Tuesday, August 15, 2017

All We Like Sheep

one of my favorite television shows is granchester on pbs's masterpiece mystery.  i find its exploration of the conflict between organized religion and the struggles of its characters to be much like the conflict many of us deal with in our daily lives.  the three characters i find most fascinating are sidney, leonard, and geordie.  sidney, the male lead, contends with the disconnect between his love for amanda, who is in the process of divorcing her husband, and his role as an anglican priest.  leonard, sidney's curate, is trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his priestly duties.   geordie, a police detective and sidney's friend and partner in solving the crimes that are the focus of each episode, is an athiest with a large family and is involved in an affair with a clerical worker in his police station.

sidney finds it increasingly difficult to continue his clerical responsibilities.  he feels that he is asking of his parishioners a perfection that he himself is unable to fulfill and condemning himself and those who worship in his church to lives filled with guilt and unhappiness.  on the other hand, he understands that, as a priest, he can show the compassion that he believes the church ought to embody to his congregants in ways that he could not if he abandons the priesthood to marry amanda.

leonard tries to follow the archdeacon's advice and becomes engaged to a woman he has befriended in the period when she is caring for her dying father.  he feels a deep love for her and wants to deny his true sexuality.  leonard realizes that sidney is right in advising leonard that the engagement and approaching marriage would be unfair to both leonard and the woman he plans to marry, and she she senses that he is filled with conflict about his sexuality and breaks off the engagement.  in his anguish over the end of his engagement, leonard turns to the local photographer with whom he had a prior relationship.

in one scene that i love geordie talks with sidney about his love for his wife and children as he ends the affair with his fellow employee.  geordie is filled with remorse and longs to return to his family.  sidney assures his that god forgives him, but geordie will have none of the talk about god.  geordie is concerned with the harm his affair has done to all those he loves, including sidney, realizing that he has put sidney in a difficult position as sidney maintains their friendship while showing compassion for geordie's wife and children.  at the end of the scene, when geordie has repeatedly said that god's forgiveness is meaningless in the face of his unbelief, sidney says, "then i forgive you."  geordie's stoic facade breaks down as he bursts into tears and lays his head on sidney's shoulder.

in the face of the trials each of these characters face is the embodiment of the church in the persons of the archdeacon, who tries to maintain priestly discipline in sidney and leonard, and their housekeeper, mrs. maguire, who struggles with her own strict orthodoxy and her longing to express herself as a person and as a woman locked into a conventional life.  this is the struggle many of us face:  we see an institutional church that places adherence to rules that are inhuman above compassion for the hurts that are part and parcel of being human.  in the face of everything we've learned about sexuality, we see a church that treats those who cannot conform to traditional male/female gender rules as sinners who must be shamed into conformity.  we see a church that uses guilt to beat its adherents into submission.  we see a church that is more concerned with maintaining its traditions, buildings, and status than it is with suffering.  we see a church that denies the very message that jesus preached to his early followers.

may we, like sidney, see that showing compassion for those who are in pain is more important than maintaining orthodoxy.  may we accept our humanity and that of those around us and stop seeking a perfection that cannot be attained.  may we stop judging and start loving.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

To Love, To Laugh, To Cry

yesterday some dear friends celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  i suppose "celebrated" is the wrong word, because they spent much of the day cleaning out their garage and the rest of it moving furniture.  it was also the husband's 74th birthday.  my wife and i helped them with the furniture, and they in turn helped us swap the positions of a couple of large pieces of furniture in our house.  they exchanged gifts with one another and received cards from several family members, as well as getting a congratulatory call from a relative.  my wife and i were amazed, and a little troubled, that such significant milestones in their lives were observed with so little fanfare, but this was their wish, apparently.  the husband did comment once that this was some way to recognize their anniversary and his birthday, but the wife had the attitude that "it is what it is."

as i reflect on the non-event that was their anniversary/birthday, perhaps this is the way it should be: a perfunctory recognition of events many years ago and then carrying on with life as it comes to us.  we are cooking dinner for them and two of their family members, and that's the most party they'll get.  it is part of our nature to create special days commemorating significant events in our own lives and those of others--birthdays, anniversaries, national and religious holidays--and i suppose we should call to mind these events and honor their significance.  we crave such celebrations and invent occasions like mother's and father's days, chocolate day, hot dog day, secretary's day, bosses' day, and the like to satisfy our desire for things to celebrate.

 maybe just celebrating life each day ought to be enough.  every day is a day to be honored and recognized.  the continuing ability to awaken, to take the next breath, to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, the joy of just being alive is a cause for celebration, one that we often fail to observe.  so today is the first "joyful living day" that i'll try to remember each day that i continue in this life.  after all, at a few months past seventy, there are fewer days left to embrace the joy of life, and i need to celebrate every one i'm allowed.

 may each of us rejoice in life, in the mundane and the extraordinary, in the sickness and the health, in the noisy and the quiet, in every facet of life.  may we be grateful for life's trials that make us stronger and help us to deal with adversity, just as we are grateful for those moments that are free of challenge.  may we see that every day is a gift, that each day we awaken we are fortunate to be alive.  may we be filled with joy.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Then Shall All Shackles Fall

the other day, i was sitting at our kitchen table visiting with my wife and another couple.  i was talking about my difficulties in dealing with the social security administration to have our new address change entered into the ssa system and having our ssa checks depositied into our new bank account.  the husband of the other couple compared this to the problem they had a couple of years ago when the state revenue department questioned their tax return.  "every time we called we got some black person--and i'm not being racist--who could not understand our explanation of our tax return" he said.  "we didn't get it resolved until we finally reached a white person who knew what we were talking about."  i bit my tongue as i listened to his comments about black versus white people, despite his disclaimer, so that i wouldn't lash out in anger.

as i thought about that conversation, i realized how often i am guilty of associating "otherness" with incompetence, as if having a skin color or some other physical attribute that is different has anything to do with competence.  i am just as guilty of such prejudice as my friend.  i remember how, after the 9-11 attacks, i was quick to condemn muslims in general because i didn't hear news reports of vociferous condemnations of these acts of terrorism by prominent muslim leaders.  in a conversation about this lack of outcry immediately following the attacks, a friend reminded me that these were acts committed for political reasons rather than religious ones, comparing these terrorists to the attacks of ira terrorists on the united kingdom.  he pointed out that "you would not have condemned christian leaders for failing to condemn those terrorists because the terrorists were christians; you would have recognized that these were political acts, not religious ones."

after this conversation regarding the 9-11 conspirators, i saw that i was ready to attack an entire religion because of the acts of a few misguided adherents of that faith.  muslims in general were no more guilty in that instance than were roman catholics in general because of the terrorist acts of some ira fanatics.  why is that we have a propensity for lumping people in groups because of their ethnicity, religion, or some other common trait or belief?  there is no muslim population, no gay population, no christian population, no black, white, red, or yellow population; there are only people, all different, all individual.  when we think and act as mobs who are quick to attack others because they are part of some vague "other," we forget that we are all so much more alike that we are different.  we all are pursuing happiness for ourselves and those we love, we all crave the necessities of life, we all struggle to find the right path, we are one human race.

may we recognize the log in our own eye rather than seeking to remove the speck in the eye of another.  may we see ourselves and others for who we are: fellow creatures stumbling along the path.  may we look beyond physical, religious, or lifestyle traits to see the person like ourselves.  may we love without condition.  shalom.

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.