Tuesday, July 25, 2017

To Love Them As We Find Them

a few days ago we went to a concert in a nearby town.  the performers were excellent, and i was impressed by their talent and skill.  in the course of the concert, they performed a few sacred pieces with obvious sincerity.  they were not a "wear-your-religion-on-your-sleeve" sort of group, but from the sacred pieces they performed and a couple of comments during the concert, one could tell that their religious beliefs were central to their lives.

i caught myself thinking smugly that these performers were gullible to be taken in by orthodox fundamentalist christianity.  "how could musicians who were so classically well-trained espouse such nonsense," i thought, as the concert proceeded to its conclusion.  later in the evening, when i had some time to reflect on my reaction, i was ashamed of myself.  who was i to belittle, even mentally, anyone else's beliefs?  though i don't agree with their implied beliefs, there is no reason for me to look down my nose at others because they believe differently from me or because they are not shy about communicating their faith to others.

i've rejected much of christian orthodoxy and think that christian fundamentalism is a harmful influence on our country, but there are many good, bright people who espouse orthodox, fundamentalist christianity.  i have no monopoly on the truth, and i have to right to condemn others unless the practice of their beliefs results in harm to me or anyone else who disagrees with them.  the performers i heard didn't rail against any political or ethnic group; they didn't belittle anyone else's lifestyle.  they expressed their faith sincerely without any attempt to convert members of the audience and without ridiculing anyone.  from their public persona, it appeared that they were the sorts of folks with whom one could have a polite discussion of opposing positions, rather than the rabid, angry fundamentalists that are ready to send those who disagree with them to eternal damnation.

may i not be so ready to put down those who hold beliefs that i've come to view as superstitions.  may i look beyond someone else's faith that seems naive to me and see the person who is often kind, gentle, and generous.  may i love those who disagree with me.  may i abandon smugness and feelings of superiority towards those who embrace beliefs that i see as unreasonable.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

All Your Dreams Are on Their Way

i realized as i awakened from last night's sleep that our lives are settling into familiar patterns.  our house is more in order.  my wife worked hard last week to straighten up two small rooms that have been piled high with boxes and small items that we hadn't figured out a place for, and now they are lovely rooms that we're not embarrassed to have guests go in.  there are still lots of unfinished tasks, but the house looks nice and we are no longer reminded of how much is left to do as we look around it.  that garage is still a mess, but we have storage cabinets coming that will allow us to unpack the remaining boxes and store their contents in good order.

we're having our family who live here over for lunch, and my wife has cooked a great meal from scratch for us to enjoy.  this is the second "from scratch" meal she has cooked in our new kitchen; last week the two of us had a meal of delicious vegetables and pork chops.  i've worked out a system for getting the yard mowed and the weed-eating done that doesn't leave me completely exhausted after it's all done.  so life begins to feel more normal.  we've even planned a trip that will last almost two weeks for late october and early november, our first pleasure trip since we put our former home on the market in late january.

the long journey from the home we lived in for thirty years to a new home several hours away and 250 miles north now feels like it has come to an end.  our fatigue at the end of each day is not so hard to bear because an end to the days of unpacking, sorting, and placing the contents of several hundred boxes is in sight.  what felt like someone else's home that we had taken over begins to feel like it belongs to us, as we look around at familiar objects arranged the way we like them.  the second house guests from our old locale will arrive later today for a couple of nights' visit, and it's good to be welcoming old friends into what has become "our" home.

this transition has taken a lot out of us, but as i look back on the difficulties i am convinced that it was worth it.  being able to feel at peace here and to look off the deck at the beauty of nature--the mountains, the forest, the sky--makes the move worth it.  breaking free of our old routine and establishing a new "normal" here has reinvigorated us, despite the aches and pains.  as i think back on what we've been through and the journey to where we are now, i am inspired to examine my interior life and question the old routines i've brought here with me.  perhaps it's time for a re-examination of those stale patterns and the development of new ones to animate my heart, mind, and spirit.  more about that later!

may each of us find ways to renew our lives, to cast off old ways that no longer serve us well.  may we see that the pains that are a part of big changes are worth it in the end.  may we be grateful for the strength to carry on despite the pain, and may we embrace the pain as a necessary part of realizing our goals and dreams.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

All That Have Life and Breath

as we've worked through the chores of moving--packing, loading, unloading, unpacking, lifting, tugging, reaching--i've been reminded of the process of my own aging.  i hurt, from the bottoms of my feet to my facial muscles i hurt.  the aches and pains that used to be relieved by a couple of good nights' sleep don't go away so easily.  those aches and pains remind me that the end of my life is not so many years away, that most of my life is in the past.

