Tuesday, August 14, 2018

That's What Life Is All Ablout

we are friends with a couple that we've known for many years.  we enjoy going on trips with them, frequently go out to eat together, play cards with each other, and generally love spending time together.  both the husband and wife are considerate, kind people, but in their interactions with one another they are not so kind and considerate.  the wife complains about her husband frequently, and he persists in actions that he knows annoy his wife and cause extra work for her.  she does not have a college degree, and he does, and he often speaks to her dismissively, suggesting in both the content of his speech and the tone of his voice that her opinion is unworthy of consideration.  their son, who lives with them, speaks to his mother in the same manner, no doubt taking his cue from his father without realizing what he is doing.

it pains us to see how they treat each other.  my wife is constantly telling her female friend that she doesn't understand why the couple can't just talk with each other about the things that pit them against one another and resolve these ongoing conflicts.  they've been married for over fifty years, and i suppose the dynamic of their relationship has taken that long to develop and can't be changed without great effort on both their parts, something that neither husband nor wife has the inclination to do.  watching them together has made my wife and i more conscious of how we treat one another, and i think we are more considerate of each other because we see how inconsiderate our friends are in their dealings with their partner.

i catch myself being curt with my wife from time to time, and i am reminded of my own imperfections and the ease with which each of us can slip into treating the person we love most with an unkindness that we would never visit on anyone else.  the object of much of my meditation time lately has been becoming more mindful of how i speak to my spouse and stopping myself before i speak to her in an inconsiderate manner.  we both find that, the more we treat each other with kindness and respect, the more that treatment is returned to us.  i've heard it said that one can tell the true measure of a person by observing how that person behaves towards those who are dearest, and i think there's a great deal of truth in that.  why is it easier to be kind to strangers and friends than it is to those we love the most?  i suppose we assume that our loved ones will find forgive us more readily and tolerate our foibles more than those who know us less well.

may we work to make lovingkindness and respect the hallmarks of our interactions with every person, including those we love most.  may we treat one another as we wish to be treated.  may we never stop developing care for those around us, realizing that each of us can become more kind and considerate no matter how long we live.  may our actions demonstrate that we love one another.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

When I Come to Die

in some ways those who have been diagnosed with an incurable disease and know with some precision when to expect death are fortunate.  they can make preparations: get their affairs in order, say goodbye to family and friends, make amends where needed, and make peace with themselves.  for most of us, death comes unexpectedly, bringing an abrupt end to our existence.  i suppose the lesson in this is that we should always be prepared for death.

as i've aged, i know that the end is much closer.  i jokingly tell myself and others that i plan to live to be at least 125, but the likelihood of that happening becomes more and more remote with each passing day.  so death is on my mind much more that it was in my younger days.  my wife and i have told our children what we want to happen upon our death--no funeral service, to be cremated and our ashes scattered in a beautiful location, a marker placed on the grave plot of my parents who were also cremated.  we've told them a little about our finances, but we haven't made written notes for them, something that we need to do in the near future.

i think of what may happen after this life is over.  i'm okay with becoming a part of the earth, of living on in the life that my remains nourish and in the memories of those who knew me.  i'm hoping that reincarnation is more than a superstition, that i'll have more chances to grow toward enlightenment.  i have serious doubts about the christian idea that when we die, if we believe the right things, we'll go to spend eternity in some paradise.  that seems the most unlikely scenario of what happens upon death, though it would be great if true.  i won't spend any time worrying about whether i'm "right with God" in order to be whisked away to eternal bliss in a golden city to play my harp in perpetuity.

change is our only constant.  nothing is as it was a millisecond before.  i'm learning to accept the changes in my body and in the world around me.  i know that everything comes to an end and is replaced by something different.  this body that has served me so well, the house where i live, the town in which i live, this country--nothing is forever.  one day, those in whose memories i live on will be gone along with those memories.  but even then, i'll live on in the good or ill i've inspired in others.  i'm fortunate to be able to say that my children are good people, kind, thoughtful, caring, spreading good will around them among their coworkers and friends.  they are full of love for others and for life, and, while i can't take all the credit for that, i know that i've played a role in what they have become and are becoming.  i am gratified that through them my influence for good, if not the memory of my life, is being carried on through countless lives.

may we be grateful for the chance to make the world a better place in large or small ways.  may we remember that there is great joy in life and great relief in death and prepare ourselves for both.  may we live lives filled with gratitude for all the opportunities life affords us.  may we meet our end knowing that we did what we could to make the most of the days we had.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

To Do the Truth in Love

i've been filling in as organist at one of our local churches while they search for a new musician.  friends who are familiar with the congregation have warned me that, as long as i am willing to help them out, the church won't seriously try to find a permanent player.  i know that's probably true, so last week i went in to talk with the pastor.  i told him that i had already retired twice as a church staff member, and i don't intend to make this a third time to retire, and i gave him a deadline of sorts for when i would go back to what i considered my "home" church so that they would need to have found someone by that time.

i pointed out several factors in their situation that would make it difficult to find a new organist.  the instrument needs major repairs, there seems to be little planning beyond week-to-week, and the pay is far below the going rate, especially if an organist has to drive in from another town.  i explained, as he probably already knew, that one reason trained church musicians are so scarce is that churches don't pay a living wage to musicians, so why would someone invest years to train and pay for expensive lessons for a pauper's wage.

the minister is new to the church, and i'm sure he has his hands full trying to figure out how to mend serious divisions within the church, make his own plans for how best to serve the church, get to know those who attend there, and find his way around the community.  yet, the lack of an organist is a serious problem for the church, and there seems to be no one else in the community who is not already committed to playing at a church.  the one sunday that i had to be gone during the past month, they had no one to play, and people noted the hole that having to sing with guitar accompaniment and to sing unaccompanied left in the service.  several commented on how much they missed the organ and how much they loved hearing its sound in leading worship.

i feel a bit guilty that i may be put in the position of leaving them in the lurch with no one to play for worship.  i love playing and enjoy having the opportunity to play, but i don't enjoy being tied down every weekend and having to take time away from my life with my wife and from my responsibilities at home to go practice every day.  as i've thought about this situation, i've realized that, if the folks in this church love the organ music as much as they say, they would figure out a way to hire someone for a decent wage, do a better job of planning, and repair a deficient instrument.  it's not a poor congregation, and they have money to pay for three other full-time employees.  they have lots of children in the church, but no children's choir.  they have a good many teens, but no musical activities for them.  they have handbells and an excellent handbell music library but no handbell choir.  they have a nice choral music library, but use photocopies of second-rate anthems for a choir of only eight or so singers.  when i look at all these resources and the potential for a vibrant music program, my guilt eases.  the situation leads me to think that their words about their love for music are not sincere enough to do what's needed to not only hire an organist but to employ a full-time music director/organist who could enrich the life of the church in so many ways.

time will tell whether they will bite the bullet and do what needs to be done and whether i will leave them to fend for themselves musically.  i suspect that when the deadline i've given them arrives, i'll stay a bit longer, but eventually the call to return to my life of retirement will be stronger that the call to play every sunday.  in the meantime, i will hope for the best for them and for me.

may we not allow the needs of others to keep us from meeting our own needs.  may we see that neediness can be a way of manipulating others to do what we ought to do for ourselves.  may we see that jesus' call to serve others was not a call to ignore the needs in our own lives and remember that he called us to love others as we love ourselves.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Standing in the Living Present

last sunday i played for a church service in one of the churches in our town, filling in while the congregation searches for a new organist.  the minister preached on the doctrine of the trinity, and the hymns were all based on that theme.  the first hymn was "come, thou almighty king."   among the stanzas were these words: "father, all glorious, o'er all victorious, come and reign over us; gird on thy mighty sword; give thy word success; thou who almighty art; thy sov'reign majesty may we in glory see."  now, such language is not all that unusual in christian hymns, but i find it troubling.  the image of god on a throne ruling over humankind, enlisting followers in an army to conquer sin and, by implication, those who refuse to submit to the christian religion, is one that we ought to abandon.  this idea of God as an absolute ruler with all of us as subjects is archaic and contrary to the teachings of jesus.  what does a loving father need with a "mighty sword?"

we sing such words thoughtlessly because we've heard them all our lives, and their familiarity makes them attractive to us.  but words have meaning, and we need to examine them to see if we believe them to be true.  "onward, christian soldiers" is a fun hymn to sing, with a catchy tune by sir arthur sullivan of gilbert-and-sullivan fame, but it's so chockfull of imperialist imagery that most recent hymnals do not include it.  another such hymn that is still in many modern hymnals is "lead on, o king eternal," which is filled with martial and monarchial imagery, though the second stanza makes it clear that the armament of the christian is "deeds of love and mercy," rather than "swords loud clashing."  a favorite of mine that has been abandoned by most newer hymanls is "not alone for mighty empire."  this is a hymn with a wonderful tune that shifts from minor to major in the middle and is quite stirring.  the tune, "geneva" by george henry day, has been retained in many hymnals with other texts, and it is that tune that makes the older hymn memorable, rather than the words.

i'm glad that the editors of hymnals are more sensitive to the texts that are included than we who sing from them often are.  i hope that the trend toward abandoning hymn texts with militaristic, imperialistic, undemocratic, and racist language continues, so that eventually we will no longer reinforce such language by using it in our worship.  even when we mindlessly sing these words, the ideas creep into our minds and we proclaim them as heartfelt beliefs to those who hear and read them.

 may we be mindful that words do, indeed, have meaning, and we ought not to use them carelessly.  words can hurt others deeply and are often harder to heal from than physical wounds.  we use them as weapons even when we don't mean to.  may we choose the words we use with care and lovingkindness.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bright As The Sun, Ever It Glows

a few days ago, as i was reading jack kornfield's book, "a path with heart," i came across these words that were purportedly spoken by the buddha:
hatred never ceases by hatred,
but by love alone is cured.
this is an ancient and eternal law.

they made me think about our current social climate in this country and my own personal approach to life.  how do we go about loving those whose hearts seem to be filled with hate?  can i really cure the hatred that is running rampant here by loving those who spew hate?  how does one even go about loving those who are hateful to others?  in one of my subsequent meditations, i tried to imagine what life is like for donald trump and for those around him.  could i put myself in their place?  could i see into his heart and touch the suffering in that heart that causes him to lash out at others and to call other human beings vermin, rapists, or criminals because they have come here to seek better lives for themselves and the ones they love?

i meditated, too, on how my practice has changed me over the 600+ days i have spent meditating.  i know that i am more thoughtful.  i am less stressed.  i am able to set aside my preconceived notions of how each day should go and accept the inevitable changes that life forces me to make.  i believe i am more loving to my wife and others in my circle of family and friends.  i don't become impatient easily.  i'm less concerned about doing something because it pleases someone else and less concerned about what others think of me and more conscious of how to resist being manipulated by others.  i'm less impulsive and more willing to take time to think things through before i act or speak.  i'm less likely to lash out when someone says something hurtful to me.  in short, i am much happier and more content with myself and my life.

i am so delighted that i came to my study of buddhism and the way it has influenced me at this stage in my life.  now that the end of my life is in sight, i can accept that my time here is finite, and i can approach death with a heart that is peaceful and filled with love.  i can see that the changes in my own heart and mind have influenced changes in others around me, and that makes me believe that the quote at the beginning of this post is probably the most profound truth that one can adopt into one's life.  hatred can be cured by love and only by love.  this is true in our individual lives and in society.

 may we love our enemies and "pray for them who despitefully use [us]" (luke 6:28).  may we meet hatred with love.  may we seek to see the humanity in everyone, even those who refuse to see the humanity in others.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Here At Our Sea-washed, Sunset Gates Shall Stand

i remember as a child going with my family on vacation in a neighboring state.  as we crossed the border, all vehicles with out-of-state license plates were instructed to pull off the highway where the driver would be questioned by state police about what the purpose of the visit to the state was, how long they would be staying, and whether there were any agricultural products in the vehicle, all these being asked as the officer or officers looked inside the vehicle at the contents and the other occupants.  it was a frightening introduction to the state, especially for a young child.

i am reminded of these interrogations each time i pass through a customs checkpoint when returning to this country, where the agents are often rude and demeaning.  i often wonder if they are as discourteous to non-citizens coming into the country on business or vacation.  i hope not.  my experience with border crossings into most other countries has always been pleasant, and i have felt welcomed.  the only exception was on our recent trip to russia, where we spent a couple of days.  the passport control officers there were brusque and, while they were stiffly polite, we didn't feel that they wanted us in their country.

as i read of people's encounters with border control agents in this country at the checkpoints they have set up in states like new hampshire, i can imagine the reaction of those who are stopped on the highway and asked about their citizenship status.  though the courts have ruled that these agents have the right to stop people and ask such questions, it seems an invasion of privacy to have one's progress on the highway miles away from any international border interrupted solely for the purpose of determining whether the traveler is a citizen of the usa.  at these checkpoints, there is no pretense at having cause to stop every vehicle as it travels down the road.  the checkpoints are there for only one reason:  to try and apprehend undocumented aliens.  one person i heard interviewed recently was a native-born new hampshire citizen who refused to answer the question about his citizenship status.  he was held by border control for several hours, though it was obvious that he was a legal resident with a new hampshire car tag and driver's license, and his residency could easily be verified by accessing his driving record and car registration.

in our government's zeal for finding, arresting, and deporting those who are here illegally, our country is being turned into a police state.  by recalling the checkpoint that my family went though as we travelled to another state, i can get a small sense of the fear that the undocumented who have lived here for years, contributed to our economy, built lives for themselves and their families must feel, knowing that at any moment their lives may be destroyed by one simple question:  "are you a citizen or legal resident of this country?"  the racial discrimination that those who skins are a little too brown or who speak english with a slight "foreign" accent must endure because someone suspects that these traits signal the likelihood that these "different" people are illegals is abhorrent.

we read of many instances where people of color are attacked or challenged by other citizens because they are in places where their attackers don't believe they should be.  for instance, a black resident of a neighborhood was confronted by a white resident at the community swimming pool, which required a keycard that signified residence in the neighborhood for entrance, despite the woman's possession of such a keycard.  the police were called, and they confirmed that the woman had every right as a resident of the neighborhood to be there.  her attacker was forced to resign his position with the community home owner's association, but in the meantime, this woman had been humiliated simply because she was a member of a racial minority who resided in a predominately white neighborhood.  such incidents are becoming all too frequent in our society, and the current climate of suspecting those who are somehow different from the majority and the permission to act in a openly racist manner that our president and his administration have given to our citizenry are erasing years of progress toward becoming an open and free society.  racism is alive and well in the usa, and our fervor for expelling those who have come here to escape violence, poverty, and oppression because they don't have the right papers in their possession contributes to repression of those who aren't "white" enough or who don't speak with a "real" american accent.

may we defend those who have too few defenders in the current climate of bigotry in this country.  may we embrace those who appear or sound different from the majority.  may we have compassion for those whose only hope is to reach this country and establish new lives for themselves here.  may we again become a beacon of freedom for the world, rather than the promoters of the worst sorts of racism.  may we say with emma lazarus, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."  shalom.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

We Struggle To Be Human

last week was a very busy week, and i never found time to sit down and write a blog post.  this week is a little less hectic.  today i want to write about anxiety, the sort of anxiety that we call "anxiety attacks."  i've never experienced one of these, but i have a close friend who experienced two recently, and i felt helpless in the face of her distress.  i tried to comfort her, speaking to her of the need to confront the situations which brought on her discomfort.  my words were of little help, but she held herself together until the anxiety passed after several hours.

as i thought about her experience, i recalled others i know well who also experience this intense anxiety.  one is another friend who lives far away, the others are relatives.  all of these take medication which seems to diminish the intensity of their anxiety.  the friend who brought this to mind refuses to take anything to ease her fears because she has these attacks so rarely.  she is afraid that ,if she uses medicine for relief, she will become dependent on it and the attacks will become more frequent.  that seems to be the case of those others i mentioned, or perhaps their attacks are so frequent that, without medicine, they would not be able to function in their daily lives.

it is hard for me to understand this deep trauma, never having experienced it.  the feeling of helplessness while another is suffering is difficult.  i wish that i could find words that would ease my friend's pain, but this seems to be something which she must deal with on her own.  i am hopeful that my presence and reassurances make her pain more bearable.  there seems to be little else i can offer.

may we be there for those who are suffering.  when we can do nothing else, may we hold the hands of those who need our help.  may we express our love and compassion by staying with those who are hurting.  may we hold them in our hearts without judging them or seeking to impose our own solutions on them.  may our lovingkindness be undergirded with understanding.  shalom.