  we proclaim that we know the will of god when all we are doing is projecting our own ignorance by creating a god of our own making.

may we let go of the pretense of control and replace that impossibility with acceptance.  may we recognize our inability to force others to adopt our narrow views.  may we love without judgment, seeing ourselves in others.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Let Us with a Gladsome Mind

From time to time, it seems helpful to restate what i believe, so yesterday morning i made this list.  it's certainly not a final list, but it's where i am right now.  i have moved away from belief that depends on any "sacred" text or a systematic theology, and i am happy with the direction i am going.  

1. there is a first cause, a creator, who caused all things to come into being.
2. control over events and other beings is an impossible illusion.
3. we live in the garden of eden with a mind that makes it possible to solve every problem by using our own reason.
4. our response to the god who created all things should be one of gratitude for giving us what we need to solve our problems.
5. it is unreasonable to expect god to solve our problems for us.
6. everything-that-is vibrates with the energy of god's love.
7. religions that cause suffering for ourselves and for others should be abandoned in favor of the religion of kindness.
8. all things are interconnected.
9. we are related to every other human being, and, beyond superficial differences, we are all the same.
10. letting go of the belief that we are in control and forsaking the belief that we can control others is the source of happiness.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Through Days of Toil

there are times when i long to be away from my everyday life, to hop in the car and flee, to abandon the responsibilities that tie me to one place.  i don't know that that's a bad thing to do.  we become bogged down in the day-to-day routines, and pushing them aside allows us to see our lives from a different perspective.  breaking away from the norm often helps us to focus on what's important and to assess if we've allowed things that are not essential to crowd out what is truly important.

yet, one can't live a life devoid of responsibility.  getting away requires much preparation.  someone has to see that the animals are fed.  the bills have to be taken care of.  those who depend on us must be notified that we won't be available so that they can make other arrangements.

soon my wife and i will take off on a series of trips.  first, we'll go to spend some time with relatives/friends who live a couple of hundred miles from us.  after that, we'll make a trip to new york and washington.  shortly after we return from that trip, we'll make another trip of two hundred or so miles to be with family.  by the time all that is done, i'm sure we'll be longing for time back at home with the luggage stored for awhile, and i expect we will be happy to assume those cares which now weigh us down.  our time away from them may allow us to discover ways to trim down those cares and to strip away some burdens that we see are unnecessary.  that's the great reward of escaping for awhile, along with the new experiences of the journey.

still, without a deep joy in life, these escapes are nothing more than momentary distractions, pleasures that soon dissipate.  cares arise, needs must be addressed.  they are a part of life.  we cannot escape them.  we can only push them away for a short while.  if we use our time away from them to imagine that life can be carefree, we fool ourselves, imagining an unreal life that is impossible to achieve.  it is far better to employ our retreat to assess how to streamline our lives, how to sift the essential from the nonessential.  life is not what happens between the escapes from it.  the escapes must be a part of life, too, means to achieve better balance.

may we see that life flows on, sometimes in a torrent, sometimes tranquilly, but nevertheless it flows on.  may fleeting joys and cares be seen as ripples on the surface that don't disturb the deep waters of happiness.  may we take time to differentiate between the ripples and the underlying current.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Blind (Un)belief Is Sure to Err

last week during the midweek bible study at our church, the minister read a passage from exodus popularly known as the "song of moses and miriam."  this song is purported to have been sung just after the hebrew people crossed the dry bed of the red sea after god had parted the waters for them and as they watched pharoah's army being swallowed up as the sea returned to its original state.  when she reached verse three, she stopped.  in her translation, the first line of that verse read, "the lord is a man of war."  she asked if that troubled any of us as it did her.  she said it was difficult for her to envision God as a "man of war."  i spoke up to say that the "man" part of the verse was troubling to me, and before i could elaborate, she said, "that troubles you, not the entire 'man of war' phrase?"  i said, "well, that too, but it is the 'man' part that is most troubling for me."

she didn't want to involve us in a conversation about my reservations and went on to explain why we should understand that God is both a God of war and a God of peace, before continuing with her lesson that covered several other biblical passages.  i left the bible study deeply troubled.  for the first time, i was forced to accept that in our church we are not free to discuss the problem with taking the bible literally.  i feel certain that our minister knows that the story of the hebrews' escape from egypt under the leadership of moses is not true, but she did not even allude to that in her lesson.  i wonder how she can go on supporting the understanding that many of our congregation have by failing to seek deeper meaning in the myths of the bible while dwelling on superficial readings of it that disguise the truth behind the myths.

her lesson was concerned with the bible's ideas of praising God through various old and new testament passages, but how can we adopt ideas that praise a god that is created in our image rather than the other way around?  why did jesus say that "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth" (john 4:24) if "God is a man of war?"   how can we tiptoe around the inconsistencies and the mythic qualities of the bible to avoid confronting the danger of taking it as a history book?  i suspect that if our minister were to begin teaching that there was no exodus, no enslavement of the hebrews in egypt, no moses, and no conquest of the promised land by the jewish people under joshua's leadership she would find herself out of a job.  i can understand her unwillingness to destroy or cause feelings of doubt in many of her parishioners, but i can't accept being silenced when i begin to raise these questions.  i know that i am not alone among our congregation in my views about the bible; there are others of "liberal" theological persuasion.

i want to be accepted in our church without having to remain silent about my views that are not in accord with what the majority believe.  if we are so narrow in our views that we cannot tolerate any dissent from orthodoxy, we leave no room for discovery of many important truths.  questioning is important, and those who push against the boundaries of an easy acceptance, those who refuse to adopt a faith that is unreasonable, are necessary to keep us from falling into the trap of empty ritual and blind acceptance.  God gave us reasoning minds, and i can't believe in a God that expects me to silently accept that which seems unreasonable.

may we never settle into an easy faith.  may we seek truth and go where our seeking leads us, even when the path is dangerous.  may we be thorns in the side of orthodoxy.  shalom.