i think of the frailty of life and how life can be snatched from us when we least expect it.  a young woman we knew in our former town was found dead recently in the home of a friend for whom she was house-sitting.  she was expecting a baby, and both she and the child she was carrying died instantly when she fainted and hit her head, snapping her neck.  she had been filled with excitement about life, as she looked forward to the birth of her child and had just moved into a new, larger apartment so she would have room for a nursery.  now she's gone, and the life she had imagined with her baby was taken from her in a flash.

here i sit at age seventy, having lived a full, rich life.  i've seen so many things as i've traveled all over the world.  i have two wonderful children.  i've spent almost 49 years with a wife that i adore.  i've had a rewarding career.  though there's much i want to do before my life ends, if it ended right now, i would die happy and fulfilled.  every day we wake up is a gift that needs to be appreciated.

may we relish each moment we have breath.  may our lives be filled with gratitude for the amazing gift of lives filled with rich experiences.  may we pay attention to the small joys that are ours throughout each day.  may we live each day as if it were our last.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Our People Drift and Die

i have been so focused on the difficulties of our move that i have largely ignored what is happening in our government and the difficult issues that confront us.  now that my wife and i can begin to see an end to the unpacking and organizing of our belongings in our new home and as we celebrate the anniversary of our country's beginning, i'm becoming engaged with politics and governance once more.  two things have captured my attention.

the first is our president's continuing attacks on the press and particularly his latest tweets on msnbc commentators joe scarborough and mika brzezinski.  mr. trump's cruel remarks about brzezinski's appearance and intelligence, his belittling of their show, and the name-calling ("crazy joe," "crazy mika," "psycho joe") are unworthy of the office of president.  his pattern of attacking those who criticize his policies in the most personal, and often untruthful, ways is contemptible.  moreover, they are dangerous to our democracy.  mr. trump encourages those who choose reportage that reinforces their own preconceived beliefs and who refuse to examine facts that are presented to them in an unbiased way, labeling any news that contradicts their point of view as "fake."  without a free and vigorous press, our democratic values cannot survive.

the second issue that is worrying to me is the ongoing push to repeal the affordable care act and replace it with legislation that will be harmful to millions of people, including those with serious medical conditions, the poor, children, and the elderly.  the callous posturing of the leaders of the republican majority in congress who have relentlessly portrayed the aca as a complete failure and their indifference to the suffering their replacement legislation will cause demonstrates their lack of concern for ordinary americans and their desire to further enrich those at the top of the economic ladder at the expense of everyone else.  we are fortunate to have several republicans who have opposed their efforts and refused to go along with the legislation put forward in the senate.  now mr. trump and some republican legislators have suggested that the aca be repealed with no replacement adopted in its place, a move that would throw health care in the usa into a panic that will cause further suffering.  the republicans have painted themselves into a corner with their constant campaigning to repeal "obamacare" and are incapable of taking the more reasonable and compassionate route of tweaking the existing legislation to make it work better.

one can only hope that those who voted for the present regime will regret what they have done and take a different course in the mid-term elections and the next presidential election.  may we resist those in power who threaten our institutions like the free press.  may we vote for a more compassionate and reasonable government when we have the opportunity.  may we condemn rhetoric from those in power that belittles and insults those who question their policies and actions.  may we return to civil discourse that respects opposing points of view.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Still There Is Hope When the Doors Are Closed

this morning as i sit to write, my body aches from lifting many, many boxes and moving many, many pieces of furniture.  i have bruises and cuts on my legs, arms, and torso.  around me in the kitchen bowls and dishes are piled on the counter tops.  but slowly, things are being put in their proper places.  the stacks of boxes in the garage are getting smaller.  two of the three cats have adjusted well to their new home and are now residing on the back deck instead of in the garage--we're not certain when the last cat will make the transition.  the three bedrooms are in good order, and we can sit in the den without boxes surrounding us.

it's amazing how things are beginning to shape up.  for a while, we were overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of unpacking thirty years worth of accumulated precious things, but, as we've bitten off little pieces each day, the end of what seemed impossible is now in sight.  we can even begin to think of getting outside and working to bring the overgrown shrubbery back under control and ridding the beds of the vines and other weeds that have begun to take over.

life is full of seemingly impossible goals that can only be accomplished by hacking away at the work to realize them steadily, a bit at a time.  we can't make world hunger disappear but we can help feed a few of the hungry in our own communities.  we can't eliminate poverty everywhere all at once, but we can contribute to organizations that are enabling poor families to support themselves.  we can't house all the displaced people in the world, but we can promote efforts to open our country, state, and town to refugees of war, famine, and persecution.  if each of us does a little, a lot will be accomplished.  we must not give up because the needs are so great.

may we do our part each day to make life better for others.  may we not be so absorbed in our own lives that we forget that others are suffering just as we are.  in loving ourselves, may we also share love with others.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes Unto the Hills

from the windows of the kitchen in our new home where i sit each morning for my daily meditation i can see the mountains in the distance.  each day they have a different appearance.  one morning the clouds were dark and flowed over them rapidly in our direction; another morning the pink glow of the new day peeked over them, bathing them in a beautiful light.  this morning the peaks of some have disappeared in a mist, while others are barely visible.  i am amazed that each day a new picture presents itself from the kitchen windows.  the mountains are unchanged, yet their appearance is always different.  how fortunate i and all others who look in the direction of the mountains are!

when i consider the beauty that presents itself each day, i am enveloped in a great peace.  the mystery of nature's wonders is the deepest sort of religious experience.  in the face of such an experience, all things seem possible:  the elimination of poverty, hunger, and homelessness, the cessation of our inhumanity to one another, the end of prejudices and the persecution that flows from them, protection of our planet from the ravages of our greedy ill treatment.  one wonders how our race can allow so many evils to continue when it is within our power to change.  what is our motivation to harm others and the planet on which we live?

it seems to me that we are presented with two opposing visions of our purpose here.  one vision promotes competition between us to control more and more, a constant striving to enrich oneself at the expense of others.  the other sees us all in the same boat, needing to paddle in the same direction without any one of us striving for control of another's paddle as we all move in the same direction in a spirit of mutual cooperation.  we have the ability to end the suffering caused by hatred, war, greed, and pride, to stop craving that which we do not need and to stop clinging to that which is not necessary for our existence.  will we give up the quest for power and control and work together to end as much suffering as we can, or will we continue along the path that pits us against one another?

for me, the mountains are a silent testimony to the right course of action.  the mountains make no deals, they do not strive for more and more.  they simply are, gracing us with beauty that is fresh each morning.  we can be like the mountains, content to be, new each moment yet somehow always the same.  we can let go of our clinging and craving and, in so doing, allow suffering to dissipate for ourselves and others.

may we see our common humanity.  may we let go of those things which cause suffering for ourselves and for others.  may the struggle for power and control cease, as we embrace loving kindness and compassion.  shalom.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rest Comes Sure and Soon

we continue to unpack boxes and spend much of our time looking for things we've unpacked and put away in places that are unfamiliar to us.  yesterday, though, we spent the day traveling to, attending, and returning from my uncle's funeral.  he was the last in our family of the generation that preceded ours.   our parents and all their siblings are now gone.  my dad's brother celebrated his 100th birthday last february and was in good health then.  in may he came down with the flu, then with pneumonia, and he didn't have the strength to recover.  his passing marked the end of an era, making my generation the elders of the family.

his funeral was held in the cemetery where he is to be buried beside his wife and son.  as we set in the covered pavilion open on all sides to the beautiful trees in the cemetery, i thought about how fitting the site was.  my uncle loved the outdoors.  he had carried on the family tradition of operating a sawmill and was an expert on every kind of tree that is native to this part of the country.  the views of the leaves rustling in the gentle breeze reminded me of how he had lived his life, as had my dad, his father, and his father's father and generations before them.

as the minister spoke the usual words of comfort, assuring those present that my uncle was now reunited with loved ones that have gone before, i wondered whether those words are true.  i'm not content to take scattered passages of the bible about life after death and resurrection as literal truth.  it doesn't worry me that i may not spend eternity with my parents and grandparents wandering around a city with gold-paved streets after passing through gates made of pearl.  i can't accept that anyone can speak with authority about what happens after our bodies take their last breaths.  i'm content to wait for whatever may happen.

i want to believe that there is something for us after this life is over, but i'm more concerned with what happens now.  what's important is how i live my life in the present; the future can take care of itself.  i hope that i get a chance to improve on the failings of my present life, but my greatest hope is that i will live a good life in the here and now, a life filled with loving-kindness and compassion.  i hope that each day i will live more skillfully than i did the day before.  i hope that when i pass i will leave a legacy of having made life better for those my life touched.  i hope that i will live on in the memories of others and that those memories will be good ones, just as my memories of my uncle are.

may each of us live fully in the present, unconcerned about what happens after this life is over.  may our hearts be open to all of life's experiences and may we rejoice in the gift of each breath we take.  may our troubles be transient, tinged with the joy of living mindfully.  may we love and be loved.  shalom